Denver’s delightfully unclassifiable Achille Lauro played the Hi-Dive on Thursday with Mike Marchant, Fissure Mystic and Action Friend. Photos by Marla Keown.
I always look forward to shows at the Hi-Dive, a mainstay in the center of Denver’s hip Baker neighborhood. Combine the venue’s commitment to weekly local shows with with the alchemical prowess of Ben DeSoto’s booking and you’ve got a venue that does a stellar job of putting together lineups of highly complementary bands, sometimes stylistically, sometimes thematically and very often truly extraordinary.
Thursday night’s lineup, featuring Action Friend, Fissure Mystic, Mike Marchant, and Achille Lauro, was a fitting example. While each of the bands has its own personality and style, the overall lineup congealed along a nearly imperceptible thread of sonic similarity that emerged more and more as each band gave the stage to the next.
And that thread was not, as much as it is lauded, the highly recognizable alt-country/gothic, Bible-belt, tent-praise-a-thon “Denver sound,” but rather one of smooth, calm liquidity that ebbed and flowed inside individual sets while maintaining a constant subliminal presence throughout.
Sadly, as I got to the show, Fissure Mystic was already in the throes of their set and I had missed Action Friend (one chink in the Hi-Dive’s veneer: their website as of this writing still says “Doors at 8:00 PM, Show at 9:30 PM.” I was there before 10 PM, and the second band was already on stage, and well into their set). The band’s Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr.-soaked brand of grunge blared from the stage courtesy of Andy Elkins (guitar-vocals), Taylor Rice (lead guitar-backing vocals), Suzi Allegra (bass) and Fez Garcia (drums). The guitar-centered onslaught flitted easily in mid-song from sloppy power-chord thrash to intricate and melodic, atunal noodling and back to thrash again.
Elkins and Thomas seemed to share the same mind when they were powering through fast, complex chord progressions, each with skilled playing that complemented the other’s axe work in front of Garcia and Allegra’s tight rhythm section. It was during the slow caesuras that you could really see how well they’ve mastered their sloppy and melodic dual-guitar onslaught. The vocals, a secondary concern at best, were rendered nearly indistinguishable, merely a necessary noise to fulfill the integrity of their wall of sound.
Mike Marchant, from Denver’s Widowers, took over next, joined onstage by Marie Mer’Curie on backing vocals and bells and for a few songs by Crawford Phileo on vibraphone. Marchant’s reverb-drenched, spacy, slow compositions transformed the Hi-Dive into a dark, vast cave where each listener could feel a type of downcast yet comfortable solitude. His perfectly placed guitar strums were calculated to envelop the audience with just the right succession of echo, accompanied with Mer’Curie’s bells and misty backing vocals and Phileo’s light touch on the vibraphone.
At this point, the thread of calm took over the show and gained complete control, the crowd swaying slowly and even singing along to songs that have become familiar over recent months in Marchant’s seemingly relentless gigging. After six or so songs, they cleared off the stage and the audience looked appropriately sedated as headliners Achille Lauro set up.
As they started their set, Achille Lauro’s Luke Mossman played the opening chords of Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Under the Bridge” and then quickly stopped, laughingly reassuring us that they “…weren’t going to play that song, although it is a good song.” For those of us who are still new to the band, the spirit of that song served as a slight hint for what we were about to hear.
The five-piece act, quickly rising stars in Denver, features frontman Matt Close on guitars, keyboards and vocals, Ben and Luke Mossman on drums, and guitars and keyboards (respectively), Brian Joseph on guitar and trumpet and Jon Evans on bass. Their recipe for music begins with a smokey, loungecore mood, to which they add a mixture of smooth jazz and light techno. Riding beneath that are slow, looping bass lines and jazz progressions from the guitars, often drenched in echo and mixed in a way that leads the listener to succumb to a comfortable release in drowning.
Close’s vocal style is an alternately warbling and pronounced mix that shares some Stevie Wonder and a soupçon of Donald Fagen’s polished style with a hip, beat-poet undercurrent. To that it adds the powerful belting of Sublime’s Brad Nowell. His confident and often humorous delivery — both between and during songs — added to the fluid ambience of the show.
As they began their set with the coyote-howling of “Card Board Divas,” the band was joined by virtually everyone in the audience. The Hi-Dive had filled up appreciably, attesting to the growing popularity of the local band. And it’s no wonder. Their sound denies classification, but if I was forced to make one I would place them somewhere between a mashup of Portishead, Sunny Day Real Estate and a David Lynch soundtrack — especially if the acclaimed director attempted a new Bond film.
The mix makes for a memorable place where you’re awash in some sort of aquatic abandon. It inspires a feeling of being poured into an abstract expressionist painting, enveloped in swirling thick, oily color. They closed the set with the desperate and bluesy “No Brakes,” which whipped itself and the audience into an otherworldly, frenzied spiritual, and then wound down to deliver us all back to the Hi-Dive, new and refreshed.
Billy Thieme is a Denver-based writer, an old-school punk and a huge follower of Denver’s vibrant local music scene. Follow Billy’s giglist at Gigbot.
Marla Keown is a Denver freelance photographer and regular contributor to Reverb.
MORE PHOTOS: Mike Marchant