Oh the subjectivity! Trying to decide on my favorite shows from the last few years is truly a difficult proposition. For this post I’m just going to talk about shows that were not a part of bigger festivals. These shows serve as a sampling of events that had such an impact that I can still remember them today.
Hot IQs – Farewell show at The Bluebird – June 19, 2009: The first Denver band I ever got in to was Hot IQs. I would listen to them on KCSU in Fort Collins when I was in high school. I saw them a few times before their farewell show, and every time was something special. Their at-capacity grand finale at the Bluebird was no exception: burlesque dancers, a Cookie Monster costume, and some of the catchiest pop-rock this city has ever known.
Hot Congress Prevue – Patrick Kelly’s Apartment – October 16, 2009: Pulling up to the ill-kept apartment building on Pearl St. had me second-guessing my choice to go downtown until I got inside and experienced the wild house party thrown by Hot Congress. That night introduced me to a bunch of great acts: Old Radio (now Amazing Twin), Night of Joy, the Jim Jims, and Fissure Mystic.
Everything Absent or Distorted – Farewell show at the Bluebird – October 24, 2009: I cannot remember a more raucous, energetic, and ultimately melancholy show than EAoD’s last big gig. Playing through every song they had ever written (and then some), the 11+ members of EAoD kept going until nearly 3 am.
Brand New – The Fillmore – January 30, 2010: Another throw back to my high school years, Brand New has always had a special place in my music library. As I grew up my tastes changed and Brand New changed along with them. No longer an emo-troupe, they brought their newer style of manic Lonesome Crowded West-inspired music to the Fillmore in a set that celebrated the new while appreciating the old.
Tjutjuna & Fissure Mystic – 7″ Split release at Meadowlark – February 5, 2010: Apart from Dick Dale (king of the surf guitar), the loudest show I have ever been to was Tjutjuna at the Meadowlark. With Woodsman and Fissure Mystic opening, it was certainly a night of intense psych the likes of which I have seldom seen replicated.
Julian Lynch – The Low Key – May 20, 2010: On an unassuming street in north Fort Collins sat a rather normal looking house. This was no ordinary house, it was the residence of Matt Sage who had dubbed it “The Lowkey.” During his time there Matt hosted shows for the underground and experimental alike. I happened to be in Ft. Collins one summer when Julian Lynch came through for a set of experimental tunes. I still remember sitting in that basement taking in the sound and color.
Denver Does Denver 2010 – August 28, 2010: It was fitting that my return from Chicago was marked by a showcase of Denver music and art. Hearing Safe Boating is No Accident take on Pee Pee, Pink Hawks doing Bad Weather California, and the Flobots performing Hot IQs made this an unforgettable event.
Sufjan Stevens – The Paramount – November 2, 2010: Last fall was undoubtedly the hardest academic semester I ever undertook. This had me feeling down on most things, concerts included. Fortunately I was lifted out of my funk by the prolific Sufjan Stevens. This performance helped me realize how magnificent The Age of Adz really is.
Hello Kavita – Farewell show at the Hi-Dive – December 28, 2010: Of all the times I saw Hello Kavita, this one was my favorite. Not only did Roger, Roll open (it was their farewell show too), but Hello Kavita played one of the fullest sets I can recall. From old and new originals, to Steely Dan covers, and a mash-up of “Colorado” with Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al,” it was Hello Kavita at their best.
Bad Weather California – Rhinoceropolis – February 18, 2011: I will close with this show, because it stands as a harbinger of things to come. While I only went to the Rhinoceropolis a few times during the life of SLS, I was always impressed by the nature of the place: it is a venue that encourages innovation. Bad Weather California has played the warehouse space more times than most, and as the group prepares for the release of their new full-length I can’t help but wonder where they’ll go and what kind of audience they’ll reach.
