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The ten best concerts in Denver this week

The ten best concerts in Denver this week

STEELY DAN @ RED ROCKS | THURS, 8/8/13

Enigmatic, intellectual, wry and clever, Steely Dan played what sounded a bit like smooth jazz when the band debuted in the mid-70s, even as singer/pianist Donald Fagen sang pointedly about clandestine acts, the lurid underbelly of American society and the nuanced psychodrama of romantic relationships. Famously naming their band after a dildo in the William Burroughs classic Naked Lunch, Fagen and cohort Walter Becker applied masterful musicianship to the deeply sardonic, irreverent tone of their songs. Largely a studio-based affair, Steely Dan explored, exposed and commented upon the prevailing American zeitgeist with almost literary flair, and continues to do so today. Although Fagen and Becker have done occasional tours since getting back together in 1993, seeing them at Red Rocks will no doubt be a special treat.

See also: Sebadoh's Lou Barlow on how experimenting with eight-tracks influenced his early recordings

SEBADOH @ LARIMER LOUNGE | TUES, 8/6/13

Before being kicked out of Dinosaur Jr. in 1989, Lou Barlow wrote and recorded many of his own compositions on a four-track. Whether through songs or sound experiments, Sebadoh was an outlet for Barlow's anxieties, and over time, it became a more or less full-time project. While not truly a pioneer of the lo-fi aesthetic, the band certainly embodied what that term entailed for underground rock of the '90s, from the angsty subject matter of its lyrics to its unconventional melodies -- not to mention a pronounced willingness to dispense with polished production and songwriting in favor of an intimacy and emotional honesty that's not often possible with conventional studio recordings. As more mainstream music embraces what would have been seen as flaws in another era, Barlow has been vindicated, whether or not that was ever his intention.

PHOENIX @ RED ROCKS | WEDS, 8/7/13

Phoenix guitarist Laurent Brancowitz was once in a noisy garage-rock band called Darlin' with the future members of Daft Punk. But rather than following the strict electronic dance route of his former bandmates, he joined a band with his younger brother, Christian Mazzalai, and his friends Thomas Mars and Deck d'Arcy. Coming together as Phoenix in 1999, the quartet released its debut album, United in 2000. Although the members of Phoenix hail from France, frontman Mars chose to sing lyrics mostly in English, which allowed the band's lushly crafted pop songs to reach a wide audience outside of its home country. The band broke through on a massive scale in 2009 with Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, which contained the hit "Lisztomania." The music of Phoenix, whose latest album, Bankrupt, was issued this past April, is buoyant and sunny without being insipid.

BRUNO MARS @ RED ROCKS | MON & TUES, 8/5-8/6

We live in a world where a "singer" can be successful without actually knowing how to sing. In this Internet age, it seems we are less interested in the strength and beauty of a singer's voice than in the crazy outfit or antics he or she will throw up next -- never mind that every pop song contains the same four chords, or that it takes a team of ten songwriters to pen lyrics that are less eloquent than love notes written in the diaries of some middle-school girls. And then there's Bruno Mars. The Hawaiian-born singer-songwriter is one of the exceptions in today's wasteland of pop music. He's a true diamond in the rough, with a million-dollar smile and dance moves that would make Baryshnikov envious. And, yes, ladies and gentlemen, this "singer" exhibits a vocal ability that sounds even better live than on the radio. Catch Mars during his two-night stand at Red Rocks this week with Ellie Goulding.

Don't forget to check our constantly-updated Denver Concert Calendar

GRIZZLY BEAR @ OGDEN THEATRE | TUES, 8/6/13

Ed Droste started Grizzly Bear as a solo project in 2002. Two years later, he enlisted drummer Chris Bear for the Brooklyn-based project's debut album, Horn of Plenty. The hazy, delicately textured and introspective melodies of that recording were two steps removed from much of the hushed, folk-inflected pop music of the era. As Droste didn't relish the idea of presenting his music in a singer-songwriter format, he expanded the act's lineup to include bassist Chris Taylor and guitarist/vocalist Daniel Rossen. The band was able to fill out its sound without losing Droste's expert use of space and subtle layers in its core compositions. Grizzly Bear's latest record, 2012's Shields, a more collaborative effort than previous releases, finds the outfit exploring a loungey psychedelia.

SMITH WESTERNS @ BLUEBIRD THEATER | TUES, 8/6/13

Chicago's Smith Westerns have no doubt been thrown under the worn-out labels of "beachy" and "reverb-heavy" -- but past a surface listen, the band goes deeper than many of its lo-fi contemporaries. Reminiscent of T. Rex and Donovan, the music of Smith Westerns has a charming sexiness in its vocal melodies and a discernible slow swing to its rhythms.

SBTRKT @ BETA | FRI, 8/9/13

SBTRKT brings a DJ set to Beta, which is pretty much just as fun as the live show, and you can bet there will be masks-a-plenty. Given that SBTRKT is all about masking identity to avoid the fame and recognition, it's difficult to imagine just how someone can create something so beautiful and not want to claim the fame for it. The music is worldly with solid drums, and could easily soundtrack a swanky lounge, or in this case, a big room club with a dance floor full of sweating dancers. Bring a date for this one fellas, because it's a pull-em-close kind of dance party, and you don't want to be alone when "Wildfire" gets dropped.

Don't forget to check our constantly-updated Denver Concert Calendar

PRIMITIVE MAN @ MEADOWLARK | THURS, 8/8/13

Primitive Man is the latest band fronted by Ethan McCarthy, best known as the frontman for death-grind acts Clinging to the Trees of a Forest Fire and Death of Self. McCarthy formed Primitive Man in February, 2012, with original drummer Bennett Kennedy, citing a mutual interest in starting the heaviest sludge band ever. Now, with Jon Campos of harrowing death-metal outfit Reproacher on bass and Spy from Kitezh on drums, McCarthy has been able to wholly unfurl his seething doom rock with a characteristic level of deep tonal power. Earlier this year, Primitive Man released the towering Scorn on European labels Throatruiner and Mordgrimm, and the record quickly sold out of its first run. Fortunately, well-known heavy-music imprint Relapse offered to reissue the album for a wider release this month.

THE COOKERS @ DAZZLE | THURS & FRI, 8/8-8/9

The Cookers are a group of jazz all-stars that trumpeter David Weiss put together six years ago. The outfit features a group of seasoned veterans, some of whom have more than five decades of experience, including saxophonist Billy Harper, who was a member of groups led by Lee Morgan and Max Roach and did a two-year stint with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. Then there's trumpeter Eddie Henderson and drummer Billy Hart, who were both part of Herbie Hancock's electric Mwandishi ensemble. Pianist George Cables, meanwhile, played with Dexter Gordon and Art Pepper, and bassist Cecil McBee was part of Charles Lloyd's famed 1960s quartet with Keith Jarrett and Jack DeJohnette.

YOLANDA BE COOL @ NORAD | FRI, 8/9/13

Locally, Savoy really shed some light on Yolanda Be Cool with a remix of "We No Speak Americano." Enviable exposure aside, Yolanda Be Cool more than holds its own with its original island style dance beats. The act's sound is horn heavy, almost like a modern take on the big bands, and when the vocals come in, you'll swing your hips like it's 1940. When Yolanda Be Cool is on the speakers, you don't need to ask permission to get down.

Don't forget to check our constantly-updated Denver Concert Calendar

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