Archive for November, 2010
On a particularly cold November 11th night, I hustled from the RTD bus stop into the Ogden Theater for what I expected to be a great show featuring Josh Ritter and the Royal City Band.
Thieving Irons opened the night with a solid but ordinary set list. Lacking a drummer on tour, the band consisted of Nate Martinez on lead vocals/acoustic guitar and an accompanying electric guitarist who also pulled out a banjo on a couple songs. With commonplace guitar rhythms, it was Martinez’s voice that distinguishes Thieving Irons from other folk/country bands. Unfortunately, Martinez’s vocals while good, did not rise above the level of sounding plain because of the excessively monotonous tone that turned nasally at times. Despite the conventional vocals, any band that knows how to use a banjo well is automatically given a thumbs up in my mind, and Thieving Irons know how to use a banjo quite well.
After a delightfully short sound check, Josh Ritter and his Royal City Band took the stage in perhaps the most humble entrance that I’ve seen: they simply walked out. This tone of humility was repeated throughout the whole night as Josh kept repeating in a giddy voice how excited he was to “be here.” Josh’s boyish antics took many forms ranging from bouncing across the stage, telling stories to the audience, and howling at the microphone. It was apparent from the get-go that Josh’s exuberance would not be contained, and whatever energy source he got it from would never run out. The music was excellent, and the show was even better. That tone of humility was best exemplified in the modest use of lights during the performance. The light show was very low tech and seemed quite haphazard at times, but it only added to the music which seemed to transport me back to the “golden age of radio” as one of Josh’s albums is titled. For visuals, five extremely large light bulbs were placed towards the back of the stage that also added to the imagery of a simpler time before computers, cars, and corporations. Josh Ritter and his Royal City Band put together an incredibly fun yet emotional show.
Just got back from Austin, where it’s in the mid-70′s and sunny (while it’s cold and dark in Denver). I have at least 14 large assignments/tests in the next 21 days in addition to traveling for job interviews and the holidays. The other writers are busy too. We’ll see you over Christmas break.
Local music-arts collective Hot Congress has continued to make its mark on the Denver music scene. Most recently, the group curated a weekly residency at the Meadowlark, showcasing H.C. bands (and others) every Thursday in November. November 18th (tomorrow) will mark the final week in the series (since not many people would be keen on going to a show during Thanksgiving). The final showcase will serve as a tour-kickoff for Fingers of the Sun and an EP release party for Amazing Twin (formerly Old Radio).
As someone quite familiar with Old Radio, hearing the new EP reminds me why I started listening to the group in the first place. After hearing demos for “A Void” (now called “Cambridge Mile”) and “Asleep At The Wheel,” I recall thinking “These are good, but still embryonic.” Upon listening to New Wives’ Tale, the songs took on a new life. A few old favorites (“Naked Girl, Part. 2″and the aforementioned songs) make appearances, along with several songs that had only been heard live. Overall, it’s clear that Amazing Twin took their time in getting the sound they were looking for- the EP is cohesive and well-mastered, but not over-produced.
I’ll update this post once the EP is available for download. In the meantime listen to EP-closer “Asleep At The Wheel” and enjoy a free download of the track.
Edit: You can now purchase an mp3 version of this record at CDBaby.
There’s nothing quite like a Friday night in Boulder. Mississippi-based Colour Revolt played the intimate Club 156 on the CU-Boulder campus with local openers Paean and Fellow Citizens.
Time for another installment in “6 Songs!” This time I look at seminal indie-jammers Built To Spill.
Built To Spill at the 2009 Westword Music Showcase // photo by Bengsoon Chuah
1. Strange: Of all the songs written by Built To Spill, there are none that can be considered more “radio friendly” than “Strange.” It’s not too long, it follows a pretty standard composition and has enough fuzzed-out guitar and noodling to capture the Built To Spill sound.
2. Carry The Zero: Keep It Like A Secret may be my favorite BTS record. The reason why: “Carry The Zero” represents all that was good about the late 90′s alternative music scene. It might also be considered radio-friendly and spawned its own EP.
3. I Would Hurt A Fly: There have been a lot of comparisons made between BTS and Neil Young. Both have produced anthemic guitar ballads that stretch the bounds of normalcy. Case-in-point: “I Would Hurt A Fly,” a tune that builds and works toward a great bit of guitar work.
4. Car: “If I don’t die or worse I’m gonna need a nap.” In the early 90′s, before phraseology like “emo” or “indie” became pervasive, there was “Car.” It’s a song about self-reflection in light of being stoned. This song served as inspiration for many turn-of-the-century alternative acts including blog-favorite Brand New.
5. Sidewalk: This track stands as more proof that Keep It Like A Secret really was a great record. With more energy than single “Carry The Zero,” this tune had the appeal of punk-esque drumming and more delightfully fuzzy guitars.
6. Revolution: From their first record Ultimate Alternative Wavers, “Revolution” channels more Crazy Horse with an unabashed lo-fi feel. While BTS has progressed quite a bit in the last ~20 years, it’s still refreshing to hear where they all started from.
