The ten best shows in Denver this week
After finishing their tour in support of 2010's High Violet, the members of the National didn't have any immediate plans to record again. But guitarist Aaron Dessner, whose daughter had just been born, ended up with a lot of time on his hands. He began writing songs in his backyard studio and giving them to singer Matt Berninger, and, next thing they knew, they'd written an album -- Trouble Will Find Me.
Not since late-'70s Queen, to whom Muse owes a hefty sonic debt, has anyone made radio-friendly rock as ambitious, eclectic, escapist and just plain epic as this English trio. On last year's The 2nd Law, they meld ostensibly incongruous elements including dubstep's ominous electronica, Freddie Mercury's strutting camp, masturbatory prog guitars and frontman Matthew Bellamy's Darkness-worthy falsetto into a thoughtfully orgasmic, emotionally overloaded opus. Now a full-blown Brit institution -- their song "Survival" served as the official song for last year's London Olympics -- and remarkably unfettered by their limited numbers (though augmented with a keyboardist/percussionist onstage), Muse craft live shows as fascinating and challenging as their recordings, consistently leaving the impression that something much more significant than mere notes and beats just happened.
In 2010, Abel Tesfaye, a Canadian songwriter who makes music under the name the Weeknd, met producer Jeremy Rose and recorded a handful of tracks. Later that year, Tesfaye uploaded the tunes to YouTube and ended up attracting a famous champion in Drake, a fellow musician from the Great White North. In 2012, exactly three mixtapes and a guest spot at Drake's second annual OVO Fest later, the Weeknd played Coachella and various other festivals around the world. "Wicked Games," the Weeknd's most well-known track, is a kind of downtempo R&B song that, while overtly (and perhaps crassly) sexual in theme, suggests that Tesfaye may be having one over on the kind of listener that takes things at face value. If so, the Weeknd's output is essentially an artistic cousin to Spring Breakers, Harmony Korine's darkly evocative film.
Kid Cudi headlines this all-star lineup fresh off the release of his recent, polarizing release, Indicud. Though his decision to self-produce has rubbed some the wrong way, he remains one of the premier hook men in the rap game. Tyler, the Creator is no less intriguing, having incited "riot situations" in Boulder the last time he was here. He's only 22, but with his experience leading the Odd Future collective, Tyler is simultaneously a veteran and a greenhorn; his latest release, Wolf, was his most mature and refined to date. Throw in Three 6 Mafia founder Juicy J and young gun Logic, plus the most awesome outdoor venue in the country, and this show is a definite must-see.
Before he gained notoriety as an MC with his 2011 studio debut Dr. Lecter, Action Bronson was well respected as a New York chef (his lyrics are still garnished with references to foods of all sorts). But while he shares a profession with Raekown, another well known New York Chef, the Wu-Tang member he most frequently draws comparison to is Ghostface Killah, thanks to his luxurious subject matter, exaggerated persona and piercing voice. Danny Brown's voice, meanwhile, makes it sound as if he's disgusted with everything, and it just adds authenticity and grime to his already obscene lyrics. In his performance of "Monopoly," when Brown says, "I done served fiends on they menstrual/Ain't even had pads, stuffed they panties with tissue," the image is so disgusting, and Brown sounds so disgusted, you just know it's a true story. Brown's upcoming release, Old, scheduled for September 30, is one of the most anticipated releases this year.
The circus comes to town this week as a pair of Grateful Dead greats, guitarist Bob Weir and bassist Phil Lesh, take the stage for four nights at Red Rocks with their consistently touring band, Furthur. Named after the wildly painted bus that Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters drove around the country in the '60s, Furthur covers mostly Grateful Dead tunes, interspersed with Weir and Lesh originals and occasional covers such as Ryan Adams's "Let It Ride." The outfit puts its own soulful, slowed-down spin on things but maintains the loose spirit and improvisational style that Weir and Lesh cultivated for decades with the Dead. With an extremely talented backing band, which includes lead guitarist John Kadlecik channeling Jerry Garcia with confidence and heart, Furthur continues to mix up its set lists and keep things interesting, offering plenty of pleasant surprises along the way.
Rakim has been dubbed the God MC for his innovation with flow, particularly internal rhyme. Also a sax player, Rakim cites John Coltrane as an influence, "I was trying to write my rhymes as if I was a saxophone player." The phrasing that resulted was the like of which had never been seen, influencing, by proxy if not directly, every MC to come, including the future architects of unconventional flow, Big Daddy Kane, Nas, Eminem, etc.
Formed in 2005 in Glen Rock, New Jersey, Titus Andronicus bridges the gap between indie rock and punk with a blistering live show and music that lets you know the band not only embraces its rawness and imperfections but makes a virtue out of it -- like a more sonically aggressive Bright Eyes. You hear the recorded music and you expect a certain level of edge but none of that could prepare you for the over-the-top recklessness this band pours into its shows. But that is a large part of the band's appeal -- these guys play like there is no filter beyond the premeditation of writing solidly catchy songs with an anthemic quality.
Patrick Stump's ferocious, proto-Glambert shriek, Pete Wentz's lacerating text-message bon mots, exhausting song titles: The mid-00s emo-punk answer to hair-metal pomp is back in business. Glossy and lupine, Fall Out Boy have long felt like a clash of contradictory forces. Vital, hungry, polished to a high shine and, best of all, straight-up pop, these dudes can roll with everybody from Usher to Say Anything to Courtney Love to Elton John, and they had the balls to kick off an album with a banger called "Thriller." Rock needs more, and similar, mutants.
Brother Ali has a remarkable presence that is composed and venerable yet friendly and approachable. He's humble but still utterly confident and self-assured, which reflects in his powerfully uplifting lyrics. His delivery is almost like a pastor's sermon: fiery, impassioned and with a soulful voice that hangs on his most important words, but amazingly, he rarely sounds preachy or condescending. His passion for hip-hop is palpable: "The music is still alive," he says, "because it's making us alive." And that's really what Brother Ali seems to want -- to enliven people, to make them question themselves, but still allow them to love themselves, to perpetually push into spaces of uncertainty and grey area, because that's where life really occurs. Immortal Technique is opening for Ali.
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