I feel like I’m starting to get a hang of this coverage of local bands thing down. Lesson 1: Wear comfortable shoes. Lesson 2: Not all venues are created equal and treat different bands, um, differently. Lesson 3: “On paper” is a great caveat.
Let’s tackle lesson 3 – On paper, a band releasing a video game at a bar with a murderer’s row of 80s and 90s arcade consoles is a no-brainer. The ideological clash of past consoles and present smartphone apps and a general love of geek culture could not have been more tempting with Chemistry Club’s release of Navigator – a game based on their song with the same name – at the 1Up on Colfax this past Saturday. I mean, any place where the question “where are the bathrooms?” gets answered with “over by the King Hippo mural” is OK in my books. But enough about the distant past, let’s dive into the past of two days ago:
When the opener, Instant Empire took the stage, I noticed a few things right away: the setup was fantastic, lights were vibrant (especially as they blinded members of the audience on more than one occasion), and the acoustics were weird. Everything felt large, and Scotty Summers’ swagger and expressive gesturing fit a big rock show, but their sound felt caged in and bounced around the room like a pinball from the Adam’s Family machine in the other room. To quote my wife who came along for the show: “All I hear is loud.”
Which is a shame, because I’ve been listening to their albums after the show for context, and they are really, really fun songs. The Hold Steady vocal cadence mixed with high-pitched indie pop rock distortion and driving drums, personal stories, and six-piece rock is great, but either I’m getting old and need earplugs or that stage’s sound structure is not for everyone. We bounced back and forth between rooms to give our ears a break but unfortunately all I remember from the first set is a) loud and b) a song devoted to the Konami code (up, up, down, down, you know the rest). Again, a shame because of the first time exposure, but a win because I now have new albums to study and hopefully future shows to compare experiences with.
When in doubt, blame the ghosts of Kitty’s East.
Apparently the power of ghosts do not reach too far north, as the quartet from Fort Collins was able to work with their environment. Then again, there was more than enough to distract me during the set: from the majesty of Nick Duarte’s well-manicured beard, to Mark Roshon’s legacy of Iron Man t-shirt (is that the Hulkbuster?), to Chris Santolla’s ability to strum chords on a bass, to Amy Morgan’s locked-in ferocity at attacking the music with her cello.
That didn’t happen though, as their music was able to fill the room without overtaking it. Duarte’s Rob Thomas-esque vocals and emotionally charged guitar progressions punched out, I could notice Roshon’s intensity on drums and actually hear Santolla’s bass, and the cello? Yeah, Morgan found that music, attacked it, and carried home the victory. Their set felt like an event, and made me a believer in their coffee shop alt-rock sound.
After the second set, I wanted to shake hands with Post Paradise and tell the headliners “no pressure or anything,” but the night belonged to Chemistry Club and they owned it.
Sometimes when you listen to a band, you know when they get it musically. The same occurs when watch some artists live, you know when something clicks from a showmanship standpoint. There is no perfunctorily cruising through the songs waiting to get to the end, they are simply vessels for the music. Naturally, front man Jeff Wiencrot was the litmus test for all of that, which was a task he was up for. He bounced side to side through each 80s pop influenced beat, became expressive and clutched at his chest at the more emotive lyrics, and sang into a telephone for a majority of “Bend to Colors.” The chords of his neck popped out as he belted out poetry about alien invasions, Homeric sirens, and robots escaping bleak existences. Dylan Camacho typically sat in happy reserve but would strut to the front of the stage for a guitar solo, Jake Euler would give a little more oomph to a drumbeat when the moment called for it, and Micah Darby added artistic and fluid movements to bopping bass lines. There was no doubt they were here to entertain, and they enjoyed every minute of it.
Other big stage moments included Post Paradise coming out to sing backup on “In All Directions,” to which I got those warm fuzzies you always get when artists share a stage for a song. It doesn’t matter if it’s a local band, Elton John and George Michael, or Rage Against the Machine and Cypress Hill, it always fun to watch collaboration. We also got a fair sampling of some covers, including “Bye Bye Bye” and the Pokémon theme song, which Wiencrot prefaced both with philosophical musings of the darkness of the universe. Y2K must have been rough on Denver.
The band closed out their show with the title track from their game and came out for double encores, and responded to both with covers. I look forward to their next release so they can treat their audience with more original songs, though their take on a range of classics like “Be My Baby” and “Sweet Caroline” were intriguing to watch.
I hate to use the word “destined” since none of us have crystal balls on where music goes, but Chemistry Club has all of the building blocks for success and has made sure to spend the time building a strong foundation. With some more songs to work with for a set list, stage reps, and word of mouth from music fans, the future seems bright for these four and they can leave behind the darkness of ‘N Sync, Yuyama cartoons, and the questionable acoustics of adult stores-turned arcade bars.