Live Review: Film School, Moonspeed and Ascaris at Larimer Lounge

Categories: Last Night
Photo: Tom Murphy
Moonspeed sounded great despite subpar sound.

Film School, Moonspeed and Ascaris
Sunday, July 13, 2008
Larimer Lounge
Better Than:
Having to catch the next Moonspeed show at Red Rocks, where most of the crowd won’t appreciate the music.

The sound at the Larimer Lounge didn’t do the band as much justice as its previous gig. The bass was all but buried, and the twin acoustics didn’t seem to get quite the separation they deserved. And there’s not much the sound guy could do about that. At some point, the Larimer is due for a sound overhaul of some kind. Still, Moonspeed isn’t a band designed to depend purely on a sound system for its music to work and the act still wove an inspired composite of sound that flowed into and stirred the imagination.

Because the songs weren't written with the intention of eleven musicians blasting their individual parts into the audience, the songs work beautifully. Each revealed a real ear for compositional elements within a collection of musicians that can be utilized to great effectiveness rather than indulging the ego of any particular musician. Incorporating non-Western musical ideas in the context of space rock currently makes Moonspeed one of the most interesting, impressive and important bands going, and beyond that, the music was heartwarmingly beautiful and powerful.

Photo: Tom Murphy
Film School's influences were a little less detectable.

The latest line-up of Film School is the best yet. While it has always been a good band, I really think that it's starting to incorporate its influences more fluidly into the songwriting. Almost gone are the sometimes awkward post-punk exercises with shoegaze guitar thrown over the top. Throughout the set, I those influences were still detectable, but the sounds were integrated better than on the two previous occasions I caught the band. With that in mind, the trappings of My Bloody Valentine-esque soundscaping was present on a song or two, but way more subtle than the outfit's earlier records would suggest.

All in all, the otherworldly sounds and expertly layered tones provided for a arresting experience and the lighting bolstered the sense of the deep and mysterious. At times the vocals reminded me a little of Robert Smith but far less affected. The swell of emotions showed clearly in the lead singer's face and gave the songs an emotional authenticity and grittiness that some of this kind of music is lacking. The group's shimmering, streaming psychedelia benefited from cool pop hooks and progressions.

The act's noisier instincts didn’t pan out as well, but most modern space rock bands aren’t even really trying to incorporate that aesthetic into their sound and certainly not with the same level of invention that Film School tried to pull off. The other two times I saw the band, the crowd was pretty sparse. This time out, it appeared that many more Denverites, and not just the space rock aficionados, were out to check out one of the most ambitious bands going.

Photo: Tom Murphy
Ascaris played well despite a thinning crowd.

Ascaris was probably something of an anomaly on this bill. The crowd certainly thinned out to about twelve of us, and yet, the members played as though they didn’t care what the crowd was like, even though they made a good-natured joke of it at various points during their set. At first I thought Ascaris was one of those stoner rock bands we’ve seen too much, but over the course of several songs, it was obvious the band's roots are in death metal of various stripes, mainly the strain that has its origins in punk rock, as Ascaris played each of its songs with an energetic intensity that I haven’t seen much of in metal that doesn’t have some connection to thrash. Sure, the Cookie Monster vocals were present, but the singers could also sing decently for metal guys.

And yes, the group has song titles like “Whiskey Dick,” “M2” (about machine guns, or so the band quipped) and “Hate is a Gift.” But there was some cool dynamics between the guitars that bordered on psychedelic and the rhythm section was top notch, particularly the drummer, who was maniacally good for this type of band. For “M2” the combination of rapid-fire drumming, he slipped in some choice cymbal rattles that made it sound as though a machine gun were being fired and the spent casings were hitting the ground. Not my favorite kind of music but Ascaris had me liking them in spite of my avowed dislike of most metal.

-- Tom Murphy

Critic's Notebook

Personal Bias: Space rock of all kinds is just about my favorite music.
Random Detail: Black Lamb’s Tim Vigil was working the door and he was wearing an Ascaris t-shirt.
By the Way: Film School drove diligently from the previous city on its tour, specifically to catch Moonspeed.

This is the seventh of thirty-five consecutive shows that Tom Murphy is planning on attending. His whole idea is to prove that there's cool stuff going on any night of the week in Denver, if you bother to make any effort whatsoever to find it. He suggested naming this series, "This Band Could Be Your Life," a fitting designation to be sure. Since there's already a similarly titled book, however, we opted to file these entries under Last Night's Show -- you know, to avoid being sued an all. (Sorry, Tom.)


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