(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Monday, January 2, 2012

Favorite concerts of 2011

If picking a favorite set of albums for the year is hard, picking concerts is even harder. The right subjective mood can create a perfect concert experience or keep it from clicking. So, this exercise is more a chance for me to reminisce about my personal peak experiences. Hang with me.

Beats Antique with the Tailor and Inspired Flight
8 April, Boulder Theater, Boulder

From the dancer fangirls to the intoxicating grooves, this show was phenomenal. The opening acts meshed well with Beats Antique, offering tastes of both electronica and exotica. Inspired Flight covered the electronica side with the flexibility to bounce from DJ focused tracks to full on jams. Tarran the Tailor performed a solo banjo set that pushed sonic boundaries with effects and looping.

Beats Antique's performance was incredible. The music was lush and intricate, layered with syncopation and a rich palette of sounds. Of course, the music was only part of their show. Zoe Jakes and her fellow dancers added their choreographed interpretation of the glitchy world beat jams. On top of this, it was also my son's first concert and Beats Antique is one of his favorite bands.
(full show review)

Mogwai with Errors
2 May, Bluebird Theater, Denver

Mogwai dedicated much of their set to new songs from Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will. The band imbued these songs with all the noisy catharsis that they are known for. The dynamics from the album were there, but the crescendos delivered tidal waves of sound. This was the kind of show that follows you home afterwards, lulling you to sleep with its echoes.

The opening act, Errors was a reasonable pairing. They built thickly layered sounds against a strong beat. Where Mogwai was more guitar oriented, Error focused on the electronic side, with synths and heavily processed guitars.
(full show review)

Garage a Trois
15 December, Aggie Theatre, Ft. Collins

The four members of Garage a Trois seemingly morphed themselves into a single musical entity. That's the only explanation for how they could be so tightly aligned while darting in so many random directions. At the same time, each player's personality shone through, from Mike Dillon's manic mayhem on the vibes to Skerik's melodramatic exaggeration.

The music they created was fun, challenging, and jaw-droppingly amazing. Bounding from bebop to rock to Zappa-esque experimentalism, it was a night of surprises.
(full show review)

Stockholm Syndrome with Sam Holt Band
5 August, Mishawaka Amphitheatre, Bellvue

The right venue can add its own magic to a show. Set in the Colorado mountains, the open air amphitheatre at the Mish is a great place to see any band. Stockholm Syndrome's jam band groove fit perfectly. Jerry Joseph (the Jackmormons) fronted the band with tightly wound energy that contrasted with Dave Schools' (Widespread Panic) more solid presence. The show was amazing, with Schools' ecstatic bass runs and a fiery encore of Road to Damascus.

The opening act, the Sam Holt Band, featured Sam Holt and Tori Pater. Their Grateful Dead style jams favored the bluegrass side, with a country sound fueled by Adam Stern's pedal steel.
(full show review)

They Might Be Giants
3 November, Boulder Theatre, Boulder

I missed out on Jonathan Coulton opening for They Might Be Giants because he didn't join the tour until the next show in Salt Lake City. The consolation prize was that the band performed their classic album, Flood, in reverse order. They sandwiched the Flood run through with a brief opening set and a longer encore. This gave them plenty of time to share some of the songs from their two releases this year.

The show was a lot of fun, with plenty of humor and surprises, from the send up of Don Kirschner's Rock Concert with sock puppets to a an awesome version of Istanbul (Not Constantinople). Geeky, quirky, and above all, musically interesting.
(full show review)

John Popper and the Duskray Troubadours with Lisa Bouchelle, Funkma$ter, and Judd Louis
11 March, Aggie Theatre, Ft. Collins

The opening acts were okay, with femme folk rocker Lisa Bouchelle standing out based on her strong voice and full bag of vocal tricks. But their sets were just an appetizer for John Popper's phenomenal set. Popper is already recognized as a virtuoso harmonica player; his supreme technical control and ability to take the instrument out to psychedelic extremes has amazed audiences for years. His backing band, the Duskray Troubadours, has a looser sound than Blues Traveler, but they've opened up Popper's playing.

The set included a few Blues Traveler songs, but the set was more laid back and soulful. This gave Popper room to wail. On Bereft, he showed off his singing chops and his wall of harmonica sound.
(full show review)

David Bromberg with Mollie O'Brien and Rich Moore
30 December, L2 Arts and Culture Center, Denver

It's been years since I last saw David Bromberg, but his recent Denver show delivered on all my memories. He is the consummate performer, between his amusing banter, amazing playing, and the joy he exudes on stage. Backed by his quartet, he covered his wide range of styles, from bluegrass and traditional music to some wicked blues. The high point, though, was his solo version of Delia, where he talked about the real life roots of the song while he meandered through the fingerstyle blues.

The opening act, Mollie O'Brien and Rich Moore, were a good match. Moore played some tight fingerstyle guitar while O'Brien sang, showing off her rich and soulful voice.
(full show review)

Portugal. The Man with Telekinesis and Unknown Mortal Orchestra
12 May, Aggie Theatre, Ft. Collins

Portugal. The Man laid out some heavy retro rock jams. The darkness of the stage (they didn't use overhead spots) matched the deep slinky bass lines. The psychedelic music swirled and twisted, anchored by John Gourley's voice.

The opening acts added their flavor to the show, with Unknown Mortal Orchestra reaching for an experimental indie rock sound and Telekinesis rooted in punk energy. The three bands each had their own styles and strengths.
(full show review)

Cymbals Eat Guitars with Hooray For Earth and A Mouthful of Thunder
15 October, Hi-Dive, Denver

Cymbals Eat Guitars created a sense of barely controlled chaos. Maybe it's how front man Joe D'Agostino twisted and lunged at the mike or it could be the waves of distorted guitar and keys. But the bedlam was under control. The band took that cathartic wall of sound and tempered it with dynamic drops to build the emotional intensity. Their live sound differed a bit from their albums, suggesting the Replacements playing head music. Their set was draining, but worth it.

Of the openers, Hooray For Earth was the better match for Cymbals Eat Guitars. They had a stronger synth focus than CEG, but their dark, bass heavy grind set the mood for CEG's set. Despite being a three piece, their sound was remarkably thick and complex.
(full show review)

Wye Oak with Callers
2 April, Larimer Lounge, Denver

I caught this show primarily to see Callers. I loved their album, Life of Love and I even interviewed the band before the show. Callers did a great job translating the dreamy, subtle sound of their album to the stage. Sara Lucas' rich voice was the centerpiece, but the backing music was nuanced and powerful.

The headliners, Wye Oak, are a duo with a fairly complex sound, augmented by the drummer playing keyboards along with his drumkit. Their affinity for dissonance was quite different than Callers' approach, but Wye Oak's appreciation for dynamics and solid song structure meshed well with the opening act.
(full show review)

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