Mile High Music Fest Live Blog, Day Two | Backbeat | Denver | Denver Westword | The Leading Independent News Source in Denver, Colorado

Mile High Music Fest Live Blog, Day Two

It's shaping up to be another banner day at Dick's Sporting Goods Park. Today's lineup at the Mile High Music Fest is considerably stronger than yesterday's, with anticipated performances from Flobots, the Roots, the Black Crowes, Pinback and Dave Matthews Band, a perennial Colorado favorite. Even the under card is...
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It's shaping up to be another banner day at Dick's Sporting Goods Park. Today's lineup at the Mile High Music Fest is considerably stronger than yesterday's, with anticipated performances from Flobots, the Roots, the Black Crowes, Pinback and Dave Matthews Band, a perennial Colorado favorite. Even the under card is stronger today. Already we've caught bits and pieces of sets from the Photo Atlas, Rose Hill Drive, Ingrid Michaelson and Brett Dennen (three very different takes at that -- for whatever reason, we all happened to converge at the same show). We're out catching Rodrigo y Gabriela and Flogging Molly right now. Look for some coverage on that within the next few hours. In the meantime, after the jump here's some thoughts on what we've seen so far today, as well as some more photos.

Who: Brett Dennen Where/when: Main Stage, 12:30 p.m. What it was like: Watching a guy play a songs in a coffee shop, only bigger. A lot bigger. Brett Dennen is an unlikely pop star. The young, carrot top looks like he just stepped off the set of The Suite Life of Zack and Cody or something. Playing earnest, cookie-cutter, singer-songwriter fare, Dennen isn't distinctive enough musically to stand out from hordes of interchangeable also rans that typically dominate Triple A playlists. Likewise, his lyrics lacked an incisive edge to penetrate the grey matter. As a result, Dennen's songs, while pleasant enough, ultimately served as a benign wallpaper. Verdict: Dennen would’ve been much better suited for one of the smaller side stages. -- Dave Herrera

Who: Rose Hill Drive Where/When: Lizard Stage, 1:15 p.m. What it was like: Going to a kegger in some field in the middle of nowhere in 1975. Is that freedom rock, man? Well turn it up! Expectedly, the Rose Hill Drive boys burned it down with their sturdy, economical retro rock. The live show has always been the strong suit for these cats, and they didn’t disappoint today. You can tell that playing to bigger crowds has become old hat for this power trio (emphasis on power), which looked as poised as I’ve ever seen it. The only downside to the set, if there was one, was the slight crosswind, which created a swirling flange around the vocals. Verdict: Rose Hill Drive is still the master when it comes to channeling the heart and soul of classic, meat and potatoes rock. -- Herrera

Who: Photo Atlas When/ Where: Elk Tent Stage, 12 p.m.

A pattern is beginning to emerge on this second day of Colorado’s newest musical tradition. Just as the homegrown heroes Born in the Flood had an early slot in yesterday’s schedule, so too did Denver-based band Photo Atlas, who made a noon appearance at the Elk tent. Because of the relatively early hour and the sweltering heat, the crowds for both of these bands were a bit light compared to the throngs that came out for the later, and much cooler, part of yesterday’s festivities.

It’s a shame, really. For all the welcome attention that the high profile acts are bringing to our neck of the woods, it seems a local festival should give the hometown artists a more prominent place on the schedule.

Fortunately, the Photo Atlas didn’t let the early start time and the lighter crowd hamper its performance. Indeed, the festival proved to be a sounding board for new material.

“We leave tomorrow to go record a new album,” said frontman Alan Andrews. between songs. “So, we’re playing a whole bunch of new songs.”

Most of the new material bore the familiar Atlas sound – frenzied tempos and frenetic riffs, Andrews’ anxious vocals over the driving rhythm section of Mark Hawkins, Bill Threlkeld III and Nick Miles.

