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

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Concert review - The Booze, Earl Greyhound, OK Go

14 April 2010 (Bluebird Theater, Denver CO)
Some concert lineups will always be a mystery to me. Why did the B-52s lead off Joan Jett and the Who, back in 1982? Last night had me scratching my head again. Three bands, each with a different sound, historical feel, and musical statement. Fortunately, I handle cognitive dissonance well and enjoyed the show.

The Booze
First up, the Booze took us back to 1965 for a Merseybeat celebration. The music sounded like the Animals with a touch of the Yardbirds, while the bandmates each took a slightly different approach in crafting their retro fashion statements.

Left handed Randy Michael covered most of the lead guitar duties. Front man Chaz Tolliver brought a manic energy. In constant motion, he channeled Keith Relf of the Yardbirds, even playing a bit of harmonica. He also reached for some Mick Jagger strut.

The Booze slammed through their set, each song quickly leading into the next. This kind of polish also harkens back to the British Invasion era. Their grooves were right and period perfect. These guys are totally sincere about this; there's not a whiff of irony. Even though the crowd was young enough that their parents were too young to know the original inspirations, they could respect the energy and party mood that the Booze created.

Earl Greyhound
If the Booze hit the mid-'60s, then Earl Greyhound took us into the heavy sounds of late '60s/early '70s hard rock. The volume kicked up and things got really intense. Within a matter of seconds, the crunch of Sea of Japan drove all other music out of everyone's mind. This time, they had a bit more stage time compared to their spot on the Afro Punk tour. They used it wisely to pound through songs off the new album, Suspicious Package.

Live, they continue to have an incredibly rich, thick sound. Matt Whyte demonstrated that he's a master of guitar echo and feedback, manipulating his sound from a heady maelstrom to a wailing howl. Then, the music would crashing into a throbbing roar as he drove the rhythm. His stage presence is fairly inwardly focused, but he still made a good audience connection.

Kamara Thomas showed off her mastery as well, tearing up the bass and striking Jimi Hendrix poses as she nailed her breaks. Even while she amazed us with her playing, she'd throw her head back and raise a chill with her incredible voice.

It's hard to pick a favorite song of the night. Oye Vaya was spectacular, with nothing held back, but Shotgun edged it out. This version was looser and trippier, flowing with the moment, but it still built into a more aggressive piece, with Ricc Sheridan's drum work spurring the song into a full cathartic experience. His drums are physically imposing and even his fills feel like body blows. As good as their albums are, this is truly a band to catch live.

The full crowd filtered in during Earl Greyhound's set. While they enjoyed the mayhem, they were really here to catch the headliner. OK Go had enough equipment to set up to provide a nice pause before shifting gears again, this time into a contemporary take on '80s power pop. Their sound is catchy and mostly upbeat.

While the whole band did a fine job of playing, frontman Damien Kulash was really the star. He had a loose, conversational style to his banter that felt very casual. Whether he was thanking Denver for not mugging them (or killing them) or talking about sin and getting back to God ("I do shit you can't even imagine. I do shit I can't even imagine"), the audience basked in his attention. Hamming it up a bit, he often came across as a bit smug, but that stage persona fits him well and didn't hurt him with the crowd.

Much as their unique videos have garnered a lot of attention, OK Go's stage show was full of interesting elements, from a confetti cannon to the small video cameras feeding the backdrop screen on some songs. There was even a handbell version of What to Do. Sometimes, it was a much spectacle as it was a rock show.

OK Go played a good selection of past hits and new songs off Of the Blue Colour of the Sky. They led off with the older Invincible, which was quite a bit looser than the album version. That led right into the newer White Knuckles, which had the audience singing along. With every song, the crowd got more ecstatic. When Kulash came off the stage to play Last Leaf in the audience, that was almost too much. They also did one cover, of the Pixies' Debaser, with Kulash attempting to imitate Frank Black.

The set ended on a high note. Damien brought up a young guy from the audience who had posted a drum cover video on YouTube. While he added some drum work to the song, Damien coached the crowd on singing the bridge. It was a great set closer.

The encore added some more gimmicks, with special light up instruments (complete with frickin' lasers). At some level, it almost seemed like too much, but nobody in the theater was complaining.

As I mentioned, this was weird line up of acts, so there was no single drink for this show. Maybe a Tom Collins to start, followed by a Mackeson Stout, and finishing up with a Long Island ice tea. Not necessarily a drink menu I'd enjoy, but the concert was just fine.

Many more photos at my Flickr.

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