Tag Archives: Denver

Countdown to YEEZUS: Ticket Secured, MY BEAUTIFUL DARK TWISTED FANTASY Re-visited, and Thoughts on a Live Kanye Performace

As promised, I’m going to write a few posts about my impending Kanye West concert. When I last wrote about this concert, I explained that a Denver show had been announced and that I was dusting off my credit card  so I could attend. Luckily for me, I didn’t really need to use the Defending Axl Rose Master Card! I was able to get a pretty good seat for $69. Since that time, I’ve kept an eye on the tickets and for the most part, the prices have remained stable and as of this posting tickets are still available.

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As long as there’s Kanye, there is hope.

During the fantastic World Series, which I watch every year, I muted my TV and revisited MY BEAUTIFUL DARK TWISTED FANTASY. Mr. West’s 2010 album has been severely underplayed in my household, which made me decide to revisit it. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the album holds up 6 years later. The singles “Power” and “Runaway” remain solid classics, but I was really blown away by the John Legend track “Blame Game.” I’m not sure why this poignant song failed to connect with me in previous listening sessions, but man is this an almost perfect song (the closing outro with comedian Chris Rock is probably the most cringe-inducing K. West album skit). The star-studded “Monster” also still holds up really well, though I must say the star-making performance from Niki Minaj bums me out when I hear now. Who could have guessed that her fierce performance on “Monster” would be an almost one-off thing and she’d become one of the most disappointing new rap artists of the 2010’s?

Listening to “Monster” got me thinking about what a Kanye West concert would be like. Despite being well-known as an egomaniac, Kanye’s albums are so brilliant because he doesn’t hog the spotlight on his releases. In fact, Kanye the album maker is generous with the limelight and often appears as second banana on the best tracks. How do I know that Kanye isn’t his troubling, problematic public persona? I listen to his albums and hear him give the best moments away to other, usually up-and-coming artists. The first time I heard Chance the Rapper was this summer when he stole the show on the opening track of THE LIFE OF PABLO. With so many of his best songs featuring A-list and AAA-list artists, how does a live Kanye performance work? Obviously a track like “Monster” doesn’t work unless Jay-Z, Rick Ross, Niki Manaj, and Bon Iver are in attendance and thus doesn’t get performed. But because so many of Kanye’s songs feature really great artists that I’m not sure Kanye can avoid doing a solo-only concert. I’m guessing that the verses done by guest rappers are just omitted, but as someone that’s never been to a rap concert before, I’m interested to see how it’s handled.

 

Look for a few more Kanye-centric posts to appear before my November 28th concert. I’m still trying to decide the best way to document the concert itself, so if you have any thoughts on the best way to do that chime-in below in the comments section.

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The Darkness at The Summit Music Hall 10/16/2015

I still remember hearing The Darkness for the first time 12 years ago. Their first, and best known single, “I Believe In A Thing Called Love” was all over the radio and the music video was a big deal at the time, too. Actually, I think that was the last time I saw a really cool music video on MTV.  The Darkness belong to a bygone era of rock music, which is probably why I love them so much. An era of huge hooks and killer guitar riffs. I’ve been following the band’s career through lineup switches, break-ups, and changes in facial hair…and in 12 years they’ve never let me down. Maybe that’s why I wasn’t worried about the band delivering the goods live. I’d read online that the band was great live, but I was still unprepared for just how good The Darkness are live.

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I got to the Summit Music Hall early, like I usually do, and my first impression was “Jesus, this place is small.” I realize that America is no longer a bastion of rock fans, but even I was shocked at what a tiny venue the band was playing. Overseas, The Darkness headline big music festivals and are a bit of rock royalty…here in my home State of Colorado they were just thin dudes in funny clothes playing a club show. I’m grateful that I got to see this band up-close and personal, but if there were any justice in the world we’d have been at the enormous Pepsi Center across town. My friend Dylan, also a huge Darkness fan, shared this sentiment upon seeing the size of the room the band was playing.

