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

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Concert review - The Rosebuds with Other Lives

16 July 2011 (Hi-Dive, Denver CO)

I anticipated this show because I enjoyed Other Lives' Tamer Animals so much (review here). Other Lives have been touring with the Rosebuds. I'm not sure how they work out billing on the shows, but last night Other Lives opened the show. Other Lives pulled a larger crowd, but both bands had some dedicated fans at the bar.

There were some instrumental overlaps between the two bands, like the violin, but they came from radically different aesthetics. I'm not convinced it was a good pairing because the Rosebuds' simpler music didn't stand up to Other Lives' richer sound. Despite these differences, the bands got along very well and graciously encouraged the audience to support the other act. They even cross pollinated and sat in on each others set.

Other Lives
Tamer Animals is currently one of my favorite albums of the year. Its unique cinematic scope and orchestral depth offer worlds of detail to explore. I anticipated this show, because I wanted to see how they'd compromise the studio sound of the songs to bring them into a club setting.

Other Lives surprised my by recreating the rich sound and complexity in their live show. It was amazing to see 5 musicians build the songs, often pulling double or triple duty in a single song. It would be impressive enough to have a band member who played keys, guitar, violin, and trumpet, but in Other Lives, he sometimes played two instruments at the same time. And the rest of the band similarly pulled their weight.

The instrument changes gave the show a dynamic feel. Otherwise, their stage presence was fairly serious and focused. Frontman Jesse Tabish had a shy demeanor and often seemed embarrassed during his few times addressing the audience.

Other Lives opened with As I Lay My Head Down, recreating the thick echoed vocal sound and haunting string accompaniment. Despite the high stage volume, the sound was full of detail, although it was hard sometimes to map every element back to the specific musician. For 12 delivered the album version's open western sound with dark undercurrents, but it was harder to pull some of the details out of the mix.

The audience repaid the band's careful attention, immersing in the songs. Less rowdy than most club crowds, they gave the songs real attention, but still erupted when they finished. The band closed the set with a looser version of Weather, which built up an avalanche of sound and evoked an earlier period Radiohead vibe. The open echo of the final notes maintained the spell for just a moment before the crowd showed their appreciation.

Other Lives' ambitious effort to reproduce their lush studio sound was impressive. The visual excitement of tight timing and instrument swapping was an integral part of their live show. That said, the noisy club environment made it harder to appreciate the nuance of the songs. By all means, catch their show, but it's no substitute for getting a copy of Tamer Animals.

The Rosebuds
The Rosebuds are Ivan Howard and Kelly Crisp, along with whichever drummer they're using at the time. Last night's show included a fourth member who played violin and bass. Although, Crisp and her keyboard sat center stage, Howard was the focus of the show, doing most of the lead vocals and driving the songs with his guitar.

Compared to Other Lives, the Rosebuds had a much simpler and more straightforward sound. Most of their songs were rooted in a retro '80s synth pop sound, but updated with some indie rock elements. The guitar was often so drenched in echo that it sounded like a keyboard, merging in with Crisp's keyboard lines. Backing vocals tended to long tonal harmonies. Bits of Duran Duran and Tears for Fears wafted through the songs, spreading a moody pop vibe.

Where Other Lives erected layers of rich complexity, the Rosebuds built basic grooves. With a more complementary opening act, those grooves would have been more interesting. The mix didn't help either, Crisp's vocals and the violin were both difficult to hear.

The live version of their new tune, Second Bird of Paradise, toned down its jazzy vibe with stronger reverb and keyboard washes. The music was a sharp contrast to their stage personas. Both Howard and Crisp connected as genuine and pleasant, offering simple warmth and cheeriness. While playing, though, their stage presence was static and their songs had a stylistic distance.

They broke that pattern near the end of their set. Stepping off the stage to go unplugged, they pulled the crowd in close for a sing along. This showed off more of their folky tendencies. This was the strongest part of their show; getting closer to the crowd and creating the audience participation was more in line with their personalities.

The Rosebuds will be opening for Bon Iver through the next leg of their tour.

More photos on my Flickr.

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