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

Friday, November 29, 2013

Concert review - Skyfox, with Discount Cinema, The A-OKs, and The Brixton Guns

27 November 2013 (Marquis Theatre, Denver CO)

What am I thankful for?
Bands that play small shows and still rock their guts out
To crowds of their friends who love them and must shout
Drummers that pound as the guitar tone sings,
These are a few of my favorite things.
This was a pre-Thanksgiving show that offered a strong mix of local acts. Two pop-punk focused bands bookended the night with a couple of wildcards tossed in the middle.

013 Brixton Guns Naming a band after a Clash song sets a high bar that demands an over the top performance. Fueled by a raw, unpolished stage presence, the band's sound borrowed more from Green Day than their namesake inspiration. The lead singer, Cody Brubaker, coiled up behind the mic like he was ready to take on the whole bar. The second guitarist moved around a bit as well, but channeled most of his focus into his playing.

022 Brixton Guns
The instrumental line up was unconventional: two guitar, drums, and a keyboard providing some bass and most of the leads. They played well enough, but their presentation has a ways to go to catch up with the other acts on the bill. In particular, I didn't notice the keyboard player interact with the rest of the band, much less the audience. He partially made up for it with some solid playing, especially on one poppy, new wave tune ("Dance"?) where he locked in synch with the guitar for a tight, twinned section.

019 Brixton Guns
The band's original songs were strong and Brubaker did a good job of selling them. That said, their cover of Social Distortion's "Far Behind" got the biggest crowd response during the set.

051 The A-OKs As a hardcore ska punk fan, I was primed for The A-OKs before they even started. Moments after the group packed the stage and kicked into the first song, all those expectations were satisfied. Solid horn section? Check. High energy beats and a staccato bassline? Check? Guitar nailing the chank but capable of thrashy leads? Check. Charismatic frontman who could harness the rambunctious energy of his band and magnify it into a non-stop spectacle? Check and double check!

043 The A-OKs
That energy is the key to ska punk. It's an alchemical transformation of Brownian motion on stage into a free-for-all party in the crowd. The musicians caromed off one another, trading grins and knowing looks. When the horns periodically dropped out, they never stood idle; they flailed and bounced along to the beat. The audience fed off this excitement and began to wake up. Lead singer Mark Swan had no problem helping the process along. Early in the set, he leaped into the crowd to jump-start a skanking mosh pit while the band ground into a heavy punk groove.

040 The A-OKs
All of the players were expressive, making every moment more of a show, but Swan and Mark Malpezzi were the clown princes. When he wasn't blowing sax, Malpezzi roamed the stage, taunting and teasing his bandmates or mouthing along with the lyrics. Swan played a host of characters. One song would have him raging against the world and the next would evoke a bemused goofiness.

053 The A-OKs
The style also supports a good mix of anger and sarcastic wit. The A-OKs' songs did a great job of pulling in everything from sucker-punch metal leads and cathartic punk flail to tight horn riffs and smooth vocal harmonies. Individual tunes like "Brain Bucket" effectively flipped from pop-punk sneer to chop beats and horn fills and back. This was a rock solid performance that would be very hard to follow up.

088 Discount Cinema Fortunately, Discount Cinema made a strong visual impact as soon as they hit the stage. Each musician expressed their own persona, from Kevin Dallas' anarcho-punk to Ian Gray's feral night-feeder. Bass player Gray was especially focused, never breaking character. The band matched their striking look with well-orchestrated songs and a theatrical performance. Lead singer/keyboardist Jordan Niteman comfortably filled the role of front man for the band, spending as much time interacting with the audience as he did behind the keys.\
073 Discount Cinema
The band's hard, heavy edge had the Gothic undertones to match their artful appearance, but it was hard to pigeonhole their sound. The keys added a post-punk/synth-pop vibe, but there was a fair amount of metal shred and punk slash in the mix as well. Drummer Steve Zimmerman provided the thunder to Dallas' guitar lightning, but the songs magnified their punch with adroitly handled dynamic drops.

105 Discount Cinema
Discount Cinema largely relied on Niteman to connect with the crowd along with their flash appearance. They finally broke that pattern when Dallas took the mic to make a few sincere remarks. His theme of self-acceptance resonated with the audience, although it provided an interesting introduction for the band's next song, a cover of Miley Cyrus' "Wrecking Ball". Ironic punk covers of pop music are fairly common, but the band tapped into the roiling emotion of the lyrics and let it vent.

117 Discount Cinema
The band finished on their song, "Dreamcatcher", packed with insistent new wave shadows.The ominous bridge built up the tension, but the catchy chorus closed out the tune, transforming it into an ear worm that lingered well after they left the stage.

151 Skyfox Skyfox wrapped up the evening out with a strong set that showcased bandleader Johnny Hill's cocky persona. He and bass player Matt Lase provided the stage patter that created a relaxed impression while it shaped the flow of songs. They kicked off their show with a big, pre-recorded entrance. At first, it seemed self-indulgent, but they quickly brought enough humor to reveal the irony. A staged ending/encore closed the show in a similar manner.

127 Skyfox
Compared to Discount Cinema, Skyfox had a much more natural presence, but they worked the space just as aggressively. Guitarist Mike Rich migrated from one side to the other to involve the whole front line of the stage and Hill struck his own set of guitar god poses. Their pop-punk tunes were tight and clever, reminding me more of Bowling For Soup than Green Day even though Hill's voice is closer to Billie Joe Armstrong's. Songs like "Counter Counter Culture" managed to cram in social commentary, self-deprecating irony, and hard-driving guitars.

145 Skyfox
Even though most their songs fell into my favorite "snotty boys with guitars" sweet spot, they took one detour for a moving song about Hill's father's death, called "Our Last Breath". Arranged for two acoustic guitars and pre-recorded strings, it provided a sweet, sentimental moment. Where the rest of the set built up the band as glib and a bit arrogant, this risky but powerful tune showed Skyfox's wider emotional range.

139 Skyfox

More photos on my Flickr.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Recording review - Yamantaka // Sonic Titan, UZU (2013)

Artsy zen perfection of fire and space

Songs or albums? For most people, it’s no contest. Picking and choosing single tracks lets them winnow the pearls from the crappy packing material that some bands use to pad out their albums. Through playlists or iTunes shuffle, juxtaposing bands and songs provides novelty and synchronicity, satisfying the need for variety. Then a band like Yamantaka // Sonic Titan (YT//ST) comes along and negates the whole question. On UZU, the Montreal art and music collective pitches the viability of the concept album, but they also deliver strong songs drawn from a multidimensional sonic palette. In classic concept album form, tunes smoothly meld into one another and many exhibit similar strains of melodic DNA. But while the pieces share a mood, they aren’t overburdened with a ham-fisted storyline. As a complete set, the songs offer a genre-jumping wild ride but each can also stand alone.

