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

Friday, April 2, 2010

Concert review - Freelance Whales, Bear in Heaven, Cymbals Eat Guitars

1 April 2010 (Hi-Dive, Denver CO)
Things got off to a later start, but it was still a great time. It was close to a sold out show, with a heavy crowd packing the Hi Dive. Each of these bands had their own sound and style, but they were fairly complementary, so the fans of one band still enjoyed the others.

Freelance Whales
Freelance Whales specialize in a kind of shimmery indie pop. Their CD, Weathervanes, featured a folky fusion of acoustic and electronic sounds and playful vocals. Their live show delivered on their studio sound, capturing layers of musical and vocal complexity. At the same time, there was a looser feel that added a richness to the sound.

Lead vocalist Judah Dadone had an achier tone to his voice last night, but that just added some emotional depth that the band needed. His speedy vocal delivery on Hannah rivaled the CD version and the rest of the band's harmonies were strong. It was also nice to be able to hear bass player Doric Cellars voice stand out more than on Weathervanes.

The stage show was impressive, too, as most of the players swapped instruments to vary the arrangements from song to song. All the little touches were present, like the banjo, the harmonium, and xylophone. The tunes were all off the album, with Hannah and Generator^ 2nd Floor being especially nice.

Bear in Heaven
Things got darker when Bear in Heaven took the stage. Musically, things moved from lush indie folk to more of a progressive rock with elements of synth pop. Bear in Heaven kicked off their set with a pounding drum paired with a tight, throbbing bass. Normally a four piece, they're touring as a trio, which might have hurt their set. Although their playing was still strong.

Instrumentally, Bear in Heaven was impressive. Joe Stickney, the drummer, was incredible, speedily playing intricate fills that drive the songs forward. Adam Wills was quite adept at bass and guitar, laying down a heavy low end or the perfect stabs of vicious guitar. Frontman Jon Philpot switched between bass and synthesizer while providing all of the vocals. His bass work was solid and the synth parts went a long way towards enriching the sound. Philpot wasn't a bad singer, a bit thin and nasal, with elements of Billy Corgan or Perry Farrell. Unfortunately, the vocal mix was thin and low, so it was very hard to pick out any lyrics and the songs needed some backing vocals.

So, who did they sound like? Maybe a stripped down Porcupine Tree or vintage Jane's Addiction. Some of the keyboard work evoked the Talking Heads. None of these reference points capture the jam intensity and noise that Bear in Heaven bring to the stage, though.

Cymbals Eat Guitars
Guitars were indeed eaten and their metallic shreds rained down on the audience. On Why There are Mountains, Cymbals Eats Guitars sounded like Pavement meets Wilco. Their live show showcased plenty of Wilco noise manipulation, but shifted from Pavement to a rawer Replacements feel. Frontman Joseph Ferocious lived up to his nom d'stage, screwing up his face...no, his whole body... in pain or concentration as he flailed at the guitar. It was an awesome, high energy set that started with And the Hazy Sea. Rather than rehashing the recorded version, they opened up the arrangement to jam more. That was typical of all of the songs from Why There Are Mountains. They also played some other songs like Tunguska and a new one called Definite Darkness.

The dynamics from the record were here, though, but writ large. As the band shifted from a softer start to full on thrash in songs like Indianna, they took us on a roller coaster ride from song to song. It was occasionally hard to hear the keyboards, but the delay box artifacts and controlled feedback were all there.

Ferocious emphasized a Paul Westerberg vocal sound, but the Replacements vibe was more down to the effortless transition between simple pop oriented guitar to punky wail. This was strongest on their arrangement of Cold Spring, which was my favorite moment in the show. It still started out with the bluesy guitar and nice keyboard work. The spastic energy during the guitar solo was transcendent.

The loud wail of feedback guitar calls for an American barleywine, like Rogue's Old Crustacean, to steady the waves of noise and relax you for the ride.

More photos on my Flickr.

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