See Also: People of UMS 2011
Kicked off the first day of UMS by catching Bad Weather California in a very humid 3 Kings Tavern. People were packed in pretty tight in the middle of the room and mostly on the flanks. BWC played a loose, relaxed set like the guys had a group meeting beforehand and all agreed that rather than putting on a perfect, by-the-book performance, they'd deliver a good old fashioned rock and roll show with Chris Adolf engaging the audience in some playful banter, pulling his shirt off halfway through, and clearly having fun.
Cloud Nothings played afterward. Maybe it was the wrong night. Maybe it was the stuffy, sweltering environment that affected the mind, or maybe it was just this set -- whatever it was, this band struck me as warmed over pop punk with slightly more interesting guitar ideas. However, Jason Gerycz is an incredible drummer who brought another dimension to otherwise straight ahead material.
Started off the second night of UMS at 3 Kings Tavern, too, with Il Cattivo, who put in an extra-energetic showing. Brian Hagman caught air more than a few times for more than a second or two. Matt Bellinger played the guitar with more than the usual gusto, and Arj Narayan served the perfect edgy counterpoint to Bellinger's more free-flowing, controlled chaos. But really, it was like the two guys were handing off that role to one another in an interesting bit of interplay. Jed Kopp and Matthew Cavanaugh somehow make keeping things on an even keel seem like a train teetering out of control but never quite tipping over seem easy.
"The best band that gives the most head in Denver!" Sid Pink announced to introduce Le Divorce. This was kind of a bittersweet show because it was the band's second to last. The quartet ran through its most well-known material and never played it better, maybe because there was no pressure other than it being one of the last shows rather than the actual last show.
Kitty Vincent, of course, joked self-deprecatingly from stage, as usual, but seemed more comfortable with the awkward joking she's kind of made her signature. Joe Grobelny and Mike King smiled and played off each other well and lunged and jumped about while Luke James-Erickson laid down some of the strongest beats he's brought to a band yet. Sometimes when you know it's the end with a band you just try to have fun with it and Le Divorce certainly brought that spirit to this performance.
Outside, there was the truck The Construct sometimes plays out of, and Mark Armijo had it set up to do karaoke but also for any band or musician that had the nerve. Upon exiting 3 Kings, a familiar face was on stage in the person of Jimi Nasi from I'm A Boy and The 40th Day. More introspective stuff than usual, but Jimi is one of those musicians who can make an introspective song rock if he wants to but this was more just intense, expressive mellow but not light material.
Black Moth Super Rainbow graced the Main Stage behind Goodwill. Without the immersive projections and lighting that comes with most of the band's shows indoors, it was a little odd. But the sound mix brought out how alien and surreal and hypnotically gorgeous the songs often can be. It was the perfect blend of electronic, the electric, psychedelia and dance music.
Back at 3 Kings, Imperial Teen played its first show off the West Coast in support of its new album, Feel the Sound. Of all the shows this weekend, Imperial Teen seemed to get, per capita, the most enthusiastically positive reaction from any crowd. They even won over some people who didn't even know who they were. Apparently Lynn Truell (formerly Perko) lives in Denver now, and Imperial Teen is technically a local band in some ways. Of course the quartet played "Lipstick" and "Yoo Hoo," and it was especially strong and moving on "Butch," one of the band's most profane yet tender songs. At the end of the set bassist Jone Stebbins said, "Denver! Who knew?"
Imperial Teen was a hard act to follow but fortunately Finn Riggins from Boise, Idaho was next and was more than worthy. The trio writes the kind of intricate, inventive, experimental pop songs that could only be written by people with some great technical skill at their instruments. Nonetheless, they make it seem like an off the cuff, quirky affair. Besides that, the energy with which Eric Gilbert, Lisa Simpson and Cameron Bouiss fully put themselves into the music was infectious. The way each of the players compliments each other has always been impressive.