In between premiering the new numbers, the band managed to throw in some familiar favorites. “Electric Shock” from 2007's "No, Not Me Never," a highlight of the band’s back catalogue, and a loyal cadre of fans who packed the front rows were on hand for a sing along. -- A.H. Goldstein

Who: Brett Dennen When/Where: Main Stage, 12:30 p.m.

California-based Brett Dennan’s approach to the guitar seems tailor-made for the festival setting. With a light, biting tone reminiscent of the most prominent jam band players and an arpeggiated approach to his chords, Dennan’s style lends for long bouts of improvised soloing and a straightforward structure. Both of these stylistic elements proved ideal for the crowds in front of the main stage who danced on the tawny grass or lazed on blankets on the field.

With his fiery red hair and stout frame, Dennan cut an unlikely figure in the early hours of the festival’s second day. The set stood as an odd preview of acts to come (the rhythms recalled Dave Matthews while Dennan’s vocals conjured the emotive performances of John Mayer) and a recap of some of yesterday’s big crowd pleasers (Dennan’s life-affirming lyrics and the band’s power to inspire dance fever mirrored Michael Fronti’s set).

With the celebratory, sometimes saccharine lyrical content of songs like “Blessed,” “Southbound Train” and “Makin’ Love on My Mind,” Dennen and his palatable sound ran no risks of displeasing the crowd. Still, safety isn’t always exciting, and Dennen’s cheery set left some dynamism to be desired. -- Goldstein

Who: Brett Dennen Where/When: Main Stage, 12:30 p.m.

Brett Dennen opened up the main stage today with a chill mix of organic rock and laid-back grooves, which was a perfect relaxed way to start off the second day of music here at the festival. Bassist Jenny McKay teamed up well with drummer Randy Schwartz to create a nice tight pocket of funk and relaxed vibes on songs such as "You Were Wrong About Me," an earthy, rock cut which, like most of Dennen's songs, carried a message of open mindedness, positivity and being true to yourself.

Dennen then reached back into his archives with a track from his debut album, "All We Have." Schwartz and McKay again proved how well they gel together, forming a tight pocket on the bass and drums for the rest of the group to flow over, with guitarist Andrew Matteo dropping a nice wah-pedal effected solo in the break before Dennen eased back into the vocal line with his smooth tone.

The Oakdale, California native then slowed things down for "Ain't No Reason," a slightly more pensive ballad about the state of things in our world, which seemed quite fitting for the current state of economic gloom and endless war our country seems to be trapped in. After this track, Dennen fittingly reminded listeners to register and vote with one of the many Headcount volunteers throughout the venue.

One of Dennen's best received songs of his set was "She's Mine," another relaxed tune, which fell well inline with most of what he put down today. Once again Matteo threw down a nice mellow guitar solo on this one, aptly utilizing chorus and filter effects to create an old school, chilled out tone.

Dennen and the band finished things off with coming of age anthem "When You Feel It". Matteo played another guitar solo on this one, which started out kind of slow, but heated up when the rest of the players dropped the feel and volume down a few notches, giving him more space to work in. The solo was brilliant from that point on, and turned out to be his best of the day. With that, Matteo laid back and made room for the rhythm section to stretch out. McKay's bass solo was adequate, but too brief to show much flare, while Schwartz' drum solo was longer and well done -- funky and not too busy, which suited Dennen's overall sound. -- Jas Tynan

Who: Ingrid Michaelson When/Where: Bison Tent Stage, 1:30 p.m.

Early in her set, Ingrid Michaelson said she’d never had to use towels to wipe her sweaty brow on stage before, but she needed one for Sunday’s 100-degree heat. But the heat didn’t’ seem to affect her performance in the slightest. Whether she was sitting at the piano for endearing versions of “Breakable” or “Keep Breathing,” or rocking out a bit on “Die Alone” or “The Hat,” Michealson delivered a great set to the packed Bison Tent.

When Chris Kuffner stated playing the bass line to Michaelson’s hit single, “The Way I Am,” she made mention of how they’d played the song many times before, and that they tried to do a little something to spice the tune up. She then started rapping what sounded like the lyrics to Will Smith’s “Fresh Prince of Bell Air.”

