Denver has been conveniently situated as a stopping point for a small wave of touring bands en route to Austin Psych Fest. It’s a contact high that has fans buzzed with excitement at the opportunity to enjoy some of the better acts in the genre. And last night at the Larimer Lounge, San Francisco-based Sleepy Sun and Oakland’s Lumerians teamed up with Denver’s own Hearts in Space to trip out a small but dedicated crowd.
Named for a mythical civilization, Lumerians quickly entranced with a mesmerizing set of groovy bass and percussion-driven, echo-laden space rock. Offering few words, both in song and in stage banter, the five-piece band weaved a web of sound that touched as much upon droning psychedelia and krautrock as it did ‘60s tropicalia and euro-horror soundtracks.
A modest light show enhanced the experience. But it was through pounding drums, tribal conga rhythms, fluid bass lines and maniacal keyboard, organ and guitar effects on tracks like “Black Tusk” and “Hashshashin” (both from their current self-titled LP) that the band transported the crowd from that lost, ancient world to the best, most stylish Mario Bava film that never existed, eventually launching them into outer space via brain-melters like set closer “Shortwave Fields.”
It was going to be a tough act to follow. And Sleepy Sun already had a few obstacles of their own to overcome. Most important of which, this would be their first Denver appearance since the unexpected departure of charismatic co-vocalist Rachel Fannan, a key ingredient in their unique Black Sabbath-meets-Jefferson Airplane style of psych-rock.
The band opened with “Wild Machines,” and for those familiar with their material and live shows of the past, it was clear that her absence was an issue — both musically and in stage presence.
The quintet managed to sound strong on muscular tracks like the harmonica-driven Zep stomper “Desert God,” and lead vocalist Bret Constantino sounded particularly great on the swaying ballad, “Oh Lord” (from their 2009 debut “Embrace”). But overall, Sleepy Sun failed to springboard atop the exciting wave of sound that Lumerians had set up previously.
The group also road-tested a number of new songs with mixed results, as they strayed from their familiar style of heavy, crashing dynamics, guitar heroics and dreamy atmospherics to more compact tunes propelled by steady, driving rhythms.
A scorching version of “White Dove” closed out their set and clarified that Sleepy Sun can definitely still move a crowd. But it’s also clear that the band is still recouping and redefining itself. Who knows, maybe by next week’s show with the Black Angels in Boulder (another hit from Psych Fest) they’ll have their footing right to get them back on track for a long, strange successful trip.
Michael Behrenhausen is a Denver-based writer, musician and regular Reverb contributor. The worst crime he ever did was play some rock ‘n’ roll.