If a band's success were measured exclusively by the strength of their live show, the Ting Tings would be one of the biggest pop bands in this country -- and their set at the Ogden Theatre made this point very clear. If you were to close your eyes and only listen to the group, you'd think there were at least five Tings playing instruments simultaneously. Instead, there were only two people up there making music, Katie White and Jules De Martino, who played drums, guitar and sang on "Give It Back" and "We Walk."
The last time the Ting Tings were in Denver -- in 2009 following their explosive success in the wake of "Shut Up And Let Me Go" and "That's Not My Name" -- their live show was built, from the ground up, on how they played off each other. The longer the songs went on, the longer White and De Martino would stare at each other, gauging what the other would do next -- this lent the show to a very raw feel, like anything could happen at a moment's notice.
For this show, White and De Martino had the same symbiotic relationship, but it was perfected. The instrument changes were quicker, the guitar playing was tighter and the drums were more booming. They didn't have to stare at each other to know what was coming anymore, and that freedom gave way to an incarnation of the Ting Tings that no longer felt like they had something to prove.
When White first came on stage, she was "Shhh"-ing the crowd. Only when there was a level of silence perhaps unprecedented at the Ogden did White jump into the first verse of "Silence," which, once it got going, was anything but. As we would later see on other songs too, De Martino went from guitar to drums all in a matter of seconds. There were no gaps in the rhythm, despite the half-second in which De Martino moved from one instrument to the other. The Ting Tings switched instruments often, but their energy levels didn't change, and that's what made the show.
Pounding in time with the lights, De Martino's drum kit thundered along as he and White added more and more musical complexity: More guitar, more synths, more snare. "Silence" may not have veered much from the album version -- they did add a clapping break -- but it really didn't need to. Like all of the songs they played from Sounds From Nowheresville, "Silence" sounded even better live.
Before charging into "Great DJ" next, White proclaimed the modus operandi of the evening: "We are the Ting Tings, and we want you to fucking dance." And dance we did. In fact, no one ever really stopped moving, the Ting Tings included. For the ninety-minute show, the duo never stopped going hard: There were a few microphone cord tangles, but there were no lulls, no slow songs -- even "We Walk," a piano-led track on record, received a rock makeover, awash in guitars and energy for the live offering.
Halfway into the set, the Ting Tings showed no signs of slowing down, except when White would take rips from an oxygen tank. "This is the only gig we've ever had oxygen on the side of the stage," she said before they jumped into "Hit Me Down Sonny," which turned out to be the only instance in which White, on bass, and De Martino, on drums, shared the stage: Their stage hand was riffing on guitar and MNDR, the opening act, helped out on synthesizer. White was still very much the focal point, especially during her solo, but it was interesting to see De Martino and White, used to functioning as a duo on stage and doing everything themselves, play so well with others.
"Shut Up And Let Me Go" was everything you could have expected, and then some. While the music itself wasn't transformed much, the showmanship aspect was miles ahead of their show three years ago. Even their same gimmick, White pounding on the bass drum, was more theatrical and interesting: Midway through "Shut Up," De Martino and White stopped playing entirely to build the anticipation.
"Katie carried her bass drum all the way from the United Kingdom. Do you wanna hear it?" De Martino asked. You can guess how the audience answered. While playing, however, White managed to knock the drum over; intentional or not, this act, and her playing cowbell thereafter, just added tension to an already high-energy sequence. It was hard to keep up.
Switching gears before the encore, the Ting Tings played their one and only song from the album they had scrapped before recording Sounds From Nowheresville, called "Hands." But they didn't play its three and a half minutes straight through; instead, White and De Martino turned the song into an all-out club fest, both taking to their synthesizers, acting as DJs in both verses, and De Martino again pounding on drums during the chorus. This remix of "Hands" was easily the standout of the night.
Opening act MNDR managed to match the Ting Tings' energy level, but in a different way. A one-woman show, Amanda Warner -- like the Ting Tings -- proved you didn't need multiple people on stage to make it feel like there were multiple people on stage. It was just MNDR, her girl-group hand gestures, and her synthesizers and loop pedals, but that's all we needed. A rising electro pop act, MNDR was the perfect opener for the Ting Tings -- she had everyone dancing, including herself, with songs like "Cut Me Out," "Caligula" and "#1 In Heaven." The real treat, however, was one of her new songs, "Feed Me Diamonds," from her upcoming album of the same name.
The Ting Tings Ogden Theatre - 03/31/12 Denver, CO
01. Silence 02. Great DJ 03. Hang It Up 04. Give It Back 05. Gugenheim 06. Hit Me Down Sonny 07. We Walk 08. Fruit Machine 09. Shut Up And Let Me Go 10. Hands (Remix)
11. Keep Your Head 12. That's Not My Name
Personal Bias: This show was a full-circle moment for me. Seeing the Ting Tings' 2009 show in Denver was what made me want to write about and review Denver concerts as a music journalist.
Random Notes: Yesterday's beautiful sunny day carried through the night, and it became hot as all hell on the floor in front of the Ogden stage. I'd imagine it was equally hot, if not hotter, on the stage itself -- but you couldn't tell; at the end of the show, White still hadn't broken a sweat.
By the Way: Immediately after the Ting Tings' big finish with "Keep Your Head" and "That's Not My Name," the venue lights went on and the venue speakers began playing "Purple Rain." It was a tempo shock between the two, to say the least.
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