Future rock stars of America, when they're doing their homework by watching all the YouTube vids they can find of fabulous frontmen lathering up a crowd, should instead go catch a Hives show to see how it's done. Like a rock and roll pissing contest writ impossibly large, 93.3's Big Gig was a spectacle of guys with guitars attempting to out-posture one another. (Spoiler alert: the Hives won.) Headlined by L.A. indie sweethearts the Silversun Pickups and assisted by the Hives, the Wombats and 3OH!3, 93.3's Big Gig, the daylong outdoor bash at Red Rocks, sounded like a big last sendoff to summer 2012.
See also: Slide show: 93.3's Big Gig at Red Rocks
The Wombats, rumored to have just flown across the Atlantic to Denver just hours before the show, played to a smallish crowd in the mid-afternoon. With a catalog that spans just two albums, the guys pulled out most of everything they had -- snarky lyrics, disco beats, Gang of Four-like anthems and all. Singer/guitarist Matthew Murphy and his mates tried their damndest, despite the sleep deprivation and synth-heavy songs that seemed misplaced in the au naturale Front Range setting.
The Hives came next, and there was no mistaking them either -- seeing five dudes dressed impeccably in white-bowtied tuxedos (with tails! And tophats! And a backing percussionist dressed in a ninja costume!) tends to leave an impression, even on those who might otherwise be easily distracted. A communal "WTF?" vibe appeared to overtake the crowd. Between songs, frontman Howlin' Pelle Almqvist said, "I feel like we're getting to know each other really well."
The Hives play the kind of music that needs no prior association. Throughout the band's set, the group shamelessly borrowed from the gutpunching dummy-proof grooves of AC/DC, meshing four-on-the-floor beats with humorous turns of phrases in songs like "My Time is Coming" and "Tick Tick Boom." Oh, and it doesn't hurt that Almqvist is a handsome devil and enjoyed walking -- nay, prancing -- into the audience throughout the set.
He also owned some of the best stage banter heard all summer. "It's very far from Sweden into your American hearts," Almqvist said at one point. At another, he deadpanned, "There are a lot of magicians here, but few wizards." Oh, and let's not forget when he asked all the fans for their Social Security numbers, their grandfathers' ages or closed with, "We've done some scientific testing on these rocks here, and this is as much height as the Hives can take.... We will always be the Hives!"
Attempting to capitalize on the Hives' success, 3OH!3 played a set of saccharine-laden party tunes and jumped around like gymnasts across the massive stage. It's clear: These dudes like to party, get laid and, uh, party some more. "Anyone here from Boulder?!!" shouted co-frontman Nathaniel Motte to a rabid crowd. "How about Denver? [More screaming.] Colorado Springs? [More screaming.] Dacono? [Laughter.]" Flanked by taxidermied, animatronic wolves with laser beam eyes, the act doled out crowd favorites like "My First Kiss" and "You're Gonna Love This," which boasts lines like, "And I swear to your honor that in my car that girl was biting on my lips like Jeffrey Dahmer."
The Silversun Pickups took the stage around 9:30. The headliner among headliners played a set that was alternately brooding and ethereal and ultimately anti-climactic. Few groups can play Philip Glass-sounding orchestral music just before their set and pull it off without seeming pretentious. Unfortunately, this set the tone for what otherwise could have been a bombastic, adrenaline-oozing finale for an end-of-summer bash. "Skin Graph," the first track off this year's release, Neck of the Woods, began the set, with heavy synth overtones and reverby, dark-sounding electric guitar flourishes.
This was followed by rockers "Royal We" and "Bloody Mary," plus a number of follow-up songs that showcased the Pickups' phenomenal drummer, Christopher Guanlao. Alas, it wasn't enough to get the audience back in the mood that the Hives and 3OH!3 had established earlier. A steady stream of concertgoers trickled down the stairs towards the exits, leaving the hardcore Silversun Pickups fans behind. The show, if not the summer concert season, came in like a lion but went out like a lamb.
Personal Bias: One of the best sets of the night is one that most people missed from local act, the Royal, playing its collective heart out at the upstairs stage. Tyler Hayden is a slithering hyena and a hell of a singer, and his band deserved far more than the 75 or so fans in attendance.
Random Detail: Is it deer mating season? On the way into the venue, I got stuck in a traffic jam caused by five baby deer. Aww...
By the way: The Epilogues were in attendance but not playing last night. I found them in one of those mobile photo booth things.
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