When House Shows Go Right: The Keeps

Written By: Caleb Hering

All photos by Ethan Rothschild

What might possess? So far as to be enraptured, possibly even obsessed? There may be many answers. Few we will know and far more that will never light our minds. But it will always remain a question we grapple with as we meet our first love, a favorite food, or decide only a few moments into the first song of a band you did not expect much of—albeit from ignorance—that you must write about them—interview, even, if possible. And so, I did, on a cardboard box with some random pen: impromptu possessed.

Of late, many house shows have been detrimentally fun. Waking the same morning you had gone to sleep, a few hours earlier shooting-the-shit with Brandon—a wiry, long-haired baller who works the register at the beloved E Cache 7-Eleven—about the favorite soda he is drinking (Dr. Pepper then, but in his own words, “whatever I can get my hands on really”) and maybe you run into two friends waddling home, legs tired from jumping up, down, up, down, up down-town you might head, Tony’s or some other classy establishment, wonder where all the homeless sleep at night and proceed to notice them curled up in every doorway, overhang, or alley the night possesses with its syrupy grip and dim neon, fluorescent, halogen, LED blanket of light which seems to have its own weight. And all done in the dank cold of sweat—yours, others, and unknown—which has permeated most of your clothing during the loud, blown-out music pumping from amps and speakers larger than the meager space you have to yourself sandwiched by the bodies who have all packed together, sardines-in-can, to collectively shake and shudder to the best—or any—bands who grace our campus. And that morning at brunch in the soothing midday Colorado sun, you rub the back of your sore neck and wonder if something has been broken.

But also, of late, each show has lapsed into the same weakness all house shows seem to have on our campus: blown out sound which affronts our ears as we attempt to dance or jump or simply shake your head left, right, up and down to beat—the only thing you can really pick out. And sometimes you struggle against unpredictable progressions, changes, and is-this-the-drop-or? and then you jump a half beat off and the trance is broken. If only for a few seconds.

So, when it came to that The Keeps assembled on the demarcated section of floor in Old Synergy and my blessed ears were able to single out the incredible slaps of Christian’s bass, and even the moment he turned off a Capt’n Crunch level crunchy pedal to slot himself into a rhythm section, I was taken aback. And when Baxter, Sophie, and Andy proceeded into trading off roles of buttery melodies and rhythm, I was astonished, flabbergasted even. A new energy permeated my very being. All while keeping on time. All while being predictable—without any of the bad connotations that come with such description—and solely residing in the funky groove that makes you want to dance. The earworm melodies that bridge band and audience and manifest a collective, single-celled organism. Seamless. Pulsing as one in a hivemind state.

And who would have known that they were playing originals? I, unfortunately, have a predilection to assuming some wonkiness when it comes to campus band original songs. [Although they are not actually a campus band.] But The Keeps have singled out a certain sound that, like Andy Tran’s recognizable but uniquely refreshing vocals, is instantly familiar and never breaches the point of ‘been-there-done-that’ as some other bands do, making all too obvious their inspirations.

However it went, I knew I needed to write about them. Here are the members:

Andy Tran – he/him/his – rhythm guitar + lead vocals

Christian Olsen – he/him/his – bass

Sophie Jones – she/her/hers – lead guitar + vocals

Sam Seymour – he/him/his – drums + vocals

Baxter Waltermire – he/him/his – who played guitar and keyboard last night but is not an official member.

Of the current lineup, it was Christian, Sophie, and Andy who started The Keeps in High School in and around the Denver area sometime in 2018. No matter how they started, all three seem to have evolved into wonderful musicians. Listen to any of their songs on Spotify and it is clear that Sophie is speaking more than honestly when she said Christian is “always putting 100% into the bass”. His ability to mix melody and rhythm in how he slaps takes immense talent and the tone he pulls from his bass is sweet perfection. However, listen to their song Midnight Feel or Retrace and it should become clear that as much and more should be said about Sophie’s skill as lead guitarist. Although personally I found her unfaltering nonchalant gaze to be the most impressive aspect during their live performance. Despite standing the closest to the explosive crowd, it seemed as though she could have been playing to no one, living in a world of addictive melodies that swirl in trance-like time.

And credit should not be missed, either, for Sam or Baxter who each fulfilled the band’s live sound. Baxter, our very own CC student, when asked if his interest in geology changes how he plays on his beautiful Fender Meteora summed up his vitality and sound perfectly with the response: “I like to rock”.  And naturally there is no band, in my opinion, without a set of drums and Sam was bringing everything to the table kicking and toppling his kit after their final* song. And even being so gracious as to re-assemble this metaphorical Humpty Dumpty, with the assistance of Andy, to pull into a vicious, impromptu finisher at the crowds chanted request. A better than perfect cover of Give it Away, by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. You could clearly see that each and every member was as happy to be there as the crowd was.

On their sound, many of the members jokingly refer to something they call “Denver Style”. A joke-made-real genre defined as a combination of “emo, indie, and disco style” that has a basis in “warm emotional connection” and retains danceability as “we want to make people happy”. To me they sounded most like a wonderous mix of The Strokes and Tahiti 80’s first albums. They cited the “impermanence” that many of us feel as to what propels this sound. Something we feel maybe more now than ever with the constant reminders of a climate crisis, COVID, and death. I guess if the world is on fire we might as well be dancing.

So much more could be said about their sound and performance and so much more has been written in the recent article by Zeke Lloyd for The Catalyst. But it is really them as a group who stand out. They are truly a wonderful and promising band, on and off the stage. They were more than game for the impromptu interview I asked to do, something not all people would accommodate. Moreover, each one of the members seemed to be having more fun than anyone in the audience, whilst playing. Being in the front of the crowd I had perfect view of Christian dancing more than I while still keeping immaculate time, or Andy looking like he was about to jump into the crowd multiple times.

I must additionally highlight the small collection of singles the band has released on Spotify. Collecting my thoughts on the night, I popped on my headphones and took a listen the next morning. I am happy to say that what they have recorded is quite enjoyable, introducing a clean and luxuriously funky sound. However, I will voice one criticism and I am certain there is a bias informing this which was created from their live performance. I find, specifically in their latest release, Retrace, a lack of the dynamic range that some of their other singles—specifically Midnight Feel—retain. It seemed that the very top and bottom ends had been clipped. A range, however, their live performance oozed. I wonder if this might be due to the mellow drums and cleaner sound on some of the singles. There seemed to have been more fills within their live performance in the nature of improvisation, and a heavier sound I tend towards liking.  

But this is just me being me, being nit-picky. Their recorded singles were, and will continue to be, quite enjoyable to listen to. And it seems from the varying styles of each released single that the band is still narrowing down their recorded sound. I am excited to see and hear the release of their first full album. I am confident that wherever they end up they will have an immensely strong and unique sound. Something refreshing yet familiar. But I hope most that they return again to Colorado College in years to come so that I, and others, might attain that house-show high once again. And CC bands take note: having a sound person can make a world of a difference. I would much rather be able to hear what you are playing than not.

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