The twelve best concerts in Denver this weekend
It's a good one, folks: KS 107.5 FM's Summer Jam brings hip-hop royalty to Englewood tonight, and most of the people there will probably be capping off their weekends with The Fray at Red Rocks on Sunday.
There's more: Dragondeer, subject of this week's Backbeat feature, will release its long-awaited debut at Lost Lake on Saturday. And tonight, our own Westword Music Showcase Pre-Party featured A Band in Pictures, In the Whale and Science Partner for free at Stoney's. More excellent music follows:
Before striking out on his own, Frank Turner spent some time in London's Million Dead, one of the better post-hardcore bands of the early 2000s. Rather than singing with nuance, as he does now, Turner screamed and yelled in that band, at the same time conveying a restlessness and conviction that didn't seem like an affectation. Around the time that Million Dead split, in 2005, he received a tape of Bruce Springsteen's unvarnished masterpiece Nebraska, and the honesty and vulnerability of the songwriting clearly made an impression on Turner, as his solo work has been more in the singer-songwriter vein since then. Still, his lyrics haven't softened much, and his albums, including last year's Tape Deck Heart, could be described as folk with attitude.
A celebration of a visually stunning art form born in the late 1970s and brought into the contemporary age with the newest technology, Laserium: The Cosmic Laser Concert returns to the Denver Museum of Nature & Science's Gates Planetarium for a limited summer run today. The multimedia exhibition blends the music of bands like U2, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and the Beatles with the latest in visual-effects technology.
No show is exactly the same, as a different laserist conducts each one, synchronizing selected songs with beams of light in on-the-spot creations projected overhead. Viewers get to sit back and relax as colors, shapes and patterns morph into each other in a once-in-a-lifetime sensory experience that unfolds inside the serene atmosphere of the planetarium.
"Sometimes an audience is raucous and rowdy, and sometimes they are subdued and chill. With this show, the laserist can adjust the flavor, if you will, to match the mood," says Jon Robertson of Daystar Lasers, which works with the museum.
Red Fang started out at the height of stoner rock's popularity, and the band's music displays some of the hallmarks of that movement: sludgy, colossal riffs and distorted vocals scaled to epic dimensions. But the members of Red Fang also spent some of their '90s youth in Portland, witnessing all those great bands of the Northwest that were more noise rock and punk than metal. Acts like the burly but playful KARP and the moodily dynamic Unwound partly inspired Red Fang's roaringly triumphant sound. Now touring with Big Business, which includes former KARP singer and bassist and current Melvins bassist Jared Warren, these guys are paying that early inspiration forward.
Rocky Votolato built himself a sturdy platform for going solo. When his band, Waxwing, imploded in 2005, Votolato was in the right place at the right time. Emo had taken the nation by storm, and teenage girls were replacing their Backstreet Boys posters with depictions of sensitive tattooed boys. Votolato's affection for folksy, acoustic ballads and heart-on-his-sleeve lyrics branded him as another mall-punk messiah -- but an astute listener can hear the differences. His Texas upbringing twangs in his work, which gives equal nods to Willie Nelson, Nick Drake and Paul Westerberg (when Westerberg is at his best, anyway). 2010's True Devotion, doesn't depart from the sound he has been crafting over the past decade, but it's a warm, familiar batch of songs.
Summer Jam is local radio station KS-107.5's signature event, a seventeen-year tradition that offers a lineup to rival that of any big festival of up-and-coming hip-hoppers, pop crooners and R&B performers. As always, the latest big names will be on stage, including Australia-born Iggy Azalea, who's known as much for her geographically unrelated Southern drawl as she is for her Lil' Kim-style lyrics. Tech N9ne, a longstanding rap outlier who has built a fervent fan base in the Juggalo world, is another interesting component of the 2014 lineup, though he should hardly be a surprise: The Kansas City rapper has collaborated with the likes of Eminem, T-Pain and Kendrick Lamar. Lamar, too, will be a part of the big summer show, headlining alongside N9ne and the reinvented Juicy J. Newer names like Kid Ink and Sage the Gemini will also make their mark on the festivities. Though this year's Summer Jam has a thinner roster than some of the previous installments, KS-107.5 is still capable of giving its fans what they want.
