See more photos from Dazzle at westword.com/slideshow.
The Culhanes, 12:00 p.m. The Culhanes may be most straight-ahead country I've ever seen live. This is no ironic alt-country posturing; this Longmont-based act could be Merle Haggard's backing band, with the guitarist nailing it on the twangy leads, and the pedal-steel player playing it just as mournful as old Hank ever did. The vocals, on the other hand, were disappointing. Now, to be fair, the Culhanes were first up at Dazzle, and thus served as sound guinea pigs. And there were some tragic sound issues -- when you actually have to stop and soundcheck twenty minutes into your set, that can really throw you off. All the same, when the vocals finally did become audible, they still sounded like the kid from Talladega Nights doing Emmylou Harris tunes.
Verdict: I really liked this band, and they definitely didn't get a fair shake on sound. But they really do need a new vocalist.
Buckner Funken Jazz, 1:00 p.m. As the name implies, Buckner Funken Jazz plays big band-style, funk-based jazz that's mostly funk, but qualifies as jazz basically because of the soloing -- imagine something like the Saturday Night Live house band, whatever it's called. The band is in-synch and fun to watch, with the two frontpeople at times even throwing down some light choreography. Creatively, this isn't my style -- as far as the recorded music I listen to, I generally appreciate songwriting more than musicianship -- and these songs are pretty standard funk fare. But this type of stuff is great live, and this band has chops and showmanship in spades.
Verdict: You can always depend on a band with a genre in its name to be exactly what you expect, and Buckner has two. Yeah, it's exactly what you expect, but it's good.
Eric Syl Grunesien
The Hollyfields, 2:00 p.m. A band with a sound firmly rooted in country but with no shortage of hipster cred, the Hollyfelds play tight, bluegrass-tinged tunes about drinking and heartbreak. Vocalists Eryn Hoerig and Kate Grigsby helm the ship with Simon-and-Garfunkel quality two-part harmonies (except more country-ish), and the expertly handled mandolin, dobro, autoharp (and all those other opry favorites) add up to a stew worthy of serving to the whole brood of kin. These tight songs are firmly genre-oriented -- not many surprises here -- but the band absolutely nails it in the execution.
Verdict: I like country enough to listen to the Hollyfelds once in a while at home, but this band's appeal is really at the show. Tight and engaging, The Hollyfelds are a joy to see live.
The Informants, 3:00 p.m. The bluesy funk of the Informants got the best response I saw all day, with people actually out on the floor and dancing. And rightly so: The energy was high and lively, and the grooves were flawless. I could've done without the vocalist -- you listen to these kind of grooves, vocals are just a distraction -- but licks and the soloing were impressive. These riffs have been laid down a million times in the last forty years and are not getting any younger, but with the Informants' presence, musicianship, and charisma -- at one point the guitarist actually got off the stage and soloed while dancing with some girl -- these grooves seem as fresh from the dance floor as they did back when your parents first heard them.
Verdict: A group of fantastic musicians obviously having a great time at what they do--even if what they do is tried-and-true. Throw them to the top of the heap of festival bands.
Ninth + Lincoln Orchestra, 4:00 p.m. Aside from the actual symphony orchestra, I don't believe I've ever seen a band this large live. I tried to count the members, but might as well have been trying to count a bucketful of marbles; suffice it to say, this band is big. Like, has-a-conductor big. And like those big bands of yore, this band is straight-up horn based jazz, perhaps updated by way of free jazz and maybe a little prog-rock--one song is so slow and ambient it could almost qualify as shoegaze--to swing just a little avant-garde. But this is no Love Supreme, either -- the songs are built to make way for plenty of major-scale-based, classic jazz soloing.
Verdict: Like the symphony orchestra, this band has its appeal in the thick waves of sound that a huge group of musicians creates. And I bet the cover is a lot cheaper than the symphony. Well worth seeing.
Aakash Mittal Quartet
Eric Syl Grunesien
Aakash Mittal Quartet, 5:00 p.m. Jazz is often perceived as the realm of old men in fedoras who say things like, "That cat really smokes!" So it's kind of surprising to see the babyfaced Aakash Mittal and his group of youngbloods throw it down with this kind of soul. It's pretty avant-garde, of course -- you can't expect these young artistic types to play Dave Brubeck standards -- and it can get borderline sloppy at times. Some pieces are pretty genre-bending, too, as when the bassist bows it for a number that sounds almost Indian-influenced. But then again, Coltrane bent the genre to the point of bending even the music's classification as music, and these guys do plenty to establish their chops with more standard-sounding numbers too.
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Verdict: A little technical for my taste, but these guys obviously love the genre and play their instruments with skill, aplomb and plenty of zazz to go round.
Greg Harris Vibe Quintet, 6:00 p.m. As the name of his Quintet implies, Greg Harris plays the vibes, but interestingly not that often -- he plays far more keys, throwing down some interesting synths and sampling along the way. Those are elements you don't often come across in jazz, but Harris pulled it off seamlessly, to intriguing effect. The jazz here was more grounded and riff-based than that of Mittal, but was also less old-school, venturing into riffs more funk than jazz-based, and sometimes into the realm of smooth jazz -- especially when the vibes were happening. The Quintet almost lost me when it edged toward muzak in one song, but quickly brought it back from the precipice of schlock and played some really cool stuff, closing with an interpretation of Radiohead's "Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box" that was really beautiful.
Verdict: Though I was unsure of whether or not I liked it a certain points during the set, the Greg Harris Quintet ended up in retrospect being one of my favorite bands of the day -- and acquired tastes are always the best kind.