Before Achille Lauro launched into a rousing rendition of "Supernatural Beings" Friday night, frontman Matthew Close spoke to the creative process behind the band's new album, Flight or Flight. The album combines new material with singles released in the past year, but Close framed the new release in a different way for the near-capacity crowd at the hi-dive: "I prefer to think of it as taking a year to make a new record," he announced.
Friday's performance was an energetic combination of old and new material from the quartet, a CD release show that encompassed the entire range of sounds from Flight, as well as 2010's Indiscretions.
With the aid of guest trumpeters Squidds Madden and Josh Trinidad, as well as the complementary sets of opening acts Mercuria and the Gem Stars and Land Lines, Achille Lauro offered a show that was fitting its new record. From newer tunes like "Lightning" to rare renditions of older songs like "Sandra" and "The Hatter of Jamestown," the band delivered a comprehensive selection in a little more than an hour.
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Mercuria and the Gem Stars delivered a set that complemented the headliner's danceable rhythms and dreamy chords. At one point, lead singer and guitarist Maria Kohler made the stylistic ties between the two outfits abundantly clear, declaring that Matt Close's "swagger and strut" served as an inspiration for a particular song. Between tunes marked by dreamy major 7 chords and bright sounds spelled out on Andrew Frank's Korg, the quartet offered some more straightforward moments of driving rock seeped in the sounds of bands like T-Rex. Both styles worked in the context, due in part to the energy of Kohler, as well as the spot-on delivery by bassist Julia Mendiolea and drummer James Hale. The Land Lines provided a more staid introduction to the opening act, a sound marked by the meditative cello work of Martina Grbac and Anna Mascorella. With the driving beats of drummer Ross Harada as the sole backup, the two cellists offered a set of haunting vocals and sinuous, suggestive cello lines. The string work veered between classically inspired melodies and less complex strumming and plucking techniques. Grbac and Mascorella's vocals were the constant through the set; with their paired harmonies, the duo set down an eerie and compelling intro to the headlining act.
Achille Lauro kicked off their set with a fresh take on an old tune. Their revamped version of "Summertime," a ballad from Indiscretions, featured a slower pace and a funkier feel. Close took more time with the vocals, while bassist Jonathan Evans and guitarist Luke Mossman laid down a heartfelt backup in strings. Drummer Ben Mossman used brushes for the first part of the tune, switching to sticks only for the emotive finale.
The tune set a definite feel for the rest of the set, as the band worked their way through old and new tunes with an almost palpable sense of purpose. After months spent off the stage due to broken equipment, Achille Lauro seemed to revel in the chance to play for a live crowd again and celebrate an album that took a year to make.
Indeed, tracks from Flight like "Lightning," "Hard Pressed," "Hand of Sand" and "Low Cha-Cha" felt dynamic and energetic. A performance of "Sandra" from Indiscretions proved a rare treat -- the slower ballad rarely makes the band's live catalogue, and Close's vocals were especially stirring.
Trumpeters Madden and Trinidad added a more expansive sound to songs like "Supernatural Beings" and "Low Cha Cha." Their soaring lines on "No Brakes" recreated the feel of the recording, and gave the second-to-last tune of the night an epic feel. To wrap up the set, the band reached ever further back in its catalogue with "The Hatter of Jamestown," a tune that has yet to appear on any full release. It's a surprising omission, considering the fact the song's infectious and bright contours, its danceable and engaging rhythms. The tune is a gem, and it made for an unexpected and ideal closer for a memorable set.
Personal bias: Hearing "Sandra" played live for the first time was a high point of the evening. Mossman's guitar solo and Close's heartfelt delivery made the live rendition more urgent and affecting than its studio counterpart.
Random detail: Achille Lauro and the Land Lines share a rehearsal space in Denver, and have made a habit of playing CD release shows together.
By the way: A limited edition vinyl of Flight sold out before Achille Lauro's set ended.
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