Initially I thought someone was pulling my leg: Manchester Orchestra would be playing in Denver, tickets and drinks would be free. Turns out it was true, Atlanta’s own Manchester Orchestra found themselves in Denver last Sunday for the first in a new concert series from whiskey-distillery Jack Daniel’s. To add to the evening’s already excellent premise, local rock group The Knew had the opening spot.
Having seen The Knew more than a few times now, it would be difficult to not repeat myself. That said, the quartet played an excellent set steeped in four-on-the-floor dance beats, catchy lyrics, and rock guitar. Also, a group of my friends (after having a couple complimentary cocktails) suggested that singer/guitarist Jacob Hansen may be the splitting image of Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant… I concur.
When Manchester Orchestra took the stage, the venue was pretty well packed, although not at an uncomfortable capacity. Kicking off with “Pride,” the group’s raw energy was on full display as Andy Hull’s softly strummed guitar burst into life as the song reached its first break-out. The set played through like a “best of” record (although, to note, Manchester Orchestra only has 2 LPs out right now). Focusing mostly on their heavier material, Manchester played quite a few older fan favorites including “Wolves at Night,” “Now That You’re Home,” “I Can Barely Breathe.” However, a great mix of songs from Mean Everything To Nothing also made appearances (including “The River,” “My Friend Marcus,” and “I’ve Got Friends”).
I was glad to see my personal favorite “100 Dollars” get played, in addition to a new song (from the forthcoming 3rd MO record due out next year). The grand finale came in the form of “Where Have You Been?”- complete with a Puff Daddy-inspired intro. As the song reached its last refrain, the band began to build into an all-out wall-of-sound guitar driven finale. As the last chords rang out, Hull softly strummed out a stripped-down rendition of “The Only One.” With the set over, Manchester Orchestra retired to the green room, not returning for an encore… none was really needed- they had played all-out, holding nothing back.
The Friday before Halloween brought a ghoulish bunch out to the Skylark for a party from underground collective Rot Congress (aka Hot Congress). With morbidly renamed bands such as “Lil’ Slayer” and “The Killing Party,” it was a night filled with excellent music and costumes.
As the lights dimmed at the historic Paramount Theater, my heart skipped a beat. Out of the darkness Sufjan Stevens and his band took the stage as projections of stars began to move and dance across the giant screen set on the back of the performance area. Quietly plucking a banjo, Stevens started into “Seven Swans,” a song about celestial visions and extra-ordinary occurrences. Upon reaching the first bridge, the entire stage erupted in a massive wave of sound and color. “Seven Swans” was a folk song no more- it had become a means of intensely declaring the beginning of the show and the end of times.
The re-worked rendition of “Seven Swans” stood as a harbinger of things to come. Shifting quickly into several cuts from his newest record The Age of Adz, the backing imagery changed and mesmerized, culminating in a Royal Robertson-inspired display of images from the end of the world. Remarking on the paradox between self-preservation and the urge to dive into “the universe” (or, as he put it, “Whatever psychobabble you prefer”) Stevens & Co. drove straight in to a fiery rendition of “Vesuvius.”
During several instances throughout the evening, Stevens talked at length about the tension between his old art-forms and what he described as a “sonic-journey.” Explaining how he found camaraderie in the outsider artist Robertson, Stevens proceeded to walk through his personal descent into experimentalism, the process of art as a form of human development and the mistake of confusing heartache with the end of the world.
The entire night had been pulsing and moving toward a grand finale. The epic 35-minute rendition of “Impossible Soul” was truly a remarkable piece of performance art. Ebbing and flowing from one movement to the next, this one song managed to conjure feelings of intense exuberance and melancholy. Things got a little strange, and other-worldly as transitions occurred. Perhaps one of the more entertaining bits came toward the end, when Stevens put on a Michael Jackson-inspired glove, Kanye West-inspired shutter shades, a monkey mask, and began using autotuned and vocoded microphones.
Following “Impossible Soul,” Stevens played his most famous song- “Chicago.” Similar to the reworked version of “Seven Swans,” the new version of his single was brought to a new life, perhaps surpassing the original form. Following a brief break, Stevens returned to the stage (sans his band) to perform a few soft, acoustic songs (“Concerning the UFO…” “To Be Alone With You,” and “John Wanyne Gacy Jr.”)
In retrospect, this may have been one of the best concerts I have ever attended. Once the music started every other thing on my mind vanished and I was absorbed into the sound and sight of it all. The feeling of pure musical ecstasy is something I have felt before, but it had been months since I witnessed such a display of raw talent and emotion. Furthermore, I now have a greater appreciation for the new artistic directions Stevens has decided to pursue. The Age of Adz is truly one of those records that lends itself to a grandiose showing in a live environment.
Click for more photos.
The last few songs of the night were some of the best. During “Impossible Soul” an extended dance-break involving a Michael Jackson glove and a monkey mask happened. “Chicago” sprang to new life as the last song in the normal set. For the encore Sufjan played only a few soft acoustic songs including “John Wayne Gacy Jr.”
John Wayne Gacy Jr.
Heirloom (shot by Tim)
Last night Sufjan Stevens made a return to Denver after not visiting the city for a little over 5 years. His performance was incredible (full review coming soon), and I was able to capture a couple songs on video. While I get the proper review prepared enjoy a hauntingly beautiful rendition of “Enchanting Ghost.”