Last Night: The Apples in Stereo, Casper & the Cookies, and the Explorers Club at Neumo's

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APPLESsmall.jpg

Click the photo for an audio slideshow of The Apples in Stereo. 

The Apples in Stereo, with Casper & the Cookies and the Explorers Club

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Last Night: The Apples in Stereo, Casper & the Cookies, and the Explorers Club at Neumo's

Top to bottom, a psych-pop wonderland.

  • Last Night: The Apples in Stereo, Casper & the Cookies, and the Explorers Club at Neumo's

  • ">

    APPLESsmall.jpg

    Click the photo for an audio slideshow of The Apples in Stereo. 

    The Apples in Stereo, with Casper & the Cookies and the Explorers Club
    Date: 
    March 29, 2007
    Venue:  Neumo's


    Everybody knows what it's like to suffer through some awful opening bands while waiting for the headliner, and showing up early to any gig can be a roll of the dice.  Thankfully, I've had a run of really good luck these past couple of months -- pretty much every show I've gone to, the warm-up acts have been really solid, sometimes even revelatory.  Such was the case Thursday night at Neumo's:  I was there to see headliners the Apples in Stereo (who were fantastic -- more on them shortly), and came away just as impressed with Casper & the Cookies and the Explorers Club, two bands I'd never so much as heard of before.

    First up were the Explorers Club, a happy-go-lucky South Carolina sextet that blended Beach Boys- and Zombies-style '60s pop with an occasional nu-Southern rock chewiness.  At the beginning of their 30-minute set, there was a crowd of perhaps a dozen watching the group -- I snapped a few photos, then turned around to see more than 100 people behind me, grooving to the tunes.  Like them, I was captivated by the absolutely spot-on, four-part vocal harmonies inside the catchy tunes the Explorers crafted out of multiple guitars, piano, and the occasional mandolin, accordion, lap steel, and sleigh bells.  Apples in Stereo frontman Robert Schneider was diggin' it too, bopping up and down at the front of the audience for most of the set, and hopping onstage to sing with the group on one song.  How good were the Explorers Club?  They closed things with a cover of "Johnny B. Goode" -- possibly one of the most played-out songs ever -- and actually rocked the fuck out of it; enough to inspire much onstage leaping and bashing about that culminated in one of the singer-guitarists doing a perfectly executed backflip off an amp cabinet.

     

    Up next was the Athens, Georgia quartet Casper & the Cookies, who forecasted an odd set while setting up their gear -- their silver-eyelashes-sporting singer-guitarist (whom I soon learned was Casper Fandango, a.k.a. Jason NeSmith, once a member of Of Montreal) and their female bassist/keyboardist began decorating the stage and mic stands with flowers and ivy, while their burly second guitarist/keyboardist bounded onstage with a teased-out fro and his own odd black eye makeup, looking a bit like a modern-day Robert Smith, only more colorfully attired in red pants.  Indeed, theirs was a 40-minute performance of skewed, swirling psych-pop in the Elephant 6 mode, occasionally with a surprisingly heavy edge, that for me took a song or two to fully wrap my head around. The two-boy and girl vocals meshed together perfectly, and the growing crowd responded enthusiastically.  Perhaps taking a cue from the Explorers Club, Casper & the Cookies ended with a freakout of their own -- the bassist writhing around on the ground during a feedback storm (always a splendid sight) as NeSmith leapt into the crowd and strapped his orange guitar on some woman, who then splayed on the ground herself for a few seconds as the crowd went nuts.

    By the time the Apples in Stereo took the stage, close to 11 p.m., Neumo's was three-quarters filled and fully primed for fun, and the Denver band didn't disappoint.  First to the stage was touring keyboardist John Ferguson, decked out in an Elvis-meets-Evel Knievel jumpsuit and glowing shades, who started creating some eerie, sorta sci-fi-sounding tones as Schneider and the rest of the sextet -- including longtime members John Hill (guitar) and Eric Allen (bass), plus Olivia Tremor Control leader and Elephant 6 co-founder Bill Doss (on keyboards and cowbell) -- one by one ambled to their instruments.  Opening with "Can You Feel It?" -- the energetic opening track on their new album New Magnetic Wonder -- the Apples immediately proved how dynamite and well-oiled of a live ensemble they are, delivering superfuzzy, quasi-psychedelic power-pop that felt loose and jammy yet found all six bandmates firmly locked in with one another through all the changes (in my mind I kept drifting to Super Furry Animals as the best means of comparison). 

     
    Though Schneider maintained a focused, fairly intense demeanor throughout, every so often whipping out a crazy solo that would be the envy of Dinosaur Jr.'s J. Mascis, the vibe was one of a huge party as the Apples plowed through their 15-song set that drew from all six or so of their studio albums; everyone else in the band (especially Eric Bogosian-lookalike Hill) wore shit-eating grins for the entirety of the 80-minute performance.  How did they close?  By bringing all the members of both opening bands -- as well as what looked like a couple of roadies and some friends/people from the crowd -- onstage for a huge jam on "Open Eyes," everyone grabbing various percussion instruments and flopping around the stage as the room went bonkers.  Top to bottom, one of the best, most rousing shows of the year thus far.

     
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