Paper Bird, the Autumn Film, Laura Goldhamer, Chuck Potashner & Rob Drabkin at the Oriental Theater

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Paper Bird, The Autumn Film, Laura Goldhamer, Chuck Potashner, Rob Drabkin
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Oriental Theatre

Better than: The typical Thanksgiving bird

Thanksgiving Eve (that's a thing, right?) is always a good night to get out and have a little fun, unless maybe you're the one stuck cooking the next day. Cooking is outside my purview, so I was clear to catch a nice line up of Denver talent, most notably Paper Bird, and finally make it to a show at the Oriental, which I had somehow never actually done before.

I got there just as Rob Drabkin was wrapping up, and didn't catch enough of his set to form much of an opinion. I did like his hair, though. Not too long after he wrapped up, Chuck Potashner, formerly of teamAWESOME, took the stage. I had enjoyed Potahsner's previous work, although never enough to call myself a fan, so I was interested to see what he was doing these days. Not surprisingly, especially since one of his former teammates was joining him onstage, it wasn't a million miles from his old team -- lots of cutesy, whimsical story songs with the occasional spoken word interlude. It was fun, and had a certain goofy, Michael Cera-esque charm, kind of sounding like a less pretentious, early Conor Oberst. It was basically a singer-songwriter version of the old teamAWESOME vibe - if you hated that, this wasn't going to change your mind, and vice versa.

Next up came Laura Goldhamer, accompanied by cello (was that you Ian Cooke? I didn't catch it when she said and I couldn't tell for sure from where I sat), pedal steel, drums and stand-up bass. Although I'd heard of Goldhamer before, I'd never seen her perform and I was pleasantly surprised, not to mention impressed. Her music is an edgy, experimental take on folk, propelled by her unusual vocal delivery. Her voice is distinctive and musical, but it's her heavily cadenced, rhythmic vocal delivery that really sets her apart. Paired with her excellent banjo work, she delivered a strong performance and left an excellent impression. The intriguing, engaging stop-motion animated videos that accompanied her work were also noteworthy.

Following Goldhamer, the Autumn Film took over. Right away it was apparent that the drums were mixed far too loud and the piano too low. If there were ever a band that could be torpedoed by too much drums and not enough piano, this is it. Worse, singer Tifah al-Attas's vocals sounded muddy, dragging down the outfit's strongest asset, obscuring the strong material and highlighting the pedestrian nature of the rest. As a result of the poor mix, the performance was irritating and draining, and I was glad when it was over.

Finally, just before midnight, Paper Bird got going. I've been into this outfit since the first time I caught them (a year ago? More?) and this performance reinforced that. The influences they draw on are well outside my area of expertise and, for the most part, taste, yet they manage to synthesize them into something irresistible. All three women possess the kind of voices that could lure sailors into rocks and a natural, warm charisma and stage presence. The four men that provide the instrumental backing seem to instinctually provide the perfect accompaniment. They played a mix of material from their debut album, a few new songs and a cover or the Everly Brothers' "Bye Bye Love." The material is strong, the girls are gorgeous and the performance was excellent - plus, the stage patter was engaging. What's not to like?

Critic's Notebook
Personal Bias:
Very few of my favorite artists are female-fronted acts, but Paper Bird is creeping up into the top echelon.
Random Detail: What was up with the overuse of the fog machine? Do you miss the days when smoking indoors was legal that much?
By the Way: Regretfully, since I had to get up early for Thanksgiving reasons, I had to leave at 1 a.m., missing the end of Paper Bird's set. Barring a complete meltdown or spontaneous combustion, I believe my opinion would be unchanged had I stayed.

--Cory Casciato

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