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

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Concert review - Sleepy Sun, with Glowing House and déCollage

22 November (Moe's Original Bar B Que, Englewood CO)

I will never understand how a venue selects their lineups for a given night. They have a particular national act coming in, maybe with a fellow touring band, and they need to pick the local opening band(s) to fill out the bill. Looking at the list for last night, the best thing I can say is that the band's were in alphabetical order. The first local band, déCollage, fit reasonably well with the headliner, but the middle act, Glowing House, didn't deserve their awkward juxtaposition. Their new folk earnestness was a weird side trip for the evening's entertainment. Partnered with the right set of acts, their set would have been perfect...

003 déCollageOpening act déCollage took the power trio into realms of artsy, modern psychedelia. The sound was thick with reverb and somewhat muddled for the room, but it was a harbinger for Sleepy Sun's upcoming noise ritual. The vocals were quirky enough on their own, but frontman Reed Fuchs strained them through a hall of echoes.

008 déCollage
The sounds wound their way along a surrealistic path, wandering from deconstructed acid blues to experiments in bizarre, looking-glass pop. Despite the loose flow of the set, the arrangements were remarkably well-planned and executed. Like most power trio's, the bass had the added responsibility to cover the ground between bass and rhythm guitar. Melodically busy, the bass stayed anchored in the groove,  tied directly to the drums. If the bass , provided the sonic glue, the other two carried their weight just as well. The drums supported the sharp time signature shifts and punches while the guitar walked a thin line between chaos and order.

021 déCollage
The next to last piece was the most interesting as it delivered the set's wild climax. Starting with a strange loop of baby's laughter, the heavily syncopated tribal beat held down the song while the synth-sounding guitar screeched for freedom. Earlier, the audience had swayed along in lazy surrender to déCollage siren song; now, they writhed along with the insistent drive of the music. déCollage left the stage in perfect form: with a happy crowd wanting more.

055 Glowing HouseI'd love to catch Denver's Glowing House in their natural habitat. Their dark, moody folk sound belonged in a warmer, more intimate venue. Steve Varney acted as the focal point, switching between guitar and banjo. He clearly invested himself in the songs, often delivering them in more of a singer/songwriter style. His wife, Jess Parsons provided strong support on keys and accordion. The band's real strength were the vocal arrangements. Varney took many of the leads with earnest power, but Parsons' bruised vulnerability gave many of the pieces their emotional center. That male-female mix is a staple in folk music, but their harmonies and personalities really made it click.

038 Glowing House
The set rolled along from rootsy country through bluegrassy twang to proclamatory folk. The songs in this last category evoked a bit of Mumford & Sons, with drummer pounding a second bass drum while the stand up bass player dead-panned his way through the changes with a theatrical flair. It was a polished performance that showed a lot of planning and practice.

044 Glowing House
Since the crowd was packed with their loyal fans, Glowing House basked in the respectful attention, but it was clear that this wasn't their venue. They lacked the fire or charisma to work the audience like the other two bands. Their band persona was more geared towards a more subtle emotional depth than flash, making them the odd group out.

078 Sleepy SunI missed Sleepy Sun when they passed through Denver last month supporting City and Colour for two nights at the Ogden, but I was happy that they made a final loop back through town to close out their current tour. It has clearly been a long slog; leader Bret Constantino seemed a bit weary when he told us that this was their next to last show for this run.

068 Sleepy Sun
All the touring has paid off with polished arrangements that flow into perfect alignment while still retaining the cathartic chaos that defines their sound. The solos all feel expressively spontaneous as Matt Holliman wrenched the howling notes from his guitar, but the set list as a whole seemed to run like dominoes, with each song transition clicking into place effortlessly.

087 Sleepy Sun
The band has undergone quite a few changes in recent years. Two albums ago on Fever (review), the group was centered on the yin-yang dynamic of Constantino and singer Rachel Fannen. Last year, touring behind Spine Hits (review), Sleepy Sun shifted more towards alt-psychedelic intensity after Fannen left. Now, on the eve of a new album due early next year, the band has taken back full ownership of the Fever songs and started looking forward. This show split its attention between material from Fever, their first album Embrace, and a couple of new tunes. Oddly enough, only one track from Spine Hits, "Martyr's Mantra", made the list this time.

067 Sleepy Sun
Regardless, all of the songs tapped into a similar heavy sound: Led Zeppelin haze, poetic intensity like the Doors, and raw Velvet Underground madness, tempered by a hedonistic Jane's Addiction thrash. Sleepy Sun launched their sonic assault and the audience soaked up every swirling, feedback-infused decibel. It was a beautiful orgy of noisy intensity. Throbbing grinds of doom kicked out broken-mirror reflections. Whale songs turned into ghostly moans. Ringmaster Constantino presided over the whole circus of acid-washed echoes like a reincarnated Lizard King.  In short, the structured cacophony erased a week of work and daily concerns like a hurricane cleansing the coast.

More photos on my Flickr.

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