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.'"
Until that fine day, interested music buffs can keep tabs on Vartan Jazz by calling the 24-hour jazz line, reachable at 399-1111. "Things are going excellent," Tonoian adds.
Imagine how happy he would sound if the joint had burned down.
Just as last week's column about changes in the Denver radio world was going to press, KBPI-FM/106.7 made some additional alterations to its format. If recent shows during prime listening periods are any indication, programmers have decided to supplement their modern-rock mix with the sort of hard rock that was KBPI's bread and butter prior to its embracing of grunge. The results, which were prefigured by morning-drive spins of the latest QueensrØche single a month or two back, can be more than a bit odd: An afternoon set last week included Rage Against the Machine and Nirvana alongside INXS and, of all things, Aerosmith's "Janie's Got a Gun." How long this experiment will last is a mystery at this point. But the fact that a station that's been touting itself as "the new music revolution" has suddenly decided to go back to the future indicates just how commercially soft in the gut the alternative genre has become. The station's birthday bash, set for Saturday, May 10, at Red Rocks, supposedly stars the Offspring, L7, Social Distortion and Poe. But if you go, don't be surprised if there's a special cameo by Loverboy.
In other KBPI news, Steve Sherwood of Fort Collins-based Immortal Dominion inadvertently caused a problem for local bands in general by speaking his mind for a recent Westword profile ("Immortal Beloved," April 10). In the article, Sherwood was quoted as criticizing KBPI for ignoring songs from his band's CD, Birth. "They won't play them because they don't play any local music anymore," he told writer John Jesitus. Sherwood also called KBPI jock K.O. "a wuss," adding, "Just because it's a big corporation and they're going to fire you if you play anything that's not on a major label" doesn't justify the DJ giving Immortal Dominion the brush.
Predictably, these comments did nothing to endear Sherwood's band to K.O., born Kelly Oliver. Oliver, it seems, has an impeccable pedigree when it comes to playing local music; he used to work for KBKS-AM, a defunct Boulder outlet that made tunes by Colorado artists a big part of its sound. Furthermore, he spun a Birth cut two days before the Westword issue featuring Immortal Dominion appeared. "I was doing one local song a shift," points out Oliver, who mans the station from midnight until 6 a.m. Sundays through Thursdays, "and I was hoping to expand that to one an hour. But with the Immortal Dominion situation, that's off for now."
Indeed, Oliver made numerous on-air announcements that he would no longer play any local music, and he pointedly placed the blame for this decision on Immortal Dominion. But when contacted last week, Oliver was sounding less doctrinaire on the subject. "I'm going back to Bob (Richards, KBPI's program director) and try to get the local thing back on," he says. "Because one band definitely shouldn't cost everybody else."
One last KBPI note. At the U2 concert, my wife wound up in a concession-stand line behind DJ Rick Kerns, referred to last week as "humor-challenged." Apparently, he didn't enjoy this characterization; he barked at his companion that yours truly is a "fucking cunt." My response? Just glad to know you're reading, big guy.
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Tuesdays are not generally the hottest night of the week, musically speaking--but Tuesday, May 13, certainly offers you and yours some eclectic options. New Wizard Oil Combination, a Boulder vocal group recently lauded in these pages ("Striking Oil," January 23), drops by the Boulder Public Library Auditorium, 1000 Canyon Boulevard (call 441-3100 for details). Appearing at a location whose address you can learn by phoning 899-4936 is Slide Five, a San Francisco outfit in the acid-jazz/after-jazz category; the date is brought to you courtesy of So What? Productions and DJ K-NEE. Visiting the Lion's Lair are the Cunninghams, five Seattle boys whose publicity information wins the prize for ballsiest press release of the week. ("The disbanding of Soundgarden only reiterates what we already knew--it's time for a new Seattle music scene to be born. So make way for the Cunninghams, the rock 'n' roll monster that will vaporize the black cloud hanging over the former epicenter of angst.") And the Samples' original lineup gets together at the Fox Theatre. As previously reported in this column, a University of Denver date in March was to have been these four fresh fellows' final local gig together, but they changed their minds; in fact, they also appear on Wednesday, May 14, at the Bluebird Theater. Never say never again, gentlemen.
I know I won't. On Thursday, May 8, the Hillbilly Hellcats, the Galctix and the Beloved Invaders shop at Market 41. On Friday, May 9, the Freddi-Henchi Band is the star attraction for a Boulder Theater show benefiting the Humane Society of Boulder Valley; All Star United and Fold Zandura display their version of Christian rock at the Crossroads Garage (info is available at 575-1652); Carolyn's Mother, supported by Laramie's Yellow Snow, offers you a chance to buy its new CD at Herman's Hideaway; and My Blind Alley taps into Slugger's. On Saturday, May 10, the Mother Folkers play for the first of two nights at Teikyo Loretto Heights Theater; the Snatchers and Bile Geyser erupt at the Anti-Gallery; Lynn Skinner unites with Dale Bruning and Rich Chiaraluce at Sherman's Coffee House; New Country Boy gets a little bit rock and roll at Cricket on the Hill, with Loud Mouth and Junkies for Neighbors; Nancy Cook strums at the Tiffany Plaza branch of Diedrich Coffee; the Mercury Ensemble, under the direction of Thomas Blomster, graces the Mercury Cafe; Ray Wylie Hubbard brings a little bit of Texas to the Swallow Hill Music Hall; Stanley Milton's Mean Streak heads to the Skyline Cafe; and Lycia finds out if Chainsuck does at the Bluebird. On Sunday, May 11, the Ranch, a country band from Australia that sounds like all the ones that come from here, spreads out at the Grizzly Rose. On Monday, May 12, the Humpers invade the 15th Street Tavern. And on Wednesday, May 14, Hank and the Hanksters are at the Little Bear. Hanks a lot.--Michael Roberts