The best concerts in Denver this weekend
December is a leaner month than usual for the number of metal shows. But quality more than makes up for quantity thanks to Denver Black Sky. This absolute must-see metal festival is being curated by Sherwood Webber, who, in addition to reconvening with his old band Skinless for the occasion, has put together an unbelievably brutal bill featuring Dying Fetus, Exhumed, Ghoul, Speedwolf, Power Trip, Mammoth Grinder, Call Of The Void, Reproacher, Weekend Nachos, Iron Reagan, Axeslasher, Primitive Man, Vimana, Of Feather And Bone, Native Daughters, Black Sleep Of Kali, Dead Temple and Flight Of Sleipnir.
The members of the Head and the Heart met while playing open-mic nights at a pub in the Old Ballard section of Seattle. The band -- which takes its name from the notion of following your passion and bliss, even when your logical mind is telling you to pursue a more sensible course in life -- writes earnest, hushed, folk-inflected pop songs that recall Déjà Vu-period Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. The results are less rock-oriented, but no less well-crafted. Championed early on by Seattle's premier independent radio station, KEXP, the outfit was picked up by Sub Pop, which reissued its 2011 self-titled debut. On the group's latest effort, Let's Be Still, you can hear a tasteful hint of Gram Parsons's gentle soulfulness.
Once upon a time, Patterson Hood performed with the Drive-By Truckers at a burrito shop/dive bar in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Near the end of the set, someone in the audience bought tequila shots for the Truckers, and then another fan followed suit, and another, and another. This is the world that Hood's band inhabited circa 1999: Southern, fucked up, down for whatever. The Truckers released many damn-fine Southern-rock albums in the 2000s, and their profile increased considerably. But Hood apparently had something to say that he couldn't with his band -- hence the solo stuff. With lyrics dark enough for black metal and melodies that recall the Allman Brothers on a good day, Hood's non-Truckers output holds up exceedingly well on its own. His latest album, Heat Lightning Rumbles in the Distance, is about as complicated and literary as the name implies.
Being the prettiest man in alt-country ain't an easy row to hoe, but Rhett Miller has spent nearly twenty years wearing the distinction well. As the lead singer of the Old 97's, Miller was a poster boy for the nascent country-folk-rock scene of the early 1990s, a scene in which the band's esteemed contemporaries were Uncle Tupelo and the Jayhawks. The three acts fit a similar pattern, employing painfully up-front lyrics -- often about heartbreak, whiskey and the working class -- and heaps of acoustic guitars. Miller's solo career began in 2002 with The Instigator. That album showcased the singer venturing beyond shitkicker anthems and embracing a more pop-oriented style. And that's not a dig: If anything, the fact that Miller's still writing great lyrics and maintaining the same quality as he did with the Old 97's just makes the new stuff all the more interesting.
Band of Heathens is technically from Austin, but the band comes off like it might have spent a great deal of time in New Orleans learning the rich mixture of sounds that mark that city's eclectic scene. In moments, this outfit is reminiscent of the Band circa the early '70s. The Heathens' take on rootsy American music is not an attempt to create a warped country music; rather, they tastefully incorporate blues and folk without really trying to be the Grateful Dead. If anything, the group doesn't seem concerned with having a stripped-down sound or emulating the glories of its heroes. Not unlike Big Star, these guys are writing rock and roll rooted in music indigenous to the middle South. Surprisingly soulful, the Heathens may be polished, but there's nothing artificial about their sound.
Well before N.W.A. brought the West Coast to hip-hop prominence, before even Rakim and Big Daddy Kane were revolutionizing rap in New York, a teenaged Too $hort was signed to a local label, writing explicit, street-level lyrics for the growing audience in California. Less than two weeks after Eric B and Rakim's game-changing Paid in Full was released, Too $hort released what would become his first gold album, and that was followed the next year by what is arguably his best album, the double platinum Life Is...Too $hort. More than two decades later, Too $hort is one of California's most seasoned and prolific rappers -- and one of the most commercially successful, selling more than ten million albums -- plus, he's still making music, releasing three albums in 2012, including two compilations with one of the few Cali MCs who can match his battle scars, E-40. Too $hort will be supported by Warren G.
Lettuce, which has been throwing down the funk forever, celebrates its twentieth anniversary this year. The all-star musicians met at a musical program at Berklee College of Music and have been providing audiences with high-energy wild dance parties ever since. Sharing this bill at the Fillmore is crazily talented keyboardist Kyle Hollingsworth of String Cheese Incident with his own band, which brings just as much fire to every show.
Music is in the Larson brothers' blood. "It's what we've known the longest," declares Seth Larson. "I feel as comfortable on stage, maybe more comfortable on stage, then I do just walking around in life." Seth and his brother Josh, two-thirds of Something Underground, were born to musical parents. A couple who knew each other from the time they were five years old, the Larson parents started a folk band when they were fifteen, and as soon as they started having kids, they brought them into the group. So Seth and Josh have been playing for almost as long as they've been alive... (Continue reading the full Something Underground profile)
The string quartet has traditionally been a vehicle for classical music, but for close to three decades, the Turtle Island String Quartet has taken the form to a completely different place. The group frequently improvises when delving into the jazz realm, as evidenced on 2007's outstanding A Love Supreme: The Legacy of John Coltrane. The quartet has also rendered songs by Dizzy Gillespie, Oliver Nelson and Dave Brubeck. Here the act teams up with sublime jazz vocalist Tierney Sutton for "A Solstice Celebration," which is slated to be a night of jazz, classical, world and pop.
When eleven-piece Afrobeat local dance machine ATOMGA takes the stage at Park House, the act is guaranteed to get bodies moving. With horns blaring and percussion beating the roof off, this band, which got together in 2011, is quickly gaining a name for itself and its live performances around the state.
• 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.