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A Growing Harmony

I took this

I took this

The opening act for a three-band concert has one, and only one chance, to ensnare the audience. Blow it, and their music, however bombastic or rambunctious, will inevitably be drowned out by the deafening murmur of the uninterested crowd.

Thursday night at the Bluebird Theater in Denver, Colorado, Hollow Wood avoids this fate in spectacular fashion.

Armed with two guitarists, a bassist, a drummer, a violinist and a cellist, the group from Wyoming refuses to let the audience pay attention to anything else but their music.

It’s their choral chemistry that first forces the crowd’s focus to the stage, male and female vocals swirling together as one. Their infectious energy permeates the crowd, compelling the audience to clap in time with songs most hadn’t heard before. When the set ended, the room buzzed with a simple glee. There are few greater pleasures in concert-going, indeed in music overall, than discovering a new favorite group. 

There’s still so much youth to Hollow Wood, so much left to figure out. Their two best songs, those which ambushed the audience, aren’t even released yet.

Some of their harmonies still require work, their instruments both vocal and stringed in need of fine tuning. They need to learn how to pace themselves. The lead singer’s voice struggled in the waning minutes of their closing number, sapped of strength at the end of only a five-song set.

This will all come as they grow together. That they’ve already achieved such consonance this early in their career is not only a testament to their talent, but also an intriguing peek into their potential.

By all measures, the Eric Bledsoe-Goran Dragic backcourt has been a resounding success. Through their unselfish nature and the tutelage of Jeff Hornacek, they play together magnificently. One starts the pick and roll up top while the other plants in the corner. If the defense disrupts the initial pick and roll, Bledsoe will whip it out to Dragic, or vice versa, initiating a second pick and roll that leaves the defense disoriented.

“We are different players,” Goran Dragic said. “But we complement each other. I know what he’s going to do, he knows what I’m going to do.”

They both play with a certain amount of flair, just manifested in different ways. Dragic’s flair is one of excessive creativity, wrapping the ball behind his back, stopping and twirling on a dime, contorting his body in unnatural manners to lay the ball in. “It’s just my personality,” Dragic said of his whirling dervish style of play. “It just comes naturally.”

Bledsoe’s style meanwhile, is one of bruising athleticism; chase down blocks, thunderous dunks and muscled forays to the rim. “Eric is really athletic, especially for a point guard,” Dragic said. “He’s doing some crazy things – even blocking big guys.”

This dynamic wasn’t supposed to work, but it did. Then it wasn’t supposed to be sustainable, and then it was. Now, behind the “Slash Brothers’” efforts the Suns are close to a playoff berth, an inconceivable notion at the beginning of the season.

Still, this is far from a finished product. Despite the on-court chemistry of Dragic and Bledsoe, as a whole, the Suns score 2.1 points per 100 possessions more with Bledsoe on the bench, according to NBA.com/stats. They’re still young, both as players and in this specific partnership. Assuming the Suns extend Bledsoe this summer, the two will have years to learn from one another and grow together, improving upon this unlikely yet effective partnership.

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Danielle Sullivan, the lead singer of Wild Ones (the second band of the night), is adorable. There’s just no other word for it. The voice she projects out into the crowd perfectly fits her hawkish features and petite frame – at once dream-like and peppy and endearingly nasally. When she sings, she is totally lost in the synth-dream-pop world constructed by the music. She’s in constant motion, legs lifting up and down, hands at times clasped together as if praying, head twisting to and fro, and always, always with a slight smile, if not from her lips then certainly her eyes.

Sheer, unquestioned joy informs her movements.

Kenneth Faried’s nickname, The Manimal, was bestowed in part because of his relentless energy. Faried, dreadlocks whipping behind him, streaks up and down the court, his motor always on high and his fuel seemingly infinite. Other players may possess more skill, but none possess a greater vigor.

Manimal is also fitting because of the way Faried plays: uncaged and wild – free. His is not a cerebral game, but rather one based on instinct. Sometimes, this can get him in trouble, especially on the defensive end. He may block a shot in astonishing form, but he’ll over-rotate when hunting for those blocks, leaving his man open, or he’ll fail to close out on a stretch forward.

But his unpredictable, frenetic play can cause just as much, if not more, havoc for opponents.

“Energy-wise nobody plays every down the way he does — and that’s the problem trying to get ready for him,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich told the Denver Post. “It doesn’t matter who it is, he’s going to outwork [them].”

Faried gets under opponents’ skin, not because he’s a dirty player, but because he refuses to relent, continues to work no matter how outsized or outmuscled he might be. It’s not uncommon to see Faried smile on the court, the freedom with which he plays painting joy on his face.