Michaelson and her band also delved into some new material, including “The Chain,” which will appear on her forthcoming EP, and she closed her set with “Locked Up,” a song that she’d never played live before, that featured some lovely harmonies by Allie Moss and Bess Rogers.

The crowd embraced Michaelson and crew’s set by singing along and clapping on a few songs. -- Jon Solomon

Who: Martin Sexton Where/When: Bullsnake Stage, 2 p.m.

Martin Sexton had the crowd highly energized -- definitely more so than any of the other artists that I've seen take the stage thus far today, which is quite impressive for a one-man band on the lineup this early in the day. The solo singer-guitarist aptly handled the bass, guitar and percussion lines by himself and had people bopping, hooting, hollering and cat-calling for more.

Before singing a song about enjoying fine foods, Sexton let us know he is carnivore who likes to hit up the Buckhorn Exchange when he is in town. (We concur, Martin. Good call.)

On "Hallelujah," Sexton had the whole crowd join in on the chorus, clapping their hands in rhythm and joining him in unison with shouts of "Jesus lives!" After the brief religious experience, Sexton went into a good cover of Jimi Hendrix' "Wind Cries Mary," doing a falsetto scat for the middle verse.

Sexton followed the Hendrix homage with "Goin To the Country," which provided a lilting, positive and funky flow, which made me want to bop my head, even though I was sitting underneath the stage at the time typing on my laptop. He broke the song down in the middle with an acapella verse, followed by a brief beat-box, before going back into the song and then ending the tune's journey by whistling the last line of the chorus.

He then slowed things up with mellower "Black Sheep" which successfully invited a sing-a-long for the choruses. It had a cool, positive message of acceptance of all people of all kinds which was well received by the already locked-in audience.

The former Boston street performer ended his set with a brief, upbeat, localized version of "This little light of mine" (i'm gonna let it shine) which furthered his overall message of peace and harmony. -- Tynan

Who: The New Mastersounds Where/When: Bison Tent Stage, 2:45 p.m.

The stress at the Bison tent was all on ambience and mood, as the bright sounds of the organ and distortion-tinged guitar tones filled in for lyrics during the New Mastersounds set.

Taking a cue from the Booker T. and the M.G.’s sides and the sound of the Atlantic Records studio band of the early 1960s, the New Mastersounds specialize in generalized soul. The marriage of sultry organ melodies, slightly dirty guitar tones and unabashedly funky bass is a well-proven formula, and the Mastersounds has managed to use it to its own modern advantage.

As a festival band, the outfit’s edge comes in its ability to set a mood. The largely instrumental freed the crowd from having to exert any amount of focus on lyrics, giving them liberty to dance, sit in circles, play Frisbee or just take a nap.

Surveying the crowd during the Mastersounds show, I ran across concertgoers indulging in all of the aforementioned activities. For all of the enthusiasm and impassioned facial expressions from members of the Leeds-based quartet, the band’s set seemed destined as background music, as the instrumental accompaniment to a raging kegger.

Not to say that the band didn’t inspire focus from some. The crowd was packed densely around the stage, and one wildly enthusiastic dancer told me it was the best show he’d seen all weekend without any provocation.

The band is definitely indebted to the masters of the genre; Donald “Duck” Dunn, Steve Cropper, Booker Jones and the rest of the Atlantic players have left an indelible mark on the Mastersounds’ approach. It’s a loving tribute, though, and these British soul fans do an admirable job of recalling the legends.

Random note: The Mastersounds’ appearance featured one of the superlatives of the festival for me. In the front lines of dancing fans, I was lucky enough to find the festivalgoer with the most ridiculously jerky, frenetic and uncoordinated dance moves I’ve seen all weekend. This man’s moves featured random hops, occasional full turns and brief spates of clapping. I had to take a video clip to prove I wasn’t making it up. -- Goldstein

Tea Leaf Green Elk Tent, 3 p.m.

