Live Review: mr. Gnome at Denver's Hi-Dive (11/17)
Mr. Gnome and I go way back. Back in my freshman year of college, their third album, Madness in Miniature, was one of the first CDs I reviewed for this radio station. Now it’s my last year and they gave me a send-off with their newest work, The Heart of a Dark Star. They almost work as a nostalgic “Zach-in-college-radio” timeline. So I was quite excited to finally see them live on a chilly Monday night at the Hi-Dive in Denver.
First up, though, were Denver locals Il Cattivo. Based on the name (a reference to Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly), I was expecting some crazy, Ennio Morricone-esque spaghetti western tunes, but was instead given some heavy stoner rock/metal that reminded a lot of Clutch. I would’ve probably preferred spaghetti western music, but it was still a fun set; frontman Brian Hagman’s spastic stage persona gave a glimpse into an alternate universe where Jim Carrey fronts a punk group. The band had chops and the songs hit hard, though their slurred stage banter addressed only to friends in the audience was a little alienating.
Texas five-piece Young Tongue were next and treated the audience to an enjoyable set of psychedelic, progressive indie rock. Keyboardist Liz Baker is a bubbly, bouncy presence on-stage and drummer Darryl Schomberg was absolutely killing it with his original, off-kilter rhythms. The set consistently flirted with true greatness, but the band’s sound was sometimes muddy and undefined. It had a lot to do with the bass being much too overbearing in the mix, but you got the impression the young band were eager to throw everything but the kitchen sink into their songs, resulting in too many things happening at once. Still, this is a band with a long life ahead of it, and once they truly nail down their sound, they’ll be a force to be reckoned with. Keep an eye on them. (Note: KCSU had the chance to speak with singer/guitarist Stu Baker before the show; check out that interview here.)
After a short set break, it was finally time for mr. Gnome. I was initially unsure how their tunes (which are relatively hard to explain; they’re a little psychedelic, a little folk-tinged, and a little White Stripes-esque rock, with a healthy amount of haunting vocal looping on top for good measure) would translate to a live setting. Two-piece groups can often be a mixed bag live and can come off as flat compared to their studio recordings. My fears were soon proven completely unfounded.
Unlike other live duos, mr. Gnome can completely recreate their recorded sound. Drummer Sam Meister was a beast behind the kit (’twas a good night to watch good drum work); his beats were engaging and it’s fun to watch him beat the hell out of his kit. Nicole Barille’s vocals are majestic, sounding somewhere between a more Southern-tinged Karen O (I was surprised to learn the group was from Ohio and not further down south) and a fairy goddess. She switched between two mics; one made her sound fuzzy and old-tymey, which made her yells into the normal mic all the more soaring and impressive.
Their setlist intelligently drew from old and new mr. Gnome albums. The Heart of a Dark Star is significantly less rock-heavy and the tracks played brought welcome changes of pace throughout the set. But it was the Madness in Miniature material that stood out most to me. The shifts from soft and organic to loud and heavy in “Bit of Tongue” and “Outsiders” got the crowd beyond pumped, and set closer “House of Circles” is absolutely epic.
This is a band that is still not receiving the recognition that they should be, and here’s hoping that changes in the very near future. Their records are great, and they exceeded my expectations in a live setting.