The best concerts to see in Denver this week
Zsuzsanna Ward got her start singing classic blues and R&B in her father's band at age twelve. The experience instilled in her a keen sense of melody and vocal expressiveness that served her well when she moved to Los Angeles from Oregon. While writing and re-cording her debut EP, Criminal, Ward recorded a mixtape of recent songs by hip-hop artists including Tyler, the Creator and Kendrick Lamar, with whom she later worked. She also sampled Freddie Gibbs's "Oil Money," and the rapper was so taken with her treatment that he asked to guest on the official version. No stranger to downbeat music, Ward brings energy and charisma to her singing and performances that imbue even the darker material with a spirit of hopefulness. Catch ZZ Ward at the Summit with the Fray and A Great Big World.
The members of Midlake met as jazz students at University of North Texas College of Music. Considering its collective chops, the quintet could easily have gone a different musical route, but the music that actually garnered the band attention had much more in common with the Moody Blues than Mahavishnu Orchestra. As the act developed its sound over the course of the following decade, it incorporated more electronic elements, and by the time of 2010's The Courage of Others, Midlake was making music that resembled the contemplative, even mystical, sound of bands like Fairport Convention. In 2012, primary songwriter Tim Smith left the band while it was still recording its next album; the remaining members of the outfit ended up ditching the recordings, but still managed to maintain the gently urgent, dreamlike vibe of their past songwriting for Midlake's latest effort, 2013's Antiphon.
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.
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.
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 pain-fully up-front lyrics -- often about heartbreak, whiskey and the working class -- and heaps of acoustic guitars. Miller's solo career be-gan 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.
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.
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 most 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.
If you're a Static-X enthusiast, then you'll probably like Pighammer, Wayne Static's solo debut. Actually, when Wayne Static founded Static-X, his original vision was the concept of Pighammer -- more electronic and industrial, not based on live performance. Imagine plenty of the evil disco, compressed guitars and hazy vocals, smothered in the electronic treatment, with the same metal DNA as Static-X.
Cate Le Bon is a young Welshwoman whose deceptively fragile vocals and overturned music box songs twinkle darkly like flowers in the attic. On the heels of supporting the Manic Street Preachers this past fall, Le Bon, now living in Los Angeles, is touring on her own in support of her brand new album, Mug Museum.
Trap music has been gaining popularity in the dance scene, and the Atlanta-based duo Heroes X (Daniel Disaster and Pete Heartless) isn't just sitting idly by in the shadows of trends. The Diplo endorsed act is a speaker-blasting dance party that winds its way through dubstep, trap, house music and everything in-between.
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