On paper, YT//ST embodies an artsy stereotype that could easily fall into parody. As much performance artists as musicians, they’ve mixed media from rock operas about rival drag queens (33) to video games (YOUR TASK//SHOOT THINGS) along with their album releases and they usually perform in stylized Kabuki-like makeup. Their self-proclaimed musical style is not merely descriptive, but asserts an artistic statement: “Asian diasporic psychedelic black stoner synth opera.” Since that’s a bit of a mouthful, they’ve coined the term “Noh-Wave” as a shorthand descriptor, crossing Japanese Noh Theater with a reference to the no-wave music scene of the late ‘70s. It’s all very precious, but in a refreshing surprise, their music successfully avoids the kind of pretentious self-indulgence that usually comes with this stereotype.

Noh-wave is a cute bit of wordplay, but the band isn't abrasive enough to sell the no-wave half of the term. Instead, their musical foundation is rooted in progressive rock, especially the stylized sound of bands like Renaissance. Ruby Kato Attwood’s singing never quite rivals Annie Haslam’s warm purity, but the strong femme vocals enrich the songs. Often draped with echo and chorus, they fit well with the orchestration that varies from simple piano to heavier rock guitar. While the band’s sweet spot is centered on prog rock, YT//ST takes small steps into art rock and larger leaps in symphonic metal, experimental music, psychedelia and electo-pop. Like the artistic stereotype, this mish-mash of styles shouldn't be a recipe for success either, but the band traverses the list with fluid grace, smoothly transforming from one to the next, even within a single song.

UZU opens with a Chopinesque piano on “Atalanta”. When the ethereal vocal joins in, the track slips into that progressive, theatrical Renaissance mode. The song itself stays stripped down; Attwood’s trained voice, backed by the simple piano, suggests prophecies delivered on open dream-plane. But it picks up power and momentum when the song transitions into the symphonic metal start of “Whalesong” with the addition of pounding drums and a driving bass line. Angular guitar riffs, crunching chords and keyboard backing contribute to the intensity, but the singing remains distinct and distant. It’s an eerie effect, pitting an ice princess inside a glass shell against the fiery music. Dynamic drops allow elements of the last song’s piano peek out from under the insistent power ballad. The sound builds into a thick, trippy swirl before letting the Sturm und Drang dissolve completely to take us back to the uncluttered soundscape of “Atalanta”, this time overlaid with the sound of a flowing river. The watery ripples melt into a chaotic sonic collage for the next track, “Lamia”. Here, the tension builds into a precise math-rock crunch. The drumbeat is insistent, with paradiddle riffs and cymbal washes beating against the methodically steady guitar and bass. If the ice princess was spooky in “Whalesong,” now she’s taken on the title’s demonic persona, shrouded in swirling echo. Simultaneously wicked and ethereal, her advice has a threatening subtext, “If you have a heart/ Keep it in your body.” Reverberations overlap and interfere and the repetitive cycle of distortion is hypnotic, pulling you under her spell. There’s a sense of continuity from the first tune, distant foreboding is finally realized.

Although UZU is full of strong tracks, YT//ST chose their first single well. “One” touches base with the band’s appreciation of cross-cultural exploration and starts with an Native American flavor. Chanting vocals and an infectious double-time tribal beat set the stage and then mutate into an acid-washed garage grind. Retro psychedelic guitar weaves it way into the groove and the message kicks in, “Ever wonder what it’s like to live in America?” The melting pot sound incorporates myriad essences of American music: Amerind tones, surrealistic San Francisco textures, rock intensity, an electro-beat breakdown and even a bit of free jazz chaos. This is exactly the America I want to inhabit and this is the tune I want to build a whole playlist around.

In keeping with the Asian themes that YT//ST incorporates, a yin-yang balance is at play. Songs of heady intensity are immersed together in the swift, twisting current of the playlist while a concept album bears its theme lightly. Stylized artistic gestures create powerfully concrete music. As a result, UZU sits like a perfect Zen koan: Is it the songs or the album that connects? Not songs, not album, the mind connects.

(This review first appeared on Spectrum Culture)

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Front Range recommended shows, 11/25

Thanksgivikah is coming, but there's still music!

Tuesday, 26 November (Fox Theatre, Boulder CO)
Black Uhuru

Back when I played in Colorado Springs' most fun reggae band, Cool Runnings, my favorite covers were the Black Uhuru tunes. "Spongi Reggae", "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner"... these were great songs to jam to and they just begged for heavy dub treatment. Colorado is quite supportive of reggae, which must be why Black Uhuru makes it through here on a fairly regular basis. "Bounce over here/ Then you bounce over there" Bounce over to the Fox and get warmed up.

Wednesday, 27 November (Marquis Theater, Denver CO)
Discount Cinema

Hard-rocking drive with metal-tinged edges, this local Denver band throws themselves headlong into their music. They've got a solid sound and, by all accounts, their stage show is equally impressive. I'm looking forward to seeing them open for Skyfox this week at the Marquis. Come out and support a strong up and coming group.

Friday, 29 November (Boulder Theater, Boulder CO)
Saturday, 30 November (Boulder Theater, Boulder CO)
Leftover Salmon

It's hard to say who invented jam-grass, but Leftover Salmon has been stalwart on the scene since 1989. Their genre-hopping improvisations made them one of the most loved regional bands here in Colorado. Last year's new release, Aquatic Hitchhiker, showed that the band can overcome losing members, dropping in and out of hiatus, and hitting the road yet again. Work off all that pie you eat at Thanksgiving by dancing to Leftover Salmon for a homecoming couple of nights.

Concert review - Sleepy Sun, with Glowing House and déCollage

22 November (Moe's Original Bar B Que, Englewood CO)

I will never understand how a venue selects their lineups for a given night. They have a particular national act coming in, maybe with a fellow touring band, and they need to pick the local opening band(s) to fill out the bill. Looking at the list for last night, the best thing I can say is that the band's were in alphabetical order. The first local band, déCollage, fit reasonably well with the headliner, but the middle act, Glowing House, didn't deserve their awkward juxtaposition. Their new folk earnestness was a weird side trip for the evening's entertainment. Partnered with the right set of acts, their set would have been perfect...

003 déCollageOpening act déCollage took the power trio into realms of artsy, modern psychedelia. The sound was thick with reverb and somewhat muddled for the room, but it was a harbinger for Sleepy Sun's upcoming noise ritual. The vocals were quirky enough on their own, but frontman Reed Fuchs strained them through a hall of echoes.

