A few more of this week's highlights follow.
Empire of the Sun at Belly Up Aspen: Monday and Tuesday Australia's Empire of the Sun launched its imperial ambitions on the strength of "Walking on a Dream," the title track from its 2008 debut. The album offered half a dozen other strong tracks -- especially "We Are the People" -- that manage to fuse elements of new wave, disco and glam into glossy dance pop that's both radio-friendly and strikingly distinctive. Apart from the single "Alive," last year's followup, Ice on the Dune, lacked the same kind of punch, but the band's cinematic approach -- its videos and stage show are visually stunning -- should help keep the dream of empire-building alive until it can pull together more tunes that live up to that initial promise.
Nekromantix at the Bluebird Theater: Tuesday Here's a fun project for the kiddies: Take all the Nekromantix albums that are lying around and make a flip-book out of the covers. Then watch the three disembodied heads grimace and squirm like a badly drawn Hanna-Barbera cartoon (as if there was any other kind). Well, actually, you may run into a slight kink with that. When Kim Nekroman left his native Denmark for the United States of California in the early 2000s, he added a couple of new heads. That incarnation of the line-up (and there would be many future roster changes with Nekroman being the one constant member) accounted for the sudden shift in focus from the campy, Crampy Return of the Loving Dead and the spaghetti-Western Dead Girls Don't Cry to 2007's Life Is a Grave & I Dig It!. The most recent line-up includes guitarist Francisco Mesa and drummer Lux, who both appear on the the trio's latest effort, What Happens in Hell, Stays in Hell.
Phantogram at the Ogden Theater: Tuesday In recent years, several bands have combined the hazy sounds of '80s synth-pop with strains of hip-hop and experimental electronic music. Phantogram doesn't just reconcile those influences; its songs are as memorable as anything that inspired them. It doesn't hurt that Sarah Barthel is a talented vocalist who can sing like she's coming out of a daydream and still sound excited. Based on the band's kaleidoscopic guitar work and Dilla-esque soundscaping, it's clear that Phantogram is a cut above many of its would-be peers. The group's latest album, 2014's Voices, skillfully blurs the line between pop and dance music.
Shakey Graves at Larimer Lounge: Wednesday Shakey Graves (Alejandro Rose-Garcia) is a one man force to be reckoned with. Armed with a vintage guitar, attention grabbing musical stylistics and a drum made out of a suitcase, this one man band grabs audiences like no other; you can hear a pin drop at his shows.
Sir Mix-A-Lot at Cervantes' Other Side: Wednesday Throughout pop-music history, there have been countless songs written about the female body. But there haven't been many explicitly about butts, and for his efforts on "Baby Got Back," Sir Mix-A-Lot took home a Grammy in 1992. More than twenty years after the rapper made waves with the track and its companion video, which featured mountainous replicas of behinds, his playful verses can still be heard in commercials, movies, karaoke bars and at throwback club nights. But Mix-A-Lot can't be regarded as just a one-hit-wonder: Prior to his fame in the '90s, he was responsible for the 1988 classic "Posse on Broadway," a song that has been sampled and referenced countless times (catch fellow Seattle rapper Macklemore's mention in "Can't Hold Us"). Though he hasn't officially released a record since 2003's Daddy's Home, Mix-A-Lot has been quietly working on some new material, as well as doing production work for up-and-coming artists and making sporadic live appearances as the pimp-mimicking rapper with a backside jones.
Cheech and Chong at Fillmore Auditorium: Thursday Cheech & Chong have had a longstanding willingness to appear at any weed-related event, which means the duo has been seeing plenty of Denver lately. The musical-comedy buds remain America's most beloved stoner cliche after more than forty years, earning fan adoration with a series of cult-classic albums and films and touring constantly since their reunion.
Tonight, Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong will perform comedy and sing some of their songs at the Fillmore Auditorium while also hosting an entire evening of entertainment, which features a special appearance from Shelby Chong, standup comedy from Jeffrey Peterson, otherwise known as "the 420 Comic," and musical performances from Boot Rooster, Laith Al-Saadi, Sister Sledge and the Family Stone.
Despite the weed-themed marketing and legalization advocacy, however, the venue will comply with the Clean Indoor Air Act and prohibit fans from blazing indoors. "Iconic names like Cheech & Chong and NORML are part of American culture," says event promoter and King of Quality Productions owner Chris Chiari. "We don't have to smoke to celebrate the fact that we legally can." The event, he says, which doubles as a fundraiser for NORML, "could generate one of their largest single contributions ever."
Flume at the Gothic Theatre: Thursday Flume is the musical project of Harley Streten from Sydney, Australia. At 22, Streten has come a long way from where he started, making electronic music using a bit of production software he got from a box of cereal at age thirteen. His sparse but evocative soundscapes defy easy categorization. With distinctive stylistic flourishes that he uses as a detail rather than a main sonic theme, Streten's music has an uncommon subtlety, and his dark melodic compositions suggest a visual aesthetic born out in his live show.