November 30, 2009

The Swell Season stunned me

Swell Season 032

Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova represent everything that the hot & honest parts of me love the most about music. As The Swell Season, they are completely humble and engaging, they passionately perform their craft with every ounce of their souls, and they sound damn lovely the way their voices blend together. Somehow it has taken me until now to see them live, and last night at a sold-out show in Denver, I wondered what had taken me so long.

Swell Season 110-1

It felt alternately like a candlelight church service or a campfire at the Ogden last night, with pin-drop silence when it was required and all-encompassing enthusiasm every time Glen invited us to sing along. “All you have to do is sing this simple melody,” he instructed us with a wide smile from behind his guitar. “I don’t care if you mean it or not, just sing it. Well no, actually,” he reconsidered — “Don’t sing it if you don’t mean it.”

But instructions aside — when all of our voices started to rise together to the melody of “Falling Slowly” or “When Your Mind’s Made Up,” I think everyone in the room had to have been convinced. I’ve sang along at the top of my lungs to “Falling Slowly” in my car dozens (if not hundreds) of times, and I gotta say — it was catharsis at its best, to throw my head back with 950 other fans and let all those harmonies soar out into the darkness. It was one of the most honest and wonderful concerts I’ve seen in years. You get the sense that they are doing this for all the right reasons, and their fans respond warmly to that.

There is an undercurrent of hope in their new material that they played last night, and as much as I loved being melancholy and drowning in longing through their past songs, I too feel I am entering a period of hope and some wholeness, and songs like this new marvelously gospel-infused rendition are exactly what resonates with me:

A High Hope (new song, live in LA) – The Swell Season

Maybe when our hearts have realigned
maybe when we’ve both had some time
I’m gonna see you there

Maybe when we’re both old and wise
maybe when our hearts have had some time
I’m gonna see you there
where the good times go
where you are forever young…

The crowd singing here with all they’ve got, the woman in the crowd with the virtuoso voice ringing majestically over the crowd — this must be how ascension feels, no other way to put it.

All of my pictures are up on the Denver Post’s Reverb site as a slide show, if you would like to see more. What a gorgeous night, what a spark in my heart.

Swell Season 008

April 30, 2009

Queen City Spotlight: Houses


In addition to being a mile high, Denver is also known as the Queen City of the Plains, since we are regally awesome. We have a feisty and fertile music scene here, and this occasional feature aims to spotlight the best of our music to the rest of the world.

Houses is such a curt, domestic, common name for an uncommonly good band. Recently formed and already attracting major word-of-mouth buzz, the smart music of Houses is as expansive and refreshing as it is unclassifiable. Sometimes it shimmers and chimes, other times it just plain squalls with rock and roll — but it seems firmly rooted to me in shades of an earthy sepia.


A big, exuberant, Denver-style collective of at least eight members (and all their varied instruments), Houses is formed around the core songwriting duo of Andrew James Hamilton and his wife Kinsey Hamilton. Joining them are members of several other excellent groups in and around Denver (such as Widowers, Blue Million Miles and the perhaps-defunct Hearts of Palm).

With Bishop Allen-type plans for year round domination, Houses is releasing one EP for each season of 2009. I’m having fun divvying up all the songs on their MySpace player into speculative seasons. It seems clear to me that instrumental sojourns like the surf-guitar-laced “Beach Song” radiate waves of August heat, and the pensive “North Sea” is a brilliant shade of arctic January white — or maybe December with those faint sleigh bells chiming.

But this next track might be more like the hazy smell of burning leaves in late October. I am totally and completely in love with it — the way it starts out with a classy, bluesy organ melody that anchors throughout and builds into a singalong that feels like The Band at the San Francisco’s Winterland, early 1970s.

By the last minute, the song explodes like fiery sunrise, just like they promised it would. We’ll see the sun again indeed.

We’ll See The Sun – Houses

For more listening, last month’s show with Everything Absent or Distorted is up over on The Flat Response.

And one of those EPs (presumably Spring) is being released tomorrow night (Friday) at the Hi-Dive, in a show with other local luminaries Elin Palmer and Ian Cooke.

When Houses played with The Morning Benders and The Submarines in February, the Denver Post’s review claimed that although it was “only the band’s fifth show … it was so well executed that it should put most Denver indie bands on notice.” That’s a show I got real close (meters) to seeing, but lots of wet snow and maybe some tequila stopped me from actually making it inside. Sigh. I shant be so foolish again — I really am looking forward to seeing a lot of Houses in 2009.


ALSO: Speaking of local news, the review I wrote for the Denver Post on the Gaslight Anthem show is now live, for your viewing pleasure, as are the pics I shot in the review for Clem Snide. And check this video I shot of Gaslight on Friday night — easily my favorite video I’ve captured all year so far.

[thanks to the formidable namer-of-things Sean Porter for thinking up this series title!]

April 8, 2009

Bonnie Prince Billy blazes in Denver


Shortly after touching down in Denver on Sunday night after my jaunt to Chicago, I jigged my way over to the Bluebird Theater to see the Bonnie Prince Billy show. Will Oldham sold out that venue (something that surprised many last-minute arrivals), and put on a sublime show that was heavier on the rollicking country vibe than his previous elegantly hushed songwriting. He played with a full backing band, including the arresting violinist/vocalist Cheyenne Mize with a huge voice — their duets together were just gorgeous.

I shot pictures for the Denver Post’s Reverb site, so head on over to read John Moore’s sharp review, and take a look if you’ve always wanted to see Will in his long johns (he took his pants off on stage, saying he didn’t expect it to be so damn hot).

The duet with Mize on “The Girl In Me” (available on the Louisville Is For Lovers compilation) was particularly noteworthy, and looked something like this:

Bonnie Prince Billy’s latest album Beware is out now on Drag City.

And speaking of concert photos — I’ve added the Mountain Goats/John Vanderslice ones from last week to the original review.

March 4, 2009

Everything Absent or Distorted on TOUR!


You people out East do not know what goodness awaits you next week, as my favorite Denver band Everything Absent Or Distorted takes to the road for an extremely rare tour.

As I wrote in my review for the Denver Post last time I saw ‘em, “I love to stand beneath their waves of massive, visceral sound that galvanizes the band and the audience as one. As I leaned against the stage as the final notes died away, catching my breath, I commented to a friend that EAOD performs the way that the best music feels: straight from their poetic, hot-blooded hearts. There’s no posturing, only gorgeous songs that flit from delicate and pensive to soaringly victorious, fist-pumping anthems.”

Aquariums – Everything Absent or Distorted

If you live in one of these cities, you simply must go. Simply must.
I will give you a nickel if it ain’t the most honest, gorgeous, brilliant performance of live music that you’ve seen in recent years.

Mar 8 — Chicago, IL @ The Bottom Lounge
Mar 10 — Detroit, MI @ PJs Lagerhouse
Mar 11 — Pittsburgh, PA @ Garfield Artworks
Mar 12 — New York City, NY @ The Bowery Electric
Mar 14 — New York City, NY @ TBA

[photo credit the fabulous laurie scavo]

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Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel."
—Hunter S. Thompson

Mp3s are for sampling purposes, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you'll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log. They are left up for a limited time. If you LIKE the music, go and support these artists, buy their schwag, go to their concerts, purchase their CDs/records and tell all your friends. Rock on.

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