008 déCollage
The sounds wound their way along a surrealistic path, wandering from deconstructed acid blues to experiments in bizarre, looking-glass pop. Despite the loose flow of the set, the arrangements were remarkably well-planned and executed. Like most power trio's, the bass had the added responsibility to cover the ground between bass and rhythm guitar. Melodically busy, the bass stayed anchored in the groove,  tied directly to the drums. If the bass , provided the sonic glue, the other two carried their weight just as well. The drums supported the sharp time signature shifts and punches while the guitar walked a thin line between chaos and order.

021 déCollage
The next to last piece was the most interesting as it delivered the set's wild climax. Starting with a strange loop of baby's laughter, the heavily syncopated tribal beat held down the song while the synth-sounding guitar screeched for freedom. Earlier, the audience had swayed along in lazy surrender to déCollage siren song; now, they writhed along with the insistent drive of the music. déCollage left the stage in perfect form: with a happy crowd wanting more.

055 Glowing HouseI'd love to catch Denver's Glowing House in their natural habitat. Their dark, moody folk sound belonged in a warmer, more intimate venue. Steve Varney acted as the focal point, switching between guitar and banjo. He clearly invested himself in the songs, often delivering them in more of a singer/songwriter style. His wife, Jess Parsons provided strong support on keys and accordion. The band's real strength were the vocal arrangements. Varney took many of the leads with earnest power, but Parsons' bruised vulnerability gave many of the pieces their emotional center. That male-female mix is a staple in folk music, but their harmonies and personalities really made it click.

038 Glowing House
The set rolled along from rootsy country through bluegrassy twang to proclamatory folk. The songs in this last category evoked a bit of Mumford & Sons, with drummer pounding a second bass drum while the stand up bass player dead-panned his way through the changes with a theatrical flair. It was a polished performance that showed a lot of planning and practice.

044 Glowing House
Since the crowd was packed with their loyal fans, Glowing House basked in the respectful attention, but it was clear that this wasn't their venue. They lacked the fire or charisma to work the audience like the other two bands. Their band persona was more geared towards a more subtle emotional depth than flash, making them the odd group out.

078 Sleepy SunI missed Sleepy Sun when they passed through Denver last month supporting City and Colour for two nights at the Ogden, but I was happy that they made a final loop back through town to close out their current tour. It has clearly been a long slog; leader Bret Constantino seemed a bit weary when he told us that this was their next to last show for this run.

068 Sleepy Sun
All the touring has paid off with polished arrangements that flow into perfect alignment while still retaining the cathartic chaos that defines their sound. The solos all feel expressively spontaneous as Matt Holliman wrenched the howling notes from his guitar, but the set list as a whole seemed to run like dominoes, with each song transition clicking into place effortlessly.

087 Sleepy Sun
The band has undergone quite a few changes in recent years. Two albums ago on Fever (review), the group was centered on the yin-yang dynamic of Constantino and singer Rachel Fannen. Last year, touring behind Spine Hits (review), Sleepy Sun shifted more towards alt-psychedelic intensity after Fannen left. Now, on the eve of a new album due early next year, the band has taken back full ownership of the Fever songs and started looking forward. This show split its attention between material from Fever, their first album Embrace, and a couple of new tunes. Oddly enough, only one track from Spine Hits, "Martyr's Mantra", made the list this time.

067 Sleepy Sun
Regardless, all of the songs tapped into a similar heavy sound: Led Zeppelin haze, poetic intensity like the Doors, and raw Velvet Underground madness, tempered by a hedonistic Jane's Addiction thrash. Sleepy Sun launched their sonic assault and the audience soaked up every swirling, feedback-infused decibel. It was a beautiful orgy of noisy intensity. Throbbing grinds of doom kicked out broken-mirror reflections. Whale songs turned into ghostly moans. Ringmaster Constantino presided over the whole circus of acid-washed echoes like a reincarnated Lizard King.  In short, the structured cacophony erased a week of work and daily concerns like a hurricane cleansing the coast.

More photos on my Flickr.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Interview - Mashup Artist Summit

This is a mashup interview. I conducted separate interviews with five of my favorite mashup artists, some by phone and others by email. Afterwards, mirroring their creative approach, I created this collage interview as a Mashup Artist Summit. None of these artists were aware of how their interviews would be combined, but rather than warp their words for surprise or humorous effect, I've attempted to keep their ideas intact while recognizing their related perspectives on mashups.

For those interested in getting all the context behind these quotes and learning more about these five artists, please browse the source interviews.
Tom Compagnoni (Wax Audio) – interview
Bob Cronin (dj BC) – interview
Eric Kleptone (The Kleptones) – interview
Max Tannoneinterview
Mark Vidler (Go Home Productions) – interview

Jester Jay: Thanks for virtually joining me. How did you all get started?

Eric Kleptone: I've always made music. I played in bands when I was in school. I kind of fell into doing sound engineering and lighting and I got the bug and learned how to DJ.

Max Tannone: I deejayed for a while growing up in middle school and high school.

EK: I wanted to do live shows, so I taught myself how to DJ.

Bob Cronin: I made mix tapes in high school. In college, I made sort of pre-DJ music. I would play a tape and flip the tape over after 45 minutes. Doing those gigs made me always want to have something that was new, that somebody hadn't heard before.

Tom Compagnoni: I created my first digital “Cut & Paste” project in 2004, a 5 track EP called WMD …and Other Distractions. I cut up speeches from politicians of the time and mixed them with various beats and multi-track components.

Mark Vidler: I had been doing similar experiments on a Tascam Porta One 4-track recorder back in the mid-‘80s by overdubbing a cappella tracks from 12″ vinyl with instrumental sections from songs.

When I first started, I played in a band called Chicane between 1987 and 1995. I left the band in 1995, but by 2002, I was missing the action. The whole bootleg scene suddenly rose up overnight, and really pulled me back in. We called them bootlegs in the UK back then, “mashups” as a description came a couple of years later. I was convinced that I could use bootlegs or mashups as a vehicle to getting back into the music business. I set about doing my own bootlegs and knocked up Eminem’s “Without Me” vs. Wings’ “Silly Love Songs” (called "Slim McShady").

TC: It wasn't until about 2007 that I did my first mashup, Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” and Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love”, called “Whole Lotta Sabbath”.

BC: I started making my own music and doing hip hop and electronic music in the studio with a four track. I went online and I found this website called GYBO – Get Your Bootleg On. At that time, it was mashup oriented. I was a lurker there for a long time before I posted anything. I needed to start doing it. It was like I had come home. It was a totally natural medium for me. I made some tracks and people seemed to like them and it was really hip hop based.

