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.
Of all the shows I could have attended to mark my return from Chicago there are few that could hold a candle to Denver Does Denver. Not only did I get to see (nearly) everyone from the Denver music scene, but I also witnessed some truly excellent art. For those unfamiliar with the premise of Denver Does Denver, here’s the low-down: Local bands covered 3 to 5 songs from other Colorado musicians (there was also a graphic-art portion of the evening too). I could not do every set its due justice, so I’ll just be covering the highlights.
Safe Boating Is No Accident (covering Pee Pee): Dedicated to the “departed” Doo Crowder, SBiNA played a tribute to folk-collective Pee Pee. Starting with a high-energy rendition of “Jaroline,” SBiNA displayed the same amount of energy and musicianship you’d expect from the ~10-person Pee Pee, but with a concentrated 4-piece. The jammer “Pee-Pee Song” may have been a loose interpretation of the original, but I’m not really sure that a meticulous copy would be an effective way to channel the song’s namesake. (SBiNA also gave out copies of their forthcoming EP, expect a review soon! Release show 9/3 at Hi-Dive).
Night of Joy (covering Lust Cats of the Gutters, T. Rex): The normally reserved crowd at DdD got loose when Night of Joy ripped through covers of fellow Denver femme-punks Lust Cats of the Gutters. Even without their signature eye make-up, Night of Joy kept things at a “face-melting” level (see above photo) as they transitioned into playing a couple T. Rex covers (not technically a Denver-band, but at that point nobody cared).
Pink Hawks (covering Bad Weather California): The 11-piece Pink Hawks took on one of Denver’s beloved underground band Bad Weather California in a stunning display that earned my nod as “best set of DdD 2010.” Festival organizer Yuzo Nieto and his big band breathed a distinct latin-flavor and energy into BWC classics such as “New Religion,” “Two Ways,” and “This Is My Country Too,” ending with the most frenzied version of “Let’s Go To Bed” ever performed.
Flobots (covering Tickle Me Pink, Hot IQs, The Pirate Signal): For a band that has found success on the national level, the Flobots certainly haven’t lost connection with their roots. Playing a set at the packed-out Flobots.org Community Space the group started off with a spoken-word rendition of Tickle Me Pink’s “Typical” (the performance felt slightly jestful, in the same vein as Pictureplane’s take on 3Oh!3 at last year’s DdD). The highlight of the Flobots set was certainly their take on the late Hot IQs- complete with a rap-rhyme segment worked in during the bridge on “Retromuff.” Closing out with a couple Pirate Signal tunes, the entire crowd got down to the hip-hop beats that filled the small space.
For many more photos (including Key of D, Tom Murphy, Hunter Dragon, Houses, and more) click here.
Saturday began at the Goodwill stage with Houses. Having missed their set the previous night, I was excited to see them again. While it was certainly a worthwhile set, the previous night (and the illness which had broken out among certain Houses members) had an obvious affect on the band’s performance. Normally engaging and fun, this set seemed tired. With this slight disappointment and because we’d seen Houses so often, we headed across the street to Michelangelo’s Coffee & Wine Bar for Eleanor. An acoustic solo set, the music was fresh and relaxing. It coupled perfectly with the relaxed atmosphere of the venue, and was very enjoyable.
We continued on, next to Maudlin at Illiterate Magazine. This trio paired catchy hooks with wall-of-sound techniques for a very interesting combination. Though not a style we’d often heard, it was very enjoyable to listen to. After a brief dinner at the Walnut Room, where the sundry tones of Rob Drabkin filled the air, we continued on to Jim McTurnan and the Kids that Killed the Man. Among our favorite Denver bands, McTurnan and crew were as delightful as always on Saturday. The group’s interesting and powerful songs filled the Hi-Dive much to the delight of entertained fans.
