It was a normal Tuesday night in Denver. As expected, the crowd was fairly sparse when the show began, but picked up as the night progressed. Neither the crowd nor the bands were deterred by the limited attendance. The stage energy was fairly high and the audience was determined to make a party of it.
Banners or BandagesBanners or Bandages followed the recent trend of solo acts performing under a band name. Singer/songwriter Sean K. seamlessly transitioned from a simple soundcheck into his set. With a low key stage presence, it took a moment to realize that he had started. Many of the songs in his short set were simple, retro folk rock with a Violent Femmes directness.
His vocals were emotional, adding an indie rock feel at times. Even though his pitch control was a little weak, his songs seemed heartfelt. He also had a decent sense of dynamics, making some interesting shifts of tempo and mood within some of the songs. This showed the strongest when he shifted between percussive strumming and softer melodic riffs.
The GrometI met Johnny, the drummer for the Gromet, before their set and he filled me in on their sound. He described their music as upbeat country rock and perfect roadtrip music. He also mentioned that their keyboard player is a relatively recent addition to the band. Their opening song made a believer out of me. I'm looking forward to catching them again and I'll be giving their CD a listen in the coming days.
That first song in their set was a full sounding, Wilco slice of Americana. They were focused and having fun, which added to their strong stage presence. As the set progressed, they showed off a good range of material. There were some mild country elements, but the Americana label fits better. They bounced around from George Harrison/Beatles influenced songs to a Traffic style groove to some screaming blues rock. Despite their retro foundations, they had a modern indie rock vibe, too. This was largely because of the jangled guitar riffs and vocal arrangements.
True to Johnny's word, the music was upbeat. The high point was a feel good '70s rock jam that evoked the end of Hey Jude. The chords even matched well enough. The keyboards added a rich dimension to the Gromet's sound. There were some very tight lines featuring the keyboards, guitar, and bass hitting a nice descending riff.
The blues rock closing section of the set started with a cover of Baby, Please Don't Go. It was tightly wound and edgy. The guitar powered through a psychedelic solo while the drums pounded like hammering in coffin nails. After that, the Gromet continued the blues jam, with guitarist Shea B jamming out on an electric lap steel. The final bit of chaotic dissociation served as a good lead in for Tin Horn Prayer.
Drop by the Gromet's Facebook page and give Roll Away a listen to hear them lay down a George Harrison vibe. Only To Drive shows off their Wilco influences.
Tin Horn PrayerWith a "take no prisoners" stance, Tin Horn Prayer occupied the stage like an invading army. They had a strong punk aesthetic, but it was tempered with some country and bluegrass elements. Surprisingly, the net effect was not particularly like the Beat Farmers, mainstays of the cow punk style. That's largely because Tin Horn Prayer favored a loud, layered, and busy sound. With up to three guitars playing at a time with mandolin or banjo accompaniment, there was a lot to focus on. Add the primal scream vocals (especially from banjo/mando player, Mike Herrera) and the effect was felt physically as much as it was heard.
In addition to the wall of sound, the band filled the stage with movement. The bass player stalked behind the front line, like a caged tiger pacing back and forth. The front four dropped back or loomed forward as the mood struck. The busy movement created a good energy that complemented the hard edge of the music.
At this volume, it could be hard to hear the lyrics clearly, but the dark humor of Crime Scene Cleanup Team was easy to follow. The music was a lot like the rocking country of Johnny Cash's Folsom Prison Blues, but Tin Horn Prayer muddied the simplicity of the changes with a full spectrum of chaos. My favorite line of the night came in Scooter James' simple country rocker, which opened with something like, "My heart's too damn weary to raise this middle finger."
The songs weren't all noisefests, though. They also hit some grinding down tempo rockers (which benefited from the banjo and accordion textures) and some moody, hypnotic grooves. On their most bluegrass influenced tunes, they reminded me of Shane MacGowan and the Pogues.
TumbledownTumbledown delivered exactly the performance I expected from the latest CD, Empty Bottle (review here). They ran through many of the songs off the CD, kicking up the tempo a bit but maintaining the tight coordination. Tumbledown was nowhere near as chaotic as Tin Horn Prayer, but their presence and energy were just as strong. The band didn't restrict the setlist to the CD, though. They kicked off with Butcher of San Antone (Mike Herrera's sneering vocals were spot on) and followed it with a roller coaster cover of the Beatles' I've Just Seen a Face.
Empty Bottle showcased a bit of the Beat Farmer's cowpunk energy and a similar kind of "snotty boys with guitars" sound as the Refreshments and this show hit a lot of similar notes. Like Roger Clyne, frontman Mike Herrera had a lot of charisma as he connected with the audience. He had a direct sincerity that shined through without being sappy. So, he could channel his enthusiasm over the music to hype up a Tuesday night crowd and get playful, bantering with the crowd about the relative quality of the drinks they gave him.
Off stage, he was just as approachable. I talked with him briefly before the show. When I asked about the differences in touring with Tumbledown versus MxPx, he was self-deprecating as he complained about the logistics of being the Tumbledown tour manager.
On stage, Herrera stayed in motion, creating an alt rock energy. With Herrera's strong stage presence, it would be easy to dismiss the rest of the band as just being along for the ride. But even though they weren't as talkative, they each contributed some flash to the show, with Marshall Trotland muscling his standup bass into the air and guitarist Jack Parker lunging forward to the edge of stage on his solos. Drummer Harley Trotland maintained a grueling pace throughout the set, still finding the time and energy to nail some nice fills.
The climax of the show was a cover of the Who's My Generation. Herrera took the mike into the front of the crowd and got us all dancing and singing along. The sense of joyous abandon, surrender to the beat, and unselfconscious fun was a fitting high point for the set and the show. The rest of the set was no let down, though, just an extension. A double Stoli on the rocks to Tumbledown, who gave us that gift.
More photos on my Flickr.