Westword Review: FaceMan's Waltz at the Bluebird Theater, 2/3/12
The sound became expansive and the stage felt crowded fairly early in FaceMan's set at theBluebird Theater on a snowy Friday night. After a brief introduction from the Flobots' Stephen "Brer Rabbit" Brackett and Wheelchair Sports Camp's Kalyn Heffernan, FaceMan's eponymous frontman (known by some as Steve) took the stage. After a couple of tunes with the band's core members -- guitarist David Thomas Bailey and drummer Dean Hirschfield -- the chaos begin.
"Lock the doors," Steve joked, as a steady stream of musicians from local outfits started their procession across the stage. Boulder Acoustic Society's Scott McCormick, the Raven and the Writing Desk's Julie Libassi and banjo prodigy Kyle James Hauser were the first in a long roster of guest players, a list that included musicians from the Knew, PANAL S.A. DE C.V., Hindershot, Achille Lauror and a host of other bands.
Almost a year to the day after the inaugural waltz event by FaceMan, an outfit that revels in performance art and communal collaboration, the trio made another ambitious effort Friday night. The show followed the same general model of last year: a group of dozens of local musicians shared a stage for energetic and frenetic hootenanny, a showcase that alternated between FaceMan tunes (many from the band's new album Feeding Time) and songs by the guest players. Despite the snowstorm outside, the onstage experiment drew a respectable crowd. While far from sold out, the show filled the front floor and wings of the Bluebird.
Like last year, the program included a wide breadth of local sounds and styles. Brackett and Heffernan swapped rhymes with another local rapper, members of Hindershot delivered a pounding rendition of their new single "Curse Us All" and Rob Drabkin delivered an emotive version of Paul Simon's "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes." DJ Cavem and the Outfit opened up the show with impressively engaging sets.
The main differences in this year's performance seemed to come more in the stylistic choices by the headlining act. Gone were some of the more complex performance art flourishes. Absent was James Ronner's massive sculpture of a twisted face, a visual tribute to the band's namesake that sat at the right of the stage last year. FaceMan himself was also much more mobile for this show, foregoing the stool and the raised platform that served as his perch last year.
He used the mobility to play several roles onstage, joining the chorus of backup singers at several points during the show. The feeling of an exhibition wasn't entirely absent -- a constant stream of film clips beamed on a screen above the stage offered some sense of theatrics and performance art.
The differences also came in the musical selection. Following the feel of the new record, FaceMan's original numbers veered away from the decidedly folksy feel of last year's set list, favoring a sound more deeply rooted in rock cues. Input from the large cast of supporting musicians backed up that stylistic shift, as players from the Knew, the Outfit, PANAL and other groups seemed to strengthen FaceMan's more stringent sound.
While FaceMan tunes served as the constant for the three-plus hour show, the sheer number of musicians and the breadth of musical styles made it tough to pin down a single sound. Kyle James Hauser and Martin Gilmore offered solo stints on the banjo and acoustic guitar that were deeply rooted in folk and Americana models. PANAL S.A. DE CV stressed minor scales and electric guitar contours in a lengthy instrumental piece.
The Knew and the Outfit laid down a speedy and dynamic brand of pop rock, energetic tunes closely tied to the sounds on FaceMan's new album. Scott McCormick and the Julie Libassi took breaks from their constant roles and backup players to offer some of the highlights of the evening.
It was a constantly shifting setup of personnel and instrumentation, a dynamic that carried its own pitfalls. The sheer number of musicians and styles on display made for some muddled and confused stretches, songs that felt like lengthy, experimental jams. Still, innovation outweighed confusion in the analysis, and the value of the showcase was never in doubt.
Like last year, the massive undertaking seemed to serve a deeper purpose than the all-star jams of local musicians. Seeing dozens of Denver luminaries take the stage at the same time served as a commentary on the state of the local scene, a statement about the impressive musical diversity and skill in our own backyard.
Personal Bias: Hindershot's new single "Curse Us All" has been on constant rotation on my playlist lately. Hearing an expansive version from such a large outfit was a treat.
Random Detail: FaceMan played a Gibson Les Paul for much of the show, an instrumental choice that gave the new tunes a more rock-oriented feel.
By the Way: David Thomas Bailey plays a mean 7-string guitar.