The ten best concerts to see in Denver this week
While riding the bus to school as a child, Zsuzsanna Ward spent her time in headphones, thinking about just how much she wanted to become a singer. As an adult better known as ZZ Ward, she reached the crux of that dream long ago and is now well on her way to moving into the mainstream. Ward cut her teeth in two genres by performing in her dad's blues band as a kid and writing hooks for and playing alongside local rappers in Eugene, Oregon, as she got older. Her slickly produced 2012 full-length, Til the Casket Drops, nods to both those styles with compact, bluesy guitar work and guest spots from rappers Kendrick Lamar and Freddie Gibbs. Add a substantial voice, good looks and image-building quirks (such as her adoration of fedoras and calling her music "dirty shine") to sweeten the pot, and a probable radio superstar is standing right in front of you.
The Postal Service is not a typical pop band. One guy writes and records the music, and he sends it through the mail to the other guy, who writes and records the lyrics. Jimmy Tamborello of Dntel is the act's sound guy, and Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie is the word man. When the two halves are stuck together, drum loops emerge out of fogs of digital static; synthesized blips jump through time and space like quantum particles. When Gibbard's vocal patterns are layered over the music, they're like decoding devices, picking out hidden rhythms and melodies and assembling them into a coherent pop syntax, perfectly splicing the fragile human voice with the sharp, frigid tones of microcircuitry, each intensifying the essential vulnerability of the other.
Soundgarden has always shown a willingness to experiment well outside the standard rock mode, which has given the act a greater arc of creative development than that of many of the other bands who were also lumped in with the grunge phenomenon. The band's 1989 album, Louder Than Love, was marketed as heavy metal, but its darkly poetic lyrics, emotionally raw music and psychedelia-tinged songs struck a chord with people looking for something smarter and more vital than so much of the era's music, which seemed rife with over-commercialized hedonism disguised as rebellion. Soundgarden's breakthrough album was 1994's Superunknown, with its hit singles "Black Hole Sun" and "Spoonman." After an acrimonious breakup in 1997, the band got back together in 2010, and its tours, along with its 2012 comeback album, King Animal, proved the outfit hasn't exactly mellowed with age.
As a founding member, rapper and producer of Three 6 Mafia, Juicy J helped cultivate a sound that combined a creeping darkness with DJ Screw-influenced, syrup-induced trippiness, pairing unlikely horror-flick sound effects with rolling hi-hats and popping snares. The group complemented their borderline-evil sound with lyrics about murder, dark mysticism and satanism and flows that switched between double-time and triplet-riddled cadences and cult-like chants. As the group evolved, they dropped most of the dark content, which helped them transition into the mainstream in the early aughts with several hits and an Oscar win for the song "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp," from the film Hustle & Flow. Three 6 has since broken up, but Juicy J has become one of the most featured artists in the past few years thanks to his subdued, hypnotic drawl. His third solo album, Stay Trippy, is scheduled for this year.
These days, many young bands are eager to play their first shows as soon as possible, and then they break up if those early efforts don't translate to early success. In contrast, Atlas Genius spent three years writing music and playing cover sets at local bars in Adelaide, Australia, before playing its first show, and in the fall of 2011, the act's song "Trojans" was discovered by Neon Gold records and became a hit single the following year. Atlas Genius released its debut full-length, When It Was Now, on Warner Bros. just over a year later. The band's sound, a well-oiled atmospheric brand of rock with R&B-inflected vocals, will immediately appeal to fans of Cut Copy.
The gradual shift in musical sensibility for Arctic Monkeys can be traced through the guys' aesthetic: They wear sunglasses a lot now. They wear them in music videos and on stage, and sometimes when it's not really sunny enough to merit protecting their corneas. As their urban grit has widened into blatant, raucous rock and roll, boots have slowly replaced sneakers. They wear black now, and their pants are tighter. So are their riffs and rhythms, if not, perhaps, their accents.
Michael Dean Damron, the frontman of I Can Lick Any Sonofabitch in the House, pens the sort of rough-hewn roots rock that was made to be heard live in clubs like 3 Kings, the type of place where it sounds like the seeds of his brutally honest blend of country rock and folk, which takes a few cues from guys like Steve Earle and Townes Van Zandt, were sewn.
In their umpteenth incarnation, the Cobras still showcase the husky vocals and bluesy growl of former exotic dancer Rachel Nagy, a feral, chain-smoking bad girl whose solid foundation in Motown and dragster rawk makes for inspired spectacles steeped in sweat and raunch. Updating the Stax-infused sounds of yesteryear for today's bar-hugging gearhead, this White Stripes-approved five-piece might not be the freshest thing to come off the assembly line. But as retro-soul cover bands go, it's one of the most electrifying.
This Miami band formed in 2004 when Steve Brooks and Juan Montoya of influential doom band Floor got together with their friends Jonathan Nuñez and Rick Smith. Somewhere between sludge metal and noisier punk, Torche's sound has more in common with the likes of the Melvins, Helmet and Baroness than it does doom and stoner rock with which it is often associated, and that's mainly because Torche's songs aren't particularly slow or drawn out. Instead there is an energetic drive behind the songwriting that takes the sounds of a swampy, psychedelic metal and accelerates it.
Averaging two-hundred shows every year for the past eight years, the members of Pepper have earned a reputation for being as dedicated as they are hedonistic. With five full-length albums under their belt and the development of their own record label, the Hawaiian-bred members have demonstrated an intense love for music that can only be rivaled by their love for surfboards and Jagermeister. Blending the organic harmonies of reggae with the melodic undertones of pop-rock, the outfit has produced a sound that has earned the admiration of people from across the globe, including an impressively-large following in Denver.
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