Why a Legendary Ambient Band Made its Colorado Debut in...Palmer Lake

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Sitting on State Highway 105, Tri-Lakes Center for the Arts in Palmer Lake, Colorado is like a well-appointed community arts center in any small town. With its tastefully painted exterior and a sense of having been part of the community for years but never neglected, it reminded one of something that might be off the beaten path in Winter Park or Buena Vista or Manitou Springs. Not rustic, not quaint but also not with the kind of stuffy professionalism that can come with art venues in larger cities. It was not where you would expect avant-garde composer duo A Winged Victory for the Sullen to make its Colorado debut. 

Jesse Maddox and his father made this show happen. Maddox, who lives across I-25 in Monument, is a huge fan of the internationally touring band, and last year he started working to make the show happen. He considered some other venue options, but ended up pulling things together, including an appropriate P.A., to be able to host the event in his hometown. 

That this show was fairly well-attended came as a surprise to everyone, including band members Dustin O'Halloran and Adam Wiltzie, who in the end basically did two encores. But there was no talk of, "We had no idea anyone cared about our music in a place like this." It was, in fact, more "Thank you for coming to this place to see us." Wiltzie told us, at one point, that normally they don't talk during the set and just get to things, but that this was something of a special occasion. When your usual can be a high profile art gallery on the East Coast or Europe, the change of pace was probably refreshing for the band. Wiltzie told us he went to high school in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and that Palmer Lake reminded him of that time.

Scott Morgan, who some may know as the drummer for Destroyer, opened the show as Loscil — his more electronic-oriented ambient compositions accompanied by mostly black and white imagery that synched with the music. The shifting layers of visual strategy seemed aimed to express abstract depictions of early spring weather. Luminous, nearly transparent circles as clouds and textures as well as flowing water on the beach among other imagery proved a hypnotic accompaniment with the sound.

A Winged Victory had three string players for the set and performed mostly material from its 2014 album Atomos as well as one song from its self-titled debut. No one seemed to be talking for the entire performance. This is not something that happens much at shows in Denver. Maybe it was that this performance felt more like a serious, yet transcendent, modern classical show, except that despite an obvious focus in playing the music, the people on stage seemed to be having some fun even as they looked to each other to gauge shifts in tone and rhythm like they were playing in an unusual jazz band or Swans.

Before the music ended for the night, O'Halloran got on the mic and told us how he had gone to an ice cream place down the street called Rock House Ice Cream. When he completed the order he was informed, after he asked why he wasn't charged, that someone ahead of him had paid for his order. "That's the kind of town you have," O'Halloran remarked, clearly touch touched. 

Critic’s Notebook
Bias: I've been kind of a fan of A Winged Victory For the Sullen for a couple of years and of Wiltzie's work in Stars of the Lid for more than a decade and O'Halloran's masterful turn scoring Marie Antoinette.
Random Detail: Tommy Maley of Sugarsplat made it down for the show.
By the Way: Jesse Maddox and his wife Carla make high quality Taiko drums and anyone interested in his work should visit taikos.com.

If you'd like to contact me, Tom Murphy, on Twitter, my handle is @simianthinker.

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