Saturday, September 6, 2008

Octopus Project at Hi-Dive

Last week in Denver we had a large gathering of white elitists with expensive, perfectly styled haircuts whose rhetoric was almost as generic as their sense of style. It wasn’t the Democratic National Convention. It was the Octopus Project performing at the Hi-Dive on Aug. 26.

Before the keynote speakers took the stage, there were the usual anonymous openers. Matt Larabee Band played the part of Chicago City Clerk Miguel del Valle. No one has ever heard of him and nobody really seemed to care.

Next up was Red Orange Yellow, the Mark Warner (former Virginia governor) of the night. Like Warner, many have anticipated Red Orange Yellow’s rise to prominence given their potential (Editor’s note: they’re actually breaking up soon). Also like Warner, many have witnessed Red Orange Yellow stay on the periphery of the scene as newer and more exciting figures positioned themselves in the spotlight.

Red Orange Yellow began their set with a loud imitation of post-rock with a building crescendo that ultimately led nowhere. As the show progressed, their set took on the traits of an aged senator speaking on the floor of Congress — long-winded and going in no discernable direction. Former Photo Atlas drummer, Devon Shirley, was one of the few bright spots as he picked up the intensity midway through the set. For a short period his performance behind the kit made up for the lack of substance in the band’s sound.

By the time the headliners were set to take the stage, the uninspired performances of the opening acts had sucked the life out of the crowd — or they were just too hip to get excited. Either way, the night’s keynote speakers were not greeted like musical Obamas. Undeterred, the Octopus Project jumped into a high-energy set that felt as genuine as Obama’s proclamations of hope and change.

The setup on stage perfectly suited the band’s style. Kitschy cat-like figures (actually curtains with white Christmas lights underneath) were positioned on either side of the stage. A video projection played images that corresponded perfectly with the emotions each song provoked.

There was everything from Daniel Johnstonesque cartoons (which danced across the screen while “Black Blizzard/Red Umbrella” came pulsing out of the speakers) to a somewhat ominous image of hand caressing an unidentifiable goo as the Theramin wailed eerie vintage Sci-Fi sounds. Cheesy images of ’70s music performances on TV and Super 8 footage of men with monkey masks blithely riding bikes also added to the show. These images transformed the Octopus Project’s set from another cool show to a piece of performance art.

Lone female member Yvonne Lambert stood front and center on the keyboards. Throughout the show her hands majestically danced across the keys as her shoulders remained perfectly square. This, along with her Norman Rockwell-era appearance, served as the axis for the band as the three male members (Josh Lambert, Toto Miranda and Ryan Figg), dressed in matching white shirts and ties, switched instruments, ran around and basically exploded like stars with each note they played.

At no point in the show did the set feel typical or mundane; they played everything from the light merriment in “Bees Bein’ Strugglin” to “Adjustor,” a chilling tune that could be used in the next “Bourne” movie.

After 12 songs and an impromptu encore, the crowd finally looked like the hysterical delegates that applaud every word of Obama’s speeches. It was clear that Tuesday night that the Octopus Project holds themselves to a high standard creatively. If Obama were asked if we can expect another great show next time they come to town, the answer would be (with apologies): “Yes We Can!”

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