By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
By Gina Tron
By Jon Solomon
By Drew Ailes
By Courtney Harrell
By Kyra Scrimgeour
The hype surrounding the current tour by the Chemical Brothers has been somewhat less overwhelming than the hoopla associated with U2's current jaunt (see page 71)--Dennis Hopper hasn't offered to narrate any network television specials for them yet. But in some ways, the expectations are just as heavy. The Brothers--Brits Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons--have been made the poster children of the electronica movement, with the industry as a whole waiting to see if the duo's new album, Dig Your Own Hole, and its live show can convert a generation reared on distorted guitars to the joys of synthesized blips and sampled rhythms. Billboard sales figures suggest that the jury is still out on the first score: While Hole (on Astralwerks/Caroline) entered the charts at a healthy number fourteen, it plummeted nine spots in its second week in stores. And the Brothers' on-stage appeal? Based on an April 29 turn at the Ogden Theatre, their music, while powerful and accessible, doesn't fit all that comfortably into a concert setting.
The packed house was certainly psyched for the show, and the prevalence of pierced facial features and fluorescent clothing among attendees implied that a good portion of the audience was familiar with the dance scene. (So, too, did the presence of a teenage girl who moved through the mob asking, parrot-like, "Need a dose? Need a dose? Need a dose?") But the Ogden's configuration couldn't help but feel more restrictive than the fields or sprawling indoor facilities favored by ravers. Ticket-buyers were drawn to the stage, causing the area in front of it, as well as the majority of the main level, to become more clogged than one of Robert Mitchum's arteries. Not only was dancing practically out of the question; moving and breathing weren't all that easy, either.
The stimuli that preceded the Brothers' arrival--an hour and a half's worth of flashing lights and thwacking house beats that wound down into twenty minutes of synthesizer washes--was intended to prime the pump for the gig itself. But rather than spend this time dancing, most people preferred to mill around and check their watches. Fortunately, that changed when Rowlands and Simons skulked to their equipment and got the beats cranking. The pair triggered deafening versions of virtually everything on Hole, and while some of the sonics--siren screams and the like--didn't bite with the fierceness they exhibit on the disc, the relentless tempos and jumbo hooks prevented the ditties from degenerating into anonymous thumping. Clearly, this was part of the Brothers' plan. Instead of fiddling around with "Block Rockin' Beats," "Dig Your Own Hole," "Don't Stop the Rock" and the rest of the set list, they did their best to clone the CD versions. Imagery that was projected on a giant screen behind the DJs further established each song's individuality. These dominant visual themes let viewers know when one track was ending and the next was beginning, and so did the Brothers, who waved their hands and exhorted the masses (but did not speak) whenever a composition reached its conclusion.
Despite such efforts, however, Rowlands and Simons were never quite able to bridge the gap between electronic music's roots and the constraints of a typical rock-type performance. The continuous flow of sound was undeniably sexual, as I realized after a man rubbed his hand from the back of my thigh to the middle of my spine a few minutes after a young woman had helped herself up an inclined walkway by taking a fistful of my crotch. (Unluckily for her, I was flaccid at the time, so she had difficulty getting a grip.) But there was no getting away from the fact that this music was made for dancing, not watching--and dancing requires more space than was available. Sorry, music-biz types: I don't think the Chemical Brothers will be playing Mile High Stadium anytime soon.
Vartan Jazz, at 231 Milwaukee Street, closed after an April 19 performance by Lew Tabackin. That's the kind of news you might expect to upset the venue's flamboyant owner, Vartan Tonoian, but you'd be wrong. He characterizes the demise of his treasured club as the best thing that ever happened to Denver jazz--since it affords him an opportunity to reopen at a better location.
"We were the last nightclub in Cherry Creek," says Tonoian, a Russian by birth who ran private jazz nightspots in Moscow, Paris and New York before coming to Denver. "We realized the area was dead for night life. Besides that, the rent was going up--and for some of our bigger shows, like Gonzalo Rubalcaba [who appeared at Vartan Jazz April 11 and 12], we didn't have enough room. We added a midnight show, and we still had people lining up down the street. We need a bigger place."
Of course, there's a bit more to the story than that. Tonoian has had numerous disputes with his landlord and has not paid rent on the club for a few months. ("We paid a $27,000 damage deposit to the previous owner," he claims. "The owner now says that was lost, but that's not our fault. I've already paid, and I'm not going to pay twice. If they're smart, they'll write it off on their taxes.") But he prefers to look on the bright side. He boasts about the success of his jazz label, also called Vartan Jazz, which has been moving units from its 25-piece catalogue in Europe and Japan as well as in the U.S. (Orders can be placed by calling 388-9800.) Moreover, he's so confident that he'll be in a new location within the next few months--probably near lower downtown--that he's already booked a couple of shows: Rubalcaba is set to return October 3 and 4, while Horace Silver is scheduled to headline on November 1. "We'll also be booking one big show a month at other theaters until we reopen in order to keep the flame of jazz alive," Tonoian promises. "And when we find a new building, we will also open a restaurant that will serve 'international jazz cuisine.'"