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

Friday, March 23, 2012

Concert review - Sleepy Sun with Overcasters and Sparkler Bombs

22 March 2012 (Larimer Lounge, Denver CO)

A great Spring evening with some hot music. The decent Thursday night turnout half filled Larimer Lounge. Each band offered their own version of sonic catharsis.

Sparkler Bombs
Sparkler Bombs is another in the legion of drum/guitar indie rock duos. With a few rougher edges that hinted at punk aspirations, their songs offered brief bursts of energy. The guitar's discordant jangle filled out the sound fairly well, but a bass would have been welcome.

Their personality made their show. There were self-effacing with a touch of dork pride, but comfortable with their music and playing for the crowd. Their patter sounded unrehearsed, but still clicked with the crowd. Whether it was the earnest admission, "We're not punk rockers" or their attempt to explain their name, they were confident in their geekiness and not too worried about losing the crowd.

Their songs were often catchy, but much too brief. It was a bit like the Minutemen schtick: songs would peter out or just stop suddenly after a single verse or so. Throwing in another verse or bridge would have helped them fill out their time and given the crowd more chance to appreciate the songs.

Sparkler Bombs wrapped up their set by trading positions. The guitarist turned out to be a credible drummer while the drummer showed off his frontman skills by belting out a spirited version of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles' You Really Got a Hold on Me. An odd choice, but fun.

Within the first few bars, I was ready to love Overcasters. The cathartic waves of distortion and rich tonal texture found a home in my brain's noise zone. But they lost me just as quickly with a stage sound that was completely unbalanced. Guitarist John Nichols knew how to manipulate feedback and screaming distortion, but his amp was so loud it drowned out the other members of the band. Sure, his guitar work was an integral part of the band's sound, but it made him the boor of the party.

Plenty of bands are loud -- Hooray for Earth's mind control volume comes to mind -- but the sonic assault should be layered to reveal the drumbeat pound in your temple and the bass throb in your gut along with the psychotically echoing wall of guitar. Of course, the justification is the tone, but Sleepy Sun's guitarist managed to wrench just as much resonant wail within the limits of the band's mix.

Every time Nichols dropped back, I could appreciate the rest of the band. Drummer Erin Tidwell was particular impressive. Her full body drumming style was incredibly dynamic. She'd rise to her feet and do a full drop smash on the toms. In a head-shaking trance, her flailing frenzy of abandon still translated into tight, driving beats. At these points of relative sonic calm, the drums and bass sounded like Bauhaus on steroids.

Tidwell's ecstatic energy made up for the more shoegazer introversion of the rest of the band. Lead singer Kurt Ottaway physically sold the emotional turmoil of his vocals, but it was too loud to hear much of his delivery, much less the words. That said, Overcasters put some thought into the show part of their performance. Projected patterns and a fog machine matched the intensity of the music.

I've dropped by Overcasters' site and listened to their music playing on the page. It's full of passionate intensity and thickly reverberating layers. Beautiful. I really wish I had heard that band last night.

Sleepy Sun
With singer Rachel Fannen (Williams) out of the band, Sleepy Sun focused on newer material from the upcoming Spine Hits. Their earlier male-female dynamic was deep: Fannen's expressive emotion balanced Bret Constantino's introspection. The new songs handled this change by drifting more towards a Blind Melon sound, with laid back tempos and close, melting harmonies. Sometimes, the lead guitar line sat in for the backing vocals and meshed in with Constantino's vocal melody.

Sleepy Sun opened the set with the thick vocals of their new single, Stivey Pond. Brian Tice's drumming was great as he peppered the beat with fills. A perfectly brief pause of silence at the end of a softer bridge could set up the crashing return to the verse. These dynamic breaks contributed to the rich feel of the arrangements.

While the set list favored the new songs, the band still pulled out material from Fever like the retro psychedelia of Wild Machines. But this wasn't so far from the dreamy vibe of Siouxsie Blaqq from the new album. The live version's interplay of clean 12-string guitar and Jack Allen's solid bassline were grounded in an old San Francisco jam sound, but the song evolved into a wilder direction as the jangled, resonant lead guitar came in.

Sleepy Sun closed out their encore with Marina, my favorite track from Fever. The song's lazy indie-psych groove was a soothing closer for the evening. The meandering melody and inevitable, laid back tempo didn't sacrifice a drop of intensity. The mind warping effect was more mushrooms than acid, acting as an ideal gateway out into the night for the ride home.

More photos on my Flickr.

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