The Meadowlark Bar continues to set the bar for live national and local lineups in a hip, comfortable environment night after night. Last Saturday’s lineup was no exception, and featured The Outfit and headliners Vitamins, both originally from Greeley, after being supported by Johnny Burroughs (also a Greeley native) and Seattle’s garage-bluesy The Curious Mystery. The last two groups stole the night, and each packed the place with what looked like two separate crowds.
The Outfit was setting up when we arrived, and soon were pouring out their James Gang meets Dinosaur Jr. meets The Strokes sound, thick and swirling with brilliant guitar noise and musty vocals. The crowd in front of them – and in the Meadowlark, that’s meant literally, as audience members are often within inches of rubbing up against gyrating band members – was small as the started up, but the place filled up before the second tune was over.
Fronted by singer Eric Johnston, they tore through a set that could’ve lasted longer than it did, were it not for the band’s furious energy. Seconds after one tune ended, bassist Pat Lawless and drummer Chris Cain would cue up the next vitriolic rhythm, and Johnston and lead guitarist Casey Banker (who also plays with Denver’s The Dont’s and Be Carefuls) would jump in with their fresh, garage guitar work, and they were off and running again.
There was one longer pause in the set, when Jacob Hansen, lead singer of local quick-rising starts The Knew, handed the group a set of shots (the rest of The Knew were there to howl their approval as well). In addition to the liquid support from one band to another, The Outfit also showed their love for their scene by covering the recently split Hot IQ’s, one of Denver’s most beloved bands of the past few years. It’s always a great sight, seeing the local scene support itself – sweetly incestuous, at times, but it really is a good thing.
After The Outfit wrung out much of the energy from that crowd, Denver’s Vitamins began to setup, and what seemed to be an entirely new, fresh group of fans started to make their way into the Meadowlark. The mix re-energized the place, just in time for the band to take over at right about midnight.
Vitamins’ style ranges from sweeping, ethereal arrangements that recall Cocteau Twins and Ride, to grooving psychedelic noise pop reminiscent of Sonic Youth or Yo La Tengo. Strong, anchoring euro-jazz bass lines and often sparse, lilting vocals also add an otherworldly, Stereolab quality to it as well. Their mixture of these influences creates a sound that’s almost entirely their own – but not quite. For a relatively young band – they formed in 2005 in Greeley, and transplanted themselves in Denver not too long after – they’ve come a long way in a short time, but still seem to favor different influences on an almost song-by-song basis. Overall, though, the variety makes for one of Denver’s more exciting live shows.
Their growth is evident in the stylistic differences between their two records, 2008’s Calliope and this year’s new EP Songs for Stem Cells, and they focused their set Saturday night on the latter collection. Where Calliope stumbles a bit here and there as the band tries to find its voice, Stem Cells is much more cohesive, cogent, and their live show reflected the same atmosphere. After starting out with Lilly Allen’s sparse yet confident vocals in the surprising “Sequined Dress,” Matt Daniels and Ryan Ellison’s heavy yet melodic guitar and bass melded fast to Crawford Philleo’s confident drumming, to lay out a solid foundation of driving, rhythmic pop, and then built on that with a sound that belied their number. Later, as they swirled into the softer melodies of “Dark Matter” and “A Fear of Rattles,” a pair of tunes that begs for swaying, upheld lighters and grasped hands, the crowd got a deserved breather. It turned out to be necessary, as the set rounded out with some explosive, loud and burgeoning noise that ended a bit too soon.
Check out Vitamins’ “Dark Matter” mp3:
[wpaudio url=”http://www.denverthread.com/wp-content/themes/mimbo/sounds/DarkMatter.mp3″ text=”Dark Matter”]