South By South-West (SXSW) was two weeks ago, and I have only now found time to write down some of my thoughts. Life has been busy, but this post is better late than never. Without further ado: The Best and Worst of SXSW 2011
Showcase: Impose Magazine (3/18 at the Long Branch Inn)
Baths and his impressive digital skills
The heart of SXSW is discovery. I stumbled upon this showcase after a day of hanging out with FLASHLIGHTS and the crew from Speaker Snacks and I stayed after they left for the evening. Impose‘s lineup was the kind which could be a festival all its own- featuring GOBBLE GOBBLE, Braids, Baths, Weekend, Cloud Nothings, and No Joy. An eclectic mix of dance, electronic, punk, and lo-fi kept me intrigued and waiting for the next act. See more photos here.
Sets: The Strokes (3/17 at Auditorium Shores) & Memoryhouse (3/17 at Swan Dive)
The packed crowd at The Strokes
There were so many great sets during the week that I couldn’t choose just one to feature. The Strokes, those mainstream, larger-than-life rock stars showed their gusto by headlining the Auditorium Shores stage (one of the largest at SXSW) and cemented their spot with a full fireworks display during their finale.
Canadian chill-group Memoryhouse bathed in blue light
One group that I made an effort to see was Memoryhouse. After being taken with their recent 7″ a few months ago, I determined that I wanted to see them live. Turns out they’re even better live than on the recordings. Their set at the excellent Brooklyn Vegan showcase allowed me to cool off from the heat of the day and bask in the soothing music.
Place to park: East of I-35
The neighborhoods surrounding the historic French Legation Museum had some prime parking spots. Being east of I-35 ensured that the typical downtown traffic was less and the relative lack of “no parking” signs was encouraging. Furthermore, our car never got towed, ticketed, or broken in to. Last, but not least, from the museum it was only a short walk to get to 6th downtown, or any number of spots on the east side (including the Long Branch Inn, Cheer Up Charlie’s, and the Fader Fort). Only complaint: you had to get there early to snatch a spot
Free booze: New Belgium Fat Tire beer at SpokesBuzz party
Fort Collins’ian Danielle Ate The Sandwich at the beer-lover’s favorite party
Maybe it’s because I grew up in Fort Collins, maybe it’s because they make a damn good beer; in either case the free Fat Tire from New Belgium hit the spot at the SpokesBuzz party. There were also some great Colorado-local acts there (including blog-favorite Danielle Ate The Sandwich). Next year, when I’m living in Austin, I will go to any party that has free Fat Tire.
Free food: Rachael Ray’s party
Rachel Ray’s party had a marked lack of hipsters
Where to start… perhaps the fajitas, or the chili, or the burgers, or any number of other fantastic snacks made food-personality Rachael Ray my favorite person on our last day in Austin. While the music was not quite up to my tastes, the food certainly was. Add free Blue Moon and margaritas to the mix and it was all worth it.
Way to spend your time: Standing in line for Purevolume House & Fader Fort
Toro Y Moi played the Fader Fort… although waiting in line sucked
We got in to Austin on the Monday of SXSW. We spent Tuesday standing in lines. For 5 hours we waited to get wristbands to the “super-exclusive” (read: over-rated) parties thrown by Fader and Purevolume. The worst part: We didn’t even go to any of the mediocre showcases at Purevolume and I only went to Fader once for Toro Y Moi.
Mode of transportation: Walking
So many sore legs
Being on your feet for an entire day is one thing, walking around on the concrete for 6 days is just masochistic. If it weren’t for the logistical nightmare, we would have all been riding bicycles and saving our energy for more important things (read: drinking). I suppose walking wasn’t the absolute worst mode of transport, I saw some pretty dorky looking people riding Segways.
Decision of the week: No sunscreen on the first day
Charlie Sheen called, he wants his look back
That’s me after our week in Austin and 16 hour car ride home. Do I look burnt out? Sure I do! The entire week would have been much more pleasant if I hadn’t gotten sunburned the first day while waiting in endless lines. Be safe kids, wear sunscreen at SXSW. Note to future companies who want my respect/business at SXSW: In addition to giving away free booze, give out some sunscreen too.
Hangover: The day after the Sony party
Technology giant Sony threw a party to show off their fancy TVs and computers, we showed up just because they had one of the best open bars at all of SXSW. Unfortunately it was a little too good and the next day felt terrible. It reminded me that drinking in moderation is important, and having a designated driver is even more important (I didn’t drive home that night).