Following McTurnan’s set, we couldn’t refuse seeing fellow-Golden residents, The Gromet. Bluesy, fun, and excited, it’s always fun to see this group. Their music matched well with the venue – The Irish Rover – and we enjoyed the 3 or 4 songs of theirs we stayed for. After the Gromet, we crossed the street to the Goodwill parking lot to see The Heyday. Always an enjoyable act to see, The Heday are certainly good at what they do. Next, we walked down to TS Board Shop for Seattle’s Tea Cozies. At first, the group intoxicated us with their charm. By the end of the 4 or 5 songs we heard them play, they had won us over with their talent and musicality.
Next, we went back to the Hi-Dive for Porlolo. Always a fun show, Porlolo certainly delivered on Saturday. Though it was their second set of the weekend, the energy Erin Roberts carries with her carried through at the Hi-Dive. After a few songs from the band, we were off to the Goodwill parking lot stage for Snake Rattle Rattle Snake. Driven by pounding beats from dual shockingly-in-sync percussionists, Snake combines dance rhythms with a walloping bass-line and passionate guitar playing and singing to great effect. The outdoor stage, however, wasn’t a great setting for this group which is more suited to a room overflowing with excited and sweaty people than a roomy, slightly cool parking lot. That aside, the set was excellent as always.
After a quick bite to eat, we entered a packed Hi-Dive to see Gregory Alan Isakov. We overheard a fan describing Isakov as “a combination of Leonard Cohen and Iron and Wine” before the show, and the performance lived up to that expectation. The music was powerful, while retaining its relaxed quality, and it was among our favorite sets of the night. Playing at the same time, at the Goodwill parking lot stage, were the Flobots. While the music the group plays is among my least favorite in the Denver (or national) scene, they certainly know how to put on a show. The parking lot was packed for the act and the audience hung on every movement of the 7-piece group. Their musicianship was more than quality and the set was a fun experience, despite my opinions on their music.
Next, we heard the end of the Radical Knitting Circle’s act at the Skylark – while not enough was heard to make a proper judgment, the group seemed interesting enough to take another look in the future. Next at the Skylark was Lubbock’s Thrift Store Cowboy. The group masterfully combined their Texas western roots with indie rock. Steel guitar was matched with traditional rock riffs and at-time haunting singing. A sound unlike anything I’d ever heard, we were surprised – very pleasantly – by the group.
Next, we continued on to the Hi-Dive for their last set of the night, The Widow’s Bane. We’d not heard of this Boulder-based group before Saturday night, but were excited to find out what they were all about. When a group, dressed as 1700s zombies came on stage, we knew seeing this set was a good idea. The group’s music was simultaneously Irish folk music and Tom Waits. The huge crowd enjoyed themselves greatly, and everyone in the Hi-Dive seemed to be dancing.
Finally, we returned to the Mayan Theater for the last set of the night – Ukulele Loki’s Gadabout Orchestra. The music was self-described “indie acoustic chamber pop,” but the act was more of a vaudeville show than anything. It included circus performers doing their acts to music, as well as singular music performances. While it was obvious that the act was very good and interesting, it was too laid back for 1:30am after a day of a music festival, and we left halfway through the act. The crowd was obviously not very into it either. It was a good idea, and a cool act, but should’ve been put at a different time.
Edit: It looks like the Hot IQs are breaking up after their June 19 show at the Bluebird (we learned the news from Backbeat Online here) I know we already mentioned this as a must see show, but we’re moving it up to “do not miss this show or you will never forgive yourself” status.
Further Edit: We took Fear Before, 3Oh!3, and Flobots off the list because you probably already know them.
So last month we had extensive coverage of one of my favorite DIY bands from Denver, Young Coyotes. This got me thinking, “Who are the other groups people should know about?” Well, then today Dave Herrera over at Westword asked us to send in our nominations for the 2009 Westword Music Showcase, here’s who we chose. You might have heard of some of these groups, some you don’t know. Hopefully we’ll be able to work with these bands to bring you the best new music from the Denver scene all summer long.
1. Young Coyotes
2. Hot IQs
3. Ian Cooke
4. Pee Pee
5. Bad Weather California
6. Born In The Flood / The Wheel
7. The Photo Atlas
8. Hearts of Palm (have apparently broken up too)
10. Andrea Ball
11. Richard Ingersoll
12. Danielle Ate The Sandwich
13. The Heyday
14. Paper Bird
15. Trace Bundy
16. Bela Karoli
17. Laura Goldhamer
19. Brave Saint Saturn
20. Rob Drabkin
Edit: I changed the permalink and removed the links in this article because of the ridiculous amounts of spam we were receiving.
Here in Colorado (and in most places), we’ve got a saying, “March comes in like a lion and leaves like a lamb.” Perhaps 2009 didn’t get the memo, because we’re five days into March and it’s balmy and beautiful in the Mile-High City. But, this is a blog about music, not the weather (do they have such things?). Either way, the recent warm weather got me thinking about the spring / summer music season, and I thought I’d hilight some shows and events that should be recognized.
March 17 (St. Patrick’s Day!): Akron/Family & Young Coyotes at the Oriental: What better way to celebrate St. Pattie’s day than with some great tunes. In what will likely be an explosion of indie-folk-experimental sound, Akron/Family will take the stage after the crowd gets warmed up on Denver’s own Young Coyotes.
March 24: The Academy Is… at the Hi-Dive: I remember seeing The Academy Is… a few years ago at Warped Tour, and they were on top of their game then. I haven’t kept up with the group since then, but it’s nice to see them playing and acoustic set at the Hi-Dive. Also featured: This Providence.
April 3: Flobots at the CSM E-Days Festival: The loudest, most rambunctious thing we do at Mines, the E-Days show this year will be unlike any we’ve seen before. For the first time in recent memory, hip-hop will be the predominant sound eminating from Steinhauer Field House. Also featured: Filthy T
April 8: Dredg at the Marquis (Downtown): As a group that is constantly updating and experimenting with their sound, Dredg has found a special place in my music library. Their 2005 album Catch Without Arms is still one of my favorites.
April 24: The Gaslight Anthem at the Gothic: If Bruce Springsteen and Black Flag had a baby, it would be the Gaslight Anthem. Recently in Denver opening for the Rise Against / Thrice / Alkaline Trio tour, the Gaslight Anthem has kept busy playing late-night television gigs and touring.
May 12: Manchester Orchestra at the Marquis (Downtown): There are very few bands who inspire me the way Manchester Orchestra does. Lead singer Andy Hull’s lyrics are deep and intensely delivered. After seeing M.O. open for mewithoutYou a couple years ago, I’m excited to see them again. This time around they should be playing material from their soon-to-be-released album Mean Everything To Nothing.
May 16: Flight of the Conchords & Iron and Wine at Red Rocks: New Zealand’s premier acoustic-guitar weilding comedy duo, Flight of the Conchords have made their mark on American television and music. Constantly playing with different genres, the Conchords will likely put on one of the best shows in the 2009 Red Rocks schedule. Also playing: Iron & Wine, possibly one of the best, most beautiful sounding bands on the indie scene.
June 2: Animal Collective at the Boulder Theater (Boulder): Critics have been kind to Animal Collective’s neweset release Merriweather Post Pavillion, calling it “the greatest album of the year.” Although their brand of experimental-electro-pop might not sit well with lovers of more traditional music genres, Animal Collective will surely put on an amazing show.
“There is a war going on for your mind” are the socially-conscious lyrics that open the Flobots debut album Fight With Tools. While most bands are content to simply play music, Denver’s own Flobots have used their breakthrough national success and unique sound to entertain and challenge listeners. The Flobots formed in 2005. In the midst of the previous year’s election frenzy, childhood friends James Laurie (aka Jonny 5) and Brer Rabbit teamed up with Mackenzie Roberts, integrating live hip hop with a passion for voter engagement. Andy Guerrero, then the front man for local funk band Bop Skizzum, convinced the trio to add live instrumentation, and the current incarnation of Flobots was born.
In the years since, Flobots managed to connect the Denver music scene with non-profit organizations and promote social issues. However, not all of the Flobots fame has been due to their message; they also possess a unique and fresh sound. Building on a mixture of hip-hop and rock, the Flobots infused their sound with viola and horns, achieving something truly original.
For the reader who is still saying “Flo-who?” simply turn on the radio. Their single “Handlebars” hit the Denver scene in 2005, has since seen airplay in all major U.S. markets, and done incredibly well on the Billboard music charts. The Flobots have even performed this tune on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. While recent years of E-Days concerts have seen the likes of Flogging Molly and Goldfinger, this year’s show will appeal to anyone who wants to hear “the next big thing.” Even if hip-hop isn’t your thing, Flobots will surely put on an entertaining and thought-provoking show that should appeal to any Mines student.
This is a full page I wrote for The Oredigger’s summer issue in 2008. It was part of an issue sent to incoming freshman to get them informed about what living in Denver is really like.
The Denver music scene would not exist if it were not for the tireless efforts of bands, promoters, and venues. Most music venues in the mile high city are also historical landmarks, renovated with modern equipment, but still paying homage to their roots.
Among the bars and clubs of downtown sits an all ages venue that has played host to some of the hottest bands from across the country. The Marquis, a venue operated by promotions company Soda Jerk Presents, features a separate bar and pizzeria so that concertgoers of any age can have a good time. While the venue is rather small, especially when compared to other Denver music outlets, the intimate setting allows for fans experience bands in a way that is not possible at larger concert halls. Featured acts have included mewithoutYou, Sherwood, Saosin, and many other bands popular to the “MySpace generation.”
The Denver Center For The Performing Arts
Home to ten performance venues and over 10,000 seats, the Denver Center For the Performing Arts is one of the mile high city’s gems. Performances at the center occur every week and range from opera, to classical music, and even Broadway productions. Students at the Colorado School of Mines have been given opportunities to experience productions, such as Spamalot, and concerts by the Colorado Symphony Orchestra at discounted prices. Whether you’re on a date, or just want to dress up for a show, the Denver Center For the Performing Arts is a classy venue for enjoying the finer parts of society and culture.
The Fillmore Auditorium
This historic venue on the hill has a colorful history and has played host to some of the world’s most famous acts. Built near the turn of the 20th century, the Fillmore underwent many changes until the current owners decided to model it after the famous San Francisco music venue. As one of the largest venues in Denver, the Fillmore has hosted the likes of Feist, Rise Against, Brand New, Motion City Soundtrack, and other bands that have become popular on both mainstream radio and television. Concertgoers should expect to pay more for tickets to Fillmore shows, but oftentimes the extra cost is worth seeing some of the most popular and innovative groups performing today.
Another historic venue on Capitol Hill, the Ogden was built in 1913, used for performances and movie showings until it went under new ownership in 1993. At that point the venue became a hot spot for concerts. The Ogden boasts an innovative theater design with balconies and a tiered main general admission area. Concerts are moderately priced and have featured the likes of Green Day, Ben Harper, Allman Brothers Band, Blink 182, Smashing Pumpkins, and the Goo Goo Dolls.
The golden age of cinema birthed the Gothic. During the 1920’s the theater served as a one of the main entertainment spots on southern Broadway. Similar to the Ogden and Fillmore, the Gothic switched uses and ownership several times before becoming what it is today. The mid-sized concert hall features balconies and a tiered main area (similar to the Ogden). Bands that have played the Gothic include indie legends Nada Surf and Built To Spill, in addition to Say Anything, Saves The Day, Lucero, Mute Math, Talib Kweli, and countless other up-and-coming acts.
Red Rocks Amphitheater
The ancient sandstone monoliths that form the natural amphitheater at Red Rocks have provided an awe-inspiring venue for musicians for over 100 years. The current configuration of Red Rocks came about when Franklin Roosevelt and his “New Deal” plan created the Civilian Conservation Corps, who developed the mountain area into a working performance center during the 1940’s. As one of the best outdoor venues in the world, Red Rocks has seen the likes of The Beatles, U2, The Fray, Muse, and many other historic acts. The 2008 concert season at Red Rocks includes the likes of Death Cab For Cutie and R.E.M. While tickets to Red Rocks shows usually start in the low $40 range, the park can be visited for free when there are no events happening.
In recent years the Denver music scene has become more prominent on a national and world level. While some Denver-based bands, like The Fray, have found mainstream success, there are countless other bands that are bound to be the “next big thing.”
The fresh faced musicians that compose The Heyday play in a fashion that is similar to The Format or Limbeck. While they have not hit national charts or mainstream radio yet, The Heyday have toured extensively and worked hard to develop their upbeat sound. Dave Hererra, music editor for Denver’s entertainment magazine Westword called the band “the next generation Fray” after only a handful shows. With ambitious plans of touring all summer in support of their newly released self-titled album, The Heyday are on their way to spreading their fun-filled concert experience across the country.
“There’s A War Going On For Your Mind,” the first track on the Flobots breakthrough record Fight With Tools, showcases the group’s socially conscious approach to hip hop. With a fresh mix of guitars, horns, and lyrics, this group has recently caught the attention of major record label Universal Republic Records. Their song “Handlebars” has seen national mainstream radio play and they regularly sell out shows across the country. However, the Flobots have not let success change their cause. From www.flobots.com, “Not only did they [Universal Republic Records] want to release Fight With Tools untouched, but they were excited to help us continue to integrate music, activism, and community-building.” The Flobots have definitely put Denver on the map for hip hop, a sentiment echoed by Chuck D. from group Public Enemy. “We played Boulder, CO,” said Chuck D., “the opening band were a great group named the Flobots who, along with some great musicianship and rhyme flow, set the stage well with political commentary.”
One part Lil Jon, another part Beastie Boys, 3OH!3 have brought their unique style of crunk-rap and hip-hop to Denver. The duo, composed of Matt Motte and Sean Foreman got their start in Boulder, but have branched out nationally and will be appearing on the 2008 Warped Tour. Their tunes are catchy and entertaining, while their beats are excellent for dancing or partying. Although their style of music might seem like a better fit in a city such as Atlanta, they have found a solid fan base in Denver. Perhaps part of their success has been their ability to turn heads and cause people to stop and listen. 3OH!3 have a self-titled album to their credit and a creative hand signal that represents the Denver area code.
The Photo Atlas
In recent years, experimental dance music has become increasingly popular part of the Denver music scene. Leading this movement is a group of four guys who call themselves The Photo Atlas. A blend of Bloc Party and At The Drive-In, The Photo Atlas have played national tours and festivals in support of their album No, Not Me, Never available from Stolen Transmission Records. Most recently, The Photo Atlas played at the Bamboozle Festival in New Jersey and SXSW in Austin, Texas. This summer they are going on tour again, but will return to Colorado for the Monolith Festival at Red Rocks in September.
While Single File got their start in Denver, they almost gave up music all together. While the three members of Single File were in high school they began playing music together as a jazz trio. However this didn’t last and soon enough they had moved to separate parts of the country to pursue their own interests. However, they reunited in 2003 and branched out in a new direction. Single File brought their unique brand of pop-punk to CSM in 2007, during the E-Days Concert. At that point they were beginning to break out. Soon after they signed a record deal with Reprise Records and released their EP No More Sad Face. With their EP and hit song “Zombies Ate My Neighbors,” Single File are going on the road this summer with the Warped Tour.
Fear Before The March of Flames
While the Denver music scene has seen quite a bit of change along with new sounds and acts, one thing has remained constant: quality hardcore music. Through the years Denver has shown itself to be a place that loves the heavy hitting sound of hardcore musicians, but has also been a major player in the post-hardcore and experimental scenes. Bands such as Fear Before The March of Flames have become a nationally successful the post-hardcore post-hardcore band. They have released three albums on Equal Vision Records and toured with the likes of Poison The Well, Saosin, The Blood Brothers, and Bear Vs. Shark. Their sound is a mix of heavy guitars and heavier vocals. Live, Fear Before The March of Flames can get an entire venue moving with moshing and head-banging in a fashion that is reminiscent of some of the first punk and hardcore bands.