The ten best concerts in Denver this weekend

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Welcome to the weekend, amigos! We made it, and we've got another fine weekend of tunes to look forward to. From hip-hop and bluegrass to indie rock and southern rock, there's a variety of options, both local and national, to choose from. We've got all of the shows happening on the Front Range over the next few days listed in our concert calendar. If you have some time on your hands this morning and you're feeling industrious, feel free to explore on your own. If you'd rather take a curated approach to crafting your plans, we've done all of the heavy lifting for you and singled out the ten best concerts in Denver this weekend. Keep reading to see what's on tap.

See also: - Instant Empire sets the modern American struggle to sound - John Skehan of Railroad Earth on jamming and how playing is conversational - Leo Kottke on A Prairie Home Companion and his first movie

10. BLACKBERRY SMOKE @ SUMMIT MUSIC HALL | SAT, 1/19/13 If you're one of those people whose heart skips a beat every time the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd come on the radio, you're going to love Blackberry Smoke, a band from Atlanta (natch) that plays a rugged brand of southern rock that sounds so authentic you'd swear that President Carter was still in office and sprinkles it with a tasteful bit of country. But time is obviously a relative thing when it comes to this act whose show at the Summit is being presented by Ones to Watch -- a somewhat ironic notion considering the outfit has been around more than a decade, but also rather prescient, as the group, which has the enviable co-sign of Zac Brown (who signed the band to his Southern Ground imprint), is poised to breakout in the coming year.

9. GOD MODULE @ CASSELMAN'S BAR & VENUE | SUN, 1/20/13 Whether it's surrealistic horror movies and literature, esoteric knowledge or atmospheric music and death rock, God Module's output reflects a certain fascination with the dark side of the psyche -- a mosaic of interests, perhaps even obsessions, held by founding member Jasyn Bangert. The act is rooted in edgier EBM and more dance-oriented industrial music while Bangert's vocals wouldn't be out of place in a black-metal band. With some visual and sonic nods to the likes of Christian Death and Clan of Xymox, there is something simultaneously unsettling and cartoonish to the group's live show, a mix you don't often see. Two days after this date at Casselman's, God Module will release its latest album, Empath 2.0.

8. LEO KOTTKE @ ELLIE CAULKINS OPERA HOUSE | SAT, 1/19/13 Leo Kottke is a legendary and beloved master of finger picking guitar and a gifted raconteur. He got his start with John Fahey's Takoma Records in the late '60s, and he's been releasing noteworthy albums with some of the most inventive and interesting acoustic music ever recorded. Whether playing intricate folk leads or jazz inflected blues, Kottke is ever the master craftsman with a creative imagination to match. Kottke has overcome physically debilitating damage to his hearing and his tendons that nearly ended his career, but he switched up his playing style, and he continues strong to this day. A longtime regular guest on A Prairie Home Companion, Kottke, a resident of the Twin Cities, was also awarded an honorary PhD in Music Performance from the University of Wisconsin in 2008.

7. BLACKALICIOUS @ MARQUIS THEATER | FRI, 1/18/13 Chief Xcel and Gift of Gab, the duo behind Blackalicious, have been together since the early '90s. The Craft, the act's third full-length, released on the Anti- imprint in 2005, is a first-rate forum for their formidable skills. Throughout, the music blends live instrumentation with canny borrowings, and the arrangements often juxtapose the Gabby One's incisive couplets with soulful singing by contributors such as Joy King, whose wailing lifts "World of Vibrations," the striking opener, into the stratosphere. This approach might strike some listeners as old-fashioned, and there's something to that; George Clinton's cameo on the slinky "Lotus Flower" fits right in. On the other hand, the substance at the heart of "Black Diamonds and Pearls," a street tale that ends with a ray of hope, not a jolt from an electric chair, is so retro that it feels positively fresh. (Blackalicious is also due at the Belly Up in Aspen on Saturday, January 19, and the Aggie Theatre in Fort Collins on Sunday, January 20.)

