Chamber rock heroes Margot and the Nuclear So & Sos had an off night on Friday at the Larimer Lounge — unfortunate timing, given that the band was debuting of a lot of new material at the show. Photos by Laurie Scavo.
If you’re a band, playing a set of new material isn’t easy. None of your fans know the new songs, and everybody wants to hear the old stuff.
If you’re a critic, reviewing a set of new material isn’t easy, either. You don’t know the new songs – or the song titles, even – and sure, you like the old stuff, too, or else you wouldn’t likely be there to catch the new stuff.
Margot and the Nuclear So & Sos played the Larimer Lounge on Friday – a set of mostly new tunes peppered with the occasional song from their debut LP, “The Dust of Retreat.” I reviewed the show, or at least I’m supposed to. Sitting here looking at photographer Laurie Scavo’s pictures of the show, I’m struck with a number of thoughts.
Firstly, Margot is changing. Lead songwriter Richard Edwards is known and loved – in small circles, granted – for being a pop genius. His ear for melody will be legendary some day, and his voice has a way with every single word he writes.
But the new material has a distinctively harder edge to it. Gone are the soft transitions into cooing pop gooeyness. Enter the more abrasive clangs and howls of rock ’n’ roll. The band seems to be exchanging its sweet, chiming chamber pop for a harsher, less interesting – yet possibly more digestible – brand of pop-rock.
As a fan or critic, you have to wonder about such a switch. Is it natural evolution, Edwards and his large band yearning for a new sound, tired of being compared to the Shins or Cloud Cult? Or is it forced evolution? This Indianapolis band has been touring and writing and playing the right festivals for years now. They got signed to V2, only to watch the label go down in flames. Now they have a second chance on a major label, Epic.
They want it to work this time ‘round. The last time, even before V2 crashed and burned, “The Dust of Retreat’s” sales numbers were disappointing – regardless of the fact that the single, “Quiet as a Mouse,” should have been a raging, made-for-pop-radio hit. Are they intentionally tweaking their sound, hoping that the new mix catches the ears of more listeners?
It was tough to say. Some of the older songs were present and in full form on Friday night, including “Quiet as a Mouse” and “Barfight Revolution.” I would have taken new compositions over the older – and more inane – “Dress Me Like a Clown” and “Paper Kitten Nightmare,” the latter being a song that intensely annoys many of Margot’s longtime fans. (Me, I’ve always kinda liked the song — although I could do without ever hearing it live again. It must be a favorite of Edwards, as he’s played that one nearly every time I’ve seen him.)
Edwards, while incredibly talented, has never been the most charismatic performer. That’s always (kind of) been part of his charm: His bland, apathetic stage presence while singing some of the prettiest and most thoughtful songs being written today. But Friday’s show had Edwards in a sub-apathetic mood, and it detracted from his band’s performance.
Edwards played the entire set with an anywhere-but-here look on his face. Sure, he’s the tortured artist – the great talent who deserves to be headlining Fillmore-sized venues but is still only selling 150 tickets at the Larimer Lounge on a Friday night.
But that doesn’t mean he should take that frustration (or whatever) out on his fans. As somebody who’s see this band upwards of 10 times – four or five of which at the Larimer Lounge – this was one of the least inspired shows to date. Sure, they’re an impossible band to mic on certain PAs. (Friday’s set was plagued with problems and inconsistencies.) But if you’re playing to 150 people – or 15, even – on an impossibly busy Friday night, it doesn’t make much sense to alienate your crowd via your own disposition.
Especially if you’re playing new material.
Regardless, I’ll allow Edwards to have an off night. I just hope that he gets the new CD out soon — and that next time he’s touring through Denver, he gives the music more of a chance to breathe. And shine.
Ricardo Baca is the pop music critic at The Denver Post.
Laurie Scavo is a Denver photographer and a regular contributor to Reverb.
Two more photos from Friday’s show — both of keys player/back-up singer Emily Watkins: