The Don'ts and Be Carefuls did something at this "Triple EP Release" show that you just knew the band had in it but you might not expect to see: they fused the exuberance and innocence of its original sound with more reflective, melancholy lyrics snd music that could paradoxically embody, encompass and express both. Joined on stage for a handful of songs by Ian Gassman of Spires on acoustic and later electric guitar, The Dont's ran through its own new EP with an abandon that suited the raw emotionalism running through the songwriting.
The surfy, garage rock that was one part of Sauna's sound seems to have mutated into different territory for this show. Or at the very least the band used different arrangements and its newer material showed a lot of growth. But even older songs like "Croctopus" seemed more like an eccentric pop song the likes of which The B-52s would have performed at a house show in front of a friendly audience and it could cut loose with being silly in a really inspired way. The new-ish song where Molly Bartlett and Sammi Davis share vocal duties and, occasionally coming together ("Hey Gurl Hey"?) let everyone in the band shine. Finishing strongly with "Buddy Holly Was a White Bitch," and CJ Mcleod dropping his guitar after lifting the strap off his shoulders, Sauna put in one of its most engaging shows by not just playing incredibly catchy tunes but giving its songs a bit of an edge. Before B. Sue played its set proper, Brandi Shigley, wearing a marching band hat with a large, red "B" on the front, told us that she wanted to make sure everything was in key. She then blew on a small harmonica and hit a handful of seemingly random notes. Seemed funny to some of us. Without missing a beat, the band went into a song whose progression sounded a lot like "Ceremony" as done by New Order, slowed down with a few notes left out of the bass line and played on guitar.
Still, it worked and with songs like "Cuteness Overload" and "En Jardin," the band was reminiscent of an updated version of a girl group from the Brill Building in the early '60s with better percussion and guitar work. Especially with Rick Tebelau (looked like Rick Benjamin formerly of The Czars and Perry Weissman 3) on trombone and Amy Rosenberg on violin. Shigley had a disarmingly effective stage presence that was kind of nerdy and upbeat in a way that was charming rather than quaint. The set ended with one of the group's best songs, "Spontaneous."
You knew Spires was going to take the volume up a notch when it was setting up on stage and both Justin Sharp and Ian Gassman angled their respective amps back forty five degrees so they would cast forth the sound a little better in that room. Shrouded in fog, Spires started out with what sounded like an Americana song if The Smiths wrote one or if one of the better C86 bands had done so. Jake Lueck and Marlon Chance created such a powerful, steady and assured yet varied rhythm it allowed Sharp and Gassman to float over the music with gorgeous melodies and textures that were at times soothing, at times heart stirring. That music got under your skin. Halfway through the set one could not help but think that seeing such a strong showing from a relatively new band that it was a bit like getting to see one of those great '80s bands with a penchant for melodies to inspire the imagination like The Chameleons or Echo & The Bunnymen early on already possessed of something exciting and special before a lot of other people caught on to its songwriting magic. Spires played everything from its startlingly good debut EP and then some. And for anyone to whom dream pop and the atmospheric end of '80s post-punk is near and dear, Spires was awe-inspiring in its ability to take that sound and make it live again without relying on an appeal to nostalgia. It only seems natural to look back on a time when a band wasn't as confident or free enough to cut loose in a performance but The Don'ts never really had that problem. Probably because these guys, before and while keyboardist Dane Bernhardt was in the band, didn't bother to perform music live that didn't inspire being swept up in the moment. Luke Hunter James Erickson told us that "Replaced" was his sister's favorite song and it may just be one of the band's finest moments as it is a bit of a sonic and dynamic departure in the opening sections with sounds hanging in the air before Bernhardt comes in like a sweeping breeze with the keyboards.
After a false ending, Banker told us they would play two more songs and asked if we would mind hearing older material. Of course no one minded and "Color TV" got most of the crowd down front singing along and dancing. But that went up a notch when The Dont's played the last song of the night with "You've Been Warned" and it seemed like everyone knew the words and got in on the dancing. If you've been to enough local shows in Denver, you know this doesn't happen nearly often enough and it was heartening to witness.
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Critic's Notebook: Bias: Already really liked all four bands going into the show.
Random Detail: Ran into artist Bobby Hill at the show.
By the Way: This show sold out at 235 people, 45 minutes before it was over. Doesn't happen often on an all-local bill but everyone who showed up got to see some of the best sets these bands have ever played.