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

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Concert review - Morning Teleportation, Scout Niblett, Sleepy Sun

23 March 2010 (Hi-Dive, Denver CO)
Is it hard being a music fan? 60 miles and a blizzard between you and the music? You just do it. But, it's even harder for the touring musicians. Sleepy Sun asked the crowd for a place to crash for the night and all of the acts were probably thinking the drive to the next gig.

Braving the snow was worth it for us, I only hope the three bands last night felt the same. Despite the snow, the turnout was decent.`

Morning Teleportation
Playing a jam band mix of funk, indie rock, and a morsel of free jazz, Morning Teleportation started off the show. They had a great stage patience, with some theatrics that made them fun to watch. At the same time, they were sort of a stunt band -- they seemed to have a gimmick for each song. In one, it was a talk box; in another, they resorted to gratuitous sax for the horn punch intro. Their vocals were out there, too. Most of the time they talked between songs, it sounded like they were using some kind of funny voice. They also favored odd vocal arrangements, like weird harmonies, quavery tone (think Tommy Bolan), or football chanting.

Musically, they had a number of songs that seemed to join a number of smaller unconnected songs into a whole. It was very psychedelic and experimental, but often sounded like it was trying too hard. They were very tight on the harmonic and rhythmic shifts forced by this approach, though. The frenetic beats fit well with their party stage show. The drummer stayed on top of it all, with some tasty fills. The bass player was also standout.

I'd like to catch Morning Teleportation in another year or two and see if they can shrug off some of their stilted approach. They have some nice songs, like Boom Puma that I think will stand up over time.

Scout Niblett
It was quite the bill: the first act, the stage was packed, the second act was more minimalist. Scout Niblett played alone for the first couple of songs. Later, drummer Dan Wilson joined her, setting up a superficial comparison to the White Stripes. True, Niblett could play some heavily distorted guitar, but she's more of a grungy Pavement meets Liz Phair. She had a sweet and achy voice that seemed deeply emotional and revealing.

Her songs were largely sweet-and-sour. Her vocals might start out with a Rickie Lee Jones drawl over a sparse guitar. Then, as she triggered the overdrive tone on her Fender Jaguar, she'd almost wail in pain. Her lyrics were very evocative:
Sittin' on the banks of a glassy river
Mercury flew down to tell me a story

As he began it sounded familiar It starts with the sound of a lonely girl
- Scout Niblett, Hot To Death
This was over a Stephen Malkmus style chromatic progression that shifted back and forth into hard, noisy grunge.

My favorite song of the set, though, was Kiss, which is a sweet ballad with a edge of detuned suffering.
A kiss could've killed me, if it were not for the rain
A kiss could've killed me
, Baby, if it were not for the rain

And I had a feeling it was coming on

And I felt it coming
for so long
If I'm to be the fool then so it be
It was cathartic and satisfying like probing a toothache. It was one of the few songs that didn't rage into fuzz-fueled angst, but it was intense enough anyway.

Sleepy Sun
Sleepy Sun has no use for little boxes like "genre". They've got a retro feel, mixing acid blues, progressive rock, psychedelia, and vintage hard rock. There's an element of Fleetwood Mac and more modern Wilco in there, too. Any given song might bring an influence to mind, but, just as quickly, the song insisted that it be judged on its own merits.

The male-female vocal mix was a central part of their sound, . Bret Constantino and Rachel Williams played off each other effortlessly. Williams conjured up haunting and soulful sounds, while Constantino immersed himself, sometimes evoking an expressive Bono vibe.

The rest of the band is tight and focused. The guitar arrangements were especially cool. The two (sometimes three) guitars filled up the space and traded roles in a natural flow. There was plenty of blistering lead, but any given solo was relatively short before trading off, so Sleepy Sun avoided the pitfall of self-indulgence. With songs like Desert God, a Grateful Dead psychedelic groove had a moody start. One guitar played a meandering melody while the other layered in some noisy, floaty riffs. Eventually, as the ritual unfolded, the song picked up energy into Malkmus-grunge, then sliding into progressive rock.

Sleepy Sun finished playing way too early. I wanted the night to keep on going.

Lost Abbey's The Angel's Share is the perfect pairing for Sleepy Sun's show: barrel-aged, unique, and strong.

More photos on my Flickr.

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