I suppose it was a week ago that I headed down to the Larimer Lounge for a night of electric post-punk and synth-beat music. It was my first time seeing two up-and-coming local acts- Force Publique and FLASHLIGHTS- as they released their newest split (note: this is a shameless plug). The visuals were stunning as the lights strobed and moved while the dance floor filled with people. MillionYoung took the stage and performed a set that reminded me a bit of STRFKR, but with a more electronic edge and tribal beat.
The first thing you’ve probably got to say about this post is “Take it easy on the acronyms, we can only take so many ‘nyms you know.” Yes, I do know, so I will explain:
SBiNA: Safe Boating is No Accident (possibly one of the best band names in Denver)
BWC: Bad Weather California (although I don’t think they actually have bad weather in California)
NoJ: Night of Joy (yeah, nothing to coy or sly to say here, maybe they’re just musicians who are happy and play at night)
In any case, last Friday found me in 5 Points for my biannual trip to Rhinoceropolis (it seems that I only make it down there about twice a year, it’s not intentional though). The lineup for the evening was an entirely local showcase of bands I hadn’t seen in a few months. Safe Boating kicked off the night with a few songs from their record Isn’t It Fun. At this point in the review I’m going to send you away to read a write-up from Leighton Peterson’s “mom” (click here, it’s quite the entertaining read, but come back when you’re done please).
Bad Weather California was next and had (what I would consider) the best set of the night. The group recently returned from recording a new full length in Detroit with members of Akron/Family and their enthusiasm for the new material showed. A sampling of new and old songs kept people dancing in the smoky room as Chris Adolf & Co. pulled out jammer after jammer. It was really excellent to see this group playing in their prime.
The last band I stuck around to see was punk trio Night of Joy. Their high-energy, raw power style kept everyone moving and moshing around even though the clock had already passed 1 am. Their set was a collection of original songs capped off with an cover of Nirvana’s “Radio Friendly Shifter Unit” that kicked and screamed off into that good night.
Friday nights were invented for good live music. Two weeks ago Woodsman celebrated the release of their newest record Rare Forms with a great show at the Larimer Lounge. Experimental-visual musician/artist Milton Melvin Croissant III opened with an electronic set of synthesized music followed by LA-based Speculator. Vitamins brought their style of pop-infused psychedelia in what may have been one of the best sets I’ve ever seen them put on. Woodsman brought everything together by the end of the night by playing a number of new and old songs (with quite a few from Mystery Tape). I found it interesting that since I have started following them, Woodsman has transformed from free-form jams to recognizable song structures and melodies.
I was honestly a little surprised at the crowd that showed up for a show just a week before Christmas. However, when considering that it was the last time anyone would be seeing Hello Kavita and Roger, Roll live, the cozy atmosphere at the Hi-Dive made sense. Both of those groups played stellar sets filled with old and new favorites, songs that helped shape music in Denver for several years. Sarah Slaton opened the night and blew me away with her beautiful rendition of “The First Noel.”
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.
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.
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.
Walking into the Fillmore Auditorium for the first time, I was pleasantly surprised at the elegant and spacious interior of the venue that is in stark contrast to its modest exterior. My awe at the sheer size and sophistication of the Fillmore was the first of many that would come in what can only be described as a superb night of music.
Opening the night was the Austin, Texas based group Brazos. Full of sweeping lyrics, upbeat rhythms, and at times, African sounding drums and maracas, the group entertained the audience throughout its whole set list of original sounding tunes.
After a grueling 45 minute sound check, The National finally took the stage to the erupting applause of the packed auditorium. Led by vocalist Matt Berninger, who is a natural baritone, the music produced by The National was refreshing to say the least. With the band accompanied by a duet brass section composed of a trumpet and a trombone, each song was musically stuffed with sounds that put the recorded music to shame. The fan following of The National was incredibly apparent by the sound of a thousand voices singing along to every song, with “Mr. November” being the climax of the night. The set list was nearly perfect and concluded with a profound acoustic, unplugged version of “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks” with much audience participation. The night was summed up for me in the words of an exiting fan: “just a brilliant show.”