This week's crop of shows includes a busy lineup at the big venues, including guitar heaven at Fiddler's Green with ZZ Top and Jeff Beck.
Elsewhere, the Coathangers return to Denver after a short time away, Styrofoam Sanchez plays Rhinoceropolis and, yes, Huey Lewis and the News are in Colorado. The rest of our picks follow.
Jack Johnson Red Rocks Amphitheatre : 7:30 p.m. August 18 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.
Styrofoam Sanchez Rhinoceropolis : August 18 Bands like the Residents, Caroliner Rainbow and White Mice put forth social critiques using performance-art techniques informed by the Theatre of the Absurd, challenging audiences with both their content and their delivery. Oakland's Styrofoam Sanchez is cut from the same cloth, making a direct commentary with its costumes and stylized masks, constructed from the non-biodegradable plastics that will litter the polluted graveyards of the future. With brooding, forbidding industrial sounds enhancing its members' already bizarre appearance, Styrofoam Sanchez embodies a warning of the future for humans pinched to the brink of extinction by the hubristic notion that technology has made us immune to the laws of nature.
Aerosmith Pepsi Center : 7:30 p.m. August 19 Despite a few hiccups along the way -- including feuds between frontman Steven Tyler and guitarist Joe Perry -- Boston's Aerosmith has forged on and established itself as a vital force in rock music for more than four decades. In the 1970s, the band built a solid fan base on the strength of songs like "Dream On," "Walk This Way" and "Sweet Emotion." The '80s proved to be successful for the group as well, with multi-platinum albums like Permanent Vacation and Get a Grip. 20112's Another Dimension! the first disc since 2001's Just Push Play to feature an entirely new batch of tracks.
The Coathangers Larimer Lounge : 9:00 p.m. August 19 As a side effect of being a band with women in it, the Coathangers often fall under the blanket category of "all-girl." In their video for "Follow Me," the Atlanta-based trio addresses this head-on by asking their dude friends and practice-space mates in Mastodon to wear wigs and dresses -- the premise being that the men in the metal band are playing the Coathangers. Whether it was an ingenius response to irrelevant gender-cataloging or just a joke, the musicians tapped into their bigger appeal -- their sense of humor. But forget the politics and the humor: The band's latest effort, Suck My Shirt, is a sort of rowdy answer to 2011's more grown-up Larceny & Old Lace. It also marks the departure of longtime keyboardist Candice Jones (aka Bebe Coathanger), though not much has gone missing sonically as a consequence of the loss, and the trio is punchier than ever. That Coathangers sound is still carried by drummer Stephanie Luke's (aka Rusty Coathanger) raspy belly wail, and the band's brand of Southern no-wave remains strikingly minimal. Guitarist Julia Kugel (Crook Kid Coathanger) and bassist Meredith Franco (Minnie Coathanger) sing, too, bringing sorrowful and charming vocal elements into the mix. Live, the Coathangers emphasize both the sarcasm and the raw power that drive their records.
The Gipsy Kings Denver Botanic Gardens : 7:00 p.m. August 19 Way before Gogol Bordello sang punky odes to the proverbial wanderer, the Kings traversed the globe, blending Spanish rumba and flamenco guitar for a worldwide audience. Formed in 1978, the Gipsy Kings is two sets of siblings, the Reyes and the Baliardos. They are descendants of Spanish gypsies who fled to France in the 1930s to escape Spain's civil war. The Reyes brothers grew up harvesting crops and making music before starting a family band with their pops, legendary flamenco artist Jose Reyes. After the father's death, his sons partnered up with the Baliardos boys at the St. Marie de la Mer Gitan pilgrimage, drank some wine, and started a band. Since releasing "Bamboleo" in 1987, a three-and-a-half minute version of the popular Venezuelan folk song, "Caballo Viejo," the Gipsy Kings have enjoyed international crossover superstardom.
