Westword Music Showcase reviewed: Curious Theatre

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Aaron Thackeray


See more photos from Curious Theatre at westword.com/slideshow.

Elin Palmer, 12 p.m.
Overcoming technical difficulties and an initially cumbersome stage setup (the stage manager had to find room for a drum riser amid the creative and complicated set -- including a desk, a bed and a road -- for Curious Theatre's latest production, 26 Miles), Denver's most luminous Swedish singer-songwriter wowed an early crowd with her unique instrumentation, bilingual vocals and guileless stage presence. Palmer was joined by Charles Parker on bass, the one and only Patrick Meese on drums, and Patrick's wife, Tiffany, on a thrift-store Casio. Tiffany's harmonies captivated the crowd while Palmer sang the kinds of songs that nearly ruined a whole trip for Odysseus.

Verdict: Though this was a rather low-energy way to kick things off at the Curious stage, the theatricality of Palmer's music and the adoration of a few ardent fans really made it work. This was my first time to catch Palmer live, and I look forward to hearing her again very soon.

Astrophagus, 1 p.m.
Astrophagus has long served as an outlet for the songwriting of Jason Cain, but the band has evolved in unique and interesting ways to distinguish itself from Cain's solo work. The configuration that took the stage included Cain on guitar, vocals and laptop, his brother, Josh, on keys, Daniel Pope on more keys and Joshua Trinidad on trumpet. Showing off new and truly interesting takes on familiar Astrophagus and Cain tunes, the quartet drew in passersby with its dreamy-yet-energetic performance.

Verdict: There's no substitute for truly engaging performances, and all members of Astrophagus gave exactly that. Jason Cain and Josh Trinidad, in particular, seemed to inhabit the songs with a passion that bordered on mania.

Houses, 2 p.m.
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Aaron Thackeray


Andy Hamilton's Houses -- which has taken its place, for the moment, as Denver's indie rock darling -- is as much a happening as a rock band. Finding room on the crowded-yet-intriguing Curious stage for all the outfit's players was tricky, but once they settled in, the bliss and melancholy of Houses filled the room and snagged the attention of an eager crowd -- which included many of the day's performers, who stopped by to hear what the fuss was all about.

Verdict: First and foremost, Hamilton writes refreshingly sincere, eerily catchy and uncannily memorable songs. Then, the formidable talents with whom he surrounds himself flesh those songs out to full-blown reveries. There were a few moments when the ungainly band teetered on the brink of chaos, but a simple shake of a tambourine or a singalong chorus has the power to heal even that.

Hello Kavita, 3 p.m.
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Aaron Thackeray


Following Houses can be tricky, but Corey Teruya's band handled the situation with grace and professionalism. Where the former band builds to ecstatic crescendos, Hello Kavita often whispers and simmers with restrained bliss. I can't even count the number of times I've seen this act, but I can't remember a time when Jimmy Stofer's vocal harmonies sounded more crystalline.

Verdict: By this time, Curious Theatre was downright packed with happily attentive listeners, and Hello Kavita held them rapt. I'd venture to guess that the group gained more than a few new fans when it closed with the number that's becoming its signature -- a clever and surprisingly tasteful mashup of the original "Pensacola" and Paul Simon's "You Can Call Me Al."

Achille Lauro, 4 p.m.
Achille Lauro was the ideal band to follow Hello Kavita, and not just because both bands include talented guitarist Luke Mossman. Both bands have a quiet intensity that rewards careful listening. Fortunately, the house-filling crowd at Curious Theatre gave the group its full attention. Like Astrophagus, Achille Lauro has recently reinvented itself, writing some surprising and exciting new songs, and giving its older tunes a slightly more electronic and less jazzy treatment. The new sound worked wonders in the auditorium-like space of the Theatre, causing singer/guitarist/keyboardist Matt Close to exclaim, "This is the coolest stage I've ever seen!"

Verdict: While the folks of Notably Fine Audio continued to do an admirable job of delivering high-quality sound in a challenging space, a number of monitor issues and other technical glitches occasionally blemished Achille Lauro's set. In spite of that, the band managed to come through with one of the most engaging sets I've seen since Brian Joseph's departure. 

BDRMPPL, Cacheflowe, Iuengliss, Married in Berdichev, Pictureplane and Slight Harp, 5 p.m.
Putting six experimental electronic acts on stage simultaneously was a bold move, and one that could have gone horribly wrong. In fact, had Josephine and the Mousepeople been able to perform as planned, the total number of acts would have been seven. In spite of the potential trainwreck, the well-organized round robin of performances went off without a hitch. Each act played one piece, then faded out as the next act joined in with its piece. Then the whole circle repeated. There were moments of brilliance, flashes of chaos and several prolonged minutes of delight, all enjoyed by a nearly-capacity crowd who had come in to escape torrential rains. Lucky for them.

Verdict: When it comes to listening to music in my house or car, I make no secret of the fact that I'm a pop music guy at heart, but I absolutely love seeing the envelope pushed (no pun intended) in live performance, and these acts certainly did so. Cacheflowe's painstaking Kraftwerk covers and Iuengliss's impassioned performance were highlights, but all the outfits came through with great ideas and exciting presence. The only downsides were a slightly amateurish performance by Pictureplane during the first round (he completely made up for it on his second turn) and some unnecessary sniping -- understandable, given the stressful nature of pulling something like this off -- between a couple of the performers. In many ways, this was the highlight of the day, and probably should have been the closing performance at Curious.

Bela Karoli (with surprise guest, the Wheel), 6 p.m.
Julie Davis, Carrie Beeder and Brigid McAuliffe continue to perform dark, seductive and slightly sinister jazz rock that deftly combines electronic and organic instrumentation. The trio played some new songs, along with old favorites, with characteristic professionalism and confidence. The gathered crowd were largely Bela Karoli fans who cheered for and sang along with several of the group's songs. When Davis invited Nathaniel Rateliff and Joseph Pope III onto the stage to perform a song by Rateliff's band, the Wheel, the Theatre shook with cheers and applause.

Verdict: While Bela Karoli's performance was flawless and beautiful, I think it might have had greater impact earlier in the day -- especially preceding the electro experimental weirdness that instead preceded it. As it was, the group's performance -- which ordinarily might have felt transcendent and goose bumpy -- fell a little flat.


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