The 8 best concerts in Denver from March 24 to March 27

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Novelty had its moment in hip-hop; vision had its moment; abstraction had its moment. But thanks in no small part to Top Dawg Entertainment and its star, Kendrick Lamar, good old fashioned high-quality rapping is once again the standard of the day. And now, K.Dot's longtime running mate Schoolboy Q has a full-length equal to the challenge of the crew's history. Go see him on Thursday and try to remember why in the hell you bought Tha Carter III in the first place. There are other shows, too. Here, check 'em out:

Monday, March 24: Denver Avant-Garde Music Society solos and duets at Strage Grounds Coffee The Denver Avant-Garde Music Society has been hosting monthly open-call solo and duet performance nights for about a year now, says event organizer Kurt Bauer of Bangsnap Records, and attendees never know exactly what they're going to get. For some performers, the nights represent a chance to try something new out on an audience, while others join in just for the chance to jam and make noise with like-minded experimental musicians. Whatever the framework, it's an out-of-the-ordinary opportunity to explore the sonic landscape that lives beyond your iPod playlist.

The music -- which features such local avant-garde artists as Arnie Swenson of Mission Supports, percussionist Gordon Pryor, Steve Gordon (who builds unusual instruments from scratch), and Bauer himself -- begins around 9 p.m. at Strange Grounds Coffee, 1417 South Broadway; admission is free. Visit the Facebook event page for information. For more about Bangsnap Records, go to bangsnap.bandcamp.com.

Monday, March 24: Michael Franti & Friends at Sheridan Opera House

It's fitting that Michael Franti and Spearhead's upcoming quartet of appearances in the Centennial State are split between the ski towns of Telluride and Aspen. It's not that Franti, a cheerful ambassador of reggae, funk and hip-hop, offers a certain theme or brand of music geared solely toward the high-income crowds in those trendy mountain towns. In fact, Franti has made a career of crafting rhymes and music for an everyman audience. Social justice and accessibility have always played a big part in the man's music; it's an ethos made clear in the title of his most recent release, last year's All the People. Yet for all their broad appeal, Spearhead's groove-based tunes and conscientious, insistent lyrics are not made for arenas. That's why playing at the Sheridan Opera House in Telluride and the Belly Up in Aspen (on March 26-27) feels so right: Both venues offer an intimacy that fits the group's message.

Monday, March 24: Steel Pulse at Ogden Theatre

Hailing from Birmingham England by way of the West Indies, Steel Pulse is the first reggae band to perform at this (or any) American president's inaugural celebration. As trivial as Steel Pulse's rank is among ultra-roots purists who kneel before the holy trinity of Bob Marley, Culture and Burning Spear, the outfit started out with the lofty intention of most rastas: burning down Babylon, then salting the ashes. In the good old Thatcher-baiting days, Pulse would dress like vicars, coach footmen and powder-wigged aristocrats, sharing eclectic bills with U.K. rabble-rousers like the Clash, the Stranglers, Generation X and the Police. Along the way, however, the protest-minded vision of frontman David Hinds branched into watered-down crossover territory such as synth-soaked party anthems. From its 1978 debut, Handsworth Revolution to the Grammy-garnering Babylon the Bandit, the ever-changing lineup has dabbled in jazz, Latin grooves, contemporary dancehall lite, and even a killer Jah-slanted take on Van Morrison's "Brown Eyed Girl."

Wednesday, March 26: Pierre Bensusan at The Soiled Dove Underground

French fingerstyle guitarist Pierre Bensusan, an incredible technician whose drop-dead, globally influenced licks are as beautiful as they are well-executed. And if his instrumental and ethnomusicological virtuosity alone weren't enough of an enticement, wait till you hear him sing.

Wednesday, March 26: The Joy Formidible at 3 Kings Tavern

Ritzy Bryan and Rhydian Dafydd grew up together in North Wales and formed their first band, Tricky Nixon, while living in Manchester. When that outfit split up, in 2006, the two wasted little time in putting together what would become the Joy Formidable when they moved back to Wales. Over the next five years, the three-piece created a bright sound comprising broad vistas and sweeping dynamics, pushed along by a notable urgency and exuberance. Immediate comparisons could be drawn to the shimmering electricity of


-era Lush and the wiry guitar experimentation of Medicine, but this act seems to hurl itself into the music with a startling forcefulness worthy of its name.

Thursday, March 27: Bluetech at Fox Theatre

Bluetech is not your typical EDM, that is to say he does not cull a set from the top ten list on Beatport. Instead, he uses his original sounds to create an environment that could easily emulate a rave if you were partying on the newest club on Mars. Seriously, you won't hear anything like Bluetech because he seems to create sounds from another world, and that is a world you want to be apart of when he lays a set on the Fox Theatre alongside Denver's own Project Aspect, who just recently rounded out a national tour with fellow MHSM-founder Unlimited Gravity.

Thursday, March 27: Nightmares on Wax (DJ set) at Summit Music Hall

Before he got involved in the acid-house scene in the U.K. during the late '80s and early '90s, George Evelyn was a hardcore hip-hop fan. He joined a breakdancing group in 1988 with Kevin Harper, and the two formed Nightmares on Wax. In mixing hip-hop beat-making with turntables and sampling live music with electronic production, their 1991 debut, A Word of Science: The First and Final Chapter, was a pioneer of what would come to be called trip-hop. But in his recent DJ sets under the Nightmares moniker, Evelyn has been exploring a lifelong interest in soul and R&B music. The resulting shows are a modern-day exploration of the jazz-inflected funk that was the soundtrack to his childhood.

Thursday, March 27: Schooboy Q at Ogden Theatre

Schoolboy Q just released Oxymoron, his latest album, to general acclaim. He has embraced a style that is dark and creative, using unique but effective beats and a persona that is difficult to put a finger on. He has definitely carved out a distinct identity at a vital point in his career where he will either be eclipsed by Kendrick Lamar or be able to stand beside him. From the sounds of Oxymoron, it's more likely the latter.

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