Concert review and photography by Seraphim Dibble
Denver has a plethora of old theaters. Many of them are around a century old, dating back to a different time. The Bluebird Theater is one of these venues. Situated within a few blocks of Denver’s City Park and several similar venues, including a theater-turned-bookstore, is still carries the vibe of the early 1900’s. From the plastic letters in the marquee to the halogen bulbs lining the front, it still feels like a location you’d go to see a live rendition of Shakespeare. Like many old theaters, it is separated into multiple terraces, with an empty space at the bottom. Old balconies and side entrances are still visible, among gargoyle-adorned lighting fixtures.
On October 2nd, the Bluebird Theater was hosting a different kind of show. Fans filed into the cozy space, filing around the old box office and into the theater proper. In Europe, Zeal & Ardor draw quite a crowd, with shows selling out months in advance. Touring with them was Boston-based Astronoid. Astronoid, in support of their new album, took the stage without a word. They chose to let their music speak directly for them, sliding into their first song.
Astronoid offered a sound that was both soothing and energizing. The audience bounced and jumped along with the music, and at other times stood motionless. Astronoid plays a brand of progressive post-hardcore and metal that is extremely unique. Heavy riffs and blasting drumbeats alternated with the high, smooth tones of the singer. The music had a very eclectic feel to it, which is fitting since they were opening for Zeal & Ardor.
Through almost their entire set, they didn’t speak outside of their songs, except to let the audience know it was their last song. Sometimes, crowds get frustrated or disinterested with bands that do this. Astronoid, however, had no such problem. They held the audience in an entranced state through their whole set, up until the time they were getting ready to leave.
After a brief break, a backing track full of bass filled the chamber. The lights dimmed and went out, and the only thing visible was the flashing of strobes on stage. One by one, the members of Zeal & Ardor filed on stage, standing like stoic statues. The bass was revealed to be the sound of Mia Rafaela Dieu’s bass guitar, thrumming with power. And with that, they launched into their song “In Ashes”.
If you are unfamiliar with Zeal & Ardor, they perform a mix of black metal and spirituals. Founded in 2013 by Manuel Gagneux, Zeal & Ardor were supporting their new album, Stranger Fruit. Through the night, they alternated their slower, chant-like songs with other blasting metal tracks. Even their spirituals like “Devil is Fine” and “Gravedigger’s Chant” took on a heavier, more aggressive tone.
The gargoyle lights watched on in glee as the audience took part in the musical ritual. The band gave all their energy, and the audience gave their own. It was a kind of ambiance only achievable at an older venue like this. At a prior show, Zeal & Ardor offered free merchandise to those who would accept their brand, but no offer was made here. The night ended with an encore, and the audience filing out slowly as two men changed the plastic letters on the marquee.
Zeal & Ardor still have several tour stops in California. While the show in San Francisco on the 12th is sold out, make sure if you’re in the area, you stop to see them. After that, they go back on tour in Europe. There’s definitely nobody else putting on a show like them right now, so do not miss any opportunity to catch them live!