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Smoothed out: Mile High Music Festival eases into its first day with the Motet, Houses

The Motet, noon on the Wolf Stage

Two years of experience can make a difference.

The organizers of the Mile High Music Festival seem to have learned from the mistakes of years' past for the 2010 version of the mega fest. Arriving at the massive soccer complex at Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, every facet of the festival seemed more seamless and more comfortable. Checking in, getting a sense of the forum's layout, finding the restrooms and water stalls -- it all went more smoothly and comfortably. Hell, even the cooler August weather was a welcome relief from the searing July temperatures of the past two MHMFs.

As one of the first acts of the day playing on one of the festival's largest stages, The Motet set a fitting mood for the festival, offering up an instrumental blend of groove-heavy rhythms, dense percussion and virtuosic solos.

The Boulder-based outfit offered a lush and expanded menu of musical contours for their jam-based, improvisational sound. The performance included solid solos and melody lines from a three-piece horn section, the varied sounds of Scott Messersmith's percussion and Dave Watts' mix of acoustic drums and electronic effects.

The set was undeniably jam-based -- the only vocal accompaniment in the first three songs came from bassist Garrett Sayers, who offered vocal interpretations to his six-string bass lines. The vast majority of the set was rooted in straightforward head melodies, solo-heavy instrumental flights, soul-based beats and jazz-informed horn lines. The structure seemed perfectly suited for the festival format. The crowd quickly built up on the open lawn, dancing and celebrating broke out with the band's first solos and the relatively early hour seemed to have no effect on the celebration.

After about 15 minutes, the effect of The Motet's predictable format started to seem a bit tired. Sure, the soloists were impressive and the rhythm section was tight. The music was an ideal match for the festival setting, the outdoor stage and the general selection in this year's MHMF. But even the most varied horn solos and the funky guitar chords can feel tired without a little variation.

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Houses, 12:30 p.m. at the Elk Tent For all their prowess in improvisation and soloing, The Motet's set suffered from its reliance on the jam band format and its lack of variety. Houses' set served as the perfect salve to the monotony, as the Denver outfit offered plenty of musical variety and diversity in the space of their set.

I've become accustomed to seeing the band play in the smaller venues of downtown Denver, with last month's Underground Music Festival being the most recent exception. Seeing the group tackle an open-air forum in a festival setting was an interesting change.

Happily, the group met the challenges of a larger setting with ease. The band's set was delayed slightly by the breakdown of the band's Wurlitzer and the last-minute search for a new instrument.

The technical difficulty only stalled the set form ten or fifteen minutes at most, and the group jumped right into an energetic and engaging performance. As in the band's UMS performance last month, the high points came with the captivating chemistry between guitarists Mike Marchant and Andy Hamilton. Between Hamilton's emotive vocals, the pair would trade subtle and nuanced guitar licks, offering sounds that ranged from driving distortion to suggestive bends. Matthew Till's bright, jaunty bass lines served as the set's rhythmic anchor, maintaining continuity between the bands' 4/4 pop tunes and its slower, more meditative moments, slower stretches that would often come in the middle of a song. Despite the early hour, Houses drew a respectable crowd, and when Hamilton asked how many of the crowd were from out of state, a good portion cheered and screamed. It was heartening to see one of the city's best ensembles draw an enthused reaction from out-of-state concert-goers. The growing audience responded to the band's bright melodies, its dual guitar work and its sinuous, suggestive keyboard lines. If anything, Houses' set showed that the festival could benefit from more local representation at later times in the lineup.

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