Lights, costumes, candy -- action! Hallo Freakn' Ween burst out of its dark, haunted chocolate shell last night at the 1STBANK Center in Broomfield. Heading inside, you just knew that the event's throwers, the Triad Dragons, wished they could have christened the night Hallo Fuckin' Ween. The lineup was like any good bag of Halloween candy -- dark, fluffy, strange, rich, and delicious.
The Denver dance scene came out in droves for it with the winking devil lady icon an appropriate mascot for the show. Although most of the ladies costumes were courtesy of Legs Avenue (fishnets paired with micro miniskirts and assorted wings/tutus), there was true originality in a marvelous version of Doc Brown from Back to the Future and A Clockwork Orange's Alex DeLarge.
When we entered the main arena, aka the Grim Reaper's Lair, DJ Bl3nd was starting off the evening with a series of hard, kick-drum beats - waking up the early arrivals in raw punctuation marks. The stage's name was derived from the giant Grim Reaper, the DJ booth inside the cowl with a skull looking over the DJ's shoulder, its skeletal arms outstretched over the crowd and devil lady go-go dancers in between. The mutilated Chucky mask worn by Bl3nd as he jumped on the booth was an appropriate sight to start the night off with.
He was followed by DJ Icey at 9:45pm who started right where Ble3d left off and kept banging the beats into the crowd. As one of the hardest touring American DJs, Icey is a dependable, fun spinner to go watch. The best parts of his set were when he had the break beats and naughtiness on high -- the most awkward when trying to infuse a few lighter melodies in. It felt like he skipped a track ahead of himself -- out of sync with the set.
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The other "stages" at the event were very small alcoves normally reserved for a few tables to dine at. They were spaced out fairly evenly around the perimeter of the venue -- the concrete divider walls did a decent job of keeping sets separate from another, but I had to feel for the DJs that were crammed into them. It was hard on the very small stages to get into the sets with limited crowd space and, at times, unclear sound quality. On the flipside, it was nice to see a myriad group of locals and out-of-towners getting to play to the crowds.
Sir Thomas, one of the Denver locals, was spinning the night's most unique set consisting of tech house beats -- a sophisticated darker, eerie and decidedly minimal sound -- from one of these alcoves. Many artists mixed in Michael Jackson's "Thriller" to their sets, but Sir Thomas was the best of them, teasing the crowd expertly with the opening lyrics before busting out the full chorus to their delight.
After narrowly avoiding road kill status with one of the ghoulish stilt jumpers, it was back into the Lair for Richard Vission (the artist formerly known as "Humpty") to start his set. This was the set that truly started off and peaked the event for me -- it was hard, ruthless, sexy, and animated with driving house beats stripped of their slower funk.
The crowd never moved as much the rest of the night as it did during Vission's set. It went into overdrive when the opening guitar riffs of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" blasted out as a sample, merging seamlessly into an even darker set of tracks than before. His hit track "I Like to Lick It" dirtied the set further, and the crowd ate it up. Seamless mixing, great build up, and diversity of tracklisting sealed the deal for me on his performance.
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Next up at midnight witching hour was Markus Schultz -- epic trance producer and DJ extraordinaire. Since the early 2000's, Schultz has been a DJ admired for his skill at creating original, hauntingly beautiful tracks along with his ability to move a crowd with sweeping progressive trance sets. At first, he started out where Vission left off, hard and fast.
He slowly brought it down a notch -- the epic trance weaving in and out of the deeper bass beats -- but the room felt chilled more than ignited halfway in. His track, "Do You Dream?" from the same-titled album released this summer, was representative of the lighter sounding set he was spinning. Overall, it was well-done set that had people dancing and cheering but it felt too early to be turning the energy down.
At 2 a.m., John O'Callaghan took over the tables. It was the first time I'd gotten to see the Irish DJ spin -- he's been slowly gaining fame over the last few years as a trance DJ to watch. His set felt more like an extension of Schultz's, with light vocal arias strung together with harder prog trance beats. Again, a well-crafted set, but the energy level was lacking. I wanted to close out the night with a bang but it wasn't meant to be. Tired, wig slightly askew, I called it a night and headed home.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: House and techno are my meat-and-potatoes with trance only a light dessert at the end of my EDM palate. I started off, as most folks do, with "trance in the pants" but then moved into "feet on the floor" house tastes over time. Random Detail: Next to Lady Gaga, Avatar and devil ladies, one of the most popular costumes of the evening? Deadmau5! There were quite a few imposter Mau5 wandering the arena -- flashing eyes and all. By the Way: I just couldn't get over the small alcoves the side stages were composed of. I know the 1STBANK Center has its limitations for a variety of set-ups (and I'm grateful Triad threw more diversity into the mix), but I think a venue with more options for stages might have served the event better.