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Something weird happened to the opening band and a local band In The Whale filled-in. In The Whale was a noisy two-piece that reminded me of Death From Above 1979 with a dash of rockabilly. As is usually the case with two-piece bands, the sound they made was mostly noise. They had a couple of songs that weren’t awful, but at no point were my friends and I compelled to leave the bar area. When The Darkness hit the stage Dylan and I were ready to rock, primed with beer and free Strongbow (a sickeningly sweet-variant of hard cider). The band opened with “Barbarian” off their latest album LAST OF OUR KIND (you can read my review of that here). Front man Justin Hawkins strutted out onto the stage in a weird stripy catsuit-thingy. Shirtless and covered in tattoos, Hawkins had a Jagger-ish quality to his stage presence which kinda surprised me because I always mentally compare him to Freddie Mercury (for obvious reasons). Justin’s brother, lead guitarist Dan Hawkins, was downright normal by comparison with his mane of rocker curls and tight Thin Lizzy t-shirt. Bassist Frankie Poullain won hands down for most-interesting/I-can’t-stop-staring-at-you with his massive puff of frizzy hair, New Wave-ish business suit, and Hell’s Angels facial hair. Meanwhile the band’s current drummer, Rufus Tiger Taylor, did an adequate job but didn’t really stand out.

Look at that hair, glorious!

Look at that hair, glorious!

The band barreled though a set list of tracks skewing heavily towards the band’s first album PERMISSION TO LAND with key tracks from the other three albums sprinkled throughout. At the mid-point of the show, Justin invited a slightly middle age looking couple onto the stage because they were getting married the next day. Or so they claimed, I’m always skeptical of these kind of people. Justina and Co. got them comfy and then proceeded to serenade them with “Get Your Hands Off My Woman.” This was an amusing choice because, in case you aren’t aware, the song is peppered generously throughout with “motherfuckers.” I’m sure that glorious moment will be retold for decades to come by this happy couple, perhaps to coca-sipping grandchildren.

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Pretty much any Darkness song you’d want to hear the band played (though they did not play the one song I yearned to hear “Keep Me Hanging On” off the third album). Songs like the super-appropriate “Friday Night,” “One Way Ticket,” and “Love Is Only A Feeling” were all played with propulsive precision. Sometimes seeing your favorite band play your favorite tracks live is a bit underwhelming, but The Darkness’ charm and musicianship were high and at no time did I find myself thinking this is cool and all, but it sounded much better on the album. A roadie was constantly shuffling on stage to bring Justin a Gibson guitar, only to return once his guitar bit of the song was over so he could bop across the stage unencumbered. The spastic lead singer actually sat down for two songs to play keyboard, which I wasn’t expecting.

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Yes, the band played “I Believe In A Thing Called Love” and they didn’t save it for the encore, like I was expecting. I’ve heard this song more times than I can count, and to be honest, I would have been 100% fine not hearing it live. But it was rad hearing it live and feeling the crowd’s energy during this classic number. Usually when I leave a really good concert, I find myself in love with a song that I wasn’t as big a fan of prior to hearing it live. To this day, I absolutely love “Tumbling Dice” by the Rolling Stones, a song I had no real feelings for prior to witnessing the band play live on The Bigger Bang tour a decade ago. Well that Darkness song is “Love On The Rocks With No Ice,” which popped up during the encore. I am still catching myself humming this tune two days later!

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Also worth mentioning: the band played one NEW song about 2/3’s of the way through the show. It was a great song, though I didn’t catch the name of it at the time (ringing ears and all). A quick check online reveals this song to be titled “Rack of Glam.” If this track is any indication of what might be on the next album, then I think we have another great album on the horizon. Though there wasn’t as much stage banter as I’d have thought, there were a couple of great moments (besides dragging the couple on stage). The audience was really into crowd surfing, and near the end of the show, Justin surfed out into the audience and climbed up onto the balcony. Watching Justin dive back into the crowd mere feet away was definitely my top rock moment of 2015.

Up close and slightly personal.

Up close and slightly personal.

Bottom line: I’d see them again, right now if I could. It’s rare these days to see a band that’s able to be both awesome sounding and off-the-wall fun live. The Darkness put on one hell of a show…truly they are the last of their kind.

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Rhett Miller at The Soiled Dove Underground 01/30/2015

On Friday night I saw Rhett Miller in concert, the last time I saw him was eleven years ago in St. Louis. I did the math while sipping a Moscow Mule before the show, and I’ve been listening to Miller and his band Old 97’s for fourteen years. Most artists today seem to appear on the music scene and then dissapear after two or three years. Longevity, along with album sales, seems to have vanished from the music industry. I guess that’s why I’m shocked I’ve been listening to Miller for so long.