EK: The mashup thing… I've always been totally into samples. I used to make pause button edit tapes, just trying to get things to juxtapose, to make really good mix tapes. If somebody asked me for a mix tape, they didn't just get a bunch of tunes thrown on a tape; they got little interludes, little bits and pieces. The whole mashup thing, when it exploded, which was like 2001/2002, immediately I knew, “That’s exactly the sort of thing that I've been waiting for.” The first tune I did, the mashup happened in my head, which rarely happens. It was a mashup of “Ray of Light” by Madonna and “Cannonball” by the Breeders.

MT: I knew what a mashup was. I was familiar with The Grey Album, but I never tried it.

EK: Dangermouse’s Grey Album is okay, but it was very hip hop. It’s very American.

MT: One night, I don’t even know why, I just looped the Radiohead song, “I Might Be Wrong” from Amnesiac. A few years later I was listening to Jay Z’s American Gangster album and those a cappellas had come out. They were easy to find on the internet. So I just grabbed the a cappella to his song, “Pray”, and put them together because they had the same vibe going. It was just called “Wrong Prayer Remix”. A few weeks later, I did another Jaydiohead track, what became Jaydiohead, called “Ignorant Swan”. I chopped [Thom Yorke’s] “Black Swan” up and looped some pieces from that and put on another Jay Z vocal.

BC: There have been so many Jay-Z mashup albums, with lots of Jay-Z a capellas available.

MT: There’s a lot of rap a cappellas, so there’s a lot of source material to work with.

BC: I did a record with Phillip Glass and different hip hop artists and I was like, “All right, I want to do a mashup album.” A friend of mine posted a YouTube clip of the song, “Another Day on Earth” by Brian Eno and I had never heard that specific record. I really liked the progressions and the sound quality and the rhythmic sense of it. And I thought I could use this.

So that’s how you came up with Another Jay on Earth?

BC: It was so natural and fit so well and so easily. The cool thing about Another Jay on Earth is that Jay-Z’s vocals sound almost plaintive. The bluster sounds a little bit thinner. The music might have sort of a melancholy or sad vibe to it and it makes it sound like Jay-Z’s being introspective about his situation, about what it’s like to be a black male in America and getting mistreated and those sorts of concepts. Or when he’s doing the bragging thing, you’re kind of like, “Well I can see that this is a device he’s using to protect himself.”

MV: The best tracks are the ones that the choice of tracks is so disparate that you are not expecting them to work. I’m not a fan of ‘rap’ vocals being placed over a hip-hop track because you’d expect them to work without little or no additional creativity being needed by the remixer in question. The best mashups are the ones that contain a big surprise element in the choice of tracks used and the way in which they are put together.

EK: I like the big ideas. That’s the thing that inspires me. It takes quite a lot of effort to make a mashup that can grab people’s attention because people like novelty. There was a band about 20 years ago or so, Dread Zeppelin. I saw them. We were like, “Can they actually do this live?” “Heartbreaker Hotel” — there’s a mashup — a bit of “Heartbreaker” and a bit of “Heartbreak Hotel”. They were fucking unreal.

MT: I was super into an album of Bob Marley and Mobb Deep mashups that was hosted by Swindle [note: it was Jon Moskowitz and DJ Swindle]. There’s a lot of extra stuff happening and I really like that project. Anything that makes you thing “Wow, I never heard this song in this context.”

BC: “Call Me A Hole” is a perfect example of that.

TC: By Pom Deter. I thought it was a brilliant mash.

BC: You can say he’s making fun of Carly Rae Jepsen by playing Trent Reznor’s vocal over it, but it’s so much more than that. It sounds like its own song. It makes you say, “Maybe I was wrong about Carly Rae Jepsen.”

TC: A former member of Nine Inch Nails called “Call Me A Hole” an insult.

MT: Everyone likes what they like. It’s cool if some people don’t like it

TC: I've not had any negative feedback from any of the artists I've mashed so far.

MV: I tackle the mixes with a healthy dose of respect for the artists. On several occasions, my unsanctioned mashups led to the artists getting in contact with me to set about having them officially released.

EK: I put out A Night At The Hip-Hopera. I found a double Japanese CD of Queen karaoke. It took on a life of its own — all this stuff about copyright, it was self referential to the whole mashup thing. Brian May, from Queen, notoriously hated it, because he didn't get any money for it.

I think he’d argue that you and other mashup artists are taking advantage of his art instead of making something new.

EK: It’s based on other people’s music, so you’re never going to get away from people saying that. It’s just collage and appropriation and a means of expression, as much as picking up a guitar and playing the same three chords that 80% of guitarists play when they pick up a guitar.

BC: Fine, it may be a lesser, derivative art. You know what? That’s been said about so many forms of art over the years that it’s not even worth worrying about those folks.

MT: I see the argument, but sampling can be really interesting and inspiring.

TC: Most people are dismissive of lots of styles of music and art; it doesn't bother me at all.

MT: To invalidate it just because it goes against your viewpoint, that’s like saying anyone who plays guitar isn't a real musician. It’s the same argument in a new era.

MV: I used to staunchly defend mashups and what they represented in interviews 10 years ago. Saying it was the new punk in terms of attitude. It felt like mashup culture or attitude was at the forefront of something new.

BC: You can say that punk rock was the same way. It was primitive and used basic structures and therefore it was a lesser form of music. People said that about the blues and African music.

MV: All music or art borrows from the past, whether it be using a few blues licks or Beatles chords to create a new song. Hip-hop was the first to physically borrow little bits of other people’s works.

MT: I think that if John Lennon or Jimi Hendrix were alive today, they would be super into sampling and remix culture.

MV: There was a period of years when artists and labels were more than happy to have mashup remixers plunder their material; the mixes were free viral promos for their back catalog!

EK: I've got to remind myself that Brian May is plenty rich. You can see the different ways that artists handle their legacy. For example, the way that the Beastie Boys just put their a cappellas on their website: “Here they are, have some fun with them. You can’t possibly duplicate what we did. But you might come up something really cool.” Queen would only do that if there was a financial gain involved.

BC: It’s not like anybody can get rich off it.

That’s a good point. So, maybe you have to focus more on artistic success. Each of you has created some distinctive work. Can you give us an inside look at your creative process?

EK: I’m really proud of 24 Hours. I can’t remember exactly where the sort of eureka, moment hit, but I kind of sketched out the day, the 24 hours. Put it on a massive piece of paper, a flip chart on the wall: so this is the wakeup bit, this is the going-to-work bit. I’m going to come home from work, go to the pub, go to the club. I had a folder with 50 tunes in and I’d work a little bit on each tune. I think it took me about six months, but it nearly sent me insane doing it. I got so locked into the idea that I thought that, even if nobody else likes this, I've created something I’m proud of.

