Imagine that you are a member of the Rouge. You've just completed your first tour. One of the stops was at L.A.'s Knitting Factory, where you played for six labels and a couple of them showed interest. Less than a week later, you come home and play Red Rocks, which I hear is a big deal.
Imagine the feeling of stepping onto that stage, hollowed ground, only a couple years removed from living in a tent in your friend's backyard in Baker. Can you imagine what that would feel like?
These guys aren't too cool to enjoy this. Not even close. There's a wall backstage where bands have signed. The Rouge signed somewhere between Coldplay and the Beatles. They cried, all of them, when they stepped onstage (it's worth noting here that they had to tell me this later. It's not like they were bawling through their introduction.).
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I should be clear: the members of the Rouge have no grand delusions about what's happening here. They understand they're opening for a comedian who's opening for a Bugs Bunny cartoon, which is opening for Jaws. Bassist Jack Egan said after the show he was surprised at how supportive the crowd was. And I pretty much agree with him. I mean, it was a rock and roll show where everyone was sitting down, so that's not perfect, but the people down front were treating the guys like bona fide stars, and even the stragglers in the back were tapping along or swaying contentedly. But that's gravy. At this point, just being here is unbelievable enough. I've never seen the Rouge before, so I don't know if Josh Vaught has always thrown his arm into the air every couple minutes or if that was his way of expressing his euphoria. Either way it was a fitting gesture, his index finger extended like they just won a damn championship. I don't think I've ever seen a drummer smile as much during a set as Steve Voss did last night. They were playing hard, sure, but that wasn't going to stop guitarist/keyboardist Adam Call from mugging for the photogs crawling all over the stage. They've got this androgynous slink to their stage demeanor; a little glitter on the drums, a lot of exposed chest, and Vaught cocking his hip to belly-button height. Yet there's more than enough stubble and sweat to go around. It's all rock and roll.
We like this band at Westword, and I get the sense that our enthusiasm is waxing. The addition of a third guitar, handled by Mike Griffith, allows the band to drape even more warm harmony on their songs. Vaught has the sort of voice that fills your head, the sort that earnest songwriters have been using for years to make people believe, not just pop music but the inherent goodness of humankind. They've told us before that they're out to make people feel better about things.
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Unsurprisingly, the big fancy sound system at Red Rocks suits the Rouge. It makes heady music headier, it gives the swells drama and the a cappella breakdowns echo. A guy sitting near me, who has been ready on every fill with his air drum kit, yells a request, "Six Shooter!"
Half the band looks in his direction and points. This is too much. He gets his request one song later.
The set ends with the title track from their EP Heat & Light. The sound in Red Rocks falls back to chatter, the dealings of the hemp ice-cream vendor, the wry MC. The Rouge go to work breaking down their equipment and manning the crowded merch table. They spend the next hour signing autographs and hugging fans. Don't be surprised if their debut LP isn't self-released.
Download the title track from the Rouge's Heat and Light EP.