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The Brilliant Paws Continue a Frustrating Tour in Denver

The road has been rough on Paws. Last week, a thief broke into the Scottish band's van while they were stopped in Seattle and stole money and equipment, including a laptop and a hard drive containing much of the group's early recordings and work on planned future projects. At last night's gig with Total Slacker at the Marquis Theater, they played to a weeknight crowd that peaked at just 21 people (23, if you counted the bartender and the bouncer watching from the sidelines). At times during their set, the accumulated frustrations seemed to be finally getting to them.

"I am so far from home, and I have lost all patience," singer-guitarist Philip Taylor told the audience during one break between songs. It's this kind of hardship that makes touring bands pack it in.

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And I sincerely hope that doesn't happen to Paws, because they're absolutely fucking brilliant. The young Glasgow trio is pop-punk without the slick, saccharine production or Hot Topic fashion sense, their sing-along-ready choruses dirtied up with crashing guitars, vocal reverb and 90's indie rock grit. They write memorable songs and perform them live in focused, intense sets, yet seem to be getting the shaft on this tour regardless.

Tuesday's concert was Paws' second swing through Denver this year, following an April gig at Larimer Lounge with We Are Scientists. That show was much better attended (thanks in part, no doubt, to the higher-profile headliners). But there was a new energy in the band's performance on Tuesday that wasn't there when they last came to town.

Maybe they were channeling the accumulated stress of the past week into their music, or maybe they just wanted to play quickly and get their whole nightmare of a tour over with as fast as possible. Either way, the band tackled cuts from their first album, Cokefloat!, with real urgency, turning songs like "Catherine 1956" (an ode to Taylor's late mother) and Jellyfish into proper punk rockers.

Even if Paws hasn't made bank after a van burglary and a couple of thinly-attended shows, they've certainly made new friends. Earlier in the night, Taylor sat in as a guest guitarist with Orlando-based openers Flashlights, -- a punk outfit whose sound calls to mind a noisier, emo-inclined Archers of Loaf -- so integrated that he could have passed for one of the group's regular members. Flashlights frontman Terry Caudill repaid the favor during Paws set, jumping on stage to sing a couple verses of "Tongues" off the band's new album, Youth Culture Forever.

The show was full of these little collaborative touches. Toward the end of Paws' set, a drummer for one of the other groups on the bill started dragging a stripped-down set onto center stage: a bass drum, a tom, a couple of cymbals. It almost seemed like he was trying to get a jump on setting up for the next band, until he sat down, back to the audience, and started banging along to Paws mid-song.

Paws certainly has the chops to succeed, and watching them perform, it's easy to see them going much further. So here's hoping that the next time the Scottish rockers come to Colorado, their booking agent is smart enough to land them a prime-time gig, and Denver music fans are wise enough to catch them in action.

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