It's impossible to extricate the actual Preteen Zenith, a distorted-pop sextet with all of a week's worth of full-band practice under its belt before its first gig, from the hype that was inevitable from the moment Tim DeLaughter announced that he was getting back together with latter-day Tripping Daisy guitarist Philip Karnats for a new project.
Add The Crash That Took Me's Dylan Silvers and former The Paper Chase drummer Jason Garner into the mix and schedule them as the penultimate act of the impeccably curated inaugural Gorilla Vs. Bear Festival, and the expectations were bound to be out of control.
Particularly outrageous was any notion that the band would start on time. It takes a while to set up smoke machines and more than a dozen multi-color disco balls and laser arrays, you know. Anticipation for the band's set continued to build as a screening of "The Adventures of Rubbleguts and B-B-Eye, Part One," a meandering short video starring Karnats and DeLaughter in dapper Butch Cassidy-style Old West drag, began more than a half hour after the band's scheduled start time.
Just what the fuck this quiet, shuffling, sleepy video had to do with the raucous, candy-colored explosion of sensory overload that followed still isn't clear. Because what came once the curtain rose was something else entirely.
Spinning lights! Smoke! Candles! Lasers!
Overwhelming as the visual bombast was, the music was perfectly suited to it. And while an overhead projection of swirling liquid color may have been a nod to the early days of DeLaughter's first band, this was definitely not Tripping Daisy revisited.
With Spree-ers Evan Hisey and DeLaughter's wife, Julie Doyle, at times both playing bass, the rumbling low-end converged with distorted synths and overblown guitars to create a maelstrom of noise that often drowned out DeLaughter's vocals.
Yet, chaotic and loud as it got, the ear-candy melodies were always discernable. Dynamic, too: Songs would build up from DeLaughter's solitary plinking of pretty piano melodies and burst into chest-thumping, head-pounding storms of noise.
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DeLaughter sprang around the stage with as much exuberance as he did in Daisy's glory days, clearly overjoyed to be at the center of a psychedelic pop spectacle once again. The energy may not have been as concentrated as it was in the rehearsal video posted on the new band's website last week, but it was nonetheless truly impressive for a debut performance.
He kept up his enthusiasm even as a solitary shout of "White Denim!" between songs began to spread throughout the theater after five or six songs. Preteen Zenith's set -- plus their extended set-up time (not to mention the in-retrospect-perhaps-unnecessary video screening) -- had eaten well into the supposed headliner's time slot.
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"Friends and family!" DeLaughter responded to the chants after Preteen Zenith's seventh song. DeLaughter strapped on an acoustic guitar for another number. But after a White Denim member came out onto the stage for a word with DeLaughter, he conceded over the microphone that yes, White Denim had friends and family present as well.
Preteen Zenith appeared all set to launch into a closing song -- the performance of which, DeLaughter told us in a post-show interview, would have included something "wonderful" and never before seen -- when the venue dropped the video screen in front of them, essentially kicking them off the stage. "My goodness!" DeLaughter exclaimed into the still-live mic.
For better and for worse, the debut was unforgettable.
And with the promise of a future unveiling of this wonderful surprise that was pre-empted by the curtailing of the band's set, the intrigue -- and the hype -- can only continue.