Widowers, Astrophagus, Dualistics, d. biddle November 2, 2007 hi-dive Better than: Dodging golf shirts on Santa Fe during yet another First Friday
Lately, I’ve been puzzled by the sequencing of artists in shows at the hi-dive. For example, when 3OH!3 played the club back in August, the duo – riding an enormous wave of popularity that warrants headlining gigs elsewhere – was done with its set before the sun had gone down. Many folks who showed up at a normal start time to catch the act were more than disappointed to find they’d missed out. Similarly, Friday night’s show was opened by Widowers, a band whose public evolution has been one of the most captivating stories of Denver’s live music scene over the past year. Had the bill been sorted by artistic and creative oomph, Dualistics would have opened, followed by Astrophagus, Widowers (tough call between the two for reasons that will become clear later), and d. biddle. Alas.
Though I am a big fan of Widowers and very eager to hear the outfit’s debut record, I won’t devote a lot of space to them here since they’ve had plenty of attention from this publication recently. If you’re interested, check out this review by Cory Casciato and this one by yours truly. It’s worth noting, however, that the new songs see the group transforming from psychedelic fuzzheads to tightly-wound garage rockers – and the transformation is exciting to watch.
Astrophagus followed with an emotional and personable set of heartfelt, sweetly melodic rock. While Jason Cain’s songwriting remains the key to this quartet’s pop-with-brains appeal, Dave Kurtz’s jazz-inflected drumming and Josh Cain’s stinging keyboard lines add an energy and edge to the outfit’s sound that is absolutely captivating. Bassist Chris White is the band’s secret weapon, tapping rhythms and strumming chords on his ax with a technique that is technically intriguing and musically satisfying. At certain points, White’s virtuosity threatened to overwhelm Cain’s subtle songs, and he would have done well to play less. Speaking of playing less, the highlight of the set had to be Jason Cain’s minimal Miles Davis guitar solo during the closing number. He even turned his back to the audience as Miles would have.
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Following the subtlety and originality of Astrophagus was, well, exactly the opposite from Dualistics. While the youthful quartet is personable and charming onstage, its music made it seem like the bland guy at the party who wants to be everybody’s friend – and to whom no one wants to talk. The band is made up of some very talented musicians – most notably, bassist and founder Jimmy Stofer, who also plays and sings with Hello Kavita – but the music just fell flat. If the MFA pop of the Shins was drained of its soul and injected with a Dave Mathews groove, the result might sound something like Dualistics. Like a frat boy trying to get into an indie rock girl’s pants, Dualistics’ set just left me feeling icky.
Thankfully, my soul was cleansed by the redeeming power of d. biddle, whose set could not have been more purely soulful. The foursome took the stage in Day of the Dead makeup and put on a darkly dramatic performance that grabbed the crowd by the back of the neck and kissed it forcefully. The makeup made frontman Duncan Barlow look eerily like Jay Munly, and the resemblance was appropriate. The quartet – which now includes ubiquitous bassist Jonathan Till, lead guitarist Jeff Davenport and enigmatic drummer Number Three – used its subtle strength and considerable fervor to transform Barlow’s gutsy Gothic folk songs into entrancing anvils of rock-solid angst. While fairy lights gave the players a supernatural glow, their makeup glistened and ran as their impassioned performances wrung them of sweat and tears. If the makeup, the clothing and the lighting had been different, the set might not have felt so volatile and sacred, but d. biddle used the inherent spectacle of the evening to turn their performance into an intensely memorable and cathartic experience. –- Eryc Eyl Photos by Doug Beam
Critic’s Notebook Personal Bias: I’m a sucker for any band that realizes that live music is a form of theater. Nothing bothers me more than a band that performs on stage the same way it performs in its basement rehearsal space. Random Detail: During d. biddle’s set, a young couple stood holding hands next to me, dressed as Jesus and Mary. This didn’t strike me as odd, at first, but then I realized that it was a pre-Jesus Mary and a post-crucifixion Jesus, creating a decidedly incongruous chronological (not to mention theological) scenario. By the Way: Moonlighting is a fact of life in Denver’s fertile scene. Some of the musicians who played on this bill can also be found in: the Sputter, Hello Kavita, Lion Sized, Dang Head, Nathan & Stephen, and more.