Wiz Khalifa and Young Jeezy Red Rocks Amphitheatre : 6:00 p.m. August 19 What if we told you that Cameron Jibril Thomaz (better known as oddball rapper Wiz Khalifa) was born in North Dakota, a state hardly synonymous with hip-hop? That he moved around Europe as a child, far from the American ghettos. That he had a goofy-looking short white friend named Mac who followed him everywhere. That he never sold drugs and that he wears skinny jeans. That as an MC, he just likes to stay positive, focus on wordplay, and let the other guys beef. That he once released a song ("Big Screen") entirely Auto-Tuned. It doesn't really sound like the making of a rap superstar, does it? But that's exactly what 26-year-old "Black and Yellow" rapper Thomaz is. He's not alone. Increasingly, the trend in rap stardom is oddness.
Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin The Soiled Dove Underground : 8:00 p.m. August 20 The Blasters were founded more than three decades ago in Downey, California, by brothers Phil and Dave Alvin along with drummer Bill Bateman and bassist John Bazz. Steeped in American music traditions, the band easily traverses through blues, rockabilly, early rock and R&B, as evidenced particularly on the band's early-'80s releases on Slash Records like American Music and 1981's self-titled effort. Although Dave Alvin left the Blasters in the mid-'80s to pursue a solo career, the two brothers have collaborated on other projects, including their most recent Common Ground: Dave Alvin + Phil Alvin Play and Sing the Songs of Big Bill Broonzy. "It's an homage to brotherhood and to Big Bill," Phil says, "who was always a big favorite of ours and who's a great guitarist, a great songwriter, and a great singer who played all kinds of American music -- blues, swing, jazz, folk music."
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Huey Lewis & The News Vilar Performing Arts Center : 8:00 p.m. August 20 Huey Lewis was not Cool even when he was cool -- even when Sports was impossible to avoid, he was that goofy guy with the huge album and all the hit songs. When he sang that the heart of rock 'n' roll was still beating, he was singing it to a bunch of people who insisted on believing it was his fault that rock 'n' roll was sick. All that ambivalence seems like a waste of some great hooks.
Presidents of the United States of America Gothic Theatre : 8:00 p.m. August 20 While The Presidents of the United States of America frontman Chris Ballew and the late Morphine singer and bassist Mark Sandman were roommates for a short time, they also collaborated together in Supergroup. Sandman schooled Ballew in the ways of taking regular six-string guitar and modifying it with two bass strings. Original guitarist Dave Dederer (who incidentally taught English at Kent Denver School before joining the band) outfitted his guitar with three strings, something that current guitarist Andrew McKeag does now. The emphasis on the low end is something that's been a vital element of the band's sound since 1995's self-titled debut, which included the hits "Lump," "Kitty" and "Peaches."
ZZ Top and Jeff Beck Fiddler's Green Amphitheater : 7:00 p.m. August 20 Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill of ZZ Top are "more than just a couple of pretty beards," they are the rarest Rock and Roll Hall of Famers who's original line-up has remained in tact for 40 years. Guess you really "can't lose with the blues." Tonight the legendary act co-headlines with Jeff Beck, who just turned 70 in June, who holds a very high place in the guitar pantheon. Heck, even Rolling Stone ranked Beck fifth in its 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time list.
Jack White Red Rocks Amphitheatre : 8:00 p.m. August 20 Jack White is everywhere these days. If he's not ushering Neil Young into a cramped, vintage recording booth on Young's quaintly endearing new solo album, A Letter Home, he's working with and/or reviving the careers of such folks as Wanda Jackson, Loretta Lynn and Dexter Romweber. White came off as crass and ungrateful in recent comments in Rolling Stone, where he dissed former wife/drummer Meg White for apparently not worshiping him enough (and somehow comparing himself to Elvis and The Beatles in the process). But White is still a master of tangled rock riffage on his upcoming album, Lazaretto. "My veins are blue and connected/And every single bone in my brain is electric," he brags, burying accusations of narcissism in a hail of interlocking, funky, hard-rock guitars.