The ten best concerts in Denver this week
In terms of thrash metal, Testament is one of the bands that you can make a strong case for expanding the Big 4 to the Big 5. The Bay Area act was part of the original thrash movement, which fused the precision and savagery of speed metal with the intensity of hardcore punk. For nearly three decades, Testament has been putting out some of the most consistently interesting heavy music anywhere, even in the face of lineup changes. Distinguishing itself from its peers with Chuck Billy's musical vocals and a guitar team that excels at slashing rhythms and tastefully blistering leads, Testament's songwriting has always seemed to find new ways of making brutal music haunting. Even when the general music audience turned its back on much of metal in the early '90s, outfits like Testament continued to thrive because its popularity never relied on fashion statements and trends. (Overkill and Flotsam & Jetsam are also on this bill.)
Mickey Hart was one of the Grateful Dead's two drummers; along with Bill Kreutzmann, Hart helped weave the unique polyrhythms of the legendary band. Whether as a solo artist, with the Dead or as an activist, Hart always puts his heart and his being into his work, and his active mind has taken him down probably every path that has struck and stirred his imagination. The author of a handful of books and a drummer on more albums than most other percussionists of his time and through to the present, Hart and his accomplishments speak for themselves.
Ladies love G-Eazy. They absolutely adore him. Whether it's his lazy-smooth flow or Dapper Dan look, we don't know, but last time he was in Denver, warming up for Hoodie Allen on the Excellent Adventure Tour last fall at the Summit Music Hall, bras were flying onstage like roses at a ballet. This time around, he's the main attraction, headlining his own show at the Gothic Theatre (moved from the Bluebird Theater due to demand, if that tells you anything). Last year's show wasn't just for the fairer sex, though, Eazy, who first gained with his 2011 mixtape Endless Summer, was more than solid all the way through. Probably the most impressive aspect of his music was his excellent use of samples which included a wonderfully nostalgic rendition of "Runaround Sue" and a divine flip of Denver pop band Tennis's "Marathon" in "Waspy."
Growing up in Boulder, Rudresh Mahanthappa got an early start on the saxophone and studied with Mark Harris -- who exposed him to a wide variety of music -- before heading to Berklee and DePaul University to study music. Since moving to New York in 1997, the innovative Mahanthappa has gone on to release a number of recordings, either in collaboration with others or under his own name, including the brand-new Gamak, in which he melds Indian and Middle Eastern styles with jazz undertones. At his two-night run at Dazzle this week, he'll be joined by guitarist David Fiuczynski, bassist François Moutin and drummer Dan Weiss, who all appear on Gamak. Expect some intricate and fiery improvisations.
Greensky Bluegrass takes bluegrass to a new high by weaving psychedelic rock into a roots-oriented go-for-broke approach. While retaining a good dose of backwoods authenticity on genre standards as well as its own earthy creations, Greensky marks live gigs with crowd-pleasing interpretations of the music of Pink Floyd and the Beatles, among other classic artists. The Kalamazoo-originated act turned heads at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in 2006 and 2007, then barnstormed the country, earning more plaudits and fans. With some of the new-school attitude of Yonder Mountain String Band and the down-home sound of the hills (via Michigan), the group is continuing to carve out its own space in the jamgrass barnyard.
What can you say about Ras Kass? You either love him, hate him or have no idea who he is. His debut,Soul on Ice, is a certified classic in the West Coast underground, anchored by the eight-minute revisionist epic "Nature of the Threat" and "Sonset," an indictment of New York hip-hop bias during the '90s. Accusations of racism and label disputes grounded Ras's career almost before it began, but when he's on, he is as intelligent and bold a rapper as you'll find, as evidenced by mind-bending tracks like "Interview With a Vampire." (GeedUp, ThaNumberTwo, Nasa, Victory Smoke, Dre Future, Whygee, Anxious Baby and Tre-Substance Abuse are also on this bill.)
Darwin Smith, like certain prominent musicians on the indie circuit of recent years, once attended Wesleyan University. Either there's an alien virus on campus that imparts a knack for an inventively catchy pop song, or it's pure coincidence. As part of the band Darwin Deez, Smith and his Deez-surnamed compatriots first came to the attention of listeners outside their home town for the single "Constellations." But it was "Radar Detector" and its eccentrically amusing video that broke the group to wider audiences. With a guitar sound like one of those early '80s mod bands and an R&B aesthetic akin to that of the Dismemberment Plan, Darwin Deez manages to embrace a borderline awkward earnestness without trying to make a virtue of a false weirdness it doesn't possess.
Taking its name from a term for a mustang that has yet to be broken, this appropriately named Oklahoma band plays back to basics rock that comes off as an unvarnished sound with no affectation. Although Broncho frontman Ryan Lindsey is also the keyboard player and guitarist in the experimental indie pop band the Starlight Mints, with Broncho, the songwriting is more akin to the Fall embracing the punk that helped spawn it. With dispassionate but paradoxically intense vocals and a seeming disregard for conventional rhythms and song dynamics that would make Mark E. Smith proud, Lindsey and company make music that is frayed and frantic in a way that more garage punk should be.
Marcel Everett (aka XXYYXX) may have just turned seventeen this past October, but his most recent effort, a self-titled album he released last year, is already his second. Often when we hear about teenage artists, it's related to some kind of manufactured pop or punk. In the current era, it should come as no surprise to anyone that a teenager, with boundless energy and copious amounts of free time, would come up with electronic music this sophisticated. Using Fruity Loops and Ableton, Everett has drawn inspiration from electronic artists of the past decade for a sound that, in times past, might have been called downtempo with elements of grime. Sure, his work still strongly bears the marks of his influences, but his remixes and original compositions reveal a promising and imaginative talent.
Passion Pit began as a solo project of singer/keyboardist Michael Angelakos, but became a duo when he came to the attention of guitarist Ian Hultquist at one of his earliest performances, and the two later recruited the rest of the band from among friends in the Boston area. Since then, the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based act has demonstrated a penchant for writing upbeat, evocative melodies with refreshingly sincere lyrics. The outfit issued Manners, its debut full-length in 2009, and the follow-up, last year's Gossamer, represents and artistic leap forward for the band, which sounds notably comfortable and confident in expressing its sometimes surprisingly emotional honesty. (After the show at 1STBANK Center, members are slated to DJ at an official after party at the Larimer Lounge.)
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