The best concerts in Denver this week
More than misogyny or materialism, intelligence and verbal skill are championed by Jurassic 5; the vocabulary is impressive and the verbal acrobatics the guys perform are outstanding. J5 carries the energy and excitement of a newer era group but bring the flavor of an old hip-hop act (the crew strongly echoes the legendary Cold Crush Brothers), and it follows musical cues that are classic in the truest sense. (Ghostland Observatory and DJ Sam Spiegel of N.A.S.A. are slated to share the bill.)
Deltron 3030 isn't so much a group or an album as it is a mode of thought, and there are few hip-hop albums (or albums of any genre, for that matter) with the cinematic quality of this group's self-titled debut. Dan the Automator created deeply textured and darkly evocative soundscapes, aided by Kid Koala's turntablism, as a backdrop for Teren Delvon Jones (aka Del tha Funkee Homosapien, aka Deltron Zero) to tell the tale of how he becomes Galactic Rhyme Federation Champion. Similar to Dan the Automator's earlier work with Kool Keith, Dr. Octagonecologyst, but more coherent and accessible, this album proved that hip-hop could successfully travel to where only geeks had gone before -- silly non sequiturs, outer space fantasy and ridiculous characters all became fair game, and so did the out-crowd that relished them. (Shredded Beats runs three-nights and also features Swollen Members and Step Brothers (Evidence & Alchemist), with Madchild, Slaine, Proximity and Kruza Kid on Thursday, January 30, and Hopson, Dilated Peoples, Dizzy Wright, DJ Hoppa, Black Pegasus, Rolphy, A Black Day and Wesley Wayne on Saturday, February 1.)
It takes real skill and a diverse set of songs to stand out in EDM these days since the field has become so saturated. RL Grime (aka Henry Steinway) is a producer that is not diluting the market with sub-par mixing. Instead, he is steering it in a way that throws back to anthemic rap roots, all while weaving a modern thump of heavy bass through it all. You don't go to a RL Grime show to hear the same old trap tracks -- most of which are pulled from his catalog anyway -- but you will hear some modern hip-hop vocals laced with distorted synths and the occasional hip-hop horn, reminding you that rap still rules the airwaves, even if it's wearing the mask of EDM. Catch RL Grime at Snowdown with Juicy J, RL Grime, Salve, Bass Physics and DJ Jack Da Ripper.
This past NYE at the Phish Madison Square Garden show, Trey Anastasio showed that he still had his chops from thirty years ago, executing a series of elaborate and obviously practiced Gamehendge compositions to a jubilant and grateful crowd. When playing with his side project, he is able to explore the smaller intricacies of song crafting, often using it as a launchpad for future Phish jam vehicles. The stage is filled with wildly talented musicians, in which horns blare and a focused set and light design create a flow that is almost theatrical in nature.
Whereas many rappers quantify their lavish lives in terms of drank and weed, Action Bronson's primary vice has been and probably always will be food. Before he gained notoriety as an MC with his 2011 studio debut, Dr. Lecter, he was well respected as a New York chef (his lyrics are still garnished with references to foods of all sorts). But while he shares a profession with Raekwon, the Wu-Tang member to whom he most frequently draws comparison is Ghostface Killah, thanks to his indulgent subject matter and piercing voice. Bronson, meanwhile, says that Kool G Rap is his biggest influence -- and with few exceptions, he's perfected the boastful art of Mafioso rap that G Rap pioneered better than anybody since Jay-Z and Wu-Tang in the '90s. Since his debut, Bronson has released another studio album, Well-Done, along with several mixtapes, including Rare Chandeliers, produced by the legendary Alchemist. Bronson hasn't found his Reasonable Doubt yet, but he's got several more projects in the oven, and it will be interesting to see what he serves next.
Formed in 2006 by members of Parque Torch and Peach Train, Austin's White Denim debuted with songs that were like a hybrid of early New Zealand garage psychedelia and Memphis power pop. But as the act grew, its sound took a different direction, leaning more toward progressive-rock rhythms with '70s-American-rock sensibilities. Fits, the group's excellent 2009 album, straddled the line perfectly between where it had been and where it was going. White Denim's latest album, 2013's Corsicana Lemonade, sounds like the band somehow managed to infuse a modern influence into an older act -- as though the Flaming Lips and Beck had influenced Steely Dan and ELO while also being influenced by them. White Denim is also due at the Fox Theatre on Tuesday, January 28.
MxPx was started in 1992 as Magnified Plaid by a group of three fifteen-year-olds in Bremerton, Washington. When the band's name didn't fit on posters and t-shirts, drummer Yuri Ruley shortened the name to the four letters by which the band has become known and it stuck. Though signed early on to Tooth & Nail because the members of the band are Christian, MxPx has never really made that appeal in its music proper and you'd be hard pressed to find songs in the band's entire oeuvre that could be construed as preaching a specific religious message or a religious message generally. Instead, it's just well-written, melodic punk with some humor and energy driving the songwriting.