TC: I decide in advance what the grand vision is, usually a concept for a complete work like an album. The piece that I’m proudest of is 9 Countries. It’s an album I produced by taking the skills I developed as a mashup artist and applying them to a huge archive of sounds I recorded whilst traveling across Asia. A single looped beat would comprise sounds from a procession in Indonesia, temple drumming in India, the bell hanging around a goat’s neck in Tibet, monks chanting in a monastery in Laos, street hawkers in Myanmar, etc. The whole project took me about 4 years to produce. It’s probably the least heard work that I've created, but the few people who have taken the time to listen have told me how much they like it

BC: It’s much more than sticking A over B. There’s a lot of thought that goes into it, tweaking, and additional elements brought in and fragmenting the sound source. I did one that used a lot of new avant-garde electronic, early electronic performers and composers. That was kind of like using something more abstract and being able to use them as samples, with a beat, to create something really groovy out of something a little more far out.

EK: The challenge now is to come up with something that I think is artistically viable, that’s a good idea. But a good idea now, as opposed to what would have been a good idea ten years ago. Ideas are now the most valuable currency. It makes artistic judgment more important.

MT: I start the projects from an idea coming from sounds. So, I want to do a project with… then insert some kind of music: “punk”. That [note: Mic Check 1234!] was definitely the most challenging of any of the mixes that I've done. The main issue is that you have all these songs that are 120 or 130 beats per minute. Obviously, you have to worry about tempo.

TC: The vast majority of mashups posted on YouTube and elsewhere are poorly produced and amateurish. If rhythm and pitch are not perfectly synched, it makes the result sound painful to listen to.

MT: Yeah, I had to find fast rap songs to use or a slower punk song. That really narrows your scope of a cappellas that you can use.

TC: The only clash I want to hear is a clash of genres.

MV: Splice Captain Beefheart with Abba and I’d definitely give it a listen!

BC: The humor makes it healing to people and makes them smile or pay attention for a second. But in the end, the track has to be good.

EK: I find it really hard to listen to other people’s mashups because I can’t help but pick them apart technically. Particularly if you've got two whole songs and one goes up into a chorus and the other one doesn't change. To me, that’s a killer. I want the changes to kind of work perfectly.

BC: I like stuff that’s really structurally coherent: verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-verse-chorus or intro-verse-chorus. It sounds right to me to attend that sort of a structure.

EK: I like that structure. If you have two tunes and they both go into the chorus at the same time and the change in key and the change in pitch is perfect, you just sit there and listen to it and go, “That doesn't need anything done to it, does it?”

MV: I like to think that I've always delivered mashups with a healthy dose of humor. A big smile-factor…

EK: I’d like to see Mark do an album. I know he’s got a real love of psychedelia and I’d love to see him really cut loose and make something really quite extreme with his style. I would love that.

MV: I have a fairly wide-ranging taste to be honest, but my main focus & love has to be psychedelia. I just loved the extreme experimentation at the time from these bands who were obviously dropping acid or pretending to drop acid!

Thank you all for your time and for being good sports about letting me mix you.

(This mashup first appeared on Spectrum Culture)

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Front Range recommended shows, 11/18

Three very different flavors this week. What's your favorite?

Wednesday, 20 November (Summit Music Hall, Denver CO)
The Misfits

The Misfits stood out for creating the horror punk sub-genre back in the mists of time (i.e. the late '70s). They still hanker for horror, but their sound leans more to metal than the cathartic punk crotch-kick they used to deliver. That said, their sense of theater is still strong.

Friday, 22 November (Moe's Original Bar B Que, Englewood CO)
Sleepy Sun

073 Sleepy Sun The first time I saw Sleepy Sun (review), they were looking for shelter from the storm. They arrived in Denver on the heels of a big snow dump. It was a great set. Since then, singer Rachel Fanning left the band, but last year's show (review) demonstrated that leader Bret Constantino has plenty of presence to anchor the band through their lazy jams and trippy grooves. I'm psyched to catch up with one of my favorite bands.

Saturday, 23 November (Ogden Theatre, Denver CO)
Sunday, 24 November (Fox Theatre, Boulder CO)

Last year's Building An Ark (review) introduced me to Groundation. They caught me up with a blend of heartbeat rhythmic sense, expressive ornamentation, and conscious lyrics. Their approach to reggae is granite solid, but their music flows like a loving ocean. I'm glad to see they're making a couple of stops here in Colorado.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Recording review - Wymond Miles, Cut Yourself Free (2013)

Dark derivations fail to impress

Everybody knows that first impressions are important. With short attention spans, people are quick to categorize and move on. Sometimes, those kneejerk responses are spot-on and sometimes they miss the mark. Either way, there’s rarely a chance to reset expectations after that initial impact. On Cut Yourself Free, guitarist Wymond Miles goes out of his way to create the image of a dark, Goth-pop wallflower. He wraps himself in a worn shroud of reverb and emulates Robert Smith’s singing style. Maybe he’s intent on distinguishing his solo work from the cheerier garage rock he plays with the Fresh & Onlys, but he does himself a disservice by pigeonholing his sound.

The first three songs on Cut Yourself Free are not so much a love letter to the Cure as a sympathetic LiveJournal lamentation. Leading off with “The Ascension”, Miles teases us with alt rock guitar downstrokes wrapped in what will become the album’s ubiquitous haze of echo. As the cycle of chords becomes a repetitive loop, the extended introduction gets more interesting, incorporating keyboard swells and honed shards of guitar. This retro new wave vamp eventually gives way to the main song, a sparse tribute to the Cure featuring glum, hollow vocals. By the synthpop shimmer of the third track, Miles has established the album as an echo-laden miasma of emo brooding worthy of his Gothic inspirations.

That’s what makes “White Nights” such an unexpected pleasure. On the early tracks, the guitars strained to break free and explore more expansive reaches with enthusiastic jangle and expressiveness. Finally, they get their chance as Miles backslides to a mood more fitting to his work with the Fresh & Onlys. The sound is buoyed by the XTC pop and new wave backing. The vocals even transform from oppressive to thoughtful. The meandering melody in the fade out deserves more space than it gets, but it’s pleasant enough to get a disruption in the gloomy flow. The brief instrumental interlude that follows, “Bronze Patina”, very nearly recants those first tunes completely. Shimmering walls of heat-struck guitar drone hover like a nearby mirage, carefully framing a dulcet acoustic guitar. The bristling howl of chaos is cast against the rooted faith of sweetly simple finger picking, without resolution. Instead, a yin-yang balance prevails.

