(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Concert review - Mumiy Troll, Future of the Left, Trail of Dead

20 October 2009 (Bluebird Theater, Denver CO) Evidently, when Denver's Bluebird Theater says showtime is 8pm, they don't mean that the doors open at 8pm or that the real showtime is 8:30. No, the first band will be rocking out at 8pm sharpish. As a result. I missed Mumiy Troll's first couple of songs, which was a disappointment. Still, it was a full evening of music.
Mumiy Troll
I've reviewed Mumiy Troll's Comrade Ambassador, I've interviewed front man Ilya Lagutenko, and I've been listening to their new English EP, Paradise Ahead. So, I had high expectations for this show.

As I mentioned, I missed the start of the show. This was frustrating and annoying, but there wasn't any time to dwell on this, because the set was underway. The boys rocked the house, putting on a great show. The audience was packed with expatriate Russians who were hyped to catch the band and sing along.

With sweat flying, Ilya's face was incredibly expressive. YouTube videos give a sense that he's a great showman, but seeing him live was much more impressive. He worked the crowd, building things up. The other guys were very focused on attacking the songs, but guitarist Yuri Tsaler did sing a bit and showed that he could also lead a song.

They played some familiar songs from Comrade Ambassador as well as some older material. These were not "cover the album" arrangements -- there were some great jams. They ended their short set with Sleep Rock'n'Roll, which is normally a thoughtful groove.

This version started out sleeping, but woke up with a vengeance. The arrangement was split into a progression of sections, starting out reflective and laid back. Yuri played a David Gilmour inspired lead here that fit perfectly. Then, as it built into a relentless rock thrash, Ilya added a punchy rhythm guitar and the band followed suit. Drummer Oleg Pungin played rapid fire machine gun shots on the kick drum. It was a great end for the set, I just wanted more.

Hopefully, Mumiy Troll will be back as a headliner next time.

Future of the Left

Next up was Future of the Left, a 3 piece noise punk band from Wales. Their performance was pretty raw in contrast to their online music, which is much cleaner and focused. In either case, their sound is dense and driving. The key feature was the highly distorted bass that took on the role of rhythm guitar. The drums were simple and heavy. The guitar (or sometimes keyboard) usually contributed accenting shards of noise. Although, on one song, the keys reminded me of Peter Gabriel's Games Without Frontiers.

Future of the Left put on a fairly good show. Bass player Kelson Mathias affected a spastic rhythmic motion that conveyed tension and fit the punk aesthetic. The shouted lyrics were hard to understand, scraping a passing grade from the John Lydon school of vocals. The patter between songs was a little more interesting, with great offhand lines like, "It's a shame when anyone who isn't Margaret Thatcher dies."

At the end of their set, Kelson jumped down and jammed in the mosh pit. Then he handed off his bass to someone in the audience to go off exploring in the crowd. So, the show was good, but the music was too raw and abrasive for me.

And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead
I wasn't very familiar with Trail of Dead before this show. I had always though they were some kind of hard rock band. Reading up now, they've been described as "art rock", but I'd call it progressive rock. Sometimes, they dose their songs with a bit of psychedelia, but it's a focused buzz. This show convinced me I need give them a closer listen. I'll be following up with a review of their latest CD.

The most unique aspect of their show was the elastic organization of roles. Sometimes, a drummer switched to guitar or lead vocals. They had two drummers, each with a separate kit, which gave them room to trade off roles without wasting a lot of time. Often, the drums played in unison, but they still diverged enough to keep things interesting. The effect was almost orchestral, where complexity was revealed through the dual drum parts. This was heady music, with a lot going on.

Many of their songs relied on sonic shifts to keep the audience engaged: a harder rock song might break into a more spacey reverie (1:50) or a thoughtful moodiness would erupt into waves of sound. It was quite reminiscent of My Morning Jacket or the Flaming Lips; though, when they rocked out, there was more of a Jane's Addiction vibe.

The encore included both new and old songs. They started with one of the new songs, then played To Russia, My Homeland, and wrapped up with their first song from back in 1995. As the song thrashed into its final spasms, one of the drum kits was upended and, individually, they drifted off the stage, leaving the remainder to drag things out. At one point, Kelson from FotL came out and contributed to the final mayhem. Ears ringing, it was time to head home.

This show would keep the bar busy, with a host of orders: vodka shots, with a lager chaser, then maybe a touch of absinthe for the Trail.

More pictures on my Flickr.

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