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The Sixteen Best Concerts in Denver This Weekend

Tone of Arc plays Vinyl Saturday night.
Tone of Arc plays Vinyl Saturday night.

Rodrigo y Gabriela will headline Red Rocks on Sunday, but it's the undercard we're most excited for: Namely, Nathaniel Rateliff, who hasn't played his own stuff around here in a while.

We'd also like to make sure you're aware of Vail Rocks, which supports the exceedingly worthy Love Hope Strength charity. There's plenty more, including SummerGrind's skater's paradise in Englewood and an exceptionally good Folks Festival lineup at Planet Bluegrass in Lyons.

The Baseball Project

Oriental Theater : August 15

No national metaphor could survive unmolested from the time of Walt Whitman to the time of Bruce Springsteen, and baseball is no exception: In the 130 years since Whitman connected "base-ball" to our divine guts, it's been drained of blood, sweat and specificity by generations of greeting-card caricatures of the sport as innocence lost or a pretty good way to spend Father's Day. But fans, justifiably wary after decades of commercials set to "Centerfield," accepted the Baseball Project -- a college-rock supergroup featuring members of R.E.M., the Dream Syndicate and the Young Fresh Fellows -- without hesitation. Here's why: the di-vine guts! The band writes about baseball players, not baseball -- from Carl Mays, baseball's unwitting Cain, to Mark McGwire, dying in a gated community for our steroid sins.

Eric Johnson

Fox Theatre : 7:00 p.m. August 15 and Bluebird Theater : 9:00 p.m. August 16

For years, Austin-based guitar wiz Eric Johnson was known to be a perfectionist in the studio, which might explain the four- and five-year gaps between the hand-ful of recordings he's made over the past three and a half decades. But Johnson took a slightly looser approach on 2010's Up Close, trying to be more spontane-ous, letting things happen in the moment, and sometimes using the first few takes in the studio rather than laboring over them for weeks, as he's done in the past. The guitarist, whose tone is instantly recognizable, is in damn fine form on the disc, as he is on his brand-new album, Europe Live, which includes electrifying renderings of career-spanning songs alongside new material and a badass cover of John Coltrane's "Mr. P.C."

Beck

Red Rocks Amphitheatre : 7:30 p.m. August 15

There was a time when Beck would put out three albums over the course of one year. That time was 1994, to be exact, a decade before the release of his latest, Morning Phase, an album that arrived six years after Modern Guilt and the artist's largest musical break to date. But maybe a few years off was exactly what Beck needed -- Morning Phase is a dreamy alt-folk masterpiece best served with 2002's Sea Change. A hallmark of Beck, however, is his ability to dabble and evolve in ways both weird and unexpected, and given that the release prior to this sunshiny acoustic dream had a more dystopian rock feel, it's best not to get too cozy with the direction of his current sound.

Fishbone

Cervantes' Other Side : 8:00 p.m. August 15

With its horn-filled ska and good-time beats, Fishbone may not be swimming in the mainstream -- but it's the mainstream that's missing out. Since the then-junior-high-schoolers formed this band in 1979, its musical underbelly has always been rocking rhythms layered with alternative-tilted tracks. Saxophonist-singer Angelo Moore further defined the group's funky direction, eventually hooking Fishbone to a Capitol Records contract and an eponymous EP in 1985. While subsequent albums have displayed even more stylish production and savvy songwriting, Fishbone's uninhibited, enthusiastic live performances keep fans floating in.

Junior Brown

Swallow Hill Music Hall : 8:00 p.m. August 15

With his handmade "guit-steel" guitar and deep, country drawl, Junior Brown makes a hell of an impression. Over the course of four decades, Brown has taken his blues-inspired honky tonk across the nation and around the world, thrilling fans of honest and well crafted roots music. In truth, Brown is one of a very select group of artists who has as great instrumental skills as he does songwriting chops.

Marco Benevento

The 1up Colfax : August 15; August 16

As half of the Benevento-Russo Duo, Marco Benevento played bass lines with his feet and held down organ and Wurlitzer parts with separate hands. But in the trio format, he's completely at home behind the piano, which he says is totally his ax. The forward-thinking Benevento usually makes some absorbing music by putting guitar pick-ups in a piano, using effects, samples, circuit-bent toys and loops. Joining him on these two 1Up dates are former Ween bassist Dave Dreiwitz and drummer Andrew Borger, who's performed with Tom Waits and Norah Jones.

Rocky Mountain Folks Festival

Planet Bluegrass Ranch : August 15; August 16; August 17

In the 24 years since the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival was started in Estes Park the festival but for the last two decades it's been held at Planet Bluegrass Ranch in Lyons. Over the years the festival has grown, and created its own culture and spirit, while remaining true to its initial vision for spending a glorious Colorado summer weekend celebrating stories and songs -- from around the musical and geographic world. Brandi Carlile, Randy Newman, Dispatch, Ani DiFranco, Josh Ritter, Greg Brown, Elephant Revival, Lake Street Drive are just a few of the acts in this year's line-up.

