Most of the bills for Red Rocks concerts tend to make sense in both artistic and commercial terms. Even when Soundgarden played the show there in the summer of 2014, with Nine Inch Nails and Oneohtrix Point Never, it felt like a good fit, since Trent Reznor has long had a knack for finding interesting and innovative newer acts to bring on tour. But every once in a while, a lineup is announced that makes you wonder how the hell it happened, how those bands linked up to make one bill — and what the reactions from the acts' varying fan groups will be. Here are eight of the more unusual pairings for shows this summer at Red Rocks.
Chromeo is more than popular enough to draw a crowd at Red Rocks and bring along whomever the band thinks would be good to have on the bill. In summer 2014, the band brought Australian post-punk/dream pop outfit Cut Copy. This time around, experimental electronic/house/IDM artist Four Tet, Jamie xx and What's So Not make for a seriously stacked bill. Four Tet has woven adventurous soundscapes and rhythms into music at the forefront of dance. Jamie xx won a Grammy for Best Dance/Electronic Album for his record In Colour, and he, too, is one of the most innovative electronic-music producers of his generation. What's So Not is electronic-music composer Chris Emerson, who was once in this project with Harley Streten of Flume fame. These days, Chromeo is more of a straight party-music act, but maybe the band wants to lend more chill vibes this time — though the band has added yet another diverse musical aspect with the Dap-Kings horn section now playing the show.
Canadian band Barenaked Ladies is best known for its late-'90s radio singles, like "One Week," which are laced with lighthearted humor. Nostalgia is an odd thing, but clearly powerful enough to garner the Ladies a recurring date at Red Rocks, and the band has enough of a connection to the venue to have just released its third live album from there, BNL Rocks Red Rocks.
To the band's credit, at past performances, it has brought along '80s acts that one might argue are actually more interesting and more influential in the realm of popular music. Last year it was Violent Femmes and Colin Hay of Men at Work. This year, BNL is accompanied by pioneering synth-pop band OMD (Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark), who, along with Berlin, Gary Numan, Human League and others, set the stage for synth pop of substance. It is best remembered for “If You Leave,” from the John Hughes film Pretty in Pink, but its highly experimental 1983 album, Dazzle Ships, remains its under-appreciated classic. Howard Jones had a successful-synth pop career in the '80s, including the hits “Things Can Only Get Better” and “What Is Love,” and he possesses a certain genius for composition and sculpting sounds after mastering problematic electronic instruments.
6. Big Head Todd and the Monsters with Dwight Yoakam and Tracksuit Wedding
Saturday, June 11
Big Head Todd at Red Rocks in the summer is practically an institution. This time, though, someone who could possibly headline on his own is the opener. Dwight Yoakam is hardly an up-and-comer or even an obscure figure in popular music. When Yoakam burst onto the national scene in 1986 with his debut album, Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc., he found near-immediate success, hitting number one on the Billboard Country charts — a feat he would accomplish on his next two albums, as well. Multiple awards later, Yoakam commands a large audience. While not stylistically antithetical to Big Head Todd, it seems like an odd pairing on one bill.
5. The Polish Ambassador with Matisyahu, Blutech, Saul Williams, Ayla Nereo and Yoga with Hannah Muse
Sunday, June 12
EDM giants the Polish Ambassador probably just brought along whatever David Sugalski likes — including some yoga with Hannah Muse. At this point, Matisyahu has curiously straddled the reggae, hip-hop and jam-band worlds for a long time, but Saul Williams is the biggest curiosity on this bill. Certainly worthy of playing a show this large, Williams has written some of the most incisive social commentary with his poetry and in his own music of recent years. Considering Sugalski's dedication to sustainability and tying that pragmatic social consciousness to having a good time, maybe this pairing isn't so odd at its root.
4. DeVotchKa and the Colorado Symphony Orchestra with Ozomatli and Josh Blue
Thursday, June 16
DeVotchKa's collaborations with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra have yielded the band some of its finest recordings to date and beautiful concert experiences. Ozomatli, the world-fusion and funk band is a natural fit for that bill. However, fellow Coloradan Josh Blue, though a noteworthy artist, is an odd concert opener, since he's not a musician, but a comedian.
String Cheese Incident playing Red Rocks has become a common occurrence over the years. But for this first night of the weekend of String Cheese, the long-running bluegrass-and-electronica band is bringing in Kamasi Washington. Washington is a modern jazz phenom whose 2015 album The Epic garnered him pretty much universal acclaim from music critics. There may be some jazz in String Cheese, but Washington is one of the real leading lights of modern jazz.
2. Gregory Alan Isakov with Ani DiFranco and Shook Twins
Sunday, September 4
Gregory Alan Isakov is a bit of a musical nomad, but he has certainly been a fixture of the local music scene for several years. It's no surprise that his specific take on modern folk music became a hit with a wide audience. Isakov has toured with Ani DiFranco before, but what's unusual about this show is that DiFranco is not the headliner. At one time, DiFranco defined the DIY ethic, selling records out of her trunk on early tours and being staunchly independent and only dealing with major labels for distribution deals. It garnered her no small amount of credibility with fans, and her socially conscious yet always humorous and sharp songwriting, as well as a lively stage show, made it possible for her to headline shows at Red Rocks in the past.
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Calling Lotus jamtronica might be a bit of a misnomer, because the band was one of the earliest groups to mix jam-band music with electronic music in a way that has since become popular in the improvisational-music world. Tycho was more or less a great IDM band until its last two albums, wherein it incorporated more overt guitars. Opener El Ten Eleven is all instrumental as well, but it has carved out more of a niche in the experimental music world, which may strike many Lotus fans as an unusual match-up.