Hoo, boy, it's SnowBall weekend, here in Denver for the first time in the festival's young history
. The dance-heavy lineup features reliable names like Pretty Lights and Griz as well as some curveballs, like Earl Sweatshirt and Warpaint.
There's more: In the Whale will spend two nights celebrating its new album at the hi-dive with Austin prodigy Residual Kid. And you can wind down your weekend with the great Brad Mehldau Trio in Boulder. The rest of our picks follow.
In tandem with his band, Booker T. & The M.G.s, multi-instrumentalist Booker T. Jones laid down the grooves behind some of the '60s most revered soul artists, including working as the Stax label's in-house band during the era of Otis Redding and Albert King. Two years after Jones was inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, he teamed up with the Drive-By Truckers to release Potato Hole in 2009, which earned him a Grammy. Since then, he's released a pair of strong albums, including 2011's The Road from Memphis and last year's Sound the Alarm, which marked his return to the Stax imprint.Head for the Hills at the Bluebird Theater: Friday, April 4
Head for the Hills uses misdirection like a veteran magician onBlue Ruin
. The album kicks off with "Take Me Back," an easygoing, rambling ballad steeped in traditional bluegrass. The rest of the record, however, is a surreal, heady and innovative fusion of styles. "Never Does" offers a dark and brooding narrative with complementary moody music, while the mandolin work on "Priscilla the Chinchilla" is frenetic enough to fit the profile of a prog-rock band, and "Breakfast Noir" includes jazz cues that feel straight out of a beatnik coffee shop. The lyrics are just as bold, reflecting the band's knack for wordplay. All of these elements make for an innovative mix, one that shows that this quartet isn't bound by its roots in bluegrass tradition.Gary Numan at the Gothic Theater: Friday, April 4
Gary Numan is most widely remembered for his 1980 hit song "Cars." That song was merely the most popular in an influential career that had a direct impact on artists as diverse as Prince, Beck, Lady Gaga and, of course, Nine Inch Nails, with whom Numan has both toured and collaborated. Anyone who has seen the man perform on recent tours knows he doesn't skimp, with music that runs the gamut of electronic-based pop and rock music but always with a core of vibrant emotional vulnerability and openness. It is that quality that has allowed Numan as an artist to take in influences from his peers as well as those that identify his work as a foundational inspiration.SnowBall Music Festival at Sports Authority Field: April 4 to 6
Sports Authority Field at Mile High is often filled with fans who provide unfaltering support for their home team, who come out in droves and weather malicious snowstorms, biting wind and blinding sun to be a part of something special. With the silhouette of the Rocky Mountains to the west and the skyline of the Mile High City to the east, this plot of land is Colorado through and through.
But this weekend, it won't be the Denver Broncos that fans will be rooting for at Mile High, but a different Colorado-born endeavor: the SnowBall Music Festival. Hometown favorite Pretty Lights will headline the festival; the party will also include the bombastic sounds of Knife Party and the commanding flow of Busta Rhymes. In addition, this year marks the first time SnowBall will be held east of the foothills, after three years of bouncing around mountain towns with mixed results.Tycho at Summit Music Hall: Friday, April 4
In the twelve years he's been writing and performing as Tycho, Scott Hansen hasn't rested comfortably in a sonic niche. His 2004 debut album, Sunrise Projector, was clearly inspired in part by the dreamlike sense of nostalgia that imbues the music of Boards of Canada. Hansen also mixes organic elements into his tracks to give them texture and a presence that suggests something computers cannot re-create. The retro-futurist aesthetic of Hansen's compositions convey a sense of the immediate future. It's not bleak music, but it is expansively moody. On his most recent album, Awake, Hansen leaped into a style that incorporates rock elements, so his live show should be more visceral than ever.Del The Funky Homosapien at the Gothic Theater: Saturday, April 5
If MCs were the rivers of the world, Del the Funky Homosapien would sit comfortably as the Nile. He has the most prodigious flow in the world, switching direction often, never losing momentum and always moving forward. In the early days with the Hieroglyphics crew, Del helped spread Oakland's hip-hop influence around the world. Later, he lent his vocals to the Gorillaz' commercially successful "Clint Eastwood." On his most recent solo release,Root Stimulation
, from 2012, Del continued to raise the bar for hip-hop content and lyrical versatility. And then there's his collaborative work in Deltron 3030, where he teamed up with Dan the Automator and Kid Koala to create The Event, one of the greatest hip-hop concept albums of all time. That classic's sequel arrived last year and proved once again that Del is one of the best in the game.Derek Plaslaiko at Beta: Saturday, April 5
Electronica is a genre that develops specific regional sounds as the scene evolves in different cities around the globe -- and there are a handful of DJs who can rise to the top of any scene they choose. Derek Plaslaiko has been fortunate -- and talented -- enough to become a fixture in a number of different cities. He was a fixture in the heyday of Detroit techno (he played at the inaugural Detroit Electronic Music Festival, now known as Movement Electronic Music Festival) and then moved to New York City, where he became a resident at the renowned Bunker events. Now based out of Berlin, Plaslaiko has released tracks on such well-known labels as Perc Trax. Wherever he goes, his clean, selective sets earn him accolades from the planet's top DJs; he's proven himself adept at mixing tracks from the precise, techno side of the EDM spectrum to more sassy, soulful house tunes. He's made appearances at Boulder's Communikey festival for the past four years, and he'll test the sound systems at Beta on Saturday, April 5.In the Whale at the hi-dive: Friday, April 4 and Saturday, April 5
"On a Roll," the first of three songs on In the Whale's bombastic EP, Eric, tells a story that could fit seamlessly into a vintage Sam Peckinpah Western: "Forty-five hours to the Mexican border/I got the sheriff's daughter and he's breathing down my shoulder," sings Nate Valdez. Instead of old cowboy music, though, the soundtrack to this tale of a fugitive's flight is utterly modern rock and roll. Valdez belts out emotive power-pop vocals and strums distortion-laden power chords with vigor. Eric Riley, meanwhile, beats out a 4/4 drum line that's danceable in every sense of the word. "Girlfriend," a desperate, frantic plea for a romantic partner, and "Sunbeam," a moody and violent declaration, show the same broad mix of powerful rock and compelling stories. The release is all the more impressive because it's the work of just two people.Brad Mehldau Trio at Boulder Theater: Sunday, April 6
Over the last two decades pianists Brad Mehldau has recorded and performed in various formats (his latest effort, Mehliana: Taming the Dragon, is a duo recording with drummer Mark Guiliana), but he seems most at home with his trio, which includes long-time bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard, who's been with Mehldau for almost a ten years. Any of the pianist's live recordings, including The Art of the Trio volumes or Live in Tokyo, confirm Mehldau's intuitive and proficient playing in the live setting.
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