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

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Concert review - Surfer Blood with Team Spirit and Andy Boay

16 October 2013 (Larimer Lounge, Denver CO)
This was my fourth time this year to see Team Spirit play. I caught two sets at SXSW and interviewed the band and then I saw them open for Peace in June. I guess my next step will be to follow the tour van to Salt Lake City or wherever. It was great to see them again and catch up on the changes. Compared to Peace, Surfer Blood was a much better fit. The headliner had a more dynamic stage presence and thrashy flair that complemented Team Spirit's over-the-top energy.

007 Andy Boay The only clue I was offered was to imagine Laurie Anderson jamming with a Led Zeppelin 12-string. I had never heard the opening act, Andy Boay, the alter-ego of Montreal's Andy White before catching his surreal performance. With a small table in front of him, covered in technology, he hovered in the darkness. The only stage lighting was a projected pattern splashing off his face to hit the ceiling.

008 Andy BoayThe Laurie Anderson connection quickly became clear as he pitch-shifted his voice, looping it into thick layers of harmonized sound. A drone synth note slipped into alarm tones as he wove his vocals into heavy curtain of noise. As he took a moment to strap on his 12-string, the wall of sound was relentless. I expected him to add a chiming guitar cacophony to the mix, but instead, he scattered a sweet spray of notes. A touch of organic spirit within the electronic machine.

He writhed and grimaced, caught in some kind of artistic seizure. It was a highly stylized, experimental noise-fest, with little direct crowd interaction, but the audience was remarkably attentive.

048 Team Spirit I arrived at the Larimer Lounge in time to hear the soundcheck drifting outside the venue. "MRDR It's Ok" sounded as tight as ever. The doors hadn't opened yet, but frontman Ayad Al Adhamy stepped out a little later and walked over to say hi. Almost immediately, he broke the news that he had lost his other bandmates and had drafted some friends to keep Team Spirit rocking. Rock 'n' roll lineups can be as ephemeral as fashion, but there's always a worry about losing the chemistry. Fortunately, the new team quickly ramped up and found their places without disrupting the core sound of the band.

058 Team Spirit
The roster includes Kieren Smith on lead guitar, Daniel Domingo de Lara on bass, and drummer Alex Russek. I had heard de Lara and Russek before, when they played on Emil & Friends' Lo & Behold (2011 - review here), but Team Spirit is a far cry from gentler pop sound of that band. No problem: Russek's precise, energetic drum work seemed to push the tunes even a bit harder than before and de Lara covered the bass with ease. Smith's guitar style is somewhat edgier than Cosmo DiGuilio's, but he still nailed the dual guitar riffs at the heart of Team Spirit's sound.

028 Team Spirit
Russek kicked off the show with an extended drum beat that thundered as Al Adhamy greeted crowd before it all settled into a speedy version of "Teenage Love". During the breakdown, "Oh, Baby, come here and move closer/ It's ready to spark away/ My head's spinnin', is it supposed to?/ Relax, breathe in, and walk away," Smith ornamented the spaces between lines with a looser set of riffs, asserting his own voice for the piece.

057 Team Spirit
As always, the set was too short, even thoughTeam Spirit had time to nail the tracks from their EP and a couple of extras. Al Adhamy was in great form, reacting to a larger crowd than he had during their last visit here. As the band kicked off an uptempo "Jesus, He's Alright!", he exuberantly vaulted down off the stage and into the crowd. Surrounded by his fans, camera flashes in his eyes, and ringing guitars in his ears, Al Adhamy was perfectly in his element.

080 Surfer Blood I caught part of a Surfer Blood set at SXSW earlier this year, where they were one of the much-hyped bands of the festival. They had a solid sense of themselves, anchored by frontman John Paul Pitts' matter-of-fact demeanor. They looked a bit fresher at this show than they did at SXSW. After setting up their equipment, they ran through a quick soundcheck, laying down some driving, classic sounding grooves and twinned guitar instrumentals before stepping backstage to regroup for the official set.

103 Surfer Blood
The band led off with the instrumental "Neighbour Riffs", which featured a throbbing post-punk bass line and chiming guitars. When the two guitars came together and executed the rapid-fire melody line, it was a thing of beauty. They jumped from that into another older track, "Twin Peaks". Pitt's earnest vocal and simple singing imbued the pop groove with a high school, garage-band innocence. The music split the difference between late '60s San Francisco pop and XTC's quirky new wave, with maybe a hint of They Might Be Giants in the guileless delivery. The mix favored the instruments over the vocals, though, so the tunes lost some of their impact.

089 Surfer Blood
The contrast between Pitts and Al Adhamy was striking. Each defined the presence of their band, but where Al Adhamy surrendered to the thrashy joy of the music, Pitts remained more focused. He took his own jaunt into the audience to sing "Take It Easy", making it more of a stroll than an ecstatic rite as he explored the far corners of room. He sang clearly and calmly, but the music sometimes jangled and jostled against that control. He could cut loose on his Strat but still maintain that balance to his singing. Pitts' go-to stage move was a brief, pro-forma pick scrape up the guitar neck, delivered with deadpan irony.

079 Surfer Blood
Near the end of their set, Surfer Blood launched into my favorite track, "Demon Dance", the lead single of their latest album, Pythons. Pitts sang like Morrissey on anti-depressants while the band laid in the harmonies and made the dynamic leaps before they all slid into the heavy grind section of the song. After that, they filled the stage with dancers from the audience for "Swim" and one final tune before walking off. The crowd chanted, "One more song!" for a few minutes until the band came back out to give them another three before calling it a night.

More photos on my Flickr.

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