VARLET AT LARIMER LOUNGE | 11/26/11
One of the high points of this show was when Lilly Scott said we would be taking a break from the pre-recorded readings from Naked Lunch that opened the show and filled in the silences between songs for a nice older song. And rather than incongruous, Varlet's rendition of Sam Cooke's "You Send Me" turned it an upbeat pop song while honoring the soulfulness of the original.
With a dark-ish projection of shifting colors like a colorful stone changing shape and tone across the back wall and the band, and the aforementioned Naked Lunch recording playing, Varlet took stage with Will Duncan played the shaker and drum intro to "Eastern."
One thing that is immediately striking about Varlet is that in spite of how skilled everyone in the band is at his or her musical role in the band, or how practiced this band has become in the last few years, it seems somewhat unvarnished even though these songs are very well-crafted bits of pop music.
Lilly Scott is one of the singular vocal talents in underground music in Denver with a voice that cuts through everything with a strength and assurance unusual for her age. But if not accompanied by the rest of the band, the music wouldn't have nearly the same impact: David Scott seemed to effortlessly shift from a sultry bass sound to something more crisp to suit the material, Will Duncan executed a delicacy of rhythm with percussive textures that accent the material perfectly.
Vaughn McPherson, meanwhile, displayed a broad range of expressive tones on the keys that gave the music full dimension, and guitarist Cole Rudy added an elegant melodicism with his leads and created electrifying atmospheres with his slide guitar, blurring out the edges of songs where it needed to be.
The middle part of the set was taken up with a powerful rendition of "Dirty Sock" followed by "High Heels," which is Lilly's dig at the American Idol experience. Varlet played the new album in its entirety, ending the show with a new song in which Rudy and David did a kind of response to Lilly's vocal lead.
Before Varlet's set, Mike Marchant's Outer Ppace Party Unit performed. It's been a while since we've seen Marchant play his own music, and so this show was a welcome return to form. Marchant put together some older material with the new. For the first song, Marchant and company showed how an interesting shift from minor to major chords, played properly, can an elevate a mood while also staying somewhat melancholy.
Apparently even Marchant's friends outside the world of music had told him that he only wrote sad songs, and he told us the third song was dedicated to that friend and that it was happy. Which was true enough at the beginning of the song, but as the band crossed roughly the halfway point, the music transitioned to something brooding and dark.
While not sad, it certainly wasn't happy, but it was also some of the best material Marchant has written, as it showed he is capable of writing moody music of multiple flavors not grounded in warped country music. Toward the end of his set, Marchant dedicated "You Were a Runner" to his bass player Mark Weaver's future ex-wife, whom he said would be on hand. To close the set, Mike Marchants Outer Space Party Unit performed an old Widowers song, the slowly burning and shimmering "Moonshining."
With the Legendary River Drifters you know you're in for a great show even if you've seen quite enough Americana out of Denver in the past decade. This septet wove together strands of the blues, of country and folk in a way that hasn't been done to death by musical trend followers of the past ten years.
Rather than copping the vibe of any influences this band might have, the outfit created its own slant by not just using banjo as an affectation to lend the music credibility but as an essential part of the overall sound. Singer Suzanne Magnuson is also a commanding figure who gestures dramatically with the music without making it seem like something rehearsed.
Toward the end of the set, Magnuson took out the saw and re-established her renown as a skilled player, occasionally waving it about. And every performer in the band was impressive in contributing to a sound that is deep not just texturally but emotionally.
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Personal Bias: I'm a fan of all these bands. Random Detail: Ran into Steven Lee Lawson of Oblio Duo at the show. By the Way: The new Varlet album, The Drifter, is worth more than a few listens.