Getting Off on the Rocks

The bands on the July 29 Red Rocks bill don't qualify as the newest and hottest combos on the planet. Ween, the show's headliner, actually formed way back in 1984, although its first long-player wasn't released until 1990. The Flaming Lips, which played in the second slot, are even older, springing to life in 1983, and issuing their self-titled debut in 1985. That makes members of the Go! Team, which opened the gig, the undisputed newbies. Ian Parton's creation -- the subject of a recent Westword profile -- bowed in 2000.

So why did the concert seem so fresh in comparison with the rest of this summer's Red Rocks lineup? The Go! Team's youthful exuberance had something to do with it; Ninja, the act's live frontwoman, engaged in an energetic series of cheerleading, Tai-Bo and Jazzercising routines before, during and after delivering her lines. But creativity was perhaps the major factor, particularly when it came to the Flaming Lips. Instead of relying upon the tried and true (as Ween did too often in its inspiration-challenged closing set), Lips leader Wayne Coyne kept the surprises coming. Onstage dancers dressed as Santa Clauses and superheroes? Why not? A camera mounted on the microphone, so that Coyne's every conversation with the crowd recalled a dental exam? Sure thing! A giant karaoke singalong to Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody"? Bring it on!

In contrast, many of the other acts performing at Red Rocks in 2006 came to fame in the '60s or '70s: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, the Allman Brothers, Steely Dan, Journey, Chicago and the reunited James Gang fall into this category. Moreover, the combos that don't quite fit this description tend to draw on the good ol' days from a musical standpoint, with jammers well-represented by the likes of Widespread Panic, Gov't Mule, Blues Traveler, String Cheese Incident and RatDog, led by Grateful Dead longtimer Bob Weir. Indeed, the majority of the tunes echoing from the majestic venue this year either date back decades, or sound as if they should.

This fact should terrify folks in the music industry. Labels don't build careers the way they once did, and as a result, there's going to be fewer and fewer outfits capable of filling arenas and amphitheaters once the current generation of boomer faves gets too creaky to strum in public. And that's a shame -- because if there's one thing better than getting a chance to see a past fave at Red Rocks, it's the opportunity to hear musicians who still have something to say. -- Michael Roberts

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts