09.10.10 | Larimer Lounge, Denver
If its last three albums are any indication, Vitamins seem to reinvent their sound every year or so. The band's latest material has the foursome stretching out quite a bit. While Vitamins has always been an experimental pop band of one stripe or another, the new music sounded like at least one member of the group has been listening to a lot of Can and Neu! lately -- the new stuff is very proggy with a hypnotic repetition while also exploring the outer boundaries of melodicism.
The band filled out the last half of its set with excellent versions of "Sequined Dress" and "Dark Matter, and even there, it was obvious Vitamins have found a way to introduce classical structure into pop music in inventive ways, like they learned all the rules of composition, applied them ad infinitum and then turned it all inside out.
The outfit has impeccable chops that it displays in creative and imaginative ways, making dark pop music that looks unblinkingly into adult insecurities and a growing sense of emotional urgency at losing momentum at the hands of life's often mundane demands. What might seem to some like Vitamins merely jamming out new songs sounded more like a band challenging itself to break its own barriers and cross into thrillingly unknown territory while remaining accessible to people who are more adventurous in their musical tastes.
For whatever reason, Gauntlet Hair set up on the floor in front of the stage, and when people stepped back a little too far, the guys jovially invited everyone to move a lot closer. Perhaps the members sense that the days of being able to have such intimacy at every show -- much preferable to the alternative, surely -- could be over sooner than any musician with real heart could possible want.
Though there is something dream-like about Gauntlet Hair's music, it would be remiss to file the band under "dream pop" or, even more inaccurately, "shoegaze." At this point, it seems clear the duo is still trying to figure out what it wants to do with their music, and they're having a lot of fun with that process. Getting to see the guys work it out has also been interesting as they fully integrate the electronic drums with the acoustic.
This time out, Craig Nice had a fantastic electronic bass or tom sound that was a bit like a robotic gun shot that he employed to great effect, creating sound system-like textures. Andy R's guitar style isn't just staccato chords warped by reverb like some post-modern, surf garage rock thing. Instead, his playing, with its slapback delay, percussive in its attack and intonation, accents Craig's rhythms when carrying the beat itself.
Flashlights, which followed Gaunlet Hair, eschewed conventional instruments in favor of two laptop and other electronic devices, which they used to make the kind of music that recalls the mid-1980s when Giorgio Moroder dropped the cheesy tones and went for something more club-friendly, or Ambient Works-era Aphex Twin without the harshness or abstract sound.
The act's IDM-inflected drone sounded at times like James Pants joining forces with Boards of Canada. The two disco lights on either side of the stage cast swirling streams in the fog flooding the stage. At the end, people got on stage to dance, including the two members of Gauntlet Hair. That kind of thing doesn't happen much but it was pleasant to witness for once.
No band could live up to the hype that Tennis, who closed the show, has had recently. Fortunately the band didn't seem to feel like it had to live up to that hype either. In fact, Alaina Moore's banter with the audience revealed an honest humility about what her band was and its talent or lack thereof.
In one fell swoop of honesty and perspective, Tennis defused any unreasonable expectations by being so self-deprecating at times it was actually endearing. As the band opened with "Pigeon," it became clear that the recordings you could hear before getting a seven inch was both lush and stripped down. While Pat Riley's guitar work would be unremarkable in a guitar-driven band, it serves its purpose here in terms of carrying the melody when that isn't being handled by Moore, whose strong and versatile voice is the band's secret weapon. There's a bit of a soulful edge to her singing general.
For this show, also, Tennis recruited James Barone of Tjutjuna to sit in on drums, and we were told he didn't know until five days before with two days of rehearsals. The songs were on the twee pop side, but with Moore's vocals in the mix, the whole thing seemed more uplifted than it well might have to. Was Tennis a mind blower and a life changer? No, but expecting a band to live up to what's been written about it thus far is unrealistic. Ultimately, though, the band's sunny songwriting and its willingness to write earnest music will take it further than the mere hyperbole heaped upon it will.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: I like to let bands surprise me on their own terms. Random Detail: There were Tennis 7-inch records available out on Fire Talk at the show. By the Way: There are plenty of great bands from any large city that the rest of world generally never finds much out about, and Denver is rich in that sort of thing -- a lot of talent, not a lot of outside publicity.