Review: Smith Westerns at the Bluebird Theater in Denver - Reverb

Smith Westerns at the Bluebird Theater, 8-6-13 (review)

At first it seems that Smith Westerns is still riding the wave of early blog hype that has defined the young indie-psych band’s career, but the group is more complex. As Smith Westerns displayed to the sparse crowd at the Bluebird Theater Tuesday night, the Chicago-based band manages to balance on the razor’s edge of catchy rock pop and its psychedelic counterpart, creating a sound both delightful and deep.

See photos below of Smith Westerns’ 2011 show at the Larimer Lounge.

The band jumped right into its set with “End of the Night,” which features wild sliding guitar, airy vocals and the kind of melody that will get stuck in your head for weeks. For the 50 or so who gambled on the indie stylings of Smith Westerns rather than Grizzly Bear down the street, it was immediately impressive. The band can function quite well between the fringes and mainstream.

As lead singer Cullen Omori danced around to the guitar and synth melodies, the group showed how they can be both fun and mature, something they hadn’t really perfected until the release of their latest LP “Soft Will.” They want to have fun, but they also know how to dig deeper into sounds, evident in the the winding and sparkly “3 am Spiritual,” which live was somehow able to manifest the same distant tone that felt so produced on the record. Coming back to that edge Smith Westerns live on, the band transitioned from bouncy and simple tracks to the more complicated and slow ones, all the while maintaining the signature twangy guitar and ethereal vocals.

While the group has certainly expanded musically, Smith Westerns’ stage presence could still use some work. Every one of the band’s songs has almost infinite layers, but a few times their live counterparts fell utterly flat. “Smile,” a single from “Dye It Blonde” depends fully on the build up to the chorus and the subtleties in between, but Tuesday night every measure of that song was the same tempo and volume, and the once intriguing song was instantly rendered boring.

Smith Westerns fared better on the other hit from “Dye It Blonde,” “Weekend,” and when the opening melody of “Varsity” came through, everything hit its groove, especially the energy between the band and the audience, who were finally showing some emotion beyond feigned enthusiasm. That peak dropped sharply though, as the band decided to end after just 30 minutes. Omori said he would rather play “short and sweet than go too long” and while he kept his word on the short part, sweet was only achieved in those final minutes which passed far too fast.

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Isa Jones is a Boulder-based writer and a new contributor to Reverb.

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