Although I'll admit I wasn't the most familiar with the bands playing at the Hi-Dive Monday night, my curiosity coupled with the ever-present urge to see live shows once again drew me out to a concert venue. It was a good opportunity to catch an international band with a lot of buzz and see two more new-to-me local acts live. Now that it's all said and done, it was definitely another worthwhile experience - another testament to the variety and breadth that continues to draw me to the local music scene.
The night began with an exciting new Denver band, Lightlooms. I hadn't heard of them before researching this show, but once I started to look into what they were about, I couldn't believe I hadn't heard about them earlier. Originally Lightlooms was Meaghan Lillis (vocals/keyboard) and Joshua Gunslinger (guitar/effects), and together they released a self-titled demo/EP last summer; a collection of piano driven singer-songwriter meets indie rock music that had a unique and intriguing atmospheric and ambient quality to them. Since then, Lightlooms added bassist Zack Martinson and drummer Chris Durant to the lineup, and the result of the additions to this group have created quite the evolutionary sound.
|Zack Martinson of Lightlooms|
Lightlooms played a set that had a couple reworked songs from their first EP, two songs they have released as a preview of their upcoming album, and some pieces that have not yet been released but should appear on their new album as well. Their music had the essence of the more moody and atmospheric piano lounge sound from their first release, but was charged with energy and emotion thanks to the smartly layered indie rock sounds produced by the full band. Hearing it all come together in a live setting was like listening to an expressionist painting - the singer-songwriter/piano-rock core was painted with explosive and emotive textures from the guitar, bass and drums, resulting in a magnified listening experience that captivated my ears.
|Chris Durant of Lightlooms|
Lightlooms' set was solid all the way through, but a few songs really stood out. "Sink or Swim" stuck with me the way it juxtaposed atmospheric piano and vocals with sections of rapid-fire instrumentals from the rest of the band. "Keep The Peace" took the same rapid-fire instrumental idea but blended it in a more complementary fashion, helping augment the expressiveness of the piece. "Signs" was by far my favorite with the way that it built up layer by layer and somehow managed to continually peak. If you are a fan of piano-driven rock, Lightlooms should not be missed. If you find most piano-driven alt-rock music out there either too plain or too cutesy (because I usually do), give this indie rock inspired version a try.
|Blake Hinson of Vandelay Industries|
Vandelay Industries was the next band up, and they offered a completely different style of rock music. This quartet from Fort Collins offered an expressive alternative rock sound that draws heavily from power pop, and post-grunge. When I previewed this band, I thought they were leaning towards pop punk, but after hearing them live, I'd say they are a pop-friendly rock band that sounds like they'd be home on the west coast. They played a blend of energetic rock with emotive storytelling vocals that reminded me of Everclear's album So Much for the Afterglow.
|Colin Golitko of Vandelay Industries|
Vandelay Industries did well to create a summery rock sound that I could imagine people singing along to as they are blasting it on the stereos of their top-down convertibles while cruising down the Pacific Coast Highway on their way to a party in Orange County - even the songs with more serious subject matter were delivered with a carefree attitude. Singer Blake Hinson did well to deliver vocals that really stressed the lyrics so that the listener could gather the stories behind each song. I think they represented their genre well, but I think the live vocal performance seemed much more timid than what I heard in their recordings. I think to truly enhance their rock sound, the vocals need to be as assertive and powerful as possible. It's not like the vocals were bad or off-key, they just needed extra oomph.
|Joey Costello of Vandelay Industries|
Vandelay Industries has the potential to be a great alt-rock/power-pop band, but because they play music in a saturated genre, they could use dynamic stage presence to really set themselves apart. They have a good set of songs like the catchy "Synesthesia", introspective "Riverside", and synth-laden "Golden Anchors & Crystal Sails". I also enjoyed their cover of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' "American Girl". All they need is to really polish their sound and own their roles to avoid being labeled a re-hash of an already existing sound, as the songwriting and musical foundation is there.
The final set of the night was from the Australian band An Horse. In my preview, I also threw around the pop-punk label for this duo, but after seeing and hearing them live, that isn't exactly accurate. The duo of Kate Cooper and Damon Cox play a brand of slightly pop-tinged minimalist indie-rock using the small tool set of just vocals, guitar, and a basic drum kit. Kate Cooper will switch between electric and acoustic guitar and Damon Cox will drum with either sticks or mallets depending on the song. Kate handles the main vocals and Damon will provide backing vocals and occasional harmonies. Their characteristic sound is forged from these tools and techniques.
|Kate Cooper of An Horse|
An Horse had a very amicable stage demeanor, as they were able to round up an initially shy crowd and keep them engaged both with their songs and entertaining anecdotes between the music. They had a decent sized early-in-the-week crowd, many of whom were there exclusively to see An Horse perform. That's one of the things that makes the local scene so great - imported bands can come from far and wide and even on a Monday night likely find a respectable crowd. I enjoyed An Horse's stories and banter, something that would probably be absent from larger venue performances, and a good way to create a sort of personal connection to the audience.
|Damon Cox of An Horse|
As performers, An Horse played well and recreated the same feel and quality present in their recordings. I was expecting the majority of their concert material to come from their newly released album Walls, but it was a good mixture of material that spanned their catalog, bringing back many songs from their album Rearrange Beds. I enjoyed the performances of "Little Lungs" and "Shoes Watch" from that album. Of course, "Postcards" got the largest response from the crowd, as it is probably one of their best known songs due to it's inclusion in a TV commercial. "Dressed Sharply" was a standout from the new album, and they closed with the uptempo yet moody "Leave Me", a good song made even better when Kate revealed the song was written on a prior visit to Denver.
It was nice to witness what musicality An Horse could accomplish with a delibrately limited set of tools, proof that sometimes less can be more. Although I can't particularly say that their brand of minimalist indie pop is something that I would play all the time (for me small doses are OK, but after an extended period I need a little more variety), their stripped down instrumentation has a sort of unpretentious charm and the lyricism in their music begs for multiple listens. Seeing them perform live just amplifies those appealing qualities, so those that are fans of their sound shouldn't hesitate to attend one of their shows.
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