Van Louvin opened this show. Those who have been around the Denver scene long enough would recognize its members from some of best indie pop bands of the past decade, namely Kent Phillips and Al Rich from Thank God for Astronauts, Dave Reeves from the Maybellines, and Eric Van Leuven from Breezy Porticos.The band offered up a similar brand of power pop purveyed by Thank God for Astronauts. A solid, straight ahead pop band is very much a welcome thing these days when that sort of thing doesn't exist much anymore.
During "Busload of Misfits," the guys showed how a smart use of dynamics can be more challenging and impressive than constantly just rocking out -- which they also did plenty of. Early in the set, Van Louvin did a power pop take on "Who Loves the Sun?" by The Velvet Underground and ended the proceedings with a slightly moodier version of "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend" by the Ramones. Even though this was the group's second show, the band's energy was excellent and it didn't seem like the players were resting on any of their past laurels.
Paean played an entire set of material that did not appear on its noteworthy full-length, Songs For Us to Sing. The Fort Collins quintet has always been impressive for its ability to be emotionally intense and sonically dense while also being melancholy and low-key. For this show, especially during the more introspective songs, the group recalled bands like Low, June of 44 and Dirty Three with its ability to show restraint even when emotions threatened to boil over.
Too many bands just like to throw in violin even it doesn't belong, but Anna Maddocks' violin threads through each song and in many ways holds things together. At times, the way the band members worked together was reminiscent of Mogwai but cast in warm sepia tones rather than stark bombast. If this is the new Paean, the band's next record promises to be even better than its first.
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With pretty much no preamble, the members PS I Love You seemed slightly nervous when they went into their first song. Fortunately, as the song wore on, any nervousness dissipated and didn't impede the band's ability to execute the songs. And talk about unpretentious: Paul Saulnier had on a plaid shirt and cut-off jean shorts and yet it was clearly not a calculated look.
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Once this duo went into its songs, Ben Nelson's strong and assured drumming kept the momentum going, while Saulnier delivered emotive vocals that sounded on the verge of hysteria, while remaining melodic. Saulnier also played a wide array of guitar leads that, in any other hands, and within the context of most any other songs, would have seemed self-indulgent. From his finger tapping to outright shredding to power chord leads that evolved into more elaborate guitar work, Saulnier displayed a greater compositional talent than raw guitar prowess and that was much more impressive to witness.
For the low end to augment the guitar sound, Saulnier used pedal bass to create drones, which helped to create a more full and rich sound from song to song. Although these guys would probably benefit from having an actual bass player but they made the pedal bass thing work. With no banter and hurried, seemingly nervous "Thank yous" and the like, PS I Love You wasted no time in playing its nine-song set of robust pop songs, ending on the ultra-catchy, yet gritty, "Facelove."
Next time the band comes through, hopefully it will have learned on the road that when you're that good, there's no need to be nervous. But how would any of us feel on our first national tour outside our home country? Understandable.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: I think Paul Saulnier makes being a guitar player with some chops seem cool again because his playing is more musical than merely technical. Random Detail: Ran into Andy Falconetti formerly of Sissy Fuzz and Breezy Porticos. By the Way: PS I Love You's Meet Me at the Muster Station displays a great combination of ability and exuberance.