The highlight of the evening last night came in Big Freedia's set when she showed the audience that she wasn't one to just tell people how to bump, but that she knew how to do it herself, and as she proved, she could do it just as well as anyone else. Needless to say, Big Freedia in action added that much more to a set of music that was already plenty aggressive and hyperkinetic.
For this Check Yo Ponytail show, the stage was set up to the side in the front room and the main room was closed off, which made for a far more intimate show. The Death Set got things going. Made up of three guys, a drummer and two guitarists, the act right away set about blurring the lines between audience and band. At the start of its set, the outfit's frontman urged us all to come to the front instead of being sideline spectators, and for our trouble, he and the other guys delivered a fun yet ferocious show.
Frankie Chan was on the drums for the Death Set, and the live drums gave the samples and electronic percussion a feeling of deep rhythms that drove each number. The singer spent a great deal of time in the audience, and at one point, a guy in the crowd lifted him up on his shoulders, which fueled the Death Set's sense of conviction and energy. Musically, the group recalled Travels With Myself And Another-era The Future of the Left, especially on songs like "You Need Satan More Than He Needs You," with vocals verging of nervous breakdown. Only this band was not at all frightening in its intensity.
Most of us in Denver haven't seen Pictureplane in a good long while, and despite some problems with his MicroKorg, Travis Egedy made the best of it, and presumably as a result of his extensive touring over the last year, he was more confident and masterful in the execution of his music than he's ever been.
Flanked by two dancers who came out in some kind of white veils and looking like dervishes, Egedy danced and seemed to be having fun. The synth actually seemed to work a little for "Goth Star," and "Trancegender" sounded a lot like a brighter, more upbeat "Silent Running" by OMD. The flashing, colored lights Egedy used didn't translate well to pictures, because the colors kept shifting, but it gave the whole thing an otherworldly vibe suited to the music.
Big Freedia followed Pictureplane, and her live show is so much more raw, crazy than you can imagine. With an absolute command of the stage and the dynamics of the music, Big Freedia has more charisma than most singers you'll ever see. She's like the James Brown of bounce music. Near the beginning of the show, Freedia got two volunteers from the audience (Lauren Zwicky aka DJ Narky Stares and Courtney Rodgers) to do some bounce on stage, which consisted of bending over and shaking with the intense rhythms being blasted through the system to accent the rapid-fire vocal delivery of Freedia.
But it wasn't just rapid-fire delivery. At times, Freedia's vocals were sampled and looped, which created a certain tension and gave a feeling of crazed disorientation until the loop stopped and Freedia picked back up where it left off. It was similar to dub but much more wonderfully raw. Most of set consisted of material from Hitz Vol. 1 1999-2010. During "Azz Everywhere," Freedia invited everyone on stage to join in on the bounce. Watching Freedia perform just made you want to dance, even if you're not someone who normally does.
Spank Rock jumped from a side platform onto the stage, where he was joined by Johnny Nelson and a pair of DJs, He didn't pick up where Freedia left off so much as showed that underground hip-hop can still be as cleverly profane and accessible as anything on the radio. Early in the set, Spank Rock laid out a version of "Backyard Betty" that packed a little more emotional punch than the original, even though it's kind of a humorous song.
Halfway or so through the set, the familiar sounds of "#1 Hit" came through the P.A. and instead of some vapid pop song, Spank Rock and the crew made it into a force of nature. The sample of Can's "Vitamin C" in "Energy" gave the song and the performance a bit of a boost in the all but complete recontextualization of the music. Toward the end, Spank Rock called Freedia to the stage for a song that added another jolt to the visceral impact in the music.
At the end of "Put That Pussy On Me," Spank Rock collapsed on the platform on the side of the stage in an exhausted heap. But crowd kept chanting for him to play one more song, and he rose as though summoned miraculously from the dead for a two-song encore that concluded with "Rick Rubin."
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Personal Bias: A bit of a Spank Rock fan before the show. Random Detail: Ran into Maria Kohler of Mercuria and the Gem Stars and Rose Emmons formerly of Yellow Elephant at the show. By the Way: All the bands for this tour really made for a great line-up.