Tea Leaf Green got things rolling from the jump with a sick, funky instrumental jam. Keyboardist/lead vocalist Trevor Garrod took a synth solo utilizing a cool vibraphone sound, before going back to laying down some funky comping on his Rhodes electric piano to back-up a ripping guitar solo by Josh Clark, who tastefully employed a fast wah effect combined with distortion as he shredded his axe with the precision and speed of a virtuoso.

The San Francisco quartet fed off each other perfectly, giving and taking energy in waves so that they were one ball of energy, rising and easing as one unit. The crowd made a lot of noise after the first number, but as a whole they didn't give much back to the band, who was clearly letting it all hang out. I'd chalk that up to it relative sobriety with it being rather early in the day as well as intense heat with a tent packed tightly full of people.

The band rocked another tight jam, "Incandescent Devil," as its second number. In the middle, the guys broke down the collective shred to make room for another solo by guitarist Clark, who clicked on an old school fast tremolo effect. He eased into this one, with the whole band letting the tension build naturally from a chilled out base to an intense, fiery peak. Bassist Reed Mathis and drummer Scott Rager teamed up well to control the rhythmic flow and energy for the band, feeding solos and songs perfectly and tastefully throughout the set.

The act slowed things down in the middle of the set with "Taught to Be Proud," which had some cool bass and guitar interplay and harmonic-unison bits that added nicely to the color of the sound, which had a more '60s/'70s folky sound to it, providing a good contrast to the hard funk of the earlier cuts.

The ouftit then went into a song from its new album, which hits stores on Tuesday, Raise Up the Tent, which was appropriate considering the group was playing the Elk Tent stage. It was a laid back, anthemic tune which appropriately made reference to being "under a blood red sky", in the town where U2 recorded the legendary "Under a Blood Red Sky" live album.

Overall these guys are highly skilled players, definitely showing signs of extensive training, practice and experience on the stage. They fed very well off of each other and, like the pros they are, ignored and overcame some minor sound difficulties throughout their set to put out a well honed, energizing set. -- Tynan

Who: Flogging Molly When/Where: Bullsnake Stage, 4 p.m.

Flogging Molly front man Dave King is a natural comedian.

“Is this really the weather for an Irishman?” King asked the crowd in his thick Irish brogue before the band busted into its first tune.

King’s cool Celtic wit, which he peppered between songs liberally, added a novel and engaging dimension to the band’s set. Considering the sheer size of the crowd assembled at the Bullsnake stage, King’s personable and affable asides helped make the performance more immediate.

King prefaced the song “Tobacco Island” with a mention of Oliver Cromwell, and his efforts in the 17th century to ethnically cleanse the Irish from the British Isles. The mere mention of Cromwell’s deed stirred the crowd to boo passionately, to which King replied,

“It’s not like he fucking succeeded.”

The witty quips helped create a definite mood, as the blazing afternoon sun seemed to soften and the crowded field took on the feel of a dimmed Irish pub. Molly’s blend of reels and punk tempos picks up where the Pogues’ innovations left off, fusing the traditional with the contemporary, combining the sensibility of an ancient jig with the iconoclastic frenzy of a Sex Pistols song.

The result, on songs like “Requiem for a Dying Soul,” “Float” and “Rebels of the Sacred Heart” lent for a rousing effect and inspired some poignant moments. “The Lightning Storm,” which the band dedicated to the late Joe Strummer, was particularly noteworthy.

Molly’s been on the road in Europe for nine weeks, and the Mile High appearance represents the group’s final gig before some well-earned rest. The weight of the moment wasn’t lost on King.

“What a fine bunch of fuckin’ people you are,” he marveled, as a dense thicket of hands sprung up from the crowd in tribute. – Goldstein

Who: Rodrigo y Gabriela When/Where: Main Stage, 4p.m.

Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quintero are two insanely talented guitarists. Seriously. Throughout the duo’s hour-long set, Sanchez was a madman on his nylon string axe, firing out rapid flurries of notes during his leads, while Quintero acted as a one-woman rhythm section at times, strumming wildly and slapping the body of her guitar.

The two worked some serious magic. A gal standing next to me noted, “They seem very united,” asking if they were couple. They played off each other wonderfully, which obviously comes from playing together since they were teenagers.

In addition to playing a number of originals from the duo’s self-titled debut, Sanchez tossed out a few snippets of songs throughout the set, including the theme from Peter Gunn, Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water,” Extreme’s “More Than Words,” the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” and Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile” before finally settling on an outstanding Latin-ized cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.” -- Jon Solomon

Who: Grace Potter & the Nocturnals When/Where: Elk Tent Stage, 5 p.m.

Any gal that plays a Gibson Flying V and a Hammond B-3 organ is a badass in my book. And live, Grace Potter is even more of a badass than she is on record. Her vocals sound and grittier and more powerful live, as she displayed throughout most of her set, especially on the opening cut “Sugar,” which she recorded at the famed Sun Studio.

While Potter belted out tune after tune while playing the organ, Fender Rhodes or guitar, she also let guitarist Scott Turnet take the lead on a lot of the cuts. And dude knew how to dig in and lay down some dirty leads, especially on “Stop the Bus,” “Sugar” and “Ah Mary.”

Whether Potter and company where steamrolling through some greasy funky stuff or rocking out, they were killing it and kept the momentum all through the set and got some booties shaking on “If I Was From Paris.” A few tunes later, Potter sang “Nothing But Water” a capella, and then jumped on the Hammond and the band kicked in some bluesy funk for the second part of the song. After introducing the band, she grabbed a mallet and started beating the front of Matt Burr’s bass drum. Then the rest of the band jumps behind the kit and everyone in the band was beating on different parts of the drum kit. Potter took the edge off the cacophony by going back to a capella singing on “Nothing But Water” with the crowd singing along. A damn fine way to close out a great set. -- Solomon

Who: Flobots When/Where: 5:30 p.m., Lizard Stage What it was like: Walking up to the Lizard Stage, it was astounding how many people were there. Flobots played in front of massive crowd of several thousand people. Hands down, the group had the biggest draw among the locals (natch, folks... ahem,"Handlebars," enough said). The whole spectacle was even more stunning considering these guys were just playing Herman's Hideaway and the Gothic less than a year ago.

Regardless, the outfit sounded seasoned and commanded the throng with the authority of an act much its senior. Jonny 5's stage presence has caught up with his MC skills, and Brer Rabbit dexterous dance moves were as impressive as Mackenzie Roberts' stellar vocals. Drummer Kenny O was no slouch, either, with his thunderous drumming echoing across the mammoth soccer field. "I can lead a nation with a microphone," Jonny 5, clad in a shirt emblazoned with the words, "Peace Monger" asserted.


Expectedly, the group was very vocal on the political front. Decrying the war in Iraq, Johnny 5 pointed out how unfortunate it is when your friends have horrible opinions, but how important our differences are in terms of stimulating discussion, and he also urged the crowd to send their thoughts and prayers to those stationed overseas.

Flobots closed out its set with "Handlebars," which inspired the assembled masses to wave their hands in the air like they just don't care, followed by the new single, "Rise." It was clear what track many of the folks had been waiting for, as a good portion began to make a mass exodus, repeating the lines, "I can ride my bike with no handlebars" as they walked away, after the final strains had faded. The only misstep, in my opinion, at least (the crowd went bananas), was the band's cover of "So Happy Together," which was well played, but seemed like a poor cover choice overall.

Verdict: To see how deftly Flobots manhandled the crowd it's that it's more than just a hit single that's keeping the fans engaged. Random Note: Mackenzie Roberts' stellar take of Pat Benetar's "Heartbreaker" suggests that she's got tremendous potential as a solo artist, assuming she's so inclined and Flobots can ever find any downtime. -- Herrera

Who: The Roots Where/When: Bison Tent Stage, 6:45 p.m.

