I started out Saturday with the Yes We Cans' appearance at Moe's Barbecue at 3 p.m., a staid set that seemed to reflect the early hour of the gig. With ballads composed of minor chords and heavily reverbed guitar effects, the Colorado Springs outfit offered a straightforward collection of pop rock tunes that were mostly unremarkable. Considering the fact that most of the audience looked to be diners, the understated feel seemed entirely appropriate.
It took hiking down Broadway to the hi-dive to find a more energetic set. I Sank Molly Brown didn't seem dissuaded by the early hour, ramping up the energy quickly and effectively. The crowd still seemed small, but the trio immediately engaged the audience, swapping vocals between the lead guitarist and the bassist, offering odd instrumentation like a recorder line at the beginning of the tune.
The effect helped me get past the soporific effect of the heat and the relatively early hour. The Yes We Cans' energy found a match in my next stop, the Mile Markers at the Irish Rover at 3:30 p.m. The trio's set of energetic reels, jigs and Celtic ballads fit the venue ideally. Although the Irish Rover would host a diverse array of rock and folk bands in the next two days, it was nice to start out the UMS with an Irish band at an Irish bar.
I veered from the formal festival track after the Mile Markers' set, heading up Irvington Street to the Brass Tree House for an extra session by Achille Lauro. I'd missed the band when they played at the Skylark on Friday night, so it was a treat to catch the quartet during the festival. The Brass Tree House's immediacy and small size added a new dimension to the set; I've seen the band too many times to count, but being mere feet away from lead player Matt Close as they played songs like "No Brakes" and "Low Cha Cha" added an extra element to the show.
The intimate dynamic of the Achille Lauro set was a good warm-up for Boulder Acoustic Society's set on the main outdoor stage at 4:30. After forty minutes in the cramped confines of the Brass Tree House, it was good to get outdoors for BAS's set, a performance that showed off a different dynamic of the band. I was expecting the speedy tempos and dense accordion lines I'd come to expect from the outfit, but the group's set on the Goodwill stage offered a slower, more meditative quality. Tunes like "Giant" offered stretches of measured musing and slow tempos; in lieu of the brash accordion lines, players offered slow solos on a hybrid banjo/ukulele instrument.
The set was a thoughtful, calming way to end my first day at the festival. Happily, I didn't have to spend much time in quiet contemplation for my second day.
I started out Sunday's stretch with the Saturn Cowboys at the Irish Rover at 3:15 p.m. The three-piece's straightforward rock ballads and proto-punk-inspired sound was enjoyable enough, but the best moments came during the Danny Aranow's lead guitar solos. Backed by competent walking bass lines, Aranow offered thoughtful, precise solos that stood out.
I decided to brave the oppressive heat for the Hollyfelds' set on the smaller outdoor stage at 3:45. While the weather still seemed to discourage any mass crowds, the country outfit offered plenty of energy for the thirty or so audience members assembled, proudly blaring their trademark brand of close harmonies and rousing country rhythms. One of the two lead female singers complemented the audience's bravery in face of the debilitating heat, commenting, "You guys are troopers."
My own tolerance for the heat ran out fifteen minutes into the set, and I made the long trek to Moe's Barbecue for A Shoreline Dream's set at 4 p.m. I have to admit that the venue itself made things a bit surreal -- I don't think I can ever fully get used to seeing a band in a barbecue joint. Still, the group made the best of the setting, launching into dark chords and ruminating lyrics. Promising to bring a dark mood to the early afternoon set, the band delivered, offering lyrics that sounded more like pure emotion than discernible words. The extended, energetic and lengthy compositions helped make up for the odd setting.
Bonnie and the Beard's set at the Irish Rover boasted a much more appropriate marriage of sound and place. It was the fullest I'd seen the small Irish pub on South Broadway, and the trio seemed to thrive on the dense audience's energy. Both titular lead members played off each other, with Bonnie delivering snappy keyboard lines and the guitarist responding in kind, delivering vocals with a frenzied, carnival barker-like enthusiasm.
It was a manic energy that I found hard to match during the remainder of the festival. I sensed it during the final strains of Khaira Arby's set on the main stage, and I was disappointed I arrived too late to catch a full tune.
John Common and the Blinding Flashes of Light's appearance on the smaller outdoor stage boasted plenty of high points -- the ensemble seems to have honed its approach during the past year to a constantly reliable degree. As an added bonus, the band's cover of Tom Waits' "Clap Your Hand" featured a new dimension of the group. Still, it was hard to calm down for the group's distinctive brand of folk-based rock after Bonnie and Beard's explosive set. Seeing Dan Craig on the same stage immediately after John Common posed the same problem. While Craig's sound has come leaps and bounds during the past year, his meditative, subtle approach echoed Common's set a bit too closely.
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Perhaps I was still pining for the cramped, energetic feel of Achille Lauro's set at the Brass Tree House, or Bonnie and the Beard's remarkable performance at the Irish Rover. When Fairchildren took the main outdoor stage, my yearning for an intimate venue had receded, enough so that the group's understated, musing compositions had a calming effect.
Along with a cover of Kenny Rogers' "The Gambler," the tunes from Julie Davis, Nate Meese, Joseph Pope and James Han stood as a perfect cap for the festival. The group didn't suffer from the absence of Nathaniel Rateliff, nor did they echo the sound of the rock star currently on tour in Europe. As the sun went down over South Broadway, the Fairchildren's measured, straightforward compositions stood as an ideal cap for this year's UMS.