"Science Partner all is about the bounce and the sigh" wrote Jason Heller in a review of the band's 2009 three-song debut demo. Since then, the six-piece has mastered songs that do both -- witness their opening set for The Congress at the Bluebird last month, which had the relatively cavernous theater in unanimous smile and sway.
In the Whale used a pair of sweaty, shout-along shows at the hi-dive in mid-April to launch a national tour in support of its new EP Nate. The songs found on it are frantic and catchy as hell.
Big Head Todd released a Robert Johnson tribute album in 2011, but it's another Johnson -- Jack -- who owes the bulk of his success to Todd Park Mohr and company. The imposing Korean frontman proved that it was possible to be a collegiate smooth-jam fave without having to send his guitar into elongated fits of acid-soaked noodling. Along with the Samples and Dave Matthews, Big Head Todd epitomized the safer, fleece-vested sector of the '90s groove-tune scene, leaving the serious degenerates to tour with the Dead and Phish. While the chances of ever seeing Big Head Todd in the intimate local venues the band started off in the '80s are rare, seeing the guys at Red Rocks with JJ Grey & MOFRO and Vintage Trouble ain't too bad either.
Experimental house-music label Dirtybird has become a force to be reckoned with over the past couple of years, taking over entire stages at festivals and consistently showcasing what's coming up next in the realm of house -- even, some might argue, setting those trends before they become trendy. And that's all due to the vision and hard work of label founder Claude VonStroke. VonStroke has a saucy take on house music; he flirts with genres from all over the spectrum, nodding to hip-hop, garage and soul while infecting the dance floor with his playful, upbeat style. Although he's long been a presence on the festival circuit, this year was the first that Dirtybird as a label hosted stages at festivals across the country, including HARD, Electric Zoo and TomorrowWorld.
Dragondeer at Lost Lake Lounge: Saturday, June 7After a practice session some years back with Denver indie-rock act the Swayback, frontman Eric Halborg left Colorado Rehearsal Studios and went out to his car to discover that his stereo had been stolen. Instead of replacing it, he spent the next few years driving around playing his harmonicas. When he finally got a new stereo, he sprang for one with satellite radio, and he played along with the Grateful Dead and blues channels.
That experience served him well as he crafted the debut EP of his new-ish band, Dragondeer. Called Don't That Feel Good, the album represents the point at which Halborg's lifelong passion for blues and jam-band music meets the rock and post-punk instincts he's honed with the Swayback. "We're getting a groovy reaction in jam and roots circles, but indie kids are digging it, too," says Halborg. "That's sort of what we were hoping for."
Marty Folb has been a touring musician for nearly eight years now, and in that time, he's developed a style all his own. Continually evolving as a DJ, Folb is returning to Denver with a seemingly endless catalogue of unreleased PANTyRAiD and MartyParty tracks to soundtrack the end of the world. Whether or not you subscribe to the belief that we are all going the way of the dodo this Saturday June 7, you might want to find yourself in front of the speakers at Cervantes' Masterpiece Ballroom with Ana Sia.
On past albums, the Fray's stock-in-trade has been crafting earnest, piano-based tunes that successfully capture and articulate the simple yet complex interpersonal issues that life brings. Tracing both the exhilaration and despondency of love, these portraits also tended to expose the vulnerabilities, uncertainties and insecurities we all face. Drained of this pathos, the Fray's music probably would not have resonated on the massive scale that it did. Scars & Stories is sort of the opposite. The music is at the forefront, while the lyrics tend to rely more on subtlety. While a few of the songs tread familiar ground, for the most part they draw from a much bolder and more dynamic palette.
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