STEELY DAN @ RED ROCKS | THURS, 8/8/13 Enigmatic, intellectual, wry and clever, Steely Dan played what sounded a bit like smooth jazz when the band debuted in the mid-70s, even as singer/pianist Donald Fagen sang pointedly about clandestine acts, the lurid underbelly of American society and the nuanced psychodrama of romantic relationships. Famously naming their band after a dildo in the William Burroughs classic Naked Lunch, Fagen and cohort Walter Becker applied masterful musicianship to the deeply sardonic, irreverent tone of their songs. Largely a studio-based affair, Steely Dan explored, exposed and commented upon the prevailing American zeitgeist with almost literary flair, and continues to do so today. Although Fagen and Becker have done occasional tours since getting back together in 1993, seeing them at Red Rocks will no doubt be a special treat.
SEBADOH @ LARIMER LOUNGE | TUES, 8/6/13 Before being kicked out of Dinosaur Jr. in 1989, Lou Barlow wrote and recorded many of his own compositions on a four-track. Whether through songs or sound experiments, Sebadoh was an outlet for Barlow's anxieties, and over time, it became a more or less full-time project. While not truly a pioneer of the lo-fi aesthetic, the band certainly embodied what that term entailed for underground rock of the '90s, from the angsty subject matter of its lyrics to its unconventional melodies -- not to mention a pronounced willingness to dispense with polished production and songwriting in favor of an intimacy and emotional honesty that's not often possible with conventional studio recordings. As more mainstream music embraces what would have been seen as flaws in another era, Barlow has been vindicated, whether or not that was ever his intention.
PHOENIX @ RED ROCKS | WEDS, 8/7/13 Phoenix guitarist Laurent Brancowitz was once in a noisy garage-rock band called Darlin' with the future members of Daft Punk. But rather than following the strict electronic dance route of his former bandmates, he joined a band with his younger brother, Christian Mazzalai, and his friends Thomas Mars and Deck d'Arcy. Coming together as Phoenix in 1999, the quartet released its debut album, United in 2000. Although the members of Phoenix hail from France, frontman Mars chose to sing lyrics mostly in English, which allowed the band's lushly crafted pop songs to reach a wide audience outside of its home country. The band broke through on a massive scale in 2009 with Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, which contained the hit "Lisztomania." The music of Phoenix, whose latest album, Bankrupt, was issued this past April, is buoyant and sunny without being insipid.
BRUNO MARS @ RED ROCKS | MON & TUES, 8/5-8/6 We live in a world where a "singer" can be successful without actually knowing how to sing. In this Internet age, it seems we are less interested in the strength and beauty of a singer's voice than in the crazy outfit or antics he or she will throw up next -- never mind that every pop song contains the same four chords, or that it takes a team of ten songwriters to pen lyrics that are less eloquent than love notes written in the diaries of some middle-school girls. And then there's Bruno Mars. The Hawaiian-born singer-songwriter is one of the exceptions in today's wasteland of pop music. He's a true diamond in the rough, with a million-dollar smile and dance moves that would make Baryshnikov envious. And, yes, ladies and gentlemen, this "singer" exhibits a vocal ability that sounds even better live than on the radio. Catch Mars during his two-night stand at Red Rocks this week with Ellie Goulding.
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