It was a long walk from 3 Kings to Denver Wheel Club 404 just before midnight, but it was so worth it because it's a rare occasion that one gets to see A Shoreline Dream these days. With the addition of Lauren Shugrue Maske on bass, there is even more fluidity to the sound. Gabriel Ratliff, the band's drummer for the Avoiding the Consequences album was also playing for this show.
Despite the cavernous natural reverb, A Shoreline Dream sounded good and a very welcome end to a long night. Starting with the lush drift of "Love is a Ghost in America" and then following that up with the urgent, dusky "Seattle" was a good pairing. The flow went next into one of the band's best songs, the shimmery, transporting "Fault 67" before the harder rocking "New York." The set ended with an older song, "Projections" with its melding of the forceful with the watery and hypnotic. After such a mind-calming, imagination-stirring set of music, there was nothing to do but go home and sleep well.
Somehow The Kevin Costner Suicide Pact packed seven songs into a relatively short set at Gildar Gallery on day three of the UMS. Other than its hit "Savage Fucking Garden," the KCSP showcased some new material that put on display more of the new sound the band is exploring with more than one seeming layer of melted melodies manipulated into another dimension away from the source sounds. Always otherworldly, the KCSP's sound made the hot day seem ignorable for minutes at a time. No mean feat.
Speaking of second to last shows (see from the previous day Le Divorce), Sauna will play its "final" show August 17, but Molly Bartlett told us it would their last show for a long time, as all four members are off to college out of state. Sauna has always been a good, enjoyable band, but this performance really showed how far these four people have come since debuting at the Carioca Café in December 2010.
Bartlett seems to have fully embraced her role as de facto frontwoman and her vocal harmonies with Samantha Davis and Ethan Hill have reached a level of excellence and sophistication that a lot of bands take longer to learn. "Croctopus" is even funnier now than when the band was first playing it live, and CJ Macleod's guitar tone and rhythmic leads were executed perfectly. Confidence without arrogance is something that very much characterizes what this band exudes.
At the hi-dive, Panal S.A. de C.V. really proved its mettle once again. You would hope instrumental bands have learned to communicate without words, but these guys definitely speak to your heart and imagination in a direct language of ideas as expressed through pure sound and rhythm. Enrique Jimenez is pretty much a guitar hero in Denver at this point, but he does that rare thing where he takes some licks you'd expect in some jazz fusion band and makes it emotionally expressive.
Between him and Juan Carlos Flores, there's a lot of sonic territory explored with each song and Israel Jimenez and Enoc Torraca syncopated the rhythm so well it was almost like they were carrying a melody of their own in counterpoint to Enrique and Juan Carlos. The effect was a kind of dark-tinged soundtrack work with a narrative for a great movie someone has yet to make but should.
At the Main Stage behind Goodwill A Place To Bury Strangers burned up the stage, with Oliver Ackerman in high spirits, holding his guitar high, swinging it around, tossing it to the ground at one point or two, and otherwise engaging in the best kind of sonic abuse possible with his bandmates. During "Deadbeat" the speakers kept cutting out, but the band made the best of the moment to take it to crazier places.
During the intro to "Ocean," Dion Lunado climbed the speaker stack at the front of stage left and played from the top Ackerman went into the vocals, at which point he came back down and hit the right note at the right moment to push the momentum of the song. But in the process, he'd also broken the E string, and by the end but the D and G strings as well, which left him playing the bass line just on the A. That seemed like it would be the end of the show ,but he went off stage and got a new bass. At one point Ackerman pulled all the amps closer to the front of the stage for easier feedback sculpting in this outdoor environment with the intended effect.
A couple of hours later at the Main Stage, Shabazz Palaces got up and treated us to a dub heavy set. The layering of sounds was subtle but impressive throughout, as the melody was sometimes under the main mix but audible enough to give the songs a bit more airiness than the bass-heavy booming to count rhythm -- like Arabian Prince but with a lot more tonal nuance. Some great one liners throughout the set in song lyrics like, "A hundred styles an hour" and "They hate women but they love money." Later on, two of the members of THEEsatisfaction came on stage to do backing vocals, bringing another layer of soul to a band that had plenty of it.
