The ten best concerts in Denver this weekend
Teaming up with an orchestra can sometimes be a thin attempt to disguise a creative lag, but in this case, the pairing has produced an inspired, brilliantly structured melding of two aesthetics that relies less on contrast than it does on similarities. With DeVotchKa's sentimental landscapes and the Symphony's climactic rises and powerful, sweeping descents, performances make for epic storytelling, bolstered with enough heart to afford the grand housing of so many instruments without sounding bombastic.
When it comes to the history of hip-hop in the Dirty South, it begins with Geto Boys and their self-titled, Rick Rubin-produced debut. The group had existed, though with a different cast, since '86, but it wasn't until the turn of the decade -- when it got major distribution and released We Can't Be Stopped -- that the outfit turned heads on a national level. The Geto Boys' success was the blueprint for virtually any Southern hip-hop success story until the Dungeon Family featuring Goodie Mob and OutKast paved a different path mid-decade.
When someone writes an Omnibus history of underground rock music in America from the late 1980s forward, Jon Spencer should be one of the central figures of that story. He played with Tod Ashley in a noise-rock band called Shithaus before forming Pussy Galore, a raw and inspired garage-rock band, in 1985; that band spawned experimental rock band Royal Trux and the bluesy punk combo Boss Hog, both of which presaged some of today's more interesting garage-rockers. A seminal influence on the White Stripes, the Blues Explosion wrote music like it didn't recognize any barriers between punk, soul, blues, R&B and whatever other ingredient that it could add to its incendiary rock-and-roll cauldron. After an extended hiatus, the Blues Explosion put out 2012's Meat + Bone, and, as usual, there was absolutely no filler.
Michael Fitzpatrick, the "Fitz" in this band's moniker, was a bit of a late bloomer. After graduating from college, Fitz worked as a sound engineer for several years in record producer Mickey Petralia's stable until one day when he randomly acquired a church organ. That led Fitz to write a song on the instrument, and that particular tune, "Breakin' the Chains of Love," revealed a knack for writing energetic, exuberant, soul-inflected pop-rock songs. Fitz then assembled a band, and within a week of its first rehearsal, the outfit played its first live show, and the rest, as they say, is history. The recently released More Than Just a Dream is a welcome reminder that rock, R&B and electronic pop need not be mutually exclusive creative inclinations.
A few months before the Alarm was to hit America for the first time as the opening act on U2's War tour in 1983, singer Mike Peters met Big Country frontman Stuart Adamson. Over the next two decades, fate kept bringing them together, until Adamson's last gig with Big Country, in 2000. It was the year before Adamson, who reportedly had struggled with alcoholism for a number of years, committed suicide. In 2007, Big Country's founding members -- guitarist Bruce Watson, bassist Tony Butler, drummer Mark Brzezicki -- reunited for a tour, with Butler handling lead vocals. They released a live album, Twenty Five Live, before going on hiatus the following year. But in 2010, Peters was climbing Mount Snowdon in Wales for Love Hope Strength, a charity he co-founded, and halfway up the mountain, he got a call from Watson, who asked if he'd sing with Big Country to mark the thirtieth anniversary of the band and play a charity event. Naturally, Peters says, he agreed.
There are too many easy, exterior angles to come at Justin Townes Earle's work: He's the son of Steve Earle, he was named after Townes Van Zandt and he struggled with a serious drug addiction early in his life. There is truth in that history, which has undoubtedly contributed to his dark sound and songwriting. But experiences aside, Justin Townes Earle is a modern composer of Americana, a deep and solemn voice sharing verses that could have been written 75 years ago.
Native Daughters was formed just before local guitarists Eddie Maestas and Thomas Chagolla wrapped up their affairs in the inventive and cathartic post-hardcore band Mustangs and Madras. The two wanted to start a heavy instrumental band inspired in part by Isis and Neurosis, and so Chagolla switched to drums and they recruited Gene Martinez on bass and Colin Madden on drums. When that mix of sounds seemed out of balance, the group brought in various guitarists -- including Justin Hackl of Only Thunder and Trees, who provided the technical proficiency that allowed the music to jell into a vivid soundscape. The band's debut album, War Elephant, recorded at Black in Bluhm, is a strong representation of its elemental live sound.
When Tim Bruns and Mike Morter came together with the other members of Churchill -- drummer Joe Richmond, bassist Tyler Rima and pianist/vocalist Bethany Kelly -- their goals were rather humble: They just wanted to play at the hi-dive and then eventually make music for a living. "Right away," says Morter, "when we first started the band, we had six-month and twelve-month goals. It was setting that precedent right away that made us achieve." And achieve they have. Last fall, Churchill secured a major record deal with A&M/Octone Records, an imprint that's home to acts like Maroon 5 and Hollywood Undead, and since then, the outfit has enlisted Brendan O'Brien, landed an opening slot on Pink's upcoming tour and made its national television debut on Jimmy Kimmel Live. Tonight from 5-7 p.m., the outfit performs at Alice's Live at Five in LoDo.
Kalyn Heffernan took the name of her band, Wheelchair Sports Camp, from the summer camp that she first attended in 1997 and eventually became a counselor. The free week-long summer camp offers tennis lessons, swimming classes, rugby, basket-ball and more to physically disabled youth ages five to eighteen. And although this year's camp is over, Heffernan is planning to give back with the Colorado Junior Wheelchair Sports Camp Benefit Concert, a matinee show from 1-5 p.m. featuring Wheelchair Sports Camp (the band), Ian Cooke and the 303 Children's Choir, puppet band Ramekin Liquid Love, Dino Squad and Rubedo. Illegal Pete's and WaterCourse will provide some food. Money raised will benefit next year's version of the camp, which will be the Colorado Junior Wheelchair Sports Camp's 31st season.
Formed in 2009, Brayden and Camron Ward, Tim Hatch and Lauren Curtius have come a long way since they first met in high school. The act's debut album was heralded by our sister paper the LA Weekly as one of the best releases of 2011. The band's new full-length, The Late Great Whatever, continues with the punk, DIY sensibilities that the band has been known for. Featuring a Pixies-meets-Sonic Youth sound with a splash of surf punk, in addition to their usual humorous pop culture references that stretch across the board (there are a couple of Star Wars references, BigFoot is on the cover, plus a shout out to legendary wrestler Randy "Macho Man Savage"), The Late Great Whatever could be the album that propels the band to a wider audience.
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