SXSW: Denver Represents
Alan Andrews and company deliver a Photo finish.
If you could see pretty much any band in the world that you wanted to right now or to catch groups that you can see at home any old time, which would you choose? No brainer, right? It was for me. While it might seem positively ludicrous to come all the way down to Austin and only fill my itinerary with Denver bands, that’s exactly what I’ve done since I’ve been here. That decision was prompted in part by the desire to see what kind of response our sacred cows receive outside the city limits in front of a virgin crowd.
With that in mind, I kicked things off at Club 115 with Born in the Flood, who played exceptionally well. Nathaniel Rateliff’s tenor was in fine form, as were the mellifluous harmonies turned in by Joseph Pope. Overall, the guys looked as poised and confident as I’ve seen them. Still, the band received a mostly lukewarm response – lukewarm, that is, compared to the boisterous reception it receives at home. I’m convinced that’s mainly because a good deal of its set was devoted to new songs, which, while tuneful enough, aren’t nearly as memorable as those from the masterful If This Thing Should Spill. To be fair, though, I wasn’t sold on those songs, either, the first time I heard them live. Surprisingly, there were no "Anthems" in this set to be found.
Next up was DeVotchKa at Cedar Street Courtyard. The band was slated to follow the Weakerthans – who turned in a solid set themselves – at midnight. Apparently, someone neglected to mention that to the soundmen (yeah, it took two jokers to hold things down) or the volunteer stage hands, who took forfuckingever to get the group set up. (Granted, the sound ended up being flawless, but still.) After the inexplicable, excruciatingly long delay – seriously, wars have been waged and won in less time – DeVotchKa finally took the stage around 12:30. Any burgeoning tension in the crowd dissipated the moment Nick Urata opened his mouth. Like a one-man angel choir, Urata instantly had the capacity crowd in the palm of his hands. Augmented by a string quartet and mariachi horn section, Urata and company sounded as devastatingly gorgeous as ever. I split after only three tunes, but after waiting around for, like, an hour and a half, I didn’t feel too bad.
Finished the night at the Pure Volume Ranch with the Photo Atlas, who turned in a dependably taut set that sounded impeccable, in stunning contrast to Hearts of Palm’s set on the same stage just the night before, which was marred by some seriously shitty sound. Nathan McGarvey’s vocals – the band’s defacto centerpiece and driving force -- were non existent. Oddly, the subtle flourishes – the grumbly bass lines, tasteful guitar riffs and gang vocals – that typically enhance the songs were pushed closer to the forefront and became a distracting focal point. Alan Andrews -- clad in a Chain Gang of 1974 T-shirt – on the other hand, was loud and clear. And unlike years past in which the band benefited from the support of a sizable Denver contingent, the Photo Atlas raged like the seasoned road vets they’ve so clearly become – with absolutely no need for hometown ringers.
I guess that's what you call a -- ahem, wait for it -- Photo finish.
-- Dave Herrera