If you walked by Delite when Tommy Metz played, you couldn't help but be drawn in. Having seen Metz perform numerous times for the last five years, this was the man at his peak of enthusiasm. He bobbed up and down and nearly jumped to the rhythm with a vigor you rarely see in someone performing music off their computer and a couple of pieces of hardware. The music was the sometimes his usual, breezy, beautiful, melodic electronic compositions, but one of the most interesting moments came when he pretty much took a dubstep sound and idea turned it inside out and then reversed it or something. In doing so, he took a now tired musical conceit and made it interesting and fresh again.
Anyone that stuck around after Tommy Metz's set was fortunate enough to see Boise's Atomic Mama. Even as a casual listener at first, the band really drew me in with how the trio brought together with a panoply of sounds part of a cohesive aesthetic. It's tempting to compare these guys to Mercury Rev for their use of electronic sounds with electric in an expansive and alchemical way. Toward the end one of the keyboard sounds was reminiscent of Black Celebration-era Depeche Mode but far more upbeat. Expressive vocals and songs with dynamic depth just made already strong material better. If this is "indie rock," let's have some more of it.
On the final day of the UMS, people trickled in to 3 Kings Tavern at 3 p.m. to see Nightshark play a day show, one of the band's best. Not that each of its shows isn't interesting and noteworthy, but it seemed like the four members of the band were really locked in together to create a dense, intense set of noisy drones punctuated by Andrew Lindstrom's asymmetrical drumming and illuminated by the emotional fire of Brittany Gould's otherwise ghostly vocals.
The contrast there was more obvious than ever. Mike Buckley did his best job of picking up where Helios Creed left off with late '70s Chrome guitar grit/bite/slash and welded it to Neil Keener's fluid yet grinding rhythms. Utilizing a diversity of sounds to create seemingly monolithic and forbidding but entrancing soundscapes is what Nightshark has always done best, and very much so, that was the case this time as well.
Up next was Glass Homes at Moe's. The usual spastic, hectic pace and angular/slashing guitar work collided with the urgency of desperation and existential disappointment that seems to fuel Nick Salmon's songwriting. His seemingly gloomy assessment of the human condition and society and their shortcomings is cast in no uncertain terms. But the raw emotional vocal delivery at times coupled with the Andy Gill-esque guitar work sounded like an honest attempt to break out of despair while mining the inner psyche for inspiration. At the end of the set, Salmon sat down on Brian Blaney's drum set, straddled it and then slid off all while playing some of the most aggressive guitar of the show.
Lightlooms' set at the Skylark seemed to reflect the shifting skies outside; the act's songwriting logic and pace flows like the weather and seems more simple than it is. The bass was more like a textured presence than serving a purely traditional role. The creation of tension and the release as highlighted by luminous guitar work proved to create incredibly gorgeous moments in the set.
Back at the Main Stage, Ian Cooke performed with his full band. Ian O'Dougherty's leads were Brian May-esque, which was appropriate as the band performed "Don't Stop Me Now" about halfway through the set. Cooke was his usual, low key, engaging self, making gentle jokes at his own expense and at that of a particular situation. Sean Merrell provided excellent accents throughout the set, and I was struck by how Cooke's voice, while travelling along a certain vocal range also hit precise notes in an interesting cadence unique to him as a singer. The final song showcased how well this band can come together to create a mood, an atmosphere, very different from what happened in the previous song. At times the music was reminiscent of Genesis from Trick of the Tail but far more accessible.
The rain cleared up by the time Bradford Cox was ready to perform. He started off with a beautiful cover of "Your Cheating Heart," and then he addressed the elephant in the room by tastefully showing empathy for the people of Colorado and the recent shootings at the movie theater in Aurora. He apologized if that was inappropriate, but the way he did it showed compassion and class, and it definitely didn't come from some token, phony need to bring up local current events.
