Venues and live shows often serve as laboratories for music, opportunities for artists to probe and prod the merits of new songs and measure their effects upon a test group: the audience.
Small venues have always been great for this role, because musicians can focus in on a limited audience and don’t have to project their sound very far. Plus, what if the new songs fall flat? Not that many people will have been there to remember.
Playing fresh material at Red Rocks, however, takes some huevos; keeping an entire amphitheater — largely filled with inebriated people — locked into material that they don’t recognize is no easy task, and a band knows it’s failing when all those swaying bodies stop swaying, and cell-phone screens start lighting up near people’s waists as their owners text their friends to find out what they’re up to.
It’s very much to Glass Animals’ and Portugal. The Man’s credit that this did not happen on Wednesday night. The new material that both psych-pop bands played was well received.
In the case of Glass Animals, a band from Oxford, England, that has been edging toward stardom ever since their debut, Zaba, came out in 2014, it meant introducing Red Rocks to songs from its upcoming full-length, How to Be a Human Being. This included a diverse selection of moods; the band has said that the eleven songs on the new album are inspired from the eleven people who are pictured on the album’s cover, each of whom have very distinct personalities – crazy, sad, happy, etc. The common thread at Red Rocks, however, was that the crowd latched onto tracks like “Life Itself” and gave them the same attention as previous hits from Zaba, like “Gooey” and “Hazey.”
Portugal. The Man largely followed suit. As veterans of the tour circuit (and Red Rocks), the Alaska-bred and Portland-based band did elect for some safe picks during its performance, like a cover of “Hey Jude” during their encore (it would be kind of embarrassing if they’d messed that up). But they also rolled out more unfamiliar material from their upcoming album, Gloomin + Doomin, including the guitar-heavy and slightly punk track “Keep On.”
So even though Red Rocks is a huge space to fill, both bands carried themselves confidently with their new material, and the crowd was receptive.
It also bodes well for both bands' upcoming albums. They should be good ones.
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Chris Walker is a freelancer and former staff writer at Westword. Before moving to the Mile High City he spent two years bicycling across Eurasia, during which he wrote feature stories for VICE, NPR, Forbes, and The Atlantic. Read more of Chris's feature work and view his portfolio here.