There are a number of cities these days with a vibrant psych scene — Austin and San Francisco are probably the top two. After watching Denver bands tear it up throughout this weekend’s third annual Gathering of the Clouds, it’s time to include Denver near the top of the list as well.
Two solid Denver bands launched Gathering of the Clouds 2013 at the Walnut Room. Leading off was Thee Dang Dangs, who formed only last year and are already receiving considerable positive buzz. Their well-written garage songs, buoyed by singer Rebecca Williams’ vocals and occasional hiccupped yelps, made for a short, compelling set. They were followed by the Broken Spirits, one of several GOTC bands to sonically explore different ways to perform psychedelic music.
Eagerly anticipated sets by the Vandelles, Brooklyn and Australian ex-pats, the Black Ryder delivered some of GOTC’s best music. The Vandelles debuted a new, first-rate light show and provided the festival’s first great guitar freak-outs, replete with the Jesus and Mary Chain-style distortion that typifies the genre. The Black Ryder, with singer/guitarist/keyboardist Aimee Nash’s breathy, treated female vocals and shimmering guitars by Scott Von Ryper were one of the few bands to trust the Walnut Room’s acoustics to carry the sound. Others simply played loud as if they were anywhere. Their performance was hypnotic, supplying plenty of trance (and transcendental) moments, and closing the first night on a pleasant, atmospheric high.
A larger Friday crowd witnessed the next evening’s highlight, Josh Wambeke’s band the Morning Clouds. The trio performed a unique, retro-sounding (almost a ’50s vibe) psychedelic set, carried by Wambeke’s big, fat revered-up guitar sound and his emotive vocals.
L.A.’s Gliss closed the second night. Singer Victoria Cecelia was feeling a bit under the weather, and while guitarist Martin Klingman provided quite a few magic moments, you felt you weren’t hearing the band at its best.
With a lineup featuring some of Denver’s best musicians, Saturday night saw the biggest crowd. Swayback side-project, Dragondeer, started off. Cole Rudy’s lap steel guitar and wild electric mandolin playing, along with Eric Halborg’s harmonica and vocals, provided a trippy blues atmosphere.
My favorite set of the weekend had to be the all bang, no-filler performance by well-pedigreed (Bright Channel, Moonspeed, Snake Rattle Rattle Snake and Tjutjuna) Pale Sun. For only its third show, Pale Sun plays tight, monstrous psychedelic guitar music that is anything but shoegaze. The band’s music has you looking up, toward the heavens.
People who came to GOTC were predisposed to love whatever festival co-founders, Kurt Ottaway and Todd Spriggs’ new band, Emerald Siam, played. Their gripping, first-rate, debut set made it easy. It was another of the weekend’s great moments; Ottoway’s distinctive vocals and guitar melding in yet another band, creating lush, psychedelic textures.
Unquestionably one of Denver’s best and most unique acts, Wovenhand, fresh from a tour of France and Turkey, came out and toppled the room. The intense power trio is a must-see live act. David Eugene Edward testifies with his guitar, as well as his lyrics. Chuck French’s bass is right in your face and drummer, Ordy Garrison, somehow keeps the whole thing in control by playing out-of-control drums.
Following that and waiting for the room to completely fill with dry ice, one couldn’t help feel drained, even before the Warlocks came out. The crowd thinned, some literally psych-ed out. Only the faithful remained as the L.A. band closed GOTC with music well-suited for losing an hour that night – multi-guitar, stoner-psych sludge. After a myriad of possibilities the past few nights (and daze), all designed to musically assist you leaving your senses, the Warlocks’ early psych was as good a way to end Gathering of the Clouds 2013 as any other.
Mike Long is a Longmont-based writer and comedian and a regular contributor to Reverb.