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

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Concert review - Fierce Bad Rabbits, with Kaiser Cartel, Tea Cozies

23 July 2010 (Road 34, Ft Collins, CO)

The line up for the show provided a mash up of musical styles and attitudes. Each band did a fine job, but the jumps from punky thrash to tight harmonies to straight rock were a bit challenging. There was a chunk of the crowd to catch the whole night, but each band had their core fans that turned up for their set.

Tea Cozies
This Seattle garage punk band has some roots in Ft. Collins, which accounted for the huge turnout and family style crowd they drew. The two frontwomen, Jessi Reed and Brady Harvey, have a relaxed stage manner that contrasts with their aggressive playing. Tea Cozies are really loud, which fits the surf punk edge in a lot of their songs. A better mix would have helped, though: it was often hard to hear the vocals and there was a recurring bass feedback problem.

None of that proved any hindrance to their war campaign of a set. The tempos were driving, set by Reed's crunchy, choppy rhythm guitar. Harvey's yowling leads added an insistent discordance. The songs had a punk rock home base, but the guitar riffs and vocal harmonies could shift the mood to a surf rock or B-52s' new wave.

Their original material, like the Bow Wow Wow thrash of Boys at the Metro or the X style new wave of Paper Pages, was quite good. The songs had strong musical elements and a raw energy. I could also hear a bit of Mary Prankster in their sound.

They also played up another influence when they did their cover of Elastica's Blue. They caught the harmonies and bouncy energy. This recording is not nearly as good as their version last night. They closed out their set, but their friends, family, and fans demanded more. So, they let the bass player and drummer go and played a simple two guitar rocker with an indie vibe to wrap it up.

Kaiser Cartel
After the manic energy of Tea Cozies, the duo of Kaiser Cartel was major mood change. Their songs were arranged for guitar and drums, but even when they rocked, this wasn't a White Stripes thing. The retro harmonies recalled the Mamas and the Papas, the Cowboy Junkies, and even a little bit of June Carter/Johnny Cash. These harmonies were crucial to their sound. Courtney Kaiser's voice was rich, warm, and expressive. Benjamin Cartel wasn't as strong a singer, but his tight timing and more worn voice provided the perfect setting. The pair fit together like a viola and cello.

Kaiser Cartel sounded much fuller than a mere duo. Although they did trade roles briefly, Kaiser was primarily the guitarist while Cartel played drums. Her guitar tone was exquisite: thick and resonant, a patina of warm distortion created a faintly shimmery rumble. This let the guitar fulfill a bass role as well as the tonal center for the songs. Cartel's drum work was solid, with strong dynamics, and it always balanced against the guitar. A cool touch was when he put a xylophone on top of his snare. This little trick let him maintain the beat while he seamlessly added melodic touches to the song.

Although their music must be tightly arranged to fall together so well, the sound is lush and relaxed. Many of the songs had a retro feel, like old Roy Orbison or other '60s pop. Still, they could kick it up a bit, too. The syncopated drums of Worn Out Nervous Condition (a John Mellencamp cover) gave it a more rocking groove, with a touch of early R.E.M. The compelling beat of Season Song was also fun, as they encouraged the crowd to whistle along.

Kaiser Cartel had an open, sincere stage presence that clicked well with the audience. While it was a major change from the Tea Cozies, it wasn't a jarring shift. Rather it was the next course in a great night of music.

Fierce Bad Rabbit
Ft. Collins' own Fierce Bad Rabbit headlined the show. Frontman Chris Anderson (ex of The Jimi Austin) has put together a tight, original sounding, pop oriented band. The whole group was polished, yet casual. They had a well honed sense of dynamics, as they showed with All I Have is You. The intro was stripped down and deeply emotional. Then the chorus exploded into a ringing jangle of guitar.
Oh, oh, oh, I'm drowning in the undertow.
Oh, oh, oh, hope's the only thing I can't let go.
All I have is you, all I have is you
Alana Rolfe's viola, a vital element of the sound, added a soothing caress to the rich rock groove.

Fierce Bad Rabbit balanced their set with harder rock grooves, retro piano pop (a la Supertramp or Harry Nilsson), and bluesy grooves. Honey, a dragging grind, took a blues sound off into an intense jam, where Rolfe's viola added the hypnotic buzz. Anderson's expressive singing and emotional delivery nailed this one as it built to a climactic tension.

Bass player Dayton Hicks (Arliss Nancy) had a melodic, busy style that always stays this side of tasteful. He provided the foundation to let Anderson and Rolfe jam off each other. Likewise, Adam Pitner was a solid drummer whose personality managed to project from the back line.

Fierce Bad Rabbit has it all: tight playing, interesting songs, great harmonies, and a unique sound. They seem destined for a larger audience than Ft. Collins can provide. Still, their local fans showed that they'll always have a home here.

For tonight's show, a sampler from Ft. Collins' Equinox Brewing would hit the spot: Zenith IPA for Tea Cozies, Jonas Porter for Kaiser Cartel, and the Orbit ESB for Fierce Bad Rabbit.

More photos on my Flickr.

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