As Red Rocks season winds down, Colfax beckons with a slew of fall shows at the Ogden and Bluebird theaters. After spending more than two months away, it was something of a homecoming to find ourselves drinking at the Cheeky Monk in preparation for a show. Mere minutes after my wife commented on how this was our first date night in quite some time, our table for two grew to a crowd of eight unexpected friends. Hence the nice buzz we had when we arrived at the Bluebird just in time to catch Niki & The Dove’s opening set — an opening set worth showing up early for.
Handpicked by George Lewis Jr. himself, the Swedish 80’s enthusiasts came prepared with a selection of pop tunes from their excellent debut album, Instinct. Gustaf Karlöf was responsible for the music, manning the synthesizer and beating a drum when necessary, but it was Malin Dahlström who had the small, but swelling crowd eating out of her pink-gloved hands. Looking like a young Stevie Nicks, but sounding more like Cyndi Lauper meets Robyn, Dahlström skates a razor’s edge between being too nostalgic and being too sugary sweet. She does this with perfect precision, never once succumbing to the generic sounds that cause so many other bands to blend together into one long soundtrack to a lost John Hughes film.
Their short set contained a good portion of Instinct — a balanced selection of electropop, straight-up pop, and even a few for the dance floor. Highlights for me were “The Fox”, “Last Night” and the album opening, “Tomorrow”, to which they dedicated to Twin Shadow. Wide-eyed, with a childlike innocence, Dahlström took us “through Arizona and all of New Mexico and to Colorado”, where she “saw the Rocky Mountains” for the first time. It was something “like a dream” So it was, that although their sound wasn’t always perfect, Niki & The Dove won us over with nothing more than a few well crafted pop tunes and a huge personality. This is their first tour of the U.S., and that is “pretty something!”, but it will not be their last. Although they might be hard pressed to find a more suitable touring companion next time around.
Twin Shadow took the stage under the cover of fog with a simple “Hello Denver” before launching directly into Confess opener, “Golden Light”. Having perfected the live presentation of that particular tune, it was unfortunate that some technical difficulties caused an uncomfortable pause before the band went big early with “Five Seconds”, my personal favorite from the latest album — the album that made me a fan of the band.
My first introduction to George Lewis Jr. was via “Castles in the Snow”, a song I mistakenly took for an 80’s cover. That track had me very much looking forward to his album as Twin Shadow. Unfortunately, that album did nothing for me. “Castles…”, “Tyrant Destroyed” and the title track were the only songs on Forget that weren’t completely forgettable. Obviously I was alone in my disappointment, so when the band built on the critical success of that debut, I decided to give them another shot. Confess blew me away on the first listen, not because it was groundbreaking or even original, but because it was a damn catchy collection of songs, with thought provoking lyrics and a smug attitude to complete the package. Where Forget came across as just another lo-fi album with R&B leanings, Confess was a perfectly produced collection of guitar driven pop songs rarely seen this side of 1989. So, you can imagine how impressed I was with the how this show was turning out. Five straight songs from Confess, followed by “Tyrant Destroyed”. The show could’ve ended there and I would have been impressed. Granted, besides the fog and mood lighting, the band didn’t bring much to the stage that you couldn’t find on the album, but the overall energy of the crowd was infectious. There wasn’t a still body in the house. That is until the Forget run that followed…
I know I’m biased, and I know many of those in crowd prefer the Forget material, but watching the long run of older material from the balcony, it was obvious there were soft spots in the crowd. The wave of movement slowed down, people stopped singing along, and the overall excitement level dropped down to yellow. Now that’s not to say there isn’t room for the slower stuff, but the songs weren’t necessarily slower, just the reaction. It was almost as if the band had gone big too early. But not all was lost. An emotional Lewis Jr., who had a life-sized cardboard cutout of himself in the lobby, showed his human side when talking about a childhood friend who was in the audience. Alicia is somebody very important to him in his “real life” — somebody he hadn’t “seen in 10 years”. This confession brought us back to Confess material with “Run My Heart”…another highlight.
After “Castles in the Snow”, Lewis Jr. asked for a show of hands from those who were at his last Denver show. About five arms went up in the air, to which he applauded the honestly. “I expected to have to say, shut up liars!” Well, if there were only a handful of people at his last show, it must have been nice for him to perform “Forget” to a packed house.
When asked to explain Twin Shadow to our friends at Cheeky Monk earlier in the night, I referenced Prince. As soon as I said it, I knew it was a mistake. Nothing on either album really sounds anything like Prince. George Lewis Jr. might resemble the Purple Rain-era man, but their music has much more in common with the synthpop groups of that time. However, when he came back out, without the band, as a black silhouette with a guitar and a purple halo, for a solo version of “The One”, there wasn’t a person in the house that was not thinking “could he be the next Prince?”. It’s probably extremely premature for those types of thoughts, and I do think the band needs to work on their stage presence a little, but I can’t deny the potential. What a great show!
Niki & The Dove:
DJ Ease My Mind
Beg For The Night
I Don’t Care
I Can’t Wait
Run My Heart
At My Heels
Castles in the Snow