For the first few months of the season, however, that joy rarely surfaced. Faried still flew up and down the court, but his movements seemed less a labor of love and more simply labored. At first, this was due to his difficulties adjusting to Brian Shaw’s offense, the once free-roaming Manimal itching endlessly at his newfound collar and leash.

When Shaw finally relented and let loose the hounds of Denver, Faried’s play improved, but he still wasn’t his usual, exuberant self. Faried’s name constantly swirled in the whirlpool of trade rumors, with reports claiming Faried was not long for Denver.

“I knew I was tight on the court because of that,” Faried told the Denver Post. “I tried to not think about it, but it was getting to me. I was wondering and trying to figure out if I should fly my family out here or should I not and just wait until everything cools over. Should I fly my daughter out here to see me or should I not? That’s a lot on you, your family, thinking about that stuff.”

Once the deadline passed, with Faried remaining in Denver, almost immediately the Manimal returned to his old self, both in terms of production and animation. He didn’t just run down the court, he bounded, seemingly striking air more than hardwood. The freedom and joy, formerly absent absent, returned, the smile on his face evidence enough.

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It’s a miracle Typhoon can even fit on a stage.

The eleven-member group, consisting of two violinists, two drummers, two horns players, two guitarists, a bassist and two, for lack of a better term, “utility” members, playing everything from keyboard to synth to ukelele to horns, crams onto the otherwise generously-sized stage and at once the house erupts.

This is the reason why tonight’s show is sold out, why the audience is just as packed off-stage as the band is on it.

Thunderous applause greets their opening number, “Artificial Light.” Horns and strings and percussion and vocals act as one, the song seamlessly moving from staccato to legato, forceful to soothing. Kyle Morton’s small stature belies the power and range of his voice – a dam ready to burst with a lifetime full of regrets and battles.

It wasn’t always like this. The band was always this big, but until White Lighter, their most recent release, they never before played in such easy harmony. Musically, there was an uneasy partnership between the lyrics/Morton’s vocals and the accompaniment. Morton would sing his piece, then the horns and strings would sing theirs. It was still beautiful, but it was eleven people playing eleven instruments, not eleven playing one sound.

White Lighter changed everything for Typhoon, fulfilling the promise proposed by previous albums.

The group extended their influences, taking from all genres and synthesizing them into a new sound. “Hunger & Thirst” starts off sounding like the intro to a house number, then quickly changes into something one might hear walking into a sushi restaurant, only to suddenly shift into a bastardized mariachi march. And this is just within the first 20 seconds or so.

The biggest difference between their previous works and White Lighter, however, is the vocals.  While Morton is still the lead singer, he is not the only singer. On several songs, Morton’s voice is counterpointed by female vocals, at times singing completely different lyrics. They complement Morton’s darker tones beautifully, and act almost as a Greek chorus.

The relationship between instruments shifted from adversarial to copacetic, blending beautifully. They’re now ingredients in a single dish, with Morton’s voice as the binding additive.

In the Big Three era, the Miami Heat have won two championships. Every game is a spectacle to behold, from LeBron James’ otherworldly greatness to Dwyane Wade’s resurgence to Chris Bosh’s stealth brilliance on both ends of the floor. They are the Flying Death Machine, and when they play at 100%, it’s a wonder any team can even dream of competing with them.

This is a far cry from their inauspicious beginnings. The Big Three ended the first two months of the 2010-11 season – their first together – with a 10-8 record, much to the dismay of Heat fans and the schadenfreude of almost everyone else. They looked out of sync, their offense consisting mainly of LeBron and Wade taking turns driving to the rim with little benefit. There were flashes of terrifying brilliance, full-court alley-oops from LeBron to Wade and vice-versa, but it never sustained. Though they eventually righted the ship, reaching the NBA Finals, they did so almost completely on talent, and in the end, system and structure won out.

The following summer was one of reinvention, both for the Heat and LeBron James. The King forsook the perimeter in order to develop a post game, where his combination of strength, agility and continuously developed footwork and moves would prove to be unstoppable.

Spoelstra completely redesigned the offense, eschewing rigidity and positions for a free-flow that emphasized the incredible wealth of talent at his disposal. While the offense would revolve around LeBron, it wouldn’t mitigate the talents of the other two stars. If anything, it would augment them. Spacing became a premium, thus so too did shooting. If Spoelstra was going to have a passer who could make precise cross-court passes to the corner from the post, then he might as well use them.

The result of the tweaks is the terrifying force of nature that ran rampant through the league the past two years, with LeBron James at the nexus of the deadly swirling spiral.

Jordan White

Jordan White loves basketball, loves writing and loves writing about basketball. He marvels at every Ricky Rubio pass and cries after every Brandon Roy highlight. He grew up in Kansas, where, contrary to popular belief, there is running water, electricity, and no singing munchkins. Follow him on Twitter: @JordanSWhite