Saturday, February 5, 2011

review: Laura Goldhamer, Larians, & Princess Music @ Astroland

Somewhat sorry to say, but this was only my second time visiting Astroland, Boulder's premier DIY funky arthouse venue. Nestled snugly in a pitch black auto repair plaza on the North Side of town, it has the vibe of a well kept secret, that maybe perhaps you are fortunate enough to be in on, which is probably for the best, as it is rather small, probably holding 75 people, max. Tonight's line-up, Laura Goldhamer and the Silver Nails, Larians, & Princess Music proved to be a warm oasis for a chilly week in Colorado, with inspired performances and friendly concert-goers giving that late night, living room ambience.

First to play was Laura Goldhamer and the Silver Nails, whom i had seen before at a stellar show, opening for Faun Fables and Sleepytime Gorilla Museum. Quirky is the first adjective which springs to mind, regarding Ms. Goldhamer's music, but fun, inspired, detailed, and sincere are soon behind. Playing a kind of avant folk, principally on banjo, with a standard rock back-up of drums, bass, and electric guitar, with a cello as a nice lagniappe. First thing to set her apart from the ilk is she frequently performs against a back-drop of stop-motion animation, that she makes herself, picturing a woman righting the lyrics to a song on a blackboard, or paper-mache birds and eggs. It is whimsical, and she has described her music as 'Edgy Children's Music', but it comes off as heartfelt and personal, rather than an ecstacy hangover. The next defining characteristic of her music is the tight arrangements, odd time signatures on the banjo smoothly segueing, a central pulse, never faltering, never dropping the beat, and perfectly accompanied by her voice and sensitive playing of her backing band. Tight, sharp, focused, yet odd and singular. The world needs more songwriting like this. And last but not least, a new addition to her set this evening, was a drum installation, where a laptop triggered speakers around the room, set-up to various snare-drums, doorbells, and floortoms, and triggered by loops from the machine. At one point, she handed out drum sticks to audience members, and made live loops that then triggered different devices in different parts of the room. It was a little ramshackle, but utterly fucking brilliant, and also got the audience involved, a common cure for the notorious indie wallflower syndrome, which thankfully didn't seem to come out and brave the cold, tonight. Her set was like a birthday party, a gallery opening, a rock n roll show, and a mad scientist's experiment, all wrapped up in one brilliant package, with a shiny bow of charisma, good humour, and great ideas, to top it all off. You should check out her music, her albums and dvds are cool, but really, her live shows are not to be missed. For anything.
Larians, the following act, was a bit of a yawn. Time to sit down on the fuzzy shag carpet in the middle of the floor and hope it was not to sullied. Doing a bit of a shoegazey, trancey electronic thing, somewhat reminiscent of Ulrich Schnauss, perhaps M83, without the arena rock, with droney, reverbed vocals. Performing on a variety of synthesizers and rhythm machines, with a battery of guitar stomp boxes, the sounds were cool, and the ideas were there, but somewhat washed out, unclear and unfocused. At times i was lost in the heart of the music, which struck me as melancholy and romantic, but it went on for too long, with no break in between songs. All in all, an electronic splatter fest, although i got to watch a knob twiddler at work (i think i own some of the same pedals), and had some rather cool thoughts, for the duration. The ideas and the potential are there, but need to be refined.
Princess Music brought the evening to a close, which turned out to be most of the members of the silver nails, rearranged and reconfigured. They also turned out to be a delight, a pleasant surprise, a real treat. Laura Goldhamer on Banjo, Tyler Ludwick on Telecaster and lead vocals, Jeremy Averitt on prog bass (i think he was playing left handed), Robin Chestnut on drums (i think... i guess) and the lovely finesse of Psyche Dunkhase and Rachel Sliker on cello and violin, they made a glorious, sprawling technicolor sound; a mishmosh of math rock, folk and bluegrass, with a splash of afro caribbean sunshine brought on by furious funky polyrhythm, a la Paul Simon's Graceland. But mishmosh suggests something sloppy and shambolic, and haphazard these folks most assuredly were NOT. Almost frighteningly sharp, verging on hive mindmeld, but at the same time, dripping with exuberance and passion and pathos and play. Tyler Ludwick's voice reminds me the most of local troubadour Gregory Alan Isakov, but for the rest of you, think maybe perhaps M Ward, maybe a cousin of Jim James. Warm and Faded, like loved denim, he tied the songs together (which i gather he wrote himself, for the most part) with emotion and wit, defying the clinical pitfalls of their proggy, mathy brethren, but the spiky arrangements and odd cadences and dissonances prevented it from becoming a total hippy orgy, either. And, like a warehouse version of the standing ovation, the room, it did begin to move. The audience, they did start to sway. Like a breeze blowing over still water, the people got down, and the whole night gelled, into a moment of friendship, ideas and inspiration, joking and confessional, quiet and extremely LOUD. In essence, it all came together beautifully.
Places like Astroland can give you the feeling of being in the right place, at the right time. They can remind us that not all history was created in dusty New York lofts in the 1960s, that these are our lives and we are giving it all we got. That we are doing the best we can. And Boulder's contribution to the DIY infrastructure is almost eerily devoid of pretension, with people smiling, talking to one another, dancing. I saw a lot of hugging. It is my knee-jerk reaction to shy away from such affection, from such sincerity, to retreat into a spiky punk-rock pretense, to remain guarded. But, i was won over, as i usually am, and reminded that i am happiest when i am lost in the crowd, dancing my skinny white ass off.

laura goldhamer Check 'em out... show yr love... show yr support!

Laura Goldhamer & The Silvernail:
Princess Music:

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