6. DEAD PREZ @ ORIENTAL THEATER | FRI, 1/18/13 Dead Prez MC Stic.man rightly pegged his group as "somewhere in between N.W.A. and P.E." on the thumping "I'm a African" from the turn-of-the-millenium classic Let's Get Free. The duo (completed by fellow lyricist M1) took the street-level rage of N.W.A., filtered it through the socio-political lens of Public Enemy and finished it off with a touch of Native Tongues-crew Afrohumanism. Later on, their message became less focused (both lyrically or musically) and perhaps less powerful than it was on Let's Get Free (Stic.man's newer material, for example, mainly consists of him talking about staying clean and hitting the gym), but Dead Prez still stands as one of the most effective and intelligent groups to emerge from the East Coast conscious rap renaissance of the late nineties/early aughts. Look forward to hearing well-known material along side newer joints off Information Age, the act's latest.

5. SP DOUBLE @ GOTHIC THEATRE | SAT, 1/19/13 SP Double just wants to keep it moving. The MC (aka Adrian Perlman) has endured his share of personal travails and had enough beef with other rappers to fill a warehouse. But all of that's in the rearview now; he'd rather focus on what's ahead. Just the same, he's smart enough to know that the road to the future is paved in the past -- a past once littered with bitterness and disappointments. And until he made peace with that past, he couldn't move forward. But he's not here to stir up hard feelings that have long since softened. He's already said everything he had to say in the booth -- plainly, eloquently, directly. This Saturday, he celebrates the release of his latest effort LHRII (The Prequel), with a stellar supporting cast that includes Mr. Midas, Signature Music Group, Kold Reality and Ray Reed with DJ KTone, plus a pair of comedians, Courtney Bang Rice and Derrick Culver, a trio of DJs, Chonz, DJ SiFi and Deejai Durty Sanchez, and an MC battle between Vitol and AceOutrageous. [continue on to read full SP Double profile]

4. INSTANT EMPIRE (EP RELEASE) @ HI-DIVE | FRI, 1/18/13 Instant Empire started life as a duo when Scotty Saunders and guitarist/vocalist Sean Connaughty began writing songs together after meeting through an ad on Craigslist. After penning a batch of songs on acoustic guitars over the course of five months, the two determined that they would need a full band to help them flesh out their songs. Connaughty tapped his friend Matt Grizzell, who was playing drums with Alan Alda at the time, to keep time for the new project, and from there, the outfit grew into the six-piece it is now, with guitarist Lou Kucera, bassist Aaron Stone and multi-instrumentalist Doug Chase rounding out the lineup. Since both Saunders and Connaughty grew up listening to more lyrics-oriented artists like Bright Eyes and Okkervil River, the two naturally spend a lot of time on the words. [continue reading full Instant Empire profile]

3. CALEXICO @ FOX THEATRE | FRI, 1/18 // OGDEN THEATRE | SAT, 1/19 Though Algiers is immediately recognizable as a Calexico album -- that signature impression of the expansive borderlands desert remains -- singer-guitarist Joey Burns, drummer John Convertino, and their supporting cast bring much more to bear on this latest effort. Having taken some time out for soundtrack work (Circo, The Guard), record-producing (Amos Lee's Mission Bell), and box-set-making (Road Atlas, which collected the band's eight tour-only albums), Calexico sought to record the bulk of an album in New Orleans instead of Tucson's WaveLab Studio.

2. PARTICLE @ QUIXOTE'S | FRI, 1/18 // FOX THEATRE | SAT, 1/19 No one's particularly fond of playing the desultory "sounds like" game when it comes to music, but whatever. In Particle's case, an A-meets-B-meets-C type of comparison is warranted. This middle-aged California-based quartet really does resemble a sonic collage comprising the Grateful Dead, Roy Davis Jr. and the Chemical Brothers as it whips crowds into a frenzy with blends of mellow grooves, psychedelic freakouts and long improvisations.

1. RAILROAD EARTH @ OGDEN THEATRE | FRI-SUN, 1/18-1/20 The music of Railroad Earth isn't easy to classify, although most people will be happy to label it "jam band" and move on. Still reading? Good, because while there's definitely some "jamming" going on in the live show, this is not some guitar-noodling Phish knock-off. Bluegrass lies at the heart of Railroad Earth, but it's a wide-ranging, omnivorous strain of bluegrass that isn't afraid to ditch tradition and have some fun. As a result, you get all the banjo, fiddle and mandolin you'd expect, fused with electric guitars and drums and prone to weird tangents that might touch on anything from Celtic to jazz. It's a frequently surprising and relentlessly upbeat sound that's at its very best live, regardless of what you call it. (Railroad kicks off its three-night stand at the Ogden this Friday, January 18)

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