Cut Yourself Free doesn’t abandon its dark foundations at that point, but the second half breaks up the monochrome. “Anniversary Song” is packed with melodramatic suffering, but other songs have more to offer. “Vacant Eyes” clings to some Gothic shadows, but it gives free rein to a pensive psychedelia reminiscent of the Moody Blues. “Love Will Rise” is a bit stilted, but the tremolo guitar blends with the synth washes to add an intriguing retro feel. Introducing these richer sounds from the start would have improved the album’s appeal. Leading off with such a derivative sonic palette creates a momentum that wears out its welcome all too soon. Despite his talent on the guitar, Miles can’t overcome that first impression.

(This review first appeared on Spectrum Culture)

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Recording review - Pink Martini, Get Happy

Small orchestra under the biggest of tents

Pink Martini is probably the finest small orchestra playing today. Sure, that’s a lot like naming the foremost modern Sanskrit poet, but they take their mission seriously. Their new release, Get Happy, demonstrates how versatile they can be with a mélange of lounge music, jazz standards, Latin dance music, and even a Scott Joplin rag that dates back to 1907. Nothing exceeds like excess, and they embrace this by augmenting their two strong female singers with a cast of guest vocalists including Rufus Wainwright and Phyllis Diller. Diller is, of course, not known for her singing, but the band recorded her poignant version of “Smile” in her own living room last year before her death. The comedienne rose to the challenge, speak-singing her way through the song made famous by Nat King Cole: “Light up your face with gladness/ Hide every trace of sadness/ Although a tear may be ever so near.” The first of Wainwright’s two tracks, “Kitty Come Home”, is equally sentimental if you know the context. Wainwright’s aunt Anna McGarrigle wrote the song to his mother, folk-singer Kate McGarrigle, when she and Loudon Wainwright III split up. Wainwright’s voice is beautiful in the emotionally charged moment.

But does excess equal success? The scope of material and moods pushes Get Happy over the top, but it’s also the album’s Achilles heel. The stylistic leaps can be disconcerting. Rodgers and Hart’s jazz standard “She Was Too Good to Me” veers into the heavy mambo beat of “Sway” and then the band swoops under the emotional weight of “Kitty Come Home". At least the language provides some continuity during that wild ride. The rest of the album is international enough to entertain a U.N. cocktail party: Spanish, German, Japanese, even Farsi gets a chance in the spotlight along with several others. The multicultural flair is overwhelming.

The only way to cope is to take each tune as a standalone piece. The album may be warped by all these disparate forces, but within the context of an individual track, Pink Martini commits to consistency. On the Cuban cha-cha “Quizás, Quizás, Quizás”, the lush strings usher us in and Storm Large’s warm tone sings us a welcome. The verses are understated; the arrangement focuses on the rhythm rather than flash. But the chorus turns fiery as Large voices the impatient accusation, “Estás perdiendo el tiempo” (trans. “You’re wasting time”). A couple of songs later, the band’s primary lead singer, China Forbes, hits the lounge with Philippe Katerine for a sweet, French easy-listening duet, “Je ne t’aime plus”. The jazzy rhythm guitar is buoyed by a light piano and a raft of syrupy strings. The background accents move around from a light chiming percussion to harp flourishes.

Only a couple of tracks miss their mark. The aforementioned “Smile” has its heart in the right place, but Diller’s vocal is meaningless unless you know her and pitting a brilliant but elderly comic against the bittersweet lyrics is weak irony. The other misstep is the conjoined mash-up of “Get Happy/Happy Days”, which pits the two base songs against one another. Wainwright and Forbes do their best with interlocked lyrics, but Wainwright has to strain to find the “Get Happy” melody and the phrasing never quite aligns. Still, with so many different vectors on this album, a couple of strays are almost inevitable.

(This review first appeared on Spectrum Culture)

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Front Range recommended shows, 11/11

Thursday, 14 November (Cervantes Masterpiece, Denver CO)
The Green

Word association time: Rock? Steady! One? Drop? Reggae? Hawaii! That's right, Hawaii. That's where The Green call their home turf. It's a long way from Jamaica, but think of them as sister island paradises. The Green lay a solid, soulful reggae vibe that any true fan will immediately recognize. Their most recent release, Hawai'i 13, is their second out on Easy Star Records and it shows a band settling into their own with sweet vocal arrangements and comfortable grooves.

Wednesday, 13 November (Dairy Center for the Arts, Boulder CO)
Thursday, 14 November (Bluebird Theater, Denver CO)
Thomas Dolby

It's been a long time since "she blinded me with science." Thomas Dolby's latest project is an intriguing multimedia performance, The Invisible Lighthouse. Dolby shot a biographical/historical film that touches on his personal connection to a particular place. He then performs a mix of Spaulding Grey-like story telling and live music along with the film. The live and pre-made material take turns augmenting one another.

Friday, 15 November (Bluebird Theater, Denver CO)
Blitzen Trapper

Five years ago, Blitzen Trapper waltzed onto the scene as Indie darlings. Furr was one of the most hyped albums of the season. Depending on your take, it was a solemn tribute or derivative copy. Regardless, it showed a band with an interesting aesthetic and enough ego to sell it. Since then, they've shifted sounds like a rudderless project. Their latest, VII, seems to have taken them back to their popular roots.

I'm suspicious when a band reinvents itself, but all of the sounds they've explored along the way suggest that the live show could get very interesting,

Friday, 15 November (Cervantes - both sides, Denver CO)
Fall Shredded Beats featuring Nas

I had originally picked this show because Mos Def was slated to headline a night of art and hip-hop featuring a host of bands and painter/urban artist Justin Bua. Unfortunately, Mos Def cancelled out. But in a major coup, the organizers scored the legendary Nas to cover the show. What was going to be a small, intimate show on Cervantes Other Side expanded to include the Masterpiece Ballroom, too. Even with the expansion, this will be a small venue to showcase such a master emcee. This should be an amazing evening.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

History lesson - Bruce Cockburn, The Charity of Night (1997)

A dark night in Amsterdam introduced me to Cockburn's work

I can’t separate The Charity of Night from a thick, smoky Amsterdam evening at the Melkweg in March of 1997. After a day wandering through museums, bars and coffee shops, my friend insisted on catching Bruce Cockburn’s show. I had a vague recollection of his song, “If I Had a Rocket Launcher” (1984), and agreed to tag along. It was a strong, politically-charged show right up until the opening chords of “Birmingham Shadows”, late in the first set. As he slipped into the vamping jazz guitar line and spoke his way through the poetry of the verses, I was transfixed. When the spell faded with the last notes of the song, I headed for the merch table in search of the track. I quickly found it on The Charity of Night, which he had just released. The second set would hit other high points from the album and turn me into a Cockburn fan.

