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

Monday, December 22, 2014

Favorite reviewed concerts of 2014

Albums are great, but the electric zing of a live show is unbeatable. There were a number of great choices -- sharing Kiss and Def Leppard with my son, a wild night with the always dependable Reel Big Fish -- but these were my top five for the year.

#5 - ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, with La Femme and others
3 April 2014 (Summit Music Hall, Denver CO)
115 Trail of Dead
La Femme's theatrical surf-wave opening was a nice appetizer, but the main course was Trail of Dead performing their classic Source Tags & Codes album in its entirety. Touring on a classic early album is usually, at best, a kind of parlor trick, where the band goes through the motions and trades on the audience's connection with a band and album locked deep in the past. Fortunately, Trail of Dead brought an immediacy to the material; even stripped of the studio production work, these songs were powerful and the band attacked them with enthusiasm, tapping into their own connections to the tunes and their younger selves. This was also my first show seeing the band in their more recent stripped down line-up, and I was impressed with the punch and their energy. Now, I'm just waiting for them to tour on their latest, IX.
(full review)

#4 - Dirty Dozen Brass Band / Pimps of Joytime
27 February 2014 (Bluebird Theater, Denver CO)
210 Dirty Dozen Brass Band
The old guard and young turks took turns leading off the shows on this tour, and Denver saw the Pimps of Joytime opening for the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. PoJT always summon a frantic stage presence rooted in the funk, but this concert also featured some more dance oriented grooves to expand their range. Brian J's guitar work was tightly honed as per usual, but John Staten (drums) and David Bailis (bass/keys) carried the set.

The members of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band may well be quite a bit older, but they had no problem following up on the PoJT's pace and doubling down. From nomadic free jazz noodling to wicked tight funk, the band delivered their songs with polished panache and fiery chops. They were completely true to their New Orleans roots, but they whipped out plenty of fun twists, from Kirk Joseph's mutated sousaphone effects to Roger Lewis' raunchy soul revue on "Dirty Old Man".
 (full review)

#3 - Zoë Keating
3 May 2014 (Boulder Theater, Boulder CO)
008 Zoë Keating
Zoë Keating's looped and layered cello work is stunning on her recordings, where she coaxes a host of surprising sounds from her instrument and effects and her musical vision is fully realized, but her live performance was amazing. All great musicians find a balance between phenomenal technique and the emotional depth, and Keating was especially impressive as she ranged from delicate motifs to stormy passion in her music, but still made it look natural, if not completely effortless. The crowd maintained a respectful formality, but Keating's humble stage presence bridged that gap and connected her to the audience. As an artist, she communicated her obsessive focus and revealed a little bit of the juggling she manages as she builds her loops, but her likable personality tied her to her fans.
(full review)

#2 - Megafauna with Instant Empire and others
19 June 2014 (Moon Room at Summit Music Hall, Denver CO)
080 Megafauna
Mediocre openers can ruin an otherwise great show and a strong headliner can sabotage the earlier acts on the bill. This show dodged both those bullets, perhaps because the local bands didn't overlap that much with Megafauna's powerful sound, but still featured strong lead personalities. Hillary Hand was the shyest of the lot, with a band that filled out her well-written singer-songwriter sound. Bear.'s Will Livingston played offered plenty of unpredictability, and the theatrical Scotty Saunders turned Instant Empire's ragtag outfit into a solid punk/new wave crew.

None of this prepared us for Dani Neff and Megafauna. They casually took the stage and proceeded to shock and awe the crowd with some of the most primal guitar rock I've heard in the last several years. They drew on classic rock, metal, and post-rock, but created an amalgam all their own. Neff's muscular guitar work was the centerpiece, but it was complemented by Zack Humphrey's tight drumming and rhythmic shifts along with Bryan Wright's riff-driven bass work. The songs varied across hybrid genres, making the set consistently novel. This show was even more impressive because all the bands were playing for a relatively empty house, but still giving it everything that the music deserved.
(full review)

#1 - Beats Antique with Blockhead and Itchy-O Marching Band
11 April 2014 (Fillmore Auditorium, Denver CO)
077 Beats AntiqueBeats Antique regularly celebrates form and substance, with both in spades. Choreographer Zoe Jakes has always elevated their performances to Events rather than mere concerts, but their richly evocative world-tronica sound is equally important in creating the ritualistic rave mood. This show was tied to their recent album, A Thousand Faces, but the band's vision surpassed anything they had ever done before. After they finished the album, they took to Kickstarter and raised money to create this show, and every penny went towards making a spectacle worthy of a pop mega-star performing a Vegas show set-piece. Innumerable costume changes, state of the art lighting and video projection, and Jakes' mesmerizing choreography all came together to prove that nothing exceeds like excess.

Before the show started, the stage set was cluttered with boxy white blocks that would serve as screens for the elaborate video projection. Honestly, I wasn't sure what to expect, but this proved to be incredibly versatile. Each song had its setting and the collection of screens surrounded the band and dancers, immersing them into the scene. Even more importantly, the music held its own against the technology and enticed the audience into movement with hypnotic beats, visceral bass throb, and exotic melodies.
(full review)

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