For any music fan, a song, a melody, a lyrical line captures a personal moment in time. Generationally, music through the ages is also a time capsule of the human condition, our tragedies and triumphs, the bullshit and the heroism. Instant Empire has captured many woes and wiles, bursting out with 10 storyfied songs on Lamplight Lost; moments in melodies that relate to the state of today, some touching on timeless subjects, but all of which was celebrated at the new-and-improved Marquis Theatre on Thursday, July 2.
The Denver band lily pads between styles, keeping the listener intrigued with “Flickering Youth” that beckons with a 90’s anthemic alt rock chorus and laser keyboard tweaks, and the emphatic single “Dead Air,” with its tome on conformity (“We’ve all been tricked and cheated / We’re on borrowed time / We’re on borrowed time…We all march in line”) and accompanying video that could easy fit into a David Lynch catalogue.
The lovely and bittersweet “Mind the Gap,” is yet another reference to London, along with 2011’s “Without Wires.” The video takes us visually, Underground line by lyrical line through the song, starting down south on the Northern to the Bakerloo and Victoria, only to get “lost in thought,” which is a common occurrence on the Tube, but one that can end up unintentionally at High Barnet.
Instant Empire slices up a bit of social politics as well in “North Dakota,” which was written at the height of the fracking boom there, according to vocalist and co-songwriter, Scotty Saunders in his interview with Westword’s Tom Murphy. “I have my own issues with fracking specifically, but with the song there are two levels of meaning, and you could take the words and apply them to fracking and that would work. But we had some people we knew that were going to North Dakota to do some of the ‘dancing.’ There’s a whole sex industry that has popped up around those kinds of camps. We wrote it also about the damage we’re doing to the Earth and the damage you open yourself up to, being in that situation.”
One of my favorite tracks from Lamplight Lost, the garage punk, Bowery-infused (CBGB’s era, not the modern-day John Varvatos…even if Iggy is a spokes model…whatever) directionally tinged “N.E.S.W” came to life even more as Saunders blew up the stage with his partners in crime.
Instant Empire wrapped their impressive set with a track that goes back to the 2012 E.P., Heavy Hollow, and Saunders took a moment to tell its backstory. While he was traveling though his home state of Texas, he saw a sign that said “Missing Elderly,” the type of sign you would typically see in relation to an Amber Alert. But this time, “It was for an old person who lost the concept of where they are in life,” guessing the alert was made by the man’s children who couldn’t find him. This sparked an idea in his head for a song, a story of a man who took his car out for one last drive. “All he wanted to do is make it to the coast and put his feet in the water.”
Whether you’re digging through the layers of lyrical meaning on Instant Empire’s Lamplight Lost, taking part and parcel to this song or that, the music is the form of both focus and escapism. That said, their voracious and joyous performances is when it all comes to life right before your eyes and ears.
Instant Empire plays the Underground Music Showcase, which takes place July 23-26 at various venues in Denver’s Southern Broadway district.