It would be another several days before I could give it a listen, but once I did, it evoked the same magic, especially on “Birmingham Shadows”. The song describes a chance encounter, a moment of discovery frozen in time. The jazzy tune sets a relaxing, hypnotic groove, with Rob Wasserman’s liquid bass permeating the track while Cockburn’s musing vocal is reminiscent of Warren Zevon’s husky tone. “Wearing your shadows all over your sleeve/ Wearing the role of the young upstart,” then “I wear my shadows where they’re harder to see/ But they follow me everywhere/ I guess that should tell me I’m traveling toward light.” His evocative lyrics capture a collision of cultures in Birmingham, Alabama. It’s a refreshing perspective, neither denying the differences nor claiming true understanding. Instead, it aims for simple acceptance. The chorus, which breaks into song, makes it clearer, “Birmingham shadows fall/ You show a little/ I let something show, too.” Cockburn’s lead guitar work is flowing and exploratory, which fits the mood of the piece. At nine and a half minutes, it’s the longest track on the album, but it still grabs me every time I hear it.

It turns out that this release offered me the perfect entry into Cockburn’s music. His work in the ‘70s was awash in Christian imagery, which spoke to a different kind of audience. In the following decade, that evolved into a mix of spirituality and progressive politics. By 1994’s Dart to the Heart, he had toned down much of the righteous anger that drove songs like “Rocket Launcher,” but that album’s folk-rock stylings clung to a rootsy feel that didn't make a strong impression. The Charity of Night, on the other hand, has a surface simplicity as contemporary indie folk, but it’s woven from a wider range of musical textures. Cockburn surrounds himself with jazz players and open-ended parts that set off his restlessly rhythmic guitar playing, accentuating his sonic connection to smooth, sharp players like Mark Knopfler. On “Get Up Jonah”, an intricate guitar is cloaked in heavy vibrato, like shimmers of heat hazing the tone. The guitar fills and warm bass sound come together with a Dire Straits Making Movies sound, but just a touch darker. The lyrics meander from Turkish drummers to secret policemen to cryptic observations reflecting an inner turmoil. The loose collection of ideas lets the song serve as a Rorschach test, asking the listener to name their own source of darkness.

Tension underlies most of the tracks. Even when a tune starts out thoughtful, like the instrumental, “Mistress of Storms”, a moody Spanish guitar fill comes along and suggests that resolution will remain out of reach. The initial melody canters forward, with dreamy vibes mirroring the rhythm guitar. Then the bridge breaks the flow with a staccato, percussive guitar delineating a dead end. The vibes and guitar join forces for a fragile chromatic riff that drags the song to double back to its thoughtful center. Cockburn’s echoed lead is nestled within the bones of the guitar chords as it winds and twists. Gary Burton’s vibe solo takes the song back to a softer version of the bridge, like it’s searching that blind alley for an unseen exit. Subdued, it seems to find a shadowed path forward, avoiding the earlier dissonance. The last time through the progression, though, proves that nothing has changed. The bridge forms a new roadblock and the song ends with the familiar chromatic notes.

Cockburn’s night is sometimes rueful or haunted; it can be reflective or offer up the chance for connection. It can even be charitable by softening memory. Your history may not include a long-ago evening at the Melkweg, but anyone can still appreciate an album that finds solace in the darkness.

(This review first appeared on Spectrum Culture)

Monday, November 4, 2013

Concert review - Whiskey Blanket with Dropswitch, Bigwheel Electrosoul, The Quick & Easy Boys, and Rolphy

2 November 2013 (Cervantes Other Side, Denver CO)

Billed as CD release party for Whiskey Blanket's latest, From the Dead of Dark (review), the lineup featured a grab bag of artistic and musical approaches with younger and more experience players. From stripped down rap to multimedia performance art, the opening acts offered wide-ranging contrasts to the headliners, which made for an full-scale evening of entertainment. The CD release itself was understated, although Whiskey Blanket's set was anything but that.

The pickings for photos are a bit thin - note to self: remember to grab the spare battery before you're miles from home.

007 Rolphy
The night started out low key with a young rapper named Rolphy. Backed by simple laptop grooves, he hit the stage with reasonable confidence. His earnest, slightly self-conscious delivery suited his entry-level raps, creating a sympathetic vibe with the audience. Plenty of his friends came out to support him and helped fill out the small crowd. The high point of his set was a female guest singer who added a soul pop texture and gave him something stronger to build on.

016 Quick and Easy Boys
The Quick & Easy Boys were the odd ducks on a slate of largely hip-hop artists. They were a solid blues funk trio without a trace of rap style. Still, their danceable grooves and strong performance made them a good fit with Whiskey Blanket's audience. They've found some success in their hometown of Portland, but they're trying to make their mark in the Denver market, taking any opportunity they can find to build a following. They'll be back again at Cervantes on November 11 for Grass for That Ass, with Whiskey Tango. It'll be worth catching them then to appreciate their funky soul, which owes a debt of gratitude to Joe Walsh and the James Gang.

009 Quick and Easy Boys
All three players are masters of their instruments, adept at finding that balance between show-off skill and nailing the tight arrangements. This is especially important for a trio, where the guitar has to walk the line between lead and rhythm and the bass and drums have to work just a little bit harder to fill out the sound. The Quick & Easy Boys laid down a driving wall of music, packed with back beat and sweaty grind, but the pop-flavored singing contrasted with the grit. Vocal duties bounced around, but the bass player Sean Badders seemed to lead most of the tunes. He was a big guy, but he had a surprising falsetto that gave some of the tunes a BeeGees flavor.

014 Quick and Easy Boys
The band was comfortable on stage, with a great sense of performance. They stayed in motion and sold their joy at playing. Jimmy Russell was especially fun as he flipped the guitar behind his head for rhythm and lead jams or wrenched out a melodic line with his whole body. That said, the band needs to improve their crowd work. The music and show were fine, but more between song patter or direct engagement would help them build the audience connection they seek.

017 Bigwheel Electrosoul
Bigwheel Electrosoul is a performance art project associated with Denver artist/producer DJ Check One (Dameion Hines) that he has described as "guided ambiguous live music." Melding live instruments with pre-recorded tracks, the group started with a foundation of mashed up and mutated music to create the main groove. The tracks sampled both obscure and better-known songs; Hines jammed along on drums while his partner added synthesizer accents.

