Despite the closure of Broadway south of Alameda, it wasn't too difficult to find one's way over to Syntax Physic Opera on opening weekend. Walking through the front door felt like exiting Broadway in Denver on a hot July evening and entering a '50s jazz lounge or after-hours club, with more simplified decor. The debut menu featured a careful selection of solid food and drink options. A case featuring some truly vintage guns splits the bar side from the performance space. In some ways, it is reminiscent of the now sadly defunct Maxwell's in Hoboken, New Jersey, but without a separation between the venue and restaurant/bar. At Syntax Physic Opera, there is an undeniable sense that you're in a place where you might see something special.
The stage has single bulb lights framing the stage proper lower down from where the monitors sit on a wide brim. Opposite of the stage was the sound booth, behind which the patrons could be seated. It's a superior set-up to many dive bars and small clubs, because it is easier for the sound people to control what goes on in the mix.
At each table there is a small candle in glass to illuminate the place, adding to the ambiance -- the intimate setting dispelled any notion of stuffy night club.
Pale Sun kicked off the night with its shimmery, cavernous melodies. The band features singer/guitarist Jeff Suthers, previously of well-known bands Bright Channel and Moonspeed alongside drummer Kit Peltzel (of genius space rock outfit Space Team Electra) and Brian Marcus, who plays in the alchemical prog/psych/avant-garde group Tjutjuna. The gentle forcefulness of Pale Sun's music was evocative and transporting. It's like being invited into reflective, colorful and soothing daydreams.
After a brief hiccup, the sound came together. The room has a large velvet pad on the back wall behind the performers, which seemed to contribute to a warmth and clarity. After the set, Suthers complimented the on-stage sound as well. Hiraeth, a relatively new band played second and its own massive sonic output didn't tax the system either. Whether the band was exorcising its Bauhaus ghosts with some noisy forcefulness or evoking the ethereally transcendent melodies of Comsat Angels and The Chameleons, it all came off the stage with a power and vivid separation of sound that made you truly appreciate each musician's contribution. Hiraeth was impressive at its first show in April, but this performance in this place had some of the kinks worked out in the band's internal balance of sounds.
The night closed with Joshua Novak's new band, Oko Tygra. Combining organic percussion with a drummer and a drum machine, the band had some complex rhythms that somehow felt pretty straightforward. There were times that the band explored the tonal swirl one heard in old Slowdive songs, threading its way through the melody. The subtle dub composition of at least one song along with the hushed and hypnotic songwriting had that calming yet dream-provoking quality of Lucifer period Peaking Lights. Refreshingly eclectic in its songwriting, Oko Tygra not only more than hinted at its future promise, it ushered in the promise of Syntax Physic Opera as a place to see artists not short on a sense of grace and sophistication.
Bias: Jonathan Bitz always seems to bring a great deal of class and good taste to his endeavors. Good to know that all definitely went into setting up Syntax Physic Opera. Also, been a fan of anything Jeff Suthers has done since seeing Bright Channel for the first time in October 2002. Hiraeth's Nate Marcy has been in some of the better bands in Denver in recent years including the late, great, soul rock band The Risk and anything he's doing is worth checking out. Joshua Novak has been one of the most talented songwriters in Denver for years and Oko Tygra is a great vehicle for him to bring out the broad range of his song ideas in one project.
Random Detail: Ran into Mike Hall formerly of Born in the Flood and Bela Karoli and currently of Fire & Sigh, Rachel Pollard, Kurt Ottaway of Emerald Siam, Adam Rojo of Hollow Talk, Shannon Stein formerly of Bright Channel, Jenny A who was the club manager of the Hi-Dive for a handful of years and Ezra David Darnell of Hearts In Space at the show.
By the Way: The baked avocado is excellent and so is the beet lemonade.
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If you'd like to contact me, Tom Murphy, on Twitter, my handle is @simianthinker.