As far as standout female voices in today's indie-landscape, the front seems to be dominated as of late by heavyweights like Best Coast's Bethany Cosetino or Beach House's Victoria Legrand. But a serious chunk of room needs to be made for both Brooklyn band Callers and Baltimore's Wye Oak, who stopped by the Larimer Lounge over the weekend on their way across the country touring together. Both bands sport some of the most beautiful, unique voices in music today, and both were in top form for their performances.
With no local support to open the show, the Larimer crowd was a bit sparse when Callers sauntered on stage to begin their set. But as the night progressed (and this is a testament especially to headliners Wye Oak, who has played Denver a number of times already), the venue filled out nicely for a Saturday night as a better-than-decent crowd looked and listened on.
Callers had a jazzier approach to indie that found guitarist Ryan Seaton pawing gentle, prickly lines with beautifully rounded tones that were matched with the versatile, delicate and controlled drumming of Don Godwin. Standard 4/4 meter was all but off-limits for the set. The group employed odd time signatures that made you think twice or thrice, but always came out with a natural flow, as if standard timing was something alien to them. And singer Sara Lucas stepped gently alongside on stage to the band's unmistakable tempo, which let that voice shine through. And shine it did with Lucas' voice pouring out with the vibrato of Joni Mitchell, plus the smoky, haunting qualities that make Cowboy Junkies so bewitching.
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Wye Oak turned in something of a jaw-dropper of a set next. The duo writes great songs that run the gamut, from humbling balladry to uptempo melodic rock, that swoop from quiet to breathtaking, thunderous fury. Live, those great songs are something to behold. Drummer Andy Stack kept his work on the kit simple, which made sense as he also takes bass, synth, and effects duties on at the same time, which is one of those "What am I doing with my life?" kind of things to see.
While knocking out the bass lines and harmonies on a keyboard with his left hand, he played the drums with his right, using a swizzle stick, which has a wood tip and soft back end. He constantly flipped back and forth to provide punchy backbeats and even cymbal crescendos. Jen Wasner, meanwhile, fed off both Stack's driving beat and brilliant dynamics, fearlessly cranking her guitar with shoegazing distortions and shrieking volumes between calmingly beautiful verses. And her voice is something you simply can't miss either, with its deep, mellow color and trembling honesty.
As the band finished up with a couple of encores, a stunned-and-satisfied Larimer Lounge wasn't ready to let Wye Oak go. The band, however, was simply too exhausted to continue further. In this, "the year of constant touring," as Wasner called it, they promised they'd be back soon. It would be a surprise if the group's shows weren't upgraded to a bigger venue by the time that comes around.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: This was my second time seeing Wye Oak; last time was seeing the band open for Shearwater at the hi-dive. It was a great thing to see them headline a set, draw a great crowd and deliver heavy. Onward, upward, etc. By The Way: Lance Stack made it out to the show with his microphones. He said he wouldn't be able to upload the concert in time for us to share these two impeccable sets with this review, but be sure to check out the Flat Response to get a glimpse of these two wonderful bands in the coming weeks. Random Detail: Callers' Don Godwin joined Wye Oak on stage for a couple of numbers playing a tenor horn. I later found out that brass is actually his first instrument, which, after seeing him play drums, was something of an amazing revelation.