019 Bigwheel Electrosoul
The projection screen was interesting, especially when it ditched the music videos and took a long graphic exploration of the Mandelbrot set fractals. But after a while I found myself waiting for something more. The idea itself was promising, but it needed to offer more surprises. While it might be an easy step to get more experimental on the pre-fab side , I think that it would be better to take the live component into a wilder space. That might be more effective for engaging the audience for a longer set.

026 Drop Switch
By the time Drop Switch hit the stage, the crowd was swelling and ready to dance. Their opening song set a reggae groove and their rapper, Logistixx, tossed off a speedy toasting style vocal. Song by song, he and the rest of the band showed off their musical range, mixing up styles like a shuffled deck of cards. The one-drop rhythm gave way to a hip-hop beat, which veered into heavier rock punch. The high point came with their cover of "The Distance" by Cake; the band's cathartic thrash on the chorus spurred the audience on. Logistixx did a good job of making John McCrea's vocal line his own.

021 Drop Switch
Drop Switch had clearly spent time working out their arrangements, creating moments of synchronous bliss as the bass, sax, and guitar riffs slipped into lockstep. The upside was the tight coordination between the instruments, but the downside is that the group presented a fairly static tableau. Most of the band's visual appeal came from sax player's humorous mugging and the singer's nervous physical energy. Logistixx stayed in almost constant motion, dominating the band's stage presence with swagger and restless movement. Channeling that tension gave him rapid fire phrasing for his raps.

027 Drop Switch
Near the end of the set, Drop Switch followed Rolphy's lead and brought up a female guest singer. The band played a reggae flavored jam that let her show off a soulful style. She stayed up for the last tune, providing a smooth contrast to the percussive rap lead and jazzy hip-hop beat.

053 Whiskey Blanket
Every time I see this band, they floor me with how much they've progressed as performers. At this point, they're hitting a level well beyond their regional Colorado home crowd, with an innate sense of entertainment. Hip-hop is all about flow, lyrics, and the musical backdrop, but in a live setting, it really demands an extra spark to make it pop. Merely spitting out some solid lyrics to a backing track is not enough to hold a crowd. That's why the big-time rappers develop such large stage personas. They posture and strut; they draw on that image to drive their show.

030 Whiskey Blanket
Whiskey Blanket has personality in spades, with each member bringing his own special sauce, but they push well beyond that with inspired musical performance and a unique artistic perspective. Beat boxing, cello, wicked turntablism, and violin come together to create a sonic fingerprint that stands alone. Sloppy Joe, Steakhouse and Funny Biz each have impressive technical skills that add excitement to the show. On top of that, they've honed a three-prong vocal attack that recalls groups like the Beastie Boys or Run DMC.

047 Whiskey Blanket
Saturday night's set showcased the band at the top of their game. Their performance was choreographed with a natural eye to showmanship. Tightly coordinated raps bounced the lead between the three like the Harlem Globetrotters passing the ball. They worked the stage like veteran actors, with every movement blocked for maximum effect. It wasn't just the big motions, like Funny Biz taking a pratfall drop or Sloppy Joe reeling back from a stage slap; even the smallest facial expressions and body language supported the moment. In lesser hands, this could have easily been wooden or overplanned, but Whiskey Blanket made it look effortless with casual aplomb.

050 Whiskey Blanket
The musical twists and turns were every bit as engaging as the acting. The set flowed through new and old material, with spaghetti Western twang giving way to jazzy beats or street classical mashups. Rap sections hit hard and heavy, then transitioned to chamber music inspired instrumentals or bluegrass fiddle riffs. In keeping with the CD release, they led off the show with "The Story Unfolds", filling out the pre-recorded arrangement with live strings and a guest trumpet player. Aside from some sharp turntable work, Steakhouse got into the act with his keyboard. Seeing them integrate the live instruments into the mix was reassuring because From the Dead of Dark didn't showcase that aspect of the band. Whiskey Blanket went on to perform several songs from the album, transforming them for the stage. "Blotto Nox" was stunning, with lyrics whipping by at a pace that made the original's rapid fire rap seem almost stately. "Dinner With Ghouls" kept the slower pace from the album, but also loosened the flow so they could work the crowd a bit more.

046 Whiskey Blanket
They cherry-picked through their back catalog for material to split up the new songs. Even here, they controlled the pace of the show and the ambiance. So, the dark moodiness from "Improper Paradise" (Credible Forces) and the introspection from No Object's "Pound Boom" each found common ground with the newest material. By the end of the show, they were wrung out and ready for the break. The last treat was a Funny Biz freestyle rap. As members of the audience held up objects, he riffed off what he saw, proving that the band's skills weren't just delimited by scripted pre-calculation.

040 Whiskey Blanket
It's worth mentioning that the first time I saw Whiskey Blanket, some unknown Seattle emcee named Macklemore was opening for them. Now, he's earned his spot on the national stage. These guys deserve the same kind of exposure.

More photos on my Flickr

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Front Range recommended shows, 11/4

Tuesday, 5 November (Gothic Theatre, Denver CO)
Stephen Marley

Nature vs. nurture? It's hard to say for sure, but many of Bob Marley's progeny have shared their musical gifts with the world. Ziggy Marley is perhaps the most well-known, but Stephen and his sisters rounded out his band, The Melody Makers. When Ziggy and The Melody Makers first appeared, many people dismissed the siblings as trying to capitalize on their father's name. Over time, though, they've proven their talent, time and again. Stephen went on to show off his own talents as a singer and producer. Aside from producing his brothers' projects, he's been impressive on his own, with a Grammy last year for Best Reggae album.

Saturday, 9 November (Gothic Theatre, Denver CO)
Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers

I'm only recommending this to the people who have no idea who Roger Clyne is. I'm aiming this at people who didn't know about his work with the Refreshments, the ones that don't even remember "Banditos". If that's you, then you need to catch this show. Clyne and his band provide a "perfect-storm" concert experience. His bittersweet songs of lovable losers and Southwestern rock jams are all the therapy you could ever need.

Roger Clyne, Aggie Theater 5/30/09As for the rest of you -- those in the know -- I'll see you at the Gothic for sure. Maybe the newbies will join us and we'll celebrate a world of heart, from Mexico to the Mekong.

Sunday, 10 November (Hi-Dive, Denver CO)

Walk the line between chaos and structure, noise and pop. Deerhoof is one of those bands that influence the hell out of the indie hipster scene without often being widely experienced. This is a great chance to check it out and see what the fuss is about. Their tight, bouncy pop moments have plenty of intriguing details to lock into. About the time you find an angle on the song, they're ready to show you that everything you know is wrong. Where some scenesters just want to inflict themselves on the audience, Deerhoof has an internal logic that's worth tapping into.