The best shows in Denver this weekend
Phish is playing at Dick's this weekend. You know what that means, right? Yep --the end of summer. Bye-bye, barbecues and basking in the sun. Besides signifying the conclusion of the iconic Vermont band's summer tour, the now-annual three-day extravaganza represents the last massive open-air blowout of the season. Oh, sure, there will be more shows between now and when fall officially enters the picture, but none will be as big or as boisterous as this.
If you're sitting on the periphery wondering what all the fuss is about when it comes to Phish, let's just say that this band didn't inherit a legion of fans simply by being kindred to the Dead. Rather, the prodigious players built up their fanatical following by offering riveting live shows and taking care to ensure that each one is unique, by doing such things as playing entire themed sets keyed to a certain letter of the alphabet. If you have a chance to see these guys, take it. Whether you like the tunes or not, it's a show worth experiencing at least once if you're a true fan of music.
Chief Keef leaped straight from the high-school mixtape circuit of his native Chicago to Interscope Records, home to one of the rapper's most discernible influences in 50 Cent, which gave him the biggest and loudest megaphone in 2012 debut, Finally Rich. This happened in a matter of months, too. Lewd and confrontational, but also clever and insightful (after a fashion), Keef delivers hyper-explicit raps with the kind of braggadocio that only comes to the very young, over synth-heavy, cut-and-paste electro-rap tracks like "Love Sosa" and "Hate Being Sober" that -- oddly enough -- rival only Keef's wigged-out rhymes in their catchiness.
Esham is like the fallen star of hip-hop, except that he's fallen up from the depths of hell to a station where he's found a more positive outlook. His most notable contribution to rap is as the godfather of the horrorcore genre, which continues to influence acts like Odd Future and Hopsin. But even beyond the meta impact of his music, Esham has had a thoroughly impressive rap career, beginning in dazzling fashion at the age of thirteen with Boomin' Words From Hell, a gritty, visionary Detroit classic that captured the grim desolation of that city's crack epidemic. Since then, Esham has formed a group called Natas and has grown into an able storyteller and even a moralist, much in the vein of Insane Clown Posse, an act with which he has frequently collaborated. Esham's last album, 2012's Venus Fly Trap, is said to be his final solo release.
Like David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust, Edward Sharpe is the mythical creation of singer Alex Ebert (also of Ima Robot). Originally taken from an unfinished novel written by Ebert, Sharpe is a messianic character whose mission to save mankind is constantly interrupted by his falling for cute girls. Ebert teamed up with Jade Castrinos to make Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, a band that distracted us all in 2010 with the hopelessly infectious "Home." Typically a more underground, folk-boogie band, the Zeros garnered tons of notoriety with the song, including stints on Letterman and NPR. (Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros are slated to perform on the final day Jazz Aspen Snowmass, which kicks off on Friday, August 30, and features Jason Mraz, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, Keith Urban, Train, Little Big Town and more.)
Surviving intense drug addiction, poor fashion choices, several breakups and a revolving door of celebrity bassists (Flea, Duff McKagan and TV on the Radio's Dave Sitek), Jane's Addiction continues on. Like musical cockroaches, the band is immune to the bug spray of age and a changing music industry. As a link between the thrashing alt-punk of the 1980s and the explosive grunge revolution of the early 1990s, Jane's Addiction captivated a burgeoning music scene with songs like "Jane Says," "Stop!" and "Been Caught Stealing." And though the band ultimately imploded before it could reap the rewards of the money-fame orgy that was the early-'90s alt revolution, it left behind one of the movement's most treasured institutions: Lollapalooza. (Jane's is performing on the first day of KBPI's two-day Locura Festival at Fiddler's Green. Other acts include Avenged Sevenfold, Alice In Chains, Volbeat, Coheed and Cambria, Circa Survive and more.)
Since releasing its debut seven-inch in August 2012, the Blue Rider has not refined its sound so much as honed its edge a bit. A chaotic energy marked its earliest efforts; the band has since found a way to maintain that level of excitement while channeling its vigor more directly into its music. The live show is a cathartic affair that has its roots in garage rock -- you can hear the soul and R&B that influenced these guys growing up in their songwriting and presentation -- but the group isn't going for a stylized genre sound.
It's honestly astonishing that Keith Urban has never achieved the whole Twain/Swift mainstream crossover thing. He's well into his forties now, so don't hold your breath for that, but he's one of the best pop songwriters operating outside actual pop music, enlivening string-laden and seemingly by-the-numbers love songs with clever metaphors, engrossing narratives and unexpected slant rhymes. And if you still get bored by all of that, that's when he'll start shredding. Keith Urban is also slated to perform at Jazz Aspen.
Because Chris Isaak's pompadoured mug might as well be the picture of eternal California youth, it's a little discomfiting to realize that the Golden State singer-songwriter is now five years past his fiftieth birthday -- and that it's been almost twenty years since his black-and-white beach romp with Helena Christensen powered his sultry "Wicked Game" all the way to the top of the charts. Isaak may have never duplicated the success of that iconic single, but he's hardly a one-hit wonder. Since 1990's Heart Shaped World, Isaak has released a steady string of albums that never fail to intersperse lonesome ballads lush with his female-enrapturing croon -- often compared, with good reason, to Roy Orbison -- with livelier rockabilly and show-band numbers that allow his longtime band to flex its chops.
As bold and specific in their political beliefs as they are technically practiced in a deep growling ditch of bass dropping deathcore (with death metal more at the forefront), King Conquer is marching into Denver with a new album, 1776, to feed its minions with a fresh appetite. The band's last album America's Most Haunted spiked its sound with a shot of groove metal to cleverly contrast with the rest of its gut ripping brutality.
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