Laylights’ Tyler Hayden leads his band through “You” from the “Auricle” EP Saturday at the Bluebird. Photos by Doug Beam.
One of the more encouraging things about the Denver music scene lately has been not just the amount of bands calling the city home, but the fact that an increasing chunk are playing at a national level. That isn’t to say all of them have achieved that profile yet, only that they’ve proven themselves ready for (and largely worthy of) serious attention.
These are bands that have played tons of shows, released fussed-over recordings, and honed their sound so much that one could see them playing “Late Night with Conan O’Brien,” nabbing a Spin article or getting signed by a tastemaker indie label. In other words, unique voices that provide aural substance as they develop creatively — not just a bunch of haircuts and tapered-leg jeans that figured out how to make their guitars sound like mutilated cats.
Granted, every city has its dusty gems (and writers are often swift to overblow every little triumph in a scene, misrepresenting its tone and momentum), but relative to the size of the city, Denver is top-heavy with great acts.
Indie quartet Laylights is one of them, a good-getting-better band overflowing with hooks and appeal that nonetheless escapes some local music lovers’ attention. The group celebrated the release of its new “Auricle” EP Saturday at the Bluebird Theater with a concise, visually dizzying show that unfortunately failed to pack the 500-person venue.
Still, the assembled quasi-masses gave the entertainers the appropriate level of attention — particularly impressive since openers Andrea Ball and Ian Cooke peddle the mellow, introspective stuff. I unfortunately missed Ball’s set, but if it sounded anything like her new CD “Beat Beat Pound,” it probably kicked ass.
Cooke, playing solo with his cello, set a friendly but contemplative tone with his art-pop music, using a sampling pedal to layer cello lines while his vocals darted around in the sound mix. The crowd loved him, stomping and clapping, following him through an Abba/Joanna Newsom “mash-up” cover, and being patient when the equipment turned on him. (Should we all prepare for the inevitable robot uprising? Yes.) Cooke’s set improved on recent performances with a relaxed, professional vibe. And that’s saying something, since the guy plays like two or three shows a week.
The high point: A cover of Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5″ that bled into the alternately fragile and vigorous “Vassoon” — during which a smoke machine inexplicably came to life (rawk!) It’s easy to talk over a lone dude on the stage with an acoustic instrument, but Cooke’s attention-demanding music got what it needed — at least from where I was standing.
Laylights next took the stage in, appropriately, low light before launching into “Auricle” lead-off track “The Way It Occurs.” The swirling, feedback-laden intro quickly twisted into a column of stuttering drums and guitar, singer Tyler Hayden guiding the rest of the members through melodies that split the difference between the glammy, New Romantic turns of the Killers and U.K. post-punk fiends Futureheads.
Familiar, but well-rendered.
The “widescreen rock” descriptor is an overused one, but it’s also appropriate for Laylights. Maybe it’s the big skies and rocky vistas of our state that inspires such epic-quality songs. Maybe it’s the Born in the Flood effect. Either way, it’s pretty damned cool. Cinematic and expansive, Laylights effortlessly cobbles bits of U2, Radiohead, Interpol (especially the cymbal-heavy beats) and others into its wide sound.
The bearded, baby-faced Hayden possesses a voice that’s somewhere between croon and howl, and most songs give him a chance to visit both. The band also knows how to set the right mood: A smoke machine pumped out copious amounts of it, giving the unusually atmospheric, Pink Floyd-esque light show a place to play.
Tight but mildly businesslike, the members’ performance never wasted time or attention. When guitarist Ian McCumber broke a string on “You,” he soldiered through heedlessly instead of letting it deflect his focus. It’s something any good band would do, but really, we’re lucky to have so many of them here.
See more of contributor Doug Beam’s photography.