The best concerts to see in Denver this week
Before striking out on his own, Frank Turner spent some time in London's Million Dead, one of the better post-hardcore bands of the early 2000s. Rather than singing with nuance, as he does now, Turner screamed and yelled in that band, at the same time conveying a restlessness and conviction that didn't seem like an affectation. Around the time that Million Dead split, in 2005, he received a tape of Bruce Springsteen's unvarnished masterpiece Nebraska, and the honesty and vulnerability of the songwriting clearly made an impression on Turner, as his solo work has been more in the singer-songwriter vein since then. Still, his lyrics haven't softened much, and his albums, including this year's Tape Deck Heart, could be described as folk with attitude.
At 67, Detroit-raised soul legend Bettye LaVette seems to be at the start of a brilliant career. Chalk it up to an unusual biography, which found the gifted singer recording her first charting single at the tender age of sixteen, touring with a fresh-faced Otis Redding at nineteen and later playing in the James Brown Revue -- essentially walking backwards down the road to riches. In fact, she didn't break beyond the States until 2005, when, teaming up with producer Joe Henry, she dropped I've Got My Own Hell to Raise, featuring songs written by Fiona Apple, Aimee Mann, Sinéad O'Connor and Lucinda Williams. While a 2007 LP saw her singing standards backed by Drive-By Truckers, 2010's Interpretations includes songs by the Stones, the Beatles and the Who, redone to emphasize the blues they'd emulated in the first place.
Any Fiona Apple concert is a study in contradiction. The audience last year's Paramount Theatre show was privy to a vast frontier of human emotion, Apple braiding herself in and out of binary worlds, slipping from robust woman in command of a top-shelf band, to a frightened child, unsure of her place on the stage. From comforting mother to jealous girlfriend, from virtuoso musician to raw animal, Apple grinded her throat while hopping in and out of rhythm. None of that seemed to be incidental. Like her career, Apple appears to never settle on a single path or persona.
In the '90s, Sean Tillman performed in both noise-rock band Calvin Krime and the more pop-oriented Sean Na Na while still a teenager in the Minneapolis area. Around the turn of this century, he created Har Mar Superstar, a bombastic hip-hop/R&B persona that delivers suitably single-entendre lyrics. The act is elevated by genuinely clever crafting and songs that result in a sort of high-concept-comedy performance art. While Tillman's shtick plays like the brilliant post-"film" career of a charismatic ex-porn star, he has undeniable singing ability and pop sensibilities; he's even purportedly penned songs for Jennifer Lopez and Kelly Osbourne. On his latest album, Bye Bye 17, Har Mar Superstar continues to turn what would otherwise be cheese into glittery pop perfection.
Zeds Dead makes music that both sounds good on your speakers and brings a show that you cannot forget. In the past, we've seen the duo play in front of strobed tombstones, but at Red Rocks last year at the Global Dance Festival, it was all LED panels and blasting strobe lights. For the act's co-headline at 1STBANK with Krewella they're joined by Paper Diamond, Seven Lions, Candyland, DJ Green Lantern and Branchez.
Austin-bred guitar prodigy Gary Clark Jr. is focused on reconnecting the blues with its roots. The electric bluesman not only cites Jimi Hendrix as an influence but, with his slender frame, long fingers and soaring bellow, he might remind folks of the legend. Clark has been embraced by the mainstream, having performed everywhere from Coachella to the mtvU Woodies to the White House, where he played for the Obamas, and he's also shared stages with Eric Clapton and Alicia Keys. Before signing with Warner Bros., Clark released a string of well-received independent albums. Clark comes to the Mile High City in support of his latest EP, Bright Lights, a record which has helped him build up his profile considerably.
Even if he's too mellow for you, at least give him credit for promoting the surfer life as much as the Beach Boys. At this rate, he's gunning to replace Kenny Chesney as Jimmy Buffet's heir apparant for the endless summer crowd. He's at least likable, which is a plus for adult contemporary rock, but if he really did want to make good on surf music, he should sneak in "Wipe Out" or "Church Key" into his set now and then.
The Supersuckers are a guaranteed good time live. Their untamed (and awesomely named) frontman Eddie Spaghetti will see to that. While the group's lineup has changed a bit over the past two decades, their hard-charging, country-tinged garage-punk sound has remained consistent, and is sure to get their longtime fans moving once again. Their recorded output has been rather spotty, but the Supersuckers earned their acclaim through dynamic, rowdy live shows.
Reed Mathis talks about improvisation like it's a mystical religion. The current bassist for the San Francisco-based quintet Tea Leaf Green and former frontman of the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey sees a great deal of power in making music on the spot, and that passion will likely be front and center when the band plays a few dates in Colorado.
After two decades together, Carbon Leaf has effectively created its own brand of accessible bluegrass. But the Virginia natives can't be pinned to a single genre -- the band has an ostensible pop side, one that best translates live through Carbon Leaf's varying stringed instrumentation.
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