The nine best concerts in Denver from March 31 to April 3
The Coathangers open for The Black Lips on April 2 at the Bluebird.
Maybe you saw Neutral Milk Hotel last night in Boulder; if not you have another shot at it tonight in Denver. If the line "putting fingers in the notches of her spine" sends ice through your veins as consistently as it does ours, we can strongly recommend finding your way there. The band's great these days, even if some of the mystique has faded.
But there's plenty more, if historical fiction indie ain't your bag. There are The Coathangers, these days having more fun that their historically fun-loving headliners, The Black Lips. There's K. Flay at The Black Sheep, and Araab Muzik at Vinyl. Fastest fingers in the West. The rest of our picks follow.
Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea might be the best indie-rock album of the 1990s. It's certainly one of the most storied. After its 1998 release, frontman Jeff Mangum put the band on hiatus, ostensibly because he never wanted to be a rock star in the first place. Rumors swirled in the indie world that Mangum couldn't handle the success of his magnum opus. But despite Mangum's refusal to do interviews and play shows, Neutral Milk Hotel managed to cultivate a steady and rabid fan base. Considering the relative silence of the past fifteen years, the current reunion tour is a major get for fans. Mangum has brought together the original lineup from In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, and they're sharing a stage with fellow Elephant Six artists Elf Power.
When Women's History Month rolled around, Slam Nuba's Jovan Mays -- who also happens to be the newly appointed Poet Laureate of Aurora -- wanted to make sure his slam-poetry community knew about it. For one evening in March, he's pulled together the most stellar lineup of his sisters in spoken word for Hear Me Roar, a showcase of poetry and music performance by a top-notch roster of local and national stars. Mays says that as a poet, he's found great inspiration in the many female artists he's met along the way, and this is his way of sharing that inspiration and those powerful voices with the city at large. "We have too many badass female poets in our city for them to not be showcased a good way," he enthuses. It's all part of a general surge by the Slam Nuba collective to get the word out about Denver's rich slam-poetry scene, one of the nation's most vibrant spoken-word platforms.
A Stanford graduate, K. Flay is smart and self-aware, which explains the name of her debut album, Suburban Rap Queen. To be certain, she has insecurities, but she is secure enough to rap about humdrum everyday real life, taking Flintstones vitamins and talking politics while boys kiss her neck, rather than project some falsified ultra-glamorous persona. She is a proud nerd, referencing X-Men and Lex Luthor while sporting a certifiably fresh flow, to which she says simply, "no duh," as if it were the easiest thing in the world.
The Meat Puppets' improbable gold album, Too High to Die, has a title both accurate and true. The band's main men are brothers Cris and Curt Kirkwood, who began playing punk in the '70s, turned hardcore in the early '80s and landed a deal with SST Records, which was bankrolled by Black Flag. Hopped up on weed and classic rock, the longhairs slowed down and began playing creaky tunes that caught the ears of young musicians like Kurt Cobain. Nirvana covered the Puppets' "Lake of Fire" and "Plateau" on its MTV Unplugged in New York album, and new interest led to a major-label deal for 1994's Too High to Die. Drug problems have haunted the band, but it's soldiered on in one form or another. Lollipop, released in 2011, is a loopy tour de force that ranges from acoustic country-kissed songs to keyboard-backed rockers.
These New York-based emo veterans have weathered a number of lineup changes in recent years, and in response their sound has shifted around a bit. 2011's self-titled disc -- the first with John Nolan and Shaun Cooper since the act's 2002 debut -- works a grown-up radio-rock vibe, with one song that comes remarkably close to quoting Toto's "Rosanna." On the heels of the outfit's brand album, Happiness Is, Taking Back Sunday is on a spring co-headlining tour with the Used.
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 new 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 a genius 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 just-released 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.
When Larry & His Flask opened for Lucero at the Bluebird a few years ago, the members of the Oregon punkgrass act made the stage their own, swapping positions and exhorting to crowd to participate in unlikely and unexpected ways. As they belted out their crazed brand of carnival folk music, several members jumped off the stage, mixing with audience members and starting impromptu dance parties. The chaos and energy of Larry and His Flask's set served as a dizzying introduction for the headlining act.
When it comes to EDM production these days, it seems like it's all been done before. Just the same, Rhode Island's AraabMuzik (aka Abraham Orellana) is doing everything he can to shatter any preconceived notions you might have about dance music. Steering clear of the standard "press play"-type sets EDM fans have come to loathe, AraabMusik utilizes his MPC to trigger effects and samples live -- jumping from obscure funk vocal samples right into popular dubstep drops -- and he does so with an ease and flair that keeps his compositions moving. Dude's a force to be reckoned with. Even getting shot earlier this year during an attempted robbery hasn't seemed to slow him down a bit.
Hailing from Copenhagen, Denmark, Volbeat drew great inspiration for its hybrid sound from its love of bluesy rock and roll, early pop punk and broad spectrum of metal. The name of the band came from the third album of Michael Poulsen's old death metal band, Dominus. Disenchanted with the sometimes hermetic and stylistically limiting aspects of that milieu, Poulsen started a band in which he could have more fun. He has said that he intentionally wanted a band that could get away with even bringing in country elements in the songwriting. You would never confuse these guys as anything less than a hard rock, even metal, band live.
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