The ten best concerts in Denver this weekend
Last fall, the Oh Hellos released their first full-length, Through the Deep, Dark Valley. And while that album's got some solid tunes like "The Valley" and "I Was Wrong," it's "Hello My Old Heart," a track from their self-titled debut that perked up everybody's ears and landed them in regular rotation on KTCL, a admirable feat for an unsigned and then unknown band from Texas. The response to the song has been overwhelming, as evidenced by these back-to-back sold out shows at the Bluebird Theater, a decent way to mark the band's first trip to Denver.
Scene veterans Chuck Coffey and Rob Burleson talked about making music together for a long time. Coffey played in a number of local acts, including Eyes & Ears, while Burleson has been a member of many groups over the years, including the Symptoms and Lionsized. For SPELLS, their eventual collaboration, Burleson mentioned his friend Ben Roy as a potential singer, and right off the bat, the three men had undeniable chemistry. The trio then brought in one of Coffey's old collaborators, Don Bersell, on bass, and the lineup was complete. With a sound that's equal parts East Bay Area pop punk and Rocket From the Crypt, SPELLS has been writing fun songs with more than their fair share of punk-rock snarl.
In a scene oversaturated with bands mining the 1960s, Shannon and the Clams manage to stand out in stark contrast to their peers. That's partly because their songwriting is simple and strong, but mostly because of Shannon Shaw's powerful, soulfully melodic and emotionally gripping voice. Shaw sounds like she took a time machine back to 1965, burned through producers at the Brill Building and Motown, then set out to do make music on her own, on the heels of getting ditched by the love of her life. If the Clams' last album, the monumental Sleep Talk, was a bracing indication of potential, the act's latest release, Dreams in the Rat House, is perhaps a notch better. Shaw's talent is no studio trickery, and live, she's even more charismatic and thrilling.
Kevin Lyman is a genius. Somehow he's managed to keep the Vans Warped Tour relevant year after year -- a marvel considering that most of the snot-nosed punks who came out in the early days now have punks of their own attending. But while Lyman should be commended for continually switching things up to keep the offspring engaged, he's also making sure this year's tour appeals equally to the retirees, the Blink-182 dads whose pulse probably quickened after seeing the lineup for the inaugural Riot Fest this fall. In addition to offering free admission to parental units with ticket-holding kids, we hear there's an air-conditioned "reverse daycare" tent for the oldies stocked with cold drinks and movies. Well played, sir, well played.
Widespread Panic has the uncanny power to pack venues (to the point of bursting) full of faithful, ecstatic fans. How many other bands do you know that can play a four-night run at Red Rocks? Yeah, not many. With a little darker vibe than its musical forebears, the Grateful Dead, Widespread Panic makes music that leans vaguely toward the brooding good-ol'-boy swagger of Southern rockers like the Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Molly Hatchet. John Bell's voice has a sinister tone capable of rousing a rabble, and he's clearly not afraid to exploit the wah pedal.
Jonathan Richman began his career over four decades ago as the leader of edgy proto-punk messiahs the Modern Lovers -- ex-post-facto legends that wound up being the farm team for future members of the Real Kids, the Cars and Talking Heads. His erratic power-pop pulse has stabilized since then, though his sweat-soaked live shows are still equal parts dance party, therapy session and new-age revival. After his dubious newfound fame as the Chaplinesque troubadour in 1998's There's Something About Mary, he now seems to be most recognized as a mugged-up postmodern goof -- which is funny only in the sense that Richman possesses about as much willful irony as does Norman Rockwell.
Krizz Kaliko is best-known as co-owner with Tech N9ne of Strange Music, which houses such powerhouse MCs as Rittz, Jay Rock and Brotha Lynch Hung. But Kaliko is more than just a businessman; he's made four albums of his own with the fifth, Son of Sam, scheduled to come this July. Tech N9ne calls Krizz Kaliko the genius (also the name of his second album). Come see what all the fuss is about.
Globally known reggae legend Alpha Blondy, who turned 60 early this year, has put out a number of albums over the last three decades, including his latest Mystic Power, released earlier this year. Blondy, who hails from Africa's Ivory Coast, isn't shy about taking on controversial subjects, including discrimination in South Africa ("Apartheid Is Nazism") and the futility of war ("Desert Storm"). He sings mainly in his native language of Dioula, in French and English, and also sometimes in Arabic or Hebrew.
Pulling from the '60s garage-punk sound of tube amps, organs and sweat-drenched tempos, Colfax Speed Queen is one of the most committed live acts to emerge in Denver over the past few years. The band impressively brings its chaotic sound into focus on its full-length debut, Satisfaction Intended, sustaining a rideable melody without sacrificing the animalistic joy of the group's cadence and inflection.
On her 2010 release, Caravan, San Francisco-based jazz vocalist Lisa Engelken puts some fresh spins on standards, including a sassy takes on "Just One of Those Things" and "Afro Blue." She recently crowdfunded her second album, Little Warrior, which is due out in October, and she plans to perform material from the disc at Dazzle, along with local pianist Eric Gunnison and bassist Zack Teran, as well and San Fransisco-based drummer Matt Swindells.
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