Westword's most-read music stories over the past year were largely concert reviews of massive shows — and there were plenty that came through town. We saw Fleetwood Mac, Phish, Tool, Garth Brooks, Lizzo and so many more. But of all the stories that made this list, we were thrilled to see that our tribute to the late Brittany Strummer, a Denver punk-scene icon, also made the cut. She inspired DIY musicians in Denver and far beyond, and she will be missed by thousands.
Here are the ten most popular music stories on westword.com in 2019.
"Fleetwood Mac Brings Out the Worst in Denver at Pepsi Center Show"
An extraordinary amount of bickering plagued the Fleetwood Mac concert at the Pepsi Center: Fans grumbled at security. Boomers and millennials clashed over whether to sit or stand. Some members of the crowd were so busy spatting that many weren't able to enjoy the show, which was fabulous.
Amid all the intergenerational discord, Mick Fleetwood offered some smiley reminders about how we should all be kind to one another in these trying times. The question Westword culture editor Kyle Harris had at the end of the show: Is that even possible anymore?
"Phish Unapologetically Phish at Denver Labor Day Shows"
Despite camping at this year's Labor Day Phish stand being canceled over fears of plague-infested prairie dogs, the three annual concerts occurred, and Denver fans showed up as enthusiastically as ever.
Reviewer Adam Perry was less than impressed with the set list, and so were the fans he sat near: "Phish is playing great, but this set list is horrible," one said. Though he was also disenchanted with the lack of interaction from the band, Perry commended Phish for never getting stuck in nostalgia.
"The Rolling Stones and Mick Jagger's Orgasmic Denver Concert"
The Rolling Stones brought a flamboyant set to Mile High Stadium in August. Mick Jagger, whose youthful energy raged, even months after heart surgery, strutted around the stage, waving his hands and mugging for the crowd — giving reviewer Kyle Harris the impression that the singer was in perpetual orgasm. Local heroes Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats opened, delivering a hefty dose of hometown pride to Denver.
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"Tool Triggered Insomnia in Denver"
Westword clubs editor Jon Solomon found himself awake all night long after attending Tool's first night at the Pepsi Center. "I felt like a massive octopus was wringing out my brain," he wrote. "Flashbacks from the sold-out concert swirled through my head, and the ringing in my ears echoed the thud-thud-thud of subwoofers that had rattled my gut and chest."
"Surge of Kids Buying Dr. Martens Suggests Punk's Not Dead"
Paul Italiano, the owner of Denver punk store FashioNation, has seen an uptick of ex-punk parents bringing their children in to buy their first pair of Dr. Martens. The store has begun collecting photos of these interactions and sharing them on social media.
"That happened in November last year, when John Bechdel of the band Ministry was in the shop and posed with a young man selecting a pair of Dr. Martens," wrote Westword reporter Chris Walker. "Al Jourgensen's partner, Liz Walton, took the photo of the grinning teenager along with Bechdel and Italiano, which Italiano captioned, 'Just came in for his first pair of doc's!!! - and a photo with a huge ass rock star!! SWEET!!! Ministry in the house!!! he went with the 8 black greasy, John from Ministry got the Joy Divisions boots!! what a day!.'"
"Tool Night Two: Burly Security, Muscular Music, No Room for Error"
Adam Perry described Tool's second Denver concert as a "positively searing, ninety-minute career-spanning-set." He was impressed by the band's bold musical choices, particularly drummer Danny Carey's athleticism and frontperson Maynard James Keenan's eccentric on-stage persona.
"In the end, Tool’s performance represented the antithesis of most modern rock, most obviously that of jam bands," wrote Perry. "Though the effect was deep, powerful and liberating, there was zero margin for error and little if any room for improvisation, creating a sense of meaning and intention behind every note and every word."
"Hey, Lizzo Fans: Where Are the Thick Bitches At?"
When Lizzo brought her dance-inducing show to the Fillmore Auditorium, reviewer Leslie Wilber was in awe whenever she lost herself in the rising star's performance. "Things got uncomfortable, fast," she wrote. "As Eris warmed up the crowd early in the night, a woman next to me screamed along with Beyoncé's 'Formation,' not skipping over that word that — as a white person myself — I'm pretty sure we're not supposed to use.
"I watched thin white women literally push black women and fat people out of the way, scrambling to get closer to the stage, splashing drinks on anyone they determined could just as well get behind them," she added.
Despite the rude crowd, Wilber left impressed: "It's easy to imagine that in thirty years, I might recall this show with the same awe my dad has when he waxes about seeing James Brown."
"Stop Talking and Play: Channel 93.3's Weezer Concert Fails"
When KTCL sponsored the Weezer concert at the Mission Ballroom, reporter Conor McCormick-Cavanagh was not expecting to be subjected to a lengthy interview between a DJ and the band before the show started. But he was. And along with many in the crowd, he was put off.
"By the fifteen-minute mark of the painful interview, fans booed and chanted, 'Let them play,'" he wrote. "The booing wasn't directed at the band at all. Instead, it was aimed at the hosts for undermining the fans' energy at the beginning of the concert and instead making everyone wait way too long."
"Illegal Pete's, Laura Jane Grace and Denver Punks Mourn Brittany Strummer"
Punk News writer, Illegal Pete's employee and DIY maven Brittany Strummer took her own life this spring, which sent the city's punk scene into mourning.
“In a way, she was a culture arbiter — being that person who was an editor at Punk News,” Andrew Windermere told Westword shortly after her death. “I know a lot of people that were friends with her. They’ve never met her, but online they knew her as a person who had great taste in music."
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Music, he explained, was her bible. “It’s what she lived by. I think she took that to heart and lived the words and the meaning behind the songs.”
"Garth Brooks at Broncos Stadium Showed Bitter White Men a Better Way"
Garth Brooks broke records when he packed 84,000 people into Broncos Stadium and played what he called the best concert of his career (though we hear he says that to all the cities). What struck Harris was that despite the uptick in racism, Brooks brought a different vision of what country music could be, lighting up the stadium with rainbow-colored lights and preaching the gospel of inclusion and love. He even dedicated a song to a journalist — one of Trump's "enemies of the people."
"[Brooks] loved his fans. He loved his songs. He even loved us crabs in the press," Harris wrote. "There’s not enough of that these days. ... Garth gave us something more precious than he received, something everyone would do well to embrace: a sense that the world can be more than a place of resentment, hostility and rage. He delivered unapologetic joy and showed us a better way."
What were your favorite Westword music stories of 2019? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.