25 July 2008

show review: Porlolo cd Release!

Porlolo CD release party with: Bad Weather California, Wentworth Kersey, Sorellina and the dancing Team Firefox.
Friday 18 July 2008, Hi-Dive, Denver

by Linda Ruth Carter

Cd release shows are always hold a little more excitement than any other. It’s kind of like a birthday celebration. (New songs are born and here’s this shiny document to prove it.) Friday at the Hi-Dive was definitely a celebration of Porlolo’s second full length release, Meadows.

This show was fun. If you read no further, just know that much is true. I’ve not kept it a secret that Porlolo is one of my all-time favorites, inside or outside of Denver, and I’ve been looking forward to the release of this cd for the past year or so, ever since I started hearing the first versions of the songs on it being performed. And Friday I got to be there.

As the rainbow unicorn cake on the merchandise table read: Porlolo believes in you. And from the people spilling in the door of the Hi-Dive, lots of people believe in Porlolo too. Present were not only the usual crowd of Hi-Dive regulars, but people who’d made a four hour drive from Gunnison just to be there.

Opening the evening was Sorellina, who is the Anna half of the duo cellists of Matson Jones. Though I couldn’t make out a great deal of the lyrics, I’d characterize Sorellina’s songs as being of the feminine singer-songwriter sort. Even the buzzy and a little too bright sound of a cello turned up loud at the Hi-Dive couldn’t hide that this girl has a lovely voice, and can play that cello to pieces. I’d like to hear her in a place where the sound is more conducive to what she is doing, but I was glad for the introduction.

Next up was the eight member dance troupe known as Team Firefox. Donning spandex, leg warmers, and glow sticks as necklaces, bracelets and anklets, Team Firefox danced a coordinated choreographed number to “Never Let Me Down” by Depeche Mode. The stage was too small for this performance so they used the whole floor from the half-wall back to the wall and from the stage almost back to the little stage in the rear. It was fun to watch, though I had to stand on a chair to see. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it in the Hi-Dive. I mean, they were really dancing. But they had the crowd watching, smiling, clapping, and perhaps trying to remember some of those dance moves too.

With smiles on faces from the cheerful dancing, next came the debut of Wentworth Kersey. I was one of the fortunate early kids to get a copy of their disc along with my new Porlolo (and a copy of Roger Green’s newest too.) Pretty awesome.

If Wentworth Kersey sounds oddly familiar for a debut band, it should. This is the musical project of Joe Kersey Sampson (A Dog Paloma) and Jeffrey Wentworth Stevens (George and Caplin) and if you like either or both of these people’s prior musical releases, you will likely dig this new collaborative set of songs. I did. After a couple songs Wentworth Kersey retired from the stage and joined the crowd to listen to featured band of the evening.

Porlolo said they chose to go on before Bad Weather California so they could sit back afterwards and enjoy hearing their friends play. Having heard a few of the pre-released songs off Meadows already, people were already calling out requests, many of them for “Animals” an extraordinarily catchy poppy sounding song sung with the saddest most tear-jerking lyrics, simultaneously hitting your emotions in two places at once. It’s fabulous.

No two times I can recall have I seen the exact same set of musicians accompanying Erin Roberts, though I believe I’ve seen her solo more than once. The cast of supporting players have many amazing repeat performers and whomever of her friends that accompany, I’ve always heard an enjoyable set. Whatever the line-up, the songs always seem to sound just right. On this night, accompanying Erin were: the overall-wearing guitar-sorcerer Roger Green; the ever consistent and copacetic drummer, Xandy Whitesel; the lovely and heart-stirring stringed sounds of Bela Karoli: Julie Davis on upright bass and Carrie Beeder on violin; and the talented songstress Kate Magnus (Placerville) on guitar, electric bass, and a hand-held keyboard. They played a few songs from Storm and Season, but mostly performed a nice long set of songs from Meadows. Song after song, the listeners smiled and cheered. Did I already say it was fun? I’m writing these words two days later and I’m still smiling thinking about it all.

Bad Weather California took the stage to send off the night. Chris Adolf is another Denver songwriter that has been known to take the stage either solo or with a different arrangement of musicians from show to show, but for some time now he’s had the stable line-up of Xandy Whitesel, Joe Sampson and Adam Baumeister making Bad Weather California an identifiable group. But things haven’t gotten stuck in any rut. Indeed there is always a vibe of unpredictability with a Bad Weather California performance. Lyrics are elastic and verses change from show to show, like the songs have a life of their own and have to be wrangled somehow to get them out in the air. But the chorus is familiar enough that the crowd is often chanting along in communal song. That might sound corny if you haven’t been there, but it is pure fun. Believe it.

13 July 2008

Top Twenty?

In spite of my skepticism about the relevance of polls, I recognize they've got their place. They tell a little bit of the story, though nowhere near the whole thing, and if we keep that perspective, it can be some fun. One good thing the DPUMS (and other best-of events like the Westword showcase) does is give a concrete occasion to mark and celebrate a portion of the great sounds around town. I really love some of the music being made in this town, and I try to listen to as much of it as I can make time to hear. Being asked to play a little part in this celebration makes me glad.

So, I got my ballot yesterday, and with only three days before it was due, I looked at the alphabetical list of local bands, then set about the work of making my own top twenty. I scanned the list, subtracting bands I knew to be broken up, noting my inability to make judgment on bands that I had yet to hear from and adding a couple for consideration that weren't on the list. Coming up with a ranked list of twenty local bands is a challenge. And truthfully, the unavoidable arbitrariness involved in deciding who is at number six versus seven or even seventeen, makes it less than satisfying work. I needed some guidelines. And since none were explicitly given, I made up my own. This turned out to be the best part of putting together the list.

