Review: Tantric Picasso at BluebirdTheater, 2/2/12


Sometimes when bands come out on stage and look like they dressed for the show it can seem like a put-on. But when Tantric Picasso came on they looked like a band that had stepped out of a door to the early 1970s before the whole hippie thing had been discredited and rock bands could still express ideals and spirituality without seeming insincere.

The first song sounded like something Allman Brothers would have done, had that band emerged within the last decade instead of in the '60s. Jackson Boone's gutsy, heartfelt wail and the fiery guitar work was straight out of what so many modern proponents of a classic rock sound aim for but never achieve -- a legitimately commanding and soulful sound without being weighed down by hero worship.

Tantric's set list seemed to follow the track list of its new album, Make Your Love Bigger, with a few changes. Thankfully, this meant that it wasn't all the same exact sound for 45 minutes. These guys brought a range of influences together fluidly in songs that evoked a headiness and expansive spirit even in its grittiest moments.

All of the players conveyed a rare unity and contagious energy even in the quietest of its moments. Between songs, Pablo Cruz, Marko Melnick and Karl Rivers often created resonant, ambient soundscapes that made the more straight ahead blues rock instincts of the band's songwriting stand out. You got the sense that these guys could probably do whatever they wanted, but that they chose to write the kinds of songs they performed tonight because those songs were fun to play.

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A myriad of classic rock bands went through your head from the beginning of the set to the end and yet none of those comparisons would have done justice to the way Tantric Picasso commanded the audience. It was like seeing one of those great bands out of the whole San Francisco scene of the late '60s if it had absorbed even more Afro-Cuban rhythmic ideas and the kinds of experimental electronic elements Morton Subotnick infused into "happenings" before he moved to New York.

At the end of the set, the band went into a heavy funk song, and in the middle of that there was, predictably enough, a breakdown section where each musician got to solo. Not as predictably, each musician actually shined and didn't go off on a self-indulgently drawn out passage. The band left the stage but the crowd demanded an encore and was rewarded with a two-song performance.

The last number included a guy who will fill in on the band's upcoming, two and a half month tour and it was a funky blues song that would have been way too Zeppelin-esque if someone else had done it. With Tantric Picasso, however, it didn't seem like an overworked rock and roll cliché because there's real passion and an richness of spirit to how this band plays its music.

Before Tantric's set, the five members of the Marrow set up two drum sets, two guitar rigs, a keyboard station in the back with keys facing each other and what looked like an auto harp in the middle on a table thing with bells on top to strike with mallets. Next to this, was a stand with chimes hanging off. What came forth once the band got going was a beautiful and brilliant synthesis of jazz, space rock, dream pop and the avant-garde. What was most impressive in some ways was how the two drummers played complementary rhythms and textures but never seemed to be playing the same thing.

The simple melodies and the subtle but deep layers of each song and how the members seemed to effortlessly contribute an important section of a song without stumbling over each other both vocally and instrumentally was a thing of beauty in itself. Musically, it had that same quality of feeling you get from Broadcast's more organic songs and the ghostlier side of St. Vincent.

Whether or not it's true, this band's performance and songwriting made it feel like you were getting to see a group of people, all talented songwriters and musicians in their own right, who somehow found a way to work together effectively to create something than any of them could individually. Tania Katz's expressive vocals were the most prominent throughout the set but pretty much everyone sang at some point and all well.

When Tommy and the Tangerines took the stage it seemed like someone had brought everyone from their CU Boulder dorm down and there sure was a lot of dancing, the kind that Dave Chappelle talked about in his skit featuring John Mayer. Nonetheless it was kind of refreshing to see people dancing enthusiastically, having fun and participating in the show. It was that kind of blue-eyed soul power pop that happened in the early '80s that some of us have heard so often it fails to have an effect anymore -- like Plimsouls or Orange Juice, but without the ferocity and, well, soul.

The whole thing resembled what Henry Rollins has referred to as "college rock," as in seemingly different but fundamentally pretty mainstream. Frontman Michael Carrol, though, could not be denied. He struck poses and made faces throughout the show and otherwise served as a charismatic figure that kept your attention, even when the band went off the northern soul thing and into more conventional territory. After the band finished its set with a song about getting wasted, the instant crowd seemed to disappear almost completely and as quickly as it appeared.

Earlier in the evening, Safe Boating Is No Accident played a set that made it seem like a completely different band than what anyone who last saw the group more than two or three months ago. No inspired gimmicks. No obvious attempts to thwart the crowd's expectations with a brilliant and wicked joke. Neil McCormick wasn't playing an upright bass. Leighton Peterson wasn't playing an acoustic guitar. Rather, this Safe Boating was a raw, almost edgy, power pop band stripped of obvious performance art leanings, except in the lyrics where close attention made you realize that the guys haven't dropped their sharp sense of humor.


Personal Bias: Was hoping Tantric Picasso and the Marrow would be good live and wasn't disappointed.

Random Detail: Ran into DIY promoter Claudia Woodman and Julia Wild at the show.

By the Way: Tantric Picasso spent a good deal of the previous evening making homemade CD covers with glue, knick knacks and plastic covers. Each unique. More bands should do this.

Follow Backbeat on Twitter: @westword_music

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