Concert Reviews

Small Black at Rhinoceropolis, 11/13/10

With Class Actress • Pictureplane • Vitamins
11.13.10 | Rhinoceropolis

This was a grittier than ever version of Vitamins. On the first song, it was obvious that someone had triggered a sample or a loop or something generating electronic sounds behind the band. Either way, it filled in some of the sparse melodies in just the right places with the appropriate sonic coloring. If the songs that this band wrote for Songs for Stem Cells were dark, the newer material seems noteworthy for its bright, crisp sound like the music is reaching out toward broad vistas.

At points, the band veered from its proven ability with tuneful pop songs into cacophanous noise sculpted by inventive and unexpected rhythmic turns. At the end, Vitamins played a brand new song the group seemed hesitant to perform. Without bass and just two guitars, drums, vocals and organ and in the middle section, it was as though most of the instrumentation got quiet while the organ haunted the edges of the song.

With just two synths, one a Moog, the duo of Class Actress led by Elizabeth Harper -- especially with Harper's dance moves -- would have made anyone cognizant of music in the early to mid '80s check what year it was. Not that this band didn't have compelling and fun music, but it's vibe was not unlike that of Yaz -- especially live.

Thick low end and soothingly melodic harmonies coupled with Harper's smooth and confident voice (not nearly as low as that of Allison Moyet), and the bouncy, echoing notes were as hypnotic as they were catchy. For the final song, the bassist from Small Black joined in for a song that recalled "Age of Consent" by New Order, only more breezy and free-wheeling. Something about the music of this band was really transporting and haunting while also being warm and comforting -- a nice trick you don't often see or hear.

This live edition of Small Black included drums and bass with two banks of synths. Something about this combination of sounds made for a far richer and more robust live sound than the already impressive studio recordings from New Chain. Travis Egedy of Pictureplane brought out the light rig he uses for his own sets for Small Black's and set them up differently than he does for his own performances. It added a more celebratory feel to an already energetic show.

After some fits and starts with the power toward the beginning of the set, Small Black got going with its audio tapestry of dense atmospheres and glitchy-yet-sinuous rhythms. One thing that wasn't as obvious from listening to this material on a stereo was how so many of the keyboard sounds were reminiscent of the electronic work of Bernie Worrell -- that playfully jaunty sound Worrell brought not just Parliament and Funkadelic but Talking Heads.

When Small Black was about to play "Goons," Josh Kolenik told us it was their "Hot 97/Petey Pablo" song. The set would have ended with the gorgeous and uplifting "Photojournalist," but everyone demanded one more song and the guys indulged that request.

It was quite late when Pictureplane went on, but you wouldn't have known it by the way Travis Egedy went into the material. With black eye make-up and a hat bearing one of those old parental warning stickers, Egedy flowed fully into the music and gave one of his better performances of all time.

"Goth Star" took on epic proportions and throughout the set, Egedy said various things about the possibilities of the future and of the here and now. The word "sexuality" had been sampled and used across a few songs as though he were sending a not-so-subliminal message to get people to loosen up about that sort of fairly common, basic human thing.

Toward the middle, Egedy said his classic line, "My name is Pictureplane, and I live in this house. This is your community. This is Denver." It's something many of us know, but worth repeating because it's easy to forget. On through the night through "Cyber Punk," "Day Glowed," "Cyclical Cyclical (Atlantis)" and others, Egedy reminded us that having fun, opening your mind to possibilities and accepting your raw humanity as it is instead of trying to fit someone else's mold is important.

CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: I liked all four bands going into the show. Random Detail: Ran into Andy R. of Gauntlet Hair at the show. By the Way: New Chain from Small Black and Journal of Ardency by Class Actress are both excellent.

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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.