Vail Rocks

Vail : August 15; August 16

Nearly two decades ago, The Alarm frontman Mike Peters was diagnosed with lymphoma, from which he's since recovered, and in 2005, he was diagnosed with leukemia. While at the cancer center in Wales where he was being treated for leukemia, he could see Mount Snowdon, and he thought, "When I get through this, I'm going to take all the Alarm fans, and we're going to go to the top of the mountain and we're going to sing a concert, and all the money raised will support the local cancer center." That was the initial inspiration for Love, Hope, Strength, an international, music-centric cancer charity with its headquarters in Denver and chapters in Dallas, Peru, the United Kingdom and Australia. Through bone-marrow drives at concerts, music festivals and events in the United States and the U.K., the organization has signed thousands of people to the national marrow database in the last few years and has found hundreds of matches for people who needed donors. For the third annual Vail Rocks, Peters will be on board, as will DeVotchKa, School of Rock, The Fixx's Cy Curnin, Scotty Stoughton from Bonfire Dub, DJ Aero and Onward Etc.

Summergrind

Gothic Theatre : 3:00 p.m. August 16

SummerGrind continues to expand, shutting down a portion of the street for an outdoor skate park and featuring headliners the Suicide Machines, Morning Glory, Lower Class Brats and Suburban Legends inside the Gothic Theatre and Moe's Original BBQ & Bowl. The rest of the lineup is solid as well, featuring bands like MF Ruckus, which started in 1997 as Forth Yeer Freshman when singer and sole original member Aaron Howell was, indeed, still in high school. Part of the reason the band has endured, in addition to Howell's faith in the project, has been its ability to absorb the ideas and influences of its evolving membership so that it never remained stuck as a fairly straight-ahead punk band.

Synthesia :: Denver Psych Fest

The Savoy Event Center : 2:00 p.m. August 16

When the hooligans in Hindershot finally brought that psychedelic train wreck to its final resting place in 2013, the three craziest and rowdiest members redoubled their diabolical efforts in the Ned Garthe Explosion. Stuart Confer, Spencer Alred and Tyler Breuer put together an irreverent sendup of punk, psychedelic rock and punk in which no icons or romantic sentiments were spared. They'll play on Saturday, August 16, at the Savoy as part of Denver Psych Fest. The band's 2014 album was brazenly titled Teenage Acid Party, and it's filled with forceful, humor-laden bravado worthy of Mudhoney. The Explosion stomps on the graves of the Ramones, mocks those seeking Internet and "scene" fame, and exults in a cartoonishly batshit lifestyle. Are these guys serious? Probably not, but they play the part on stage and on recordings without any giveaways, and that makes the Ned Garthe Explosion more fun than a lot of bands whose members can't laugh at themselves.

Tone of Arc

Club Vinyl : 3:00 p.m. August 16

On an "Other Friends" mix that Tone of Arc released in June, the duo follows a cover of the Talking Heads' "Psycho Killer" with a cover of "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" -- and although surprising, the precise flow from one track to another is nonetheless marvelous. That sort of playful selection and willful ignorance of musical boundaries characterizes the music that Derrick Boyd and Zoe Presnick make together, blending live instruments and vocals with the technological trappings of the modern DJ/producer. The result is a mishmash of possibilities, but there are a few constants: It's always unpredictable, it's always fun, and their anything-could-happen sensibility will put a smile on your face. They'll play a special daytime set at Vinyl on Saturday, August 16.

Trampled By Turtles

Red Rocks Amphitheatre : 7:30 p.m. August 16

Started in 2003 by a group of friends who had all played in rock bands in Duluth, Minnesota, Trampled by Turtles anticipated the wave of renewed interest in bluegrass and old country that's gathered steam in the past several years. Working without a drummer, the band's five players establish a percussive rhythm between them, even as they weave a breathtakingly complex tapestry of texture and melody. Embraced by fans of jam bands, bluegrass and old-time country alike, Trampled by Turtles continues to win fans over with the energy of its performances and an engaging sense of humor.

Rodrigo y Gabriela

Red Rocks Amphitheatre : 7:30 p.m. August 17

Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quintero met as teenagers in their native Mexico and bonded over a love of carefully crafted, masterfully played metal. They played together in a band called Tierra Acida, inspired and heavily influenced by their devil-horned heroes. When that band stalled out, however, they began playing in hotels and lounges to scrape by. At first, Sanchez and Quintero didn't actually know the traditional Latin American music that tourists and hotel owners expected to hear, so they just played what they knew: metal. When guests happened to ask what they were playing, the young pair simply lied, telling people the Sepultura and Metallica songs they'd arranged for their acoustic guitars were actually ancient Mexican songs they'd unearthed.

Bruno Mars

Fiddler's Green Amphitheater : 8:00 p.m. August 17

Live, via satellite, or pounding through your earbuds, Bruno Mars is unarguably the hardest working man in show business right now - a twenty-something with a 1950s-tinged stage presence and 1980s pop-compounding hits.

Ex-Cult

Moe's Original BBQ & Bowl : 9:00 p.m. August 17

If you can't deliver in Memphis, people will hurt you. That's probably why the town has produced some of the most fascinating musicians in the history of rock and roll. Yes, Elvis, sure. Tav Falco's Panther Burns, of course. Big Star, naturally. The Reatards, too, and now Ex-Cult. Seeing an Ex-Cult show is a reminder that rock-and-roll bands, punk and otherwise, can shock you with their visceral intensity. The musical offspring of psychedelic garage rock and the Stooges, Ex-Cult performs with the headlong near-recklessness of a hardcore band. Its latest record, 2014's Midnight Passenger, is more adventurous than its self-titled predecessor and full of wild aban-don. Even as some corners of the punk world are playing it safe and trying to adhere to the standards of the past, Ex-Cult is forging well beyond its previous habits.

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