My guiding factors in voting on my choices for the DPUMS:

1. I have heard them play. Should be obvious, but can't say how many times I've heard someone give an "opinion" about stuff they clearly haven't really listened to but are mimicking what's been said by others. In most cases I've seen each of these bands/artists at least once live and in all cases I've listened even more times to stuff they've recorded.

2. Pleasure. Simply, I enjoy listening to the band. Subjective? Yes. But that's what a personal opinion is: confidence without proof. And it's a place to start.

3. Talent. This really is another obvious one, but still an important factor. They've got to know how to play their instruments.

4. Genuineness. Sincerity is tough to judge and near impossible to prove, but when I recognize it, I'm confident in my judgment. Soul-less sounds soon wear thin. But when the band really means it--you can feel it is substantial. The real thing, as they say.

5. Distinctiveness. Originality is where judgment gets less subjective although is limited by what I'm familiar with. I haven't heard everything out there, and I never will, but I believe I've listened to enough to have an inkling. Many songs sound the same and many bands wear their influences on their sleeve. This isn't bad. It's a place to start. But it's magical when artists take their influences, integrate it into their own work and truly make it a new work. It becomes theirs, not a knock-off or imitation. Listeners can tell.

6. Hard-working. If the task is to rank the best of the past year, in my opinion, the band has to have played out a bit: either locally or even toured outside Denver, or perhaps they've spent time recording and releasing their music. Even if I liked what they did two years ago, if they haven't played out or released anything recently, and especially if I know they are already disbanded I decided I shouldn't be able to vote them at the top of a 2008 poll. Ditto for promising new bands that haven't played enough for me to form a substantial opinion on yet.

7. My boyfriend is not in the band. To avoid the presumption of a conflict of interest, I am not voting for Bad Luck City or Overcasters. Even though they are two of my favorites, for the reasons listed above, not just because of my affection for someone in them.

The showcase has been a fun time the past two years I've attended.
I expect this year will be too.

04 July 2008

show review: Moonspeed, The Wheel, Ross Etherton

reposted from the notorious Donnybrook Writing Academy:

Show Reviews | Moonspeed
By The Truth • Jun 30th, 2008 • Category: Headlines from the Manor, Show Reviews

Show Review: Moonspeed, The Wheel, Ross Etherton
Saturday 28 June 2008 at the Hi-Dive, Denver
by Linda Ruth Carter
Photos by Laurie Scavo

The up-side of having established a musical reputation in town is that you can fill the place up with your new band’s public debut. The down-side, well, hang with me and we’ll get to that.

I was pretty excited about Saturday’s show for a number of reasons. One, there was no shortage of talented people scheduled to take the stage. Two, Denver being the relatively small musical scene that it is, I’ve become friends with many of these people and it’s always nice to see them. Three, two out of the three acts scheduled to perform would mostly be playing stuff I’d not heard before. And four, the thematically unified line-up (in that all three acts have a considerable reputation with their other bands preceding them,) promised to provide an interesting dynamic to the evening.

Walking around outside before the show we caught Ross Etherton in the parking lot behind the Hi-Dive, on the porch of the Theater on Broadway, rehearsing, writing down some last minute lyrics and figuring out his set list. It felt a privilege, getting that exclusive and personal preview, seeing him fuss over what songs he should play. And later, inside, Etherton brought that same inclusiveness and friendliness onto the stage, sharing stories about the songs with all who were listening. Then I felt twice-privileged. Some songs were familiar old favorites to Red Cloud West fans. Other songs, like the endearing lullaby for his new baby girl, are gems that surely will shine all the more with time and the polish of more performances. I’m looking forward to listening.

The Wheel, I’ve probably seen at least half a dozen times by now, either by himself, or with the accompaniment of violin and keyboard. The songs are beautiful in either incarnation and although by now I know to expect it, the first couple songs I’m still blown away by what a great voice and sense of delivery Rateliff brings. The songs feel like they have a strong sense of central character and I find myself listening carefully for the story. Perhaps I should listen more lightly next time though because after about four songs, I’m tired. Like when I pile my plate high with good food, eat too much and feel overstuffed and sleepy.

Moonspeed got all eleven members settled on stage, seated in a kind of orchestral manner. I’m sorry I don’t have everyone’s last names but here’s how it looked: The two drummers, James and Kit were mirrored in the back and flanked on either side by the synthesizers: Darren to the left, Shannon Stein to the right. Stage left featured the three guitarists, I believe it was Ryan, Jim and Matthew on two acoustic and one electric. Stage right sat Adam on bass, and in front of Shannon, Hayley Helmerick on melodica and Doug Spencer on various percussive elements: tambourine, triangles and wind chimes. Center of it all sat Jeff Suthers on vocals and guitar with his signature sounding trade secret pedals. But what did Moonspeed sound like? Not surprisingly, big. And the sound man (I think it might’ve been Xandy) deserves a medal for making everyone clear and audible.

Definitely, Moonspeed wears the influences of bands cited on their Myspace like My Bloody Valentine and Angels of Light. And while Moonspeed is not exactly blazing any new musical trails, they do seem to be having a good time making their own trip down the road, and gauging from the crowd of listeners I witnessed, it would seem they’ve got a good number of fans happy to follow them.

And now we get around to the down-side of the debut: it’s difficult to not bring Bright Channel performance expectations to the show. I tried to keep in mind that this was Moonspeed’s public debut, and though they didn’t quite have the tightly crafted delivery of oft-rehearsed songs, everybody onstage did remarkably very well listening to each other and keeping things woven together pretty well, if a little loosely. Should be a good time keeping up with where it all goes.

Tagged as: , Angels of Light, Bright Channel, Hi-Dive, Monofog, Moonspeed, My Bloody Valentine, Nathaniel Rateliff, Red Cloud West, Ross Etherton, The Wheel