Escaped From Evil: LOWER DENS alive in Vancouver

Lower Dens, photo by Mikala Folb/backstagerider.comIt was the best I’d ever seen the Lower Dens.

“That was the best I’ve ever seen you,” I told bassist Geoff Graham.

And I hadn’t seen him since the time we all had Canadian Thanksgiving together, which was the time that Lower Dens opened for Grizzly Bear for two nights and we had time enough to stuff ourselves full of turkey. I’d seen Lower Dens a few times in Vancouver, and once in Belgium, too, when Jana Hunter and I went to watch The Antlers.

“You know, I think we’re getting better,” Graham said, thoughtfully.

They were. They are. Lower Dens have gotten better. And Lower Dens’ driving force, Jana Hunter, has gotten better too. Not better in that the music needed to be better, because Hunter’s a great songwriter. Both debut Twin-Hand Movement and the darker, mind-bending Nootropics were both fantastic albums. The early Cure-like guitarlines, the minimal synth, the musical backdrops to films that have yet to be made, the layers and propulsive beats, and the voice as fluid and unconventional as the owner…ahhhh.

No, the Lower Dens didn’t need to get better. But maybe they did? Hunter’s hinted at a few life changes and growth moments of late, and it seems a more confident path has presented itself in the past year.

When it first came out in March, the new album Escape from Evil was described giddily by critics as OHMG POPPIER! and while Hunter’s not shed any of the best-parts-of-80s-new-wave-and-angsty-lyrics that make Lower Dens so good, there’s definitely a lighter, more present, personal and emotional vibe to the lyrics.

Hunter wrote some of it in the back of Sharon Van Etten’s van on a solo tour with Sharon, and so you know that makes it awesome, right? But even then, on that tour, on stage, Jana was quiet, inward. Oft reliant on/hidden by her keys, guitars, knobs and buttons, a Lower Dens gig has traditionally been an exercise in losing ones self next to others doing the same.

Lower Dens, photo by Mikala Folb/backstagerider.comBut not now. Never one for a lot of chatter, now Jana Hunter is smiles, quips and looking ahead. Maybe now is better? Or different. Whatever the case, all the songs from Escape from Evil (and they did play ALL THE SONGS) were sounding great. And perhaps as importantly, LOOKING great, too, as Jana joked, moved around the stage, or railed and rocked out during the more intense parts. Huh. Unburdened by gear, and supported by Graham, Nate Nelson and Walker Teret, maybe Jana Hunter now feels more comfortable in letting loose. Who knew there was a rockstar in there? I think I did, but it’s nice to see.

“Quo Vadis” and “To Die in LA” kicked off the set…lighter, colourful . But then, a left turn, into Nootropics‘ territory and the goth minimalist beauty of “Propagation”,  a flashback to an earlier, darker point in the Lower Dens’ story arc. Then back to present with a few from Escape, and a right turn to the beginning of the story: the mellow alt-folk of “Tea Lights” from Twin-Hand makes an appearance. It’s the first time I’m hearing it live, I think. “Bury us with your ships/Tea lights in the sand” sounds crisper than on vinyl, though no less dramatic. “Batman” – a one-off that came on a 7 inch, the size of ” a really big donut” says Jana, also makes an unusual appearance.  “Ondine”, “Sucker’s Shangri-La” (about addiction, being lured), the lovey “Your Heart Still Beating” all strong, electrified.

The denouement before the encore is actually an explosion. Graham, thumping on a beautiful fretless bass, sets out a metallic, giddyup backbone for “Company” and the pace picks up. It becomes… stressful. Jana’s singing about people living lies, and showing false versions of themselves. It’s a chugging BIG song. The final song before the encore “Société Anonyme”, is lighter on album than it is live. Like “Company”, it’s a growing, monster song.  Jana’s screaming into the mic, at the lip of the stage, staring out as faces stare up at her smiling, enthralled. Like I said, rockstar.

And no more is Jana a rockstar than in the final moments of the gig when she whips out a cover of Hall and Oates’ “Maneater”, which a slower slinkier affair, if that’s even possible, and is rich in both irony and awesome.

“It was good to see you unfettered,” I say to Jana after the show. “I don’t know what happened in the last little while, but it seems you’re happier and that’s good. It was the best I’ve ever seen you,” I repeated. Jana Hunter nodded, and smiled. That’s good.\m/

Lower Dens, photo by Mikala Folb/

Lower Dens, photo by Mikala Folb/

Lower Dens, photo by Mikala Folb/

Lower Dens, photo by Mikala Folb/

Lower Dens, photo by Mikala Folb/

Lower Dens, photo by Mikala Folb/

Lower Dens, photo by Mikala Folb/

Posted by Mikala   @   29 July 2015

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