Album Review: Delicate Steve, “Live in Las Vegas”

a1340637801_10-1Delicate Steve Live in Las Vegas
(Self Released – March 3, 2015)
(Instrumental, Rock)
Review by Will Flourance
No matter how many people attend the live performances of independent musicians, some bands will never make it to the live album milestones of their careers. It is common for newly acclaimed performers to attract fans quickly, only to be passed up for more buzz-worthy acts by their next tour. A band’s live performances can be treasured and then quickly forgotten just as freely as a seasonal outfit. This is why we should consider ourselves lucky that artists now have the power and access to deliver live releases independently.

Delicate Steve’s recent Live in Las Vegas demonstrates what we could be missing out on.
The band originated from the mostly solo instrumental efforts of bandleader Steve Marion. He has been recognized since the late 2000’s for his anthemic guitar compositions that incorporate elements of surf rock, electronic pop and world beat. Since the release of Positive Force in 2012, Marion has taken the project in a collaborative direction, as heard on Live.

 

The record begins with a choral intro that explodes into the group’s classic opener “Afria Talks to You”.  A three note climb shoots off like a staggered roman candle, followed by sizzling and soulful guitar lick that almost talks.  A steady knocking tom rhythm informs us that we are now entering some sort of exotic land, even without knowing the title of the song.  It’s this sort of evocative pop magic that pulls you into the world Marion has built.

His lead melodies range from breezy homespun murmurs of sliding steel to knuckle-clenching bursts of psychedelic pyromania.  Altogether the sound lands between the comforting hum of rust belt twangers like David Lindley and the red-hot special effects of Ratatat.  A listen to Delicate Steve’s dense studio efforts may leave you wondering how the band is able to translate their sound to a live show. Though Marion hits his notes with flare and poignancy, his melodies rely entirely on accompaniment.  The rhythm section acts as a magnetic core for the performance, with effortless blend between Adam Pumilia’s bass grooves and Jeremy Gustin’s tribal trap set assaults.  Even Keyboardist Christian Peslask gets a shining moment on slow-jam “Two Lovers” with an otherworldly keyboard line that evokes a tranquil waterfall on some alien landscape.

 

Despite the experiential highs and tinge of romance to the performance, a few kinks are worth noting.  On the band’s more tight-angled arrangements, backing members simply find themselves thrashing around corners to the next groove.  This is most prominent on “Wondervisions”, in which Marion switches to keys with an offbeat melody, leaving his rhythm section staggering nearly a quarter step behind.  A couple songs like “Sugar Splash” and “Wally Wilder” don’t hit the explosive dynamics of their studio-recorded counterparts.  This can be attributed to the limits of a stripped down instrumentation that simply cannot erupt quite the way a polished wall of layers can.

Perhaps Live’s greatest takeaway is the audacity of Marion and and his fellow bandmates to bring their music to a live setting as a four-piece wrecking crew.  The majority of the performance delivers an incredibly faithful live adaptation, even with some of the more complex works in the Delicate Steve catalogue.  Fascinatingly, this primarily instrumental outfit favors dead-on renditions over jam-heavy reductions, affirming Marion’s commitment to melody.  Where many lead guitarists would venture off into face-melting solos, Marion leaves his note progressions intact, only making minor changes to phrasing and timing for pure theatrics.  Given that Live in Las Vegas is a live record, it is a fine retrospective glance at the band’s career thus far.  As Marion has given indication that the group’s next studio effort will be a collaboration-heavy change in direction, this performance may serve in years to come as a sentimental time capsule for the group’s original form.  For those fortunate enough to have seen the daring feats of a Delicate Steve show, enjoy your souvenir.

 

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