The ten best concerts in Denver this weekend
Chuck Ragan first made his mark as the frontman of Hot Water Music, one of the more highly influential punk acts to emerge in the '90s. Fueled by youthful exuberance and inspired in part by the music that surrounding the skateboarding culture of the time, the band was loud and aggressive, yet there was still an undeniable vulnerability built into the band's sound that had a broader appeal than its component parts could alone. Toward the middle part of the last decade when that band went on hiatus (it has since reconvened), Ragan ventured off on his own and applied his gravelly baritone to songs with more of a country and folk flavor. Here he appears solo on the Revival Tour with Tim McIlrath of Rise Against, Rocky Votolato, Dave Hause and Jenny O.
While Jon Wirtz has lent his piano and keyboard skills to a variety of singer-songwriters, from Matt Morris to Angie Stevens to John Common, he's also a fine jazz player, as evidenced on his stunning 2010 solo piano debut, Sea Level. There are elements of jazz on Tourist (which he'll celebrate the release of tonight), and Wirtz surrounds himself with some first-rate jazz players like bassist John Grigsby and drummer Alejandro Castano, but the disc also shows what a versatile player and songwriter he is in his own right. Songs like "Gratitude" are steeped in gospel, while "Camouflage for a Sunny Day" is centered on an unhurried groove, and the title track feels somewhat like the Travels-era Pat Metheny Group. Although Wirtz and company even toss in bits of country, R&B and funk, the album, as a whole, manages to be both cohesive and compelling.
Although long in the shadow of scenemates Hüsker Dü and the Replacements, Soul Asylum ended up being the most commercially successful of the three. Early on, the act was derisively dubbed Hüsker Jr. by certain critics primarily because its early records seemed to imitate Hüsker Dü's high-trajectory melodic hardcore. But by the time 1988's Hang Time was released, Soul Asylum had crafted a sound that would make the band famous. Singer Dave Pirner's just-shy-of-whiny vocal delivery and insidiously tasteful and catchy guitar riffing earned critical praise and an increasing fan base. With 1992's ubiquitous Grave Dancer's Union, Soul Asylum owned rock radio, and anyone within earshot of a boombox back then heard "Runaway Train" and its plaintive yet sincere chorus whether they wanted to or not.
The Greyboy Allstars first came together in 1993 for the release of DJ Greyboy's Freestylin'. Greyboy (aka Andreas Stevens) wanted to have a live band play tracks from the album at his release party, so he assembled a group made up of saxophonist Karl Denson, who had played on the record, guitarist Elgin Park, drummer Zak Najor, bassist Chris Stillwell and keyboardist Robert Walter. The players eventually started writing their own material, which was heavily influenced by organ-driven soul jazz from the '60s. In 1997, Denson and Walter took a break from touring and recording to pursue other successful projects. Nearly a decade later, the act came back with What Happened to TV?. Next week, the band will release Inland Emperor, so expect some new material during the Allstars' the two-night stand.
Born in Leeds, England as Christopher Mercer, Rusko has become one of the most sought-after dubstep producers in recent years. He inherited a love of music from his mother, a folk and country singer who performed in a band called Ventura Highway. She stopped being an active musician when he was still an infant, but being around guitars his entire life left a mark on Rusko, who learned how to play at a young age and who used two small tape recorders to record songs, radio shows and other sounds to fuel his creativity. Rusko later attended the Leeds College of Music, and that's when he focused his efforts on beat-making.
Helsingborg, Sweden's Soilwork got off the ground under the name Inferior Breed. Originally more of a thrash and straight ahead death metal band, Soilwork started developing a more melodic sound in the mold of Gothenburg death metal bands like Dark Tranquility and In Flames. By the time of 2000's Predator's Portrait, the group had established itself as one of the most well-regarded and popular melodic death metal bands out of Europe. In 2012, founding member, and one of the outfits primary songwriters, Peter Wichers, stepped down for good. But this doesn't appear to have slowed the band down much if its latest record, The Living Infinite, is any indication.
The Drive-By Truckers have always been considered by many to be the torch-bearers for the alt-country genre, but with The Big To-Do, the outfit's most hard-rocking album since 2001's Southern Rock Opera, the Truckers surpassed most bands in that watered-down category with memorable stories, characters and songs telling tales of four-day drinking binges, courtroom miseries and bar-room brawls. And just as quickly as they returned to the bombast of rock, they muffled it again with the release of 2011's, Go-Go Boots. Replacing the shimmer of a ride cymbal with the hush of a shaker, Go-Go Boots pays homage to early soul greats like Eddie Hinton. The new approach introduces a new cast of characters sitting morosely in the same bar they brawled in last night, wondering what the hell happened and, like the band itself, what they will do next. (The Truckers are also slated to perform at the Boulder Theater on Saturday, April 13.)
Angel Olsen grew up in St. Louis, and some of that city's soulful, bluesy spirit evidently rubbed off on her. A self-taught musician and vocalist, Olsen honed her skills as a member of the Cairo Gang, the backup unit for Will Oldham on some of his more recent Bonnie "Prince" Billy records. Olsen's warm, vibrant voice made her a standout with Oldham, and in 2011, she released Strange Cacti, her folk-inflected solo debut. Next month, Olsen is slated to release Half Way Home, a new collection of spare songs with spacious melodies, all seemingly inspired by existential exploration and poetic observation. Olsen's wide-ranging vocals and vivid tones, coupled with her gift for crafting gentle pop songs, are reminiscent of Françoise Hardy and imbued with a similar grace.
With a controversial name, speculative gang ties and often violent fans, Suicidal Tendencies, which formed in the early '80s, went from being voted Worst Band/Biggest Assholes in punk fanzine Flipside one year to Best New Band the next. Though recording was spotty at best, Suicidal Tendencies did make the seminal hardcore track "Institutionalized," which appears in the cult classic Repo Man, an episode of Miami Vice (of all places) and, more recently, Iron Man. The band eventually embraced thrash metal -- angering punk's purists -- with future Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo performing on a pair of stellar albums, Controlled by Hatred and Lights...Cameras...Revolution! Suicidal returns to Denver armed with material from a brand-new album, 13, its first in more than a decade.
In an ongoing testament to the generous spirit of the people that make up our local music scene, the number of benefit shows devoted to Mike Marchant, one of our town's most celebrated songwriters, who was recently diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma and is in the midst of undergoing chemotherapy, continues to grow. The latest fundraisers organized on his behalf to help ease the stress of his steadily accumulating medical bills take place this weekend at 3 Kings Tavern and the hi-dive, which will feature a slew of fellow local acts (Il Cattivo, SPELLS, Miss America, Sawmill Joe, Marty Jones and more) donating their time to help the cause.
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