The Legendary Pink Dots at the Gothic Theatre, 10/19/10
Munly & The Lupercalians
10.19.10 | Gothic Theatre, Denver, CO
Even if you've seen Munly play anytime within the past two decades, nothing really prepares you for this whole Lupercalians thing. For one, it takes some chutzpah to name yourself after a now-obscure ancient Roman rite in which some of the participants wear the bloody skins of goats.
But more to the point, for this show, Munly looked like an unassuming country rocker sans hat. His bandmates, on the other hand, looked like they could have stepped out of Melmoth the Wanderer. That is to say, wearing pointed, masked hoods that seemed to be made of sackcloth.
And then there was the instrumentation: One of the percussionists played an old wood-burning stove, while the other played a set of what looked like some variety of African drums. Their bandmates in black hoods played keys and synths while Munly played only acoustic guitars and banjo.
Who knows what happened to Munly and his cohorts between the breakup of the Lee Lewis Harlots and now -- but the material played on this night was Munly's strongest batch yet. Sure, it was that dark, moody Americana, but underneath that veneer was an almost defiant energy. The percussion was tribal in its steady thickness, like African drum sounds calibrated for a use outside that context.
Munly's vocals, meanwhile, were that kind of melodious, warbly, world-weary and on-the-verge-of-a-nervous-breakdown thing that we've heard from him for years, only much more focused here and having lost none of the intensity. The mix of electronic and organic, futuristic and rustic sounds was the musical equivalent of science fiction in reverse: the Frank Bellamy effect, if you will.
At the end, this incarnation of Munly's collaborative musical expression seemed more fully realized and unique than what he's done up to now. Even if you think you know what Munly has been about, this particular group is impressive on its own merits in making harrowing yet moving and beautiful music.