In the annals of Chicago punk, Naked Raygun was one of the longest-running and most beloved of bands. But while sharing stages with the hardcore bands of the day, Naked Raygun was always just a bit more experimental than most of its peers with a sound never fit strictly into a punk subgenre. This probably explains a bit why singer Jeff Pezzati and guitarist Santiago Durango were able to become members of Big Black for a spell. But it was Naked Raygun's willingness to follow its own muse and splice in elements of rockabilly, weirdo post-punk and noise rock into its music that has made it an enduring and influential outfit. Naked Raygun returns to Colorado after an appearance at Riot Fest 2013 this past fall.
Prefuse 73 -- the production alias of Guillermo Scott Herren -- pushes the outer boundaries of hip-hop into the terrain occupied by Aphex Twin and Autechre. Slippery snippets of micro-edited samples dance elegantly for a few measures, then stop and chatter away in alien tongues. Elsewhere, jittery beats unkink and smooth out into sweet, funky breaks, then reverse course or just melt away. Even voices are frequently chopped, sequenced and rendered secondary to the groove in these productions. As a whole, the body of work produced under the Prefuse 73 moniker is consistently challenging and usually rewarding. If it suffers, it suffers from fans' preconceptions that an artist should be strictly hip-hop or strictly electronic, but Herren refuses to compromise his vision. Expectations be damned, he sequences the beat of his own drummer.
Taking ideas from contemporary EDM and mashing it together with '70s funk is always a good recipe for an upbeat time, and Kung Fu manages it extremely well. The band has generated a great buzz with a lineup full of seasoned veterans of the festival and jam band circuit. Rob Somerville on tenor sax adds an extra smoothness and oomph to the whole thing, taking it from show to full-on party. (Dopapod is set to open the show.)
Since 2000, RJD2 (aka RJ Krohn) has been creating anthemic hip-hop tracks. Live, the turntablist dominates four decks while seamlessly mixing classic songs in with his own original beats. In the studio, RJD2 is continuously working to progress his sound, from laboring over honing the brass sections to finding just the right drums.
Leon Russell is a living link to several different musical eras. As a teenager, he gigged with the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis in his fireballing prime before moving to Los Angeles and becoming a studio regular on Phil Spector productions such as Ike and Tina Turner's "River Deep, Mountain High." His subsequent work on Joe Cocker's Mad Dogs & Englishmen album and tour earned him enough notoriety to launch a solo career that touched upon nearly every style in the American musical vernacular at one time or another. ("This Masquerade," a mega-hit for jazz guitarist George Benson, and "Delta Lady" are his best-known tunes.) Aside from The Union, his 2010 collaboration with Elton John, Russell hasn't enjoyed a major-label release since Live at Gilley's, which Atlantic put out in 2000. But rather than give up the ghost, he created his own imprint, Leon Russell Records, as well as an affiliated website that peddles relatively new recordings, catalogue items stretching all the way back to 1971's Asylum Choir II, and even a Leon Russell bobblehead that depicts him in top hat, shades and a white beard that makes him look older than God. Which, in rock-music terms, he nearly is.
Jello Biafra first came to the attention of the world as the charismatic, hyperkinetic and relentlessly intelligent frontman of the Dead Kennedys. Never one to mince words, Biafra became a lightning rod with his unapologetic critiques of the regressive swing of American culture in the '80s, as well as the effects of the country's imperialistic ambitions. In his latest band, Biafra is joined by Victims Family's Ralph Spight and Andrew Weiss (who played in the Rollins Band for years as well as Ween and Butthole Surfers). The group's latest album, White People and the Damage Done, may sound like a cross between power pop and fuzzed-out punk, but the title of the album and the irreverent, pointed lyrics are proof that Biafra hasn't lost his touch.
Thirteen years ago, the unexpected, runaway popularity of the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack propelled Ralph Stanley into the American mainstream, his contribution earning him a Grammy and enough royalties to finally tool around in a shiny black Jaguar. On the downside, the deeply religious 86-year-old bluegrass legend still can't get a whiff from most country radio stations, whose excruciating playlists are more dedicated to redneck women and kickin' Iraqi butt than the high-lonesome, sacred sound of old-time mountain music. Their loss. But for folks who prefer the genuine article, Dr. Stanley (a nickname he earned along with an honorary doctorate in music from Tennessee's Lincoln Memorial University) has an otherworldly voice and a blazing, three-fingered claw-hammer style of banjo-picking that he learned at his mother's knee in the back hills of Virginia, Stanley transforms grief into an art form.
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