By Joe Kovack
Last night was my first experience at the historic Oriental Theater, located in the Tennyson art and business district just west of I-25 in the growing Highlands area of Denver. The Memorials, the latest musical incarnation from drumming prodigy Thomas Pridgen- formally of the Mars Volta- were set to play a headlining gig, their first in Denver this year. As I approached the building, the facade reminded of a early 20th century theater will all the old charms associated with the burgeoning 1920’s. The lobby was quaint and housed a small bar to the left of the entrance, all of which was separated from the theater by swinging doors. The theater itself exudes a unique ambiance with a large stage opposite a decent-sized dance floor and multi-leveled chair and table seating with a balcony that sits nearly 200 people. An intimate vibe is created as there is no bad section for visibility or sound experience.
As the Memorials neared their performance, the amount of people in attendance was scarce at best. Being a Wednesday night and nearing 11 o’clock may have had something to do with the crowd size as many who had watched the local opening bands had left. But this would not deter the professionalism of the Memorials. I left with the impression that if I was the only person in attendance, they still would have played their hearts out as they did last night. This was an independent band playing in an independent venue celebrating the love of creating and playing music. They started their set with “Delirium,” the title track off their latest album. It is a song that exemplifies the band’s sound, as the intricate drumming of Pridgen is beautifully contrasted with the soulful voice of lead singer Viveca Hawkins.
Their sound moves through waves of genres yet always with an undercurrent of progressive hard rock underneath. Within a song the fast-paced progressive tempo will change flawlessly to an almost R&B jam, fronted by the beautiful voice of Hawkins, whose classic singing style reminds of the great jazz singers like Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald, yet with a hardcore twist. It’s a combination that contrasts and feeds off each other, simultaneously creating a presence that moves you with beats and voice. Their set consisted of tracks off their newest album but with a few off their first self-titled release as well.
All in all it was a good experience. Pridgen’s a monster on the drum set, truly a master of all that pertains to beat and tempo while Hawkins’ presence and vocal talent can move you on multiple levels. Add to that a guitarist and bassist that compliment the whole and you have a band that is on the rise. The Oriental is a hidden gem in the music landscape of Denver. One can only imagine that it will grow as does the area it is housed continues to as well.