Vampire Hands debut new tunes at the Hexagon

Categories: Concert Review
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Photos by Warren Wills
The large, friendly crowd of the Hexagon wasn't treated to exactly what they had come to see, but indeed got more than they expected. With a big local headliner like Vampire Hands to draw a crowd, the opening acts (Dreamland Faces and Pennyroyal) seized the opportunity available to them, calling the event Rocktopus, while the aforementioned headliner got a chance to test out some news songs just ahead of opening for Tapes 'n Tapes Sunday night.

Upon arriving at the Hexagon, it was readily apparent that this would not be an average night around these parts. Everywhere you looked there were film projectors being set up with short films, silent pictures, scientific documentaries and more. Four projectors in all were a centerpiece in the performance put on by Dreamland Faces, a local band that specializes in providing soundtrack scores to silent pictures, specifically for The Trylon Microcinema. It felt like a trip back to the simpler, more Victorian sounding era of the 1920's and those silent films that relied on live accompaniment for it's aural expressiveness. Tonight they were a three piece including saw, accordion and banjo instruments, all of which created a melancholy and quiet unease that permeated the room throughout the set.  

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Upon the conclusion of their stirring set, the projectionist for the evening put on a short film between sets that was a cult classic in the 70's called Quasi at the Quackadero. It was a nice break from the set break norm of canned music and/or sound checks.

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From this point forward the night became a little more conventional, but it isn't exactly the term I'd use to describe Pennyroyal, the night's next performer. Headed by the bleach blond fro-hawked Angie Oase, the band sports not one but two harmonica players. What intrigued me most about their performance was the versatility and eclecticism of genre hopping they brought with them to the stage. One song sounds like a sad Irish ballad, the next sounds like folk, blues and rock, the next sounds more like a modern take on punk or indie rock, and the next has more of an Americana vibe; it was with this diverse palate that Pennyroyal drew the largest crowd of the evening to the small corner of the bar and provided the longest set as well. A distinct highlight of the evening took place about halfway through their set as the projectionist happened to put up a documentary about the Arctic which matched the lyrics they were singing (about making it through the winter and ice, etc.), then added further intrigue by playing the short film in reverse. Pennyroyal turned out to be the perfect bridge between the art and presentation of Dreamland Faces and the blues/psychedelia of Vampire Hands.  

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For the evening's finale I think a number of us in attendance were caught off guard by what sounded to me to be an almost entirely new set of songs. In case you didn't know, one of their members (Colin Johnson) moved to Montana this fall and started his own side project Capricorn Vertical Slum which apparently hasn't left the remaining members of Vampire Hands in the lurch. While Johnson is still technically a part-time member of the band, it's now quite evident that his songwriting gave the band a noticeably darker vibe than what the band put forth Saturday night. 

This new 3-piece version was noticeably having more fun than I recall them having at previous shows and their new tunes were delightfully more up-beat, up-tempo and at times even felt like what I can only define as a bluesy swamp boogie. Fast paced with more guitar solos, less percussion and no keyboard, the band came out like a prize-fighting middleweight after 6 months of training. With their melodies being just as catchy and song lengths a tad shorter, this iteration of Vampire Hands looks even more poised for future success after the release of their coming split 12-inch with Daughters of the Sun, which will be out soon. While the majority of their short set included those new songs, it would have been nice to have a few more of their songs from Hannah in the Mansion or older, but at the close of their last song, a psychedelic epic of impressive proportions, it was already 1:30 and all those left just decided to head for the door.

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