What followed was a set of seven songs and humorous stories performed and told by one of the most interesting musicians of our time and certainly one of the most inventive guitarists of the modern era. Cox is the master of creating layers of scintillating music that holds a melody completely unconventionally while being accessible. It was like we were invited into a kind of private world writ large in music that seemed to constantly expand and spiral back in to send forth a bigger, driftier loop of sound.
When Cox was told he had twenty minutes left after three songs, he said, "I just got here" and then offered to play in someone's living room or garage but preferably the attic. Adding that an attic was preferable because of the image of squirrels scurrying about. He dedicated "Terra Incognita" to the late Trish Keenan. He said the last time he played Denver, presumably as Atlas Sound, he was on tour with Broadcast. He said that Keenan had been a big sister to him.
The lonely, heartfelt sense of loss conveyed in the song was heartbreaking, but especially so since it was obvious the death of Keenan had hit Cox hard. It hit a lot of people touched by her music hard and Cox sang the song with the feeling of someone who had lost someone he admired and had known well. Not a heavy song but certainly carrying the weight of strong emotions.
Cox finished the remarkable set with a song he said was "about how youth gets away from you." That song being "Attic Lights." The vocals were Alan Vega-esque at times, and the way Cox used his guitar on this song really seemed to open up the atmospheric possibilities of the instrument. When coupled with his ability to create truly imaginative and imagination-stirring guitar work in general, it made for a song that took the original and warped it into something stronger
On the way to Compound Basix, I popped in to the Hi-Dive to catch a bit of the Marrow. How a band with such intense music and atmosphere can be so dreamy in that atmosphere is a wonderful puzzle that makes this band uncommonly compelling. Mysterious and entrancing but also making creative use of pop song structures, the Marrow also employs its two drummers well in complementing each other's rhythm, as well as the textures and accents of the flow of sound. The outfit is an experimental band not even disguised as a pop band.
At Compound Basix, Wheelchair Sports Camp made it feel like some kind of party you wanted be a part of but didn't yet know it. Jazzy like Digable Planets but so not directly influenced by that, this band made a lot of hip-hop seem hopelessly obsolete by virtue of its use of live instruments and beats in perfect proportions. Plus, Abi Miller has the voice of a great soul singer and Kalyn Heffernan rattles off great lines, like she's been storing them up for years and continues making some for well into the future.
There is a spirit of fun and good, positive energy that comes off the stage. Isaac provided some solid percussion to augment the electronic beats and provided the organic rhythms that helped the music breathe. Listening to what both Miller and Heffernan have to say, it's awe-inspiring to know that someone, somewhere, has the guts to be that unapologetically political without being preachy and without ultimately sounding lame. With a totally different vibe and attitude, Wheelchair Sports Camp had the political consciousness of Public Enemy, the Coup and Dead Prez, coupled with the free flowing and vibrant musical acumen of the aforementioned Digable Planets and A Tribe Called Quest.
Next up was the Blackouts at the Hornet. The four-piece seemed to do a number of covers this night but did them well, including renditions of "Ace of Spades" and "Motorbreath." During the soundcheck, Ali said that she screams a lot and that, "That's basically all I do." She does it well, and the band seemed to have fun playing. Drummer Hope Bertsch hit the drums hard and yet was able to keep a solid rhythm without getting sloppy, which was impressive to see. The band recalled Betty Blowtorch without any gimmicks and more steeped in the blues end of hard rock. The Blackouts had a lot of energy and charisma, which made for a good solid fun.
After the Blackouts, I caught the last bit of Shady Elders as a three piece featuring Marlon Chance on drums and two guitarists. What might have been chime-y before was more fully fleshed out melody-wise in the guitar work. Not that Britt Rodemich lacked in her guitar work or tone before. Her songs just seemed more fully-realized and captivating with this line-up. These people were clearly fired up about their music and it showed in how they played together and played to the audience.
Tjutjuna finished the night and the festival off for me at the Skylark with a dependably excellent set of energized, krautrock-flavored psychedelia. Even though it was late people were crowded in to the Skylark to witness a truly elemental band work its magic making music that should require more than one guitar and more than three musicians.