What it was like: A whirlwind tour of musical styles, from lightning-quick hip-hop, to groove-driven funk to John Phillip Sousa on speed. The Roots’ inimitable blend of well-honed styles drew the largest crowd for the Bison stage that I’ve seen yet, and the crowd was just as diverse as the music on stage. A father hefted his toddler on his shoulder, a pack of shirtless frat boys huddled just behind and a middle-aged couple looked on from the sidelines. The performance boasted enough engaging theatrics and unlikely musical marriage of genres. Lead MC Black Thought delivered a flurry of lyrics and lines, as the band managed to reference pop music staples from Duke Ellington’s “Caravan” to Sly Stone’s “Everybody is a Star.” Verdict: The Roots are masters of eclectic kill, and their dramatic entrance with Damon “Tuba Gooding Jr.” Bryson leading the charge on sousaphone was a superlative moment in the festival. -- Goldstein

Who: The Black Crowes When/Where: Bullsnake Stage, 7 p.m.

The Black Crowes may have gone through a few line-up changes over the years, but brothers Chris and Rich Robinson have rounded up some top-notch musicians, including guitarist Luther Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars, to dig into some older tunes as well as some from Warpaint, the band’s first album in seven years,

The band kicked off a killer set with “Movin’ on Down the Line” and “Goodbye Daughters of Revolution,” (both from Warpaint) before knocking out “Gone” from 1994’s Amorica and “Jealous Again,” the song that essentially put these cats on the map nearly two decades ago.

The band slowed things down a bit on “Oh Josephine” but ramped up the intensity near the end of the song with an outstanding organ solo by Adam MacDougal. After damn fine rendition of “Poor Elijah,” drummer Steve Gorman strapped on bass drum that sported a picture of George W. Bush’s face on one side. Throughout “God’s Got It,” Gorman beat Bush (who had a black eye and was missing a front tooth).

A few songs later, Gorman kicked off “Wee Who See the Deep” with groove that was almost a dead ringer for the intro to the Rolling Stones’ tune “Slave.” The guys then followed with a psychedelic freak out jam that morphed into what may have been the highlight of set: “Thorn in My Pride.” It’s already a great song when it first came out on 1992’s Southern Harmony and Musical Companion, but the Crowes sprinkled some extra magic over it Sunday night as well as on “Remedy.” -- Solomon

Who: Dave Matthews Band When/Where: Main Stage, 8:45 p.m.

The Dave Matthews Band had very different, albeit top shelf sound, due to temporary personnel changes, the most significant of which, for me, was the addition of a trumpet to the mix, which I hadn't seen at a Matthews show before. The cat was an absolute shredder who fit well into the texture, as well as rising above it when called for, with screaming high notes and fast-flowing solos.

Regular DMB sax player LeRoi Moore, still recovering from an ATV accident that occurred several weeks ago, was not at the gig. Filling in for him was Jeff Coffin of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. Coffin has mad skills, but a bit of the outfit's unifying ensemble sound and vibe was missing. Matthews and company didn't move and flow as one solid rhythmic, dynamic unit as they usually did. Although Coffin took some ripping solos, but didn't connect as well with the rest of the band.

Dave Matthews still has the power to move a crowd, but, as often happens with players when they've had so many years of success, the fire in his soul seemed like it missing, an intangible fire that makes a person hustle, claw and scratch there way up the music industry ladder from the bottom to the top. Just the same, it's got to be challenging to keep that fire burning once you make it and aren't as literally (or figuratively) hungry as you once were.

This notion was clearly not shared by the loyal, impassioned masses, who hung on Matthews' every move. From the time the steel cage, that served as a curtain, lifted at the beginning of the set to reveal the band, until the end of its set, the assembled throng, packed into a tight formation in front of the main stage, emitted a flowing, excited, ecstatic energy. -- Tynan

A Few More Photo Highlights From the Fest

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