Live Review: Devon Williams, the May Kit, Ellison Park, MYSE at Larimer Lounge

Categories: Last Night
MYSE playing decent, dusky pop songs. (Photos by Tom Murphy).

Devon Williams, the May Kit, Ellison Park, MYSE
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
Larimer Lounge, Denver
Better Than:
I could have possibly imagined.

MYSE was all but done with their set by the time I made it to the Larimer, but I did get to hear two songs. Not being familiar with the band I can’t give titles, but I did appreciate the band’s gentle melodies and finely structured songwriting. When the group brought out the mandolin for the final number, it wove a sound of poignant delicacy with the two vocalists playing expertly off each other, the female singer providing the dynamism. Even though the singing was fairly straightforward pop faire, the members were able to evoke subtle emotional textures. Some might dismiss MYSE as a band destined for TV pilot soundtracks, but in doing some decent, dusky pop songs.

Ellison Park, alone with his guitar.

Ellison Park took the stage next with just his Epiphone ES-335 and a Vox AC30. But that was more than enough for him to create the warm, intimate climate inhabited by his songs. His music was sort of a stripped down blues but not the sonically gritty variety favored by way too many musicians at the moment. What made each song work, was Park’s seemingly shifting lyrical strategies across each song. Even when he was working familiar thematic territory for the type of music he chose to play, it never came off as repetitive. I’d also be willing to bet that Ellison has a jazz background, as his choice of chord structures and rhythms bore this out toward the end of his set. Where the instincts of some musicians to taking things back to basics leads them to being more rustic, Ellison Park clearly realized that an affectation is no substitute for quality songwriting.

Max from the May Kit, or Devendra Banhart? You make the call.

The May Kit closed out the night and for a moment, I thought maybe Devendra Banhart was playing under a different name, despite the fact that Max of The May Kit looks nothing like Banhart beyond having a beard; his rainy day, atmospheric folk bears favorable comparison to the latter's own eccentric music. And his finger picking while executing sustained chords was especially impressive. A lot of this kind of music can sound like lonely, late night music, but the May Kit sounds more early morning wistful — a quality that lifted the songs above a hazy gloom suggested by their fuzzy-edged character.

Honestly, this show was my third choice for this second part of my concert review series. But I was already familiar with the music of my first two picks, and at the last minute I had listened to Devon Williams’ music online and thought it would be something I’d wouldn’t have to try hard to like. Needless to say, I was not prepared for how great Devon Williams and his band really were. When they took the stage, they, or at least Devon and the initial drummer, seemed to be in a bedraggled state. I wasn’t sure if this was due to exhaustion, being at the end of their emotional tether because of a rough day, being drunk or a combination of a number of these factors. But none of that mattered because Willams and company delivered one of the most powerful, impassioned shows that I’ve seen from a pop band in longer than I’d care to think about.

Devon Williams pours his heart out.
Calling Devon Williams merely a singer-songwriter doesn’t do justice to his talent. Every song of his put to shame a lot of the indie rock receiving the lion’s share of kudos from the mainstream press. Live, the guy is a force of nature, and I couldn’t help but be mesmerized by guitar work that was atmospheric, melodic and electrifying, like the guy listened to a lot of Echo and the Bunnymen and Let’s Active. So much of the interplay of guitar also reminded me of the Call, if those guys were less straight ahead rock and quite a bit dreamier.

Throughout his set, Williams sang with a passion that contorted his face revealing the strain of not holding back any feelings. There was a good deal of eccentrically hilarious and sometimes awkward stage banter but it all came off smart. There was some technical difficulty with a guitar, but overall, the show never lost momentum, mostly because there was so much energy coming from the stage. These are artists who give a lot to the audience and their songs are all beautiful pieces of inspired pop music with great deal of intelligence and heart. If anything, the frayed live show brought those qualities out in a way that a record never really can.

-- Tom Murphy

Personal Bias: Normally, I’m so not into the singer-songwriter thing.
Random Detail: MYSE’s second guitarist had on a Robert Johnson T-shirt.
By the Way: Devon Williams had incredibly cool T-shirts that feature the name of the album (Carefree) instead of the band. My only regret is that I really wasn’t in a position to give them a place to stay for the night, because they seemed like really cool people to boot. Next time, hit me up.

This is the second 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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