Like their kindred spirits the Flaming Lips, Apples in Stereo began life as low-budget experimenters with wide-screen ambitions. And while they’ve taken a decidedly more meandering path toward realizing those outsized goals, the Denver-bred combo blew into Gotham last week with a heretofore-untapped assurance underlying their usual devil-may-care giddiness.
In keeping with the tenor of their newly released Yep Roc album “New Magnetic Wonder” — about a third of which found its way into the 75-minute set — the band pared away some of its more eccentric sonic ephemera but left its psychedelic core untouched and brightly glowing. That was most evident in an early-set troika of “Rainbow,” “Please” and “Energy,” on which frontman Robert Schneider belied his grumpy appearance with a blissful, lighter-than-air delivery.
On occasion — notably, the winsome “Same Old Drag” — the emphasis on the ethereal imparted an air of slightness, a notion that the charm the songs may have had in a cozy sitting room had evaporated by the time they reached the stage. Fortunately, Schneider and company found a way to remedy that flaw for most of the perf — through Bill Doss’ enthusiastic keyboard and percussion embellishments (the linchpin of the jumpy “What’s the Number”) and Schneider’s enveloping guitar lines.
Schneider and company haven’t shelved their freak flags entirely — the band claims to have invented a scale, dubbed “the Non-Pythagorian Music Scale,” for use on “New Magnetic Wonder.” They have, however, developed the confidence to venture into the spotlight without being cloaked in that banner — a fine bit of evolution, indeed.
Georgia’s Casper and the Cookies opened with a set that made a good case for serving dessert before the main course, thanks in large part to the wide-eyed delivery of frontman Jason NeSmith. While not related to Mike Nesmith — the capital “S” emphasizes that — the singer did a fine job of injecting a bit of Monkee-like spirit into the band’s keyboard-driven pop songs.