The best concerts in Denver this week
If you've seen Last Days Here, you're familiar with the frustrating tale of Pentagram. Formed in Virginia in the early '70s, the pioneering psychedelic metal band should have, by all accounts, realized massive worldwide fame. Instead, success evaded the outfit, thanks in part to the struggles its frontman (and sole core member) Bobby Liebling has faced over the years. Thankfully, "last days" is merely the title of the film focusing on the band. Pentagram, which has existed for decades in various forms on the fringes of obscurity, beloved by pretty much any metal fan who's come across its music, is still a going concern.
Formed in 1982, Skinny Puppy was a pioneer of electronic industrial music. The band's dark aesthetic and its visionary amalgamation of rhythm, texture and tone cast an indelible shadow on virtually all industrial music that followed in its wake. Throughout its career, Skinny Puppy has presented an irreverent yet nightmarish reflection of the horrors and absurdities of the modern Western cultural land-scape. The group's landmark album, Remission, from 1984, provided a blueprint for such modern purveyors of the genre as Youth Code and Genessier. Too Dark Park, from 1990, and its supporting tour cemented Skinny Puppy's reputation as a band whose music and performance get under your skin like few others. The group's latest effort, last year's stark and affecting Weapon, is handily its finest effort since 1992's Last Rights.
As one of the top acts from the bustling New Orleans scene, Dirty Dozen Brass Band throws down hard. The act's Dixieland brass-heavy jazz sound is infectiously joyful, with each horn player getting to shine on his own and as part of the collective. Opener Pimps of Joytime are also steeped in New Orleans influences, which gives its funk sound an extra sense of urgency and celebration.
The Preservation Hall Jazz Band got its start at the legendary New Orleans venue that it's named after over five decades ago. The group has gone through many line-up changes over the last fifty years with some of the group's elders passing the torch to younger members, including its current director, Ben Jaffe (son of founders Allan and Sandra), who took over management a decade ago. The act continues to revere and preserve traditional New Orleans-style jazz.
Scott H. Biram abuses himself at will, running his stomp board through a bass cabinet and his '59 Gibson hollow body through a reverb unit, and screaming into a harmonica pickup to make his vocals good and muddy. With a raw immediacy that recalls Hasil Adkins, Bob Log III or Denver's own Reverend DeadEye, Biram specializes in a twisted hybrid of gutbucket, hillbilly and godless metal. He'll praise the virtues of moonshine and titty bars one minute, then tongue-lash city slickers and hippies the next.
Approximately 73 million bands have formed at colleges over the years, and the vast majority of them fall into the rock or pop categories, with a few hip-hop or jazz outfits thrown in for good measure. That makes the Steep Canyon Rangers an anomaly -- a bluegrass combo formed in the shadow of academia. Banjoist Graham Sharp, bassist Charles Humphrey III, guitarist Woody Platt, fiddler Nicky Sanders and mandolinist Mike Guggino were students at the University of North Carolina when they first got together circa the late '90s, and in a few short years they've become one of the genre's prime hopes for the future.
Having formed during a backpacking trip on the John Muir Trail, San Francisco's Hot Buttered Rum is, on the surface, pretty much the embodiment of what many find so distasteful about the jam-band scene: Rum has worked with former members of the Dead, tours around the country in biodiesel-fueled vehicles and indulges in extended improvisational jams. But who wouldn't want to play music with their personal heroes and not just talk the talk, but live according to their high-minded ideals and have fun with their art? Musically, this band weaves together bluegrass, jazz and folk with a dash of rock for what is essentially upbeat music that is clever in its social critique without ever seeming preachy. If the members of Hot Buttered Rum can be saddled with the term "hippies," at least they aren't phonies.
After a four-year stint as the musical director of Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers, alto saxophonist Bobby Watson formed his own small combo, Horizon, in 1983, with like-minded heavies like drummer Victor Lewis. a few years later, the line-up jelled into what is now, with pianist Edward Simon, bassist Essiet Essiet and trumpeter Terrel Stafford. After an eight-year hiatus, the group released the first-rate Horizon Reassembled in 2004, and the group's visit to Mount Vernon is part of its thirtieth anniversary tour.
Very possibly a bad acid flashback in the original Ringo Starr's mind, the Texas-based rockers Ringo Deathstarr play spacey, psychedelic indie-rock that has more in common with My Bloody Valentine and the Jesus & Mary Chain than the Beatles or the All-Starr Band. What's refreshing is that the band has the look to match their sound. Their homemade videos of playing on the beach ("Kaleidoscope") and wiggling around balloons in a green room ("Some Kind of Sad") could fit comfortably on VH1 Classic next to that '90s video of the Pixies slowly running down a quarry.
Any '80s-era ska-revival fan worth his or her checkered glad rags remembers the English Beat's cheerful way with a politically charged song -- whether it called for peace, love, unity or Margaret Thatcher's head on a plate. Birmingham's premier roughriders even managed to make Andy Williams seem cool, covering his sappy "Can't Get Used to Losing You." But three albums into it, the Beat sadly dispersed: Co-frontmen Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger pursued soul-tinged horizons with General Public, while ace reedsman Saxa, a first-wave alum of Prince Buster and Desmond Dekker, formed International Beat with rocksteady drummer Everett Moreton, and the rest of the lads minced about as Fine Young Cannibals. Hardly reunited, the Beat goes on with lone original member Wakeling now toasting Smokey Robinson's "Tears of a Clown" and that all-knowing "Mirror in the Bathroom."
• BACKBEAT'S GREATEST HITS •
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.