The capacity crowd at Red Rocks on Saturday seemed determined to defy the elements. Overcast skies, steady sheets of rain and regular gusts of wind did their best to derail the outdoor performances from the Lumineers and headliners Cake, but the rotten conditions couldn't dampen the overwhelming mood of celebration. Even as the rain fell early in the evening and the wind continued well into Cake's encore, the collective enthusiasm and zeal from the crowd was impossible to miss. It was all the more remarkable considering the fact that performances from both bands boasted a meditative and measured feel.
The weather wasn't the only chaotic part of the evening. As the Lumineers took to a bare stage and kicked off their fifty-minute set, the crowd was still streaming up the stairs. The parking lots had filled early, and concertgoers were still trekking hills around the park as the worst of the rain set in.
That didn't dim the Lumineers' energy or attitude. From the stairs on the north side of the amphitheater, the steady pulse of drummer Jeremiah Fraites was unmistakable, as was the guitar work of Wesley Schultz and the cello lines of Neyla Pekarek. The rain was in full force a few minutes into the band's set, and the sheets were clearly visible from the back rows of the amphitheater.
The band's energy kept the milling audience interested. By the time the band offered bright versions of tunes like "Big Parade" and "Stubborn Love," most of the crowd had settled, and the true scope of the sold-out crowd became clear. The group dedicated the rendition of "Stubborn Love" to the victims of the shootings in Aurora last week before wrapping up their set with a rendition of "Flapper Girl" and a cover of the Talking Heads' tune, "This Must Be the Place."
The elements had already been unkind by the time the lights dimmed at about 9 p.m. and Cake took the stage. Even after the worst of the downpour passed, most of the sold-out crowd had taken shelter under tarps, plastic sheets and garbage bags bearing Red Rocks' logo. Even so, the mood was more frenzied than vexed when a synth-heavy orchestral track sounded as the band's introduction. The odd musical intro continued for several minutes before the quintet took the stage, and the audience immediately broke out into cheers and screams. No one had taken the rain as a cue to exit.
The intro music -- a cheesy score that sounded like it had been pulled straight from a Rocky sequel -- was the most grandiose part of the stage setting. Cake entered on to a stage that was starkly set; the only ornamentation was a disco ball that swayed in the persistent wind.
The setlist felt equally understated and subtle, from the first strains of a cover version of Willie Nelson's "Sad Songs and Waltzes" to the steady 3/4 cadence of "Opera Singer." John McCrea sang in succinct and deadpan tones, trumpeter Vince DiFiore delivered mid-register frenetic solos, and Paulo Baldi offered drum lines that were free of explosive solos or percussive fireworks.
Indeed, ballads, waltzes and love songs abounded in the early stretches of the headliner's hour-plus set. Greg Vincent emerged as a guest player on tunes like "Bound Away" from the band's 2011 release, Showroom of Compassion, as well as the songs "Mexico" and "Walk On By" from the 1998 album, Prolonging the Magic. The full sounds of the pedal steel added a deeper musical layer to McCrea's impassive vocal style and his stark approach on the acoustic guitar. Even speedier and funkier selections like "Love You Madly" and "Sheep Go to Heaven" kept up a calm vibe.
That's not to say the audience seemed bored. From the reserved section to the general admission seats (a surprisingly small stretch of the amphitheater - only the last 10 to 15 rows were open for GA), even the drunkest and loudest Cake fans swayed to the waltzes and sang along during the key vocal choruses of "Sheep" and "Stickshifts and Safetybelts" from Fashion Nugget.
Slide show: Cake at Red Rocks, 7/28/12
McCrea spoke specifically to the elements and the threat of another rain storm, calling the fans "weather troopers" and vowing the band would get through the set before more adverse weather hit. He also spoke to the band's creative transitions for their latest album, stating, "They told us that we would be squashed like a bug if we tried to release our own album."
The set included plenty of selections from the 2011 release, Showroom of Compassion. After the renditions of "Mexico" and "Walk On By," the energy seemed to ramp up, as McCrea spoke directly to the crowd, breaking out of his sardonic stage presence to appeal directly to the fans. A string of tunes that included "Never There," "Short Skirt/Long Jacket" and a trio of tunes for the encore that included an odd arrangement of Black Sabbath's "War Pigs" were strong crowd pleasers.
The set felt a bit short -- the band went on at about 9 p.m and wrapped up before 10:30 p.m. Still, no amount of brevity, bad weather or crowdedness damped the fervor of the many, many hardcore fans that turned the amphitheater into a madhouse. The audience seemed held in the moment, bound by an immediacy that McCrea himself noted. "This is a song that we rarely play," he announced before the band launched into "Walk On By." "You'll never hear us play it again ... Let's be here now."
Personal Bias: Some of my favorite moments of the evening came in both band's innovative cover tunes. The Lumineers and Cake did justice to their tributes, from the Talking Heads' "This Must Be the Place" to Black Sabbath's "War Pigs."
By the Way: McCrea exhorted the audience to sing along. He claimed it would save the crowd beer money, apparently because of endorphins. The science behind that claim feels dubious.
Random Detail: I've been to sold-out shows at Red Rocks before, but this concert felt more frenzied and packed than any other I can remember.
Cake Red Rocks - 7/28/12 Morrison, CO
01. "Sad Songs and Waltzes" (Willie Nelson cover) 02. "Opera Singer" 03. "Frank Sinatra" 04. "Love You Madly" 05. "Bound Away" 06. "Sheep Go to Heaven" 07. "Guitar" 08. "Shadow Stabbing" 09. "Mustache Man" 10. "Mexico" 11. "Walk on By" 12. "Federal Funding" 13. "Long Time" 14. "Stickshifts and Safetybelts" 15. "Never There" 16. "Short Skirt/Long Jacket"
17. "War Pigs" (Black Sabbath cover) 18. "Sick of You" 19. "The Distance"
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