Review: Westword Music Showcase @ the Acoma Center - 6/16/07
Westword Music Showcase
June 16, 2007
The Acoma Center
Better than: Having to fake any enthusiasm for utterly mainstream bands.
Although I made it to the Acoma Center too late to catch Rachael Pollard’s absolutely beautiful, understated songs, I did arrive just in time to witness Roger Green’s brilliantly eclectic set. Green mixed things up a bit with his more minimalist folky tunes and inspiring guitar style that made the final two Czars’ albums so compelling and thought provoking. His gift is not just in his technique or in the way he makes sounds that has the gear heads checking out his pedal board to steal ideas, but in eloquently communicating complex feelings directly without uttering a word. One of the highlights of Green’s performance included Natalie Winslow of Rabbit is a Sphere on backing vocals. Another was a song he dedicated to his old band (presumably the Czars), wherein he employed guitar loops to create dense yet ethereal layers of sound that shimmered and stirred the soul.
After Green was finished, I noticed that the Acoma Center sounded good in a way it hasn’t in year’s past. When I saw Xandy from the hi-dive walk on stage to move around mikes and speakers, it was obviously someone had made the right choice.
Ghost Buffalo has reworked itself in recent months. For the last two years or so it seemed as though the act had lost some of its initial focus -- even though its excellent record doesn’t bear out that observation. For this show, the band was more together than it has been in a long time and its set was a beautiful display of contrasts. Marie Litton’s otherworldly, simple vocals floated over the glittery chords coming out of her amp, while Matt Bellinger’s pyrotechnic guitar work -- at this point, highly refined than earlier in the band’s career -- brought a decided edge to the music. The new rhythm section of Jedd Kopp and Ben Williams, most recently with Landlord Land, has brought some new life to this underrated band nominated, oddly enough, in the Americana category.
Cowboy Curse had a rough start, but quickly ramped up to an intensity you don’t often see with pop bands. Earlier on in the band’s development, the act was far more poppy. Since Erin Tidwell joined the band on drums in the fall of 2005, however, the group has become more of a rock unit with a sound to match the sometimes biting social commentary in singer/guitarist Ben Bergstrand’s lyrics. More than most other times, bassist Tyler Campo’s singing could be heard as he hit higher notes more consistently, helping anchor the band’s superb vocal harmonies. During an especially frenetic set, the song highlights included the dreamy, yet gritty, “11:57,” the incredibly powerful and affecting “Negative Space” and the not at all subtle, but right on target, “Mow ‘Em Down Like Jesus Would.” Always worthwhile, this Cowboy Curse show was noteworthy for its noisiness and fire.
Cat-A-Tac has been getting a lot of press lately because they’re charting on CMJ. More than that, though, the group has managed to take steps out of its earlier, more subdued early days and put out a couple of excellent records, the best of which is the latest release, Past Lies and Former Lives. Although the guitar sound was a bit thin, the use of sound was impressive with complementary chord structures, even when it appeared that Andy Tennant and Jim McTurnan were playing the same thing. The guitarists have figured out how to sound huge without stumbling over one another. One of the best moments of Cat-A-Tac’s set came when the outfit played “Bills” to close out the show and completely flubbed the intro. After asking if they were allowed to start over, McTurnan told the crowd, “What we lack in talent, we make up for with lack of talent.” What a kidder. Despite the thin guitar sound, it was a remarkably accomplished set. The material isn’t exactly original, but it’s headed in the right direction.
The popularity of the Laylights, who were up next, still escapes me. The band still sounds like a poor man’s Interpol or a better version of the Editors. That said, at the Showcase, the guys at least performed like they meant it, and that counts for a lot when a lot of bands just go through the motions. Frontman Tyler Hayden’s croon has gotten better, and during the set when the band made a mistake that derailed a song, instead of flipping out like some kind of debutante, Hayden handled the situation with humor and grace. Anyone who can get you to laugh with them is difficult to dislike. The band’s final song had some of the most interesting guitar work to date and at points it even sounded powerful.
The Omens got on stage with little fanfare. Matt Hunt’s basslines were gritty and driving and when he and his mates howled out, as so many garage rock bands before them have done, it didn’t sound contrived. Partway during the set, Hunt gestured for people to come forward instead of sitting in their seats, telling the audience, “We’re not watching a movie.” And when a good crowd of people came to the front of the stage and danced he said, “See? Denver can be good.” Elsewhere during the set, the band broke free of its immediately influences – the great garage rock of the ‘80s coming out of Scandinavia and off of Dionysus Records -- and fused surf, garage and punk in a way recalled the Teenage Harlets from San Francisco. The Omens ended the show with an unexpectedly psychedelic intro to a more methedrine-fueled blazer and sent the crowd off with a good bit of cathartic, chaotic fun. -- Tom Murphy
Personal Bias: My heart is completely and utterly with the indie underground and experimental music, but will be the first person to acknowledge when a more mainstream band is good.
Random Detail: Met an older guy named John right before the Omens’ set who told me he loved the Denver music scene right now because it’s the best in the country. He said he’d lived in New York, LA, Seattle and other places, but this was his favorite. Although, John mentioned Savage Henry and Buckwild as bands he liked, he seemed most excited about the Omens.
By the Way: There are a lot of great bands that never make into the Westword Music Showcase and some that were nominated and, for whatever reasons, couldn’t play. But this year, you really did have a chance to see a good sampling of everything happening in Denver at the moment whether you’re an indie rock snob, a metalhead or a general music fan. As a relatively high profile guidepost, you couldn’t really go wrong with the 2007 Showcase.