I discovered Old 97’s while trolling music magazines on my lunch break, back when I was working for minimum wage at a chain drugstore. The band’s blend of rock and country fascinated me…and Miller had a cool haircut…so I bought FIGHT SONGS and the then-newly released SATELLITE RIDES. I was blown away and the band quickly became one of my favorites. Pioneers in the “alt-country” scene, like The Jayhawks (another great band I’ve only recently discovered), the Old 97’s are one of those great bands that haven’t had massive mainstream success in large part because they don’t fit neatly into one genre.

Guy still has a cool haircut.

Guy still has a cool haircut.

Rhett went solo in 2002 with THE INSTIGATOR* and for a moment I feared the 97’s were done for. Luckily for all parties, Miller quickly proved that he can walk the delicate balance between band and solo career. I saw the Old 97’s just before I moved away to college, the show was more raucous and raw than I’d imagined. But as I waited for the show to start Friday night I couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like to see Miller by himself a decade later.

It takes a special kind of talent to go up onstage alone and play songs by yourself, especially when the songs everyone knows and lovers were recorded with a full band. If I’d had my choice prior to the show, I’d have preferred to see Miller play with the Old 97’s rather than just bang away on his guitar alone. But I must admit there was something really special and intimate about seeing Rhett with only a guitar. The stripped back set also reminded me once again what a powerful set of pipes he’s got, his voice still boyish and ragged. The set list was surprisingly heavy on Old 97’s material, with the best songs from his solo output peppered in between. I wasn’t expecting as many of his band’s songs to be included since it was a solo show.  Despite being pared down, all of these songs sounded great.

The venue, unfortunately named The Soiled Dove Underground, was small and intimate. I’d estimate it could hold about 200 people and the crowd was about half that size. The Soiled Dove is a sort of yuppie jazz club, which clashed a bit with the Texas-twang Miller was throwing off. I was seated at a table, which made my knees happy, and the audience was brimming with a white hair. That said, I wasn’t the youngest person by far—an 11-year-old girl named Nora was in the front row, sitting dead center of the stage. I know her age and name because both Miller and his opening act made a big deal about their being a kid in the audience. Though two sets of people sent shots of tequila up to the stage for Miller (he politely said thanks but didn’t drink them, sticking to whiskey the entire evening) the show was much tamer than the night I saw Old 97’s in St. Louis.

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About halfway through the set, Miller confessed to not really having a set list and began taking requests from the audience. There were a lot of requests for older, twangy-heavy 97’s tracks like “Murder or a Heart Attack” and “Timebomb,” which was to be expected. More interestingly, though, there were also few oddball requests that Miller was all to happy to oblige. The first and best oddball request was for REM’s “Diver 8” off that band’s 1985 album FABLES OF THE RECONSTRUCTION. Not only was Miller happy to sing this song, he also prefaced the song with an anecdote about seeing Peter Buck in his boxer shorts in Mexico.

Later, after the audience was good and liquored, there was a great swell of enthusiasm for Miller to play “Murray” songs. This of course was a reference to Murray Hammond, the bass player for Old 97’s, who has over the years contributed a handful of really kickass songs to the band’s repertoire. Miller did an admirable job replicated the solemn “Valentine” off FIGHT SONGS as well as performing a valiant though lyrically incomplete run through of “W. TX Teardrops” off 1997’s TOO FAR TO CARE. I dearly love both of those songs and seeing them performed live, although by a different singer and with giant lyrical holes, was a nice treat.

Time’s been kind to Rhett Miller and his ability to give a crowd exactly what they want. Before playing his final song, Miller said that he’d be back later this year in Colorado with the Old 97’s. I’m not sure I’d have gone prior to seeing this show, but Miller has definitely sold me a ticket to that show.

As a side note, Miller’s opening act was a record producer friend of his who seemed really interesting. I tried to remember his name, but it escaped me. I’ve tried to look it up online, but both the venue website and Miller’s tour page fail to name him. I love seeing new acts and find being introduced to an artist for the first time live is a really great way to discover new talents. I wish artists/bands would make it easier for us in the listening public to find out who they are. The opening act doesn’t have to be on the marquee or anything, but if you got a strange/unusual name, maybe say it more than once or twice?

 

 

*I don’t count the out-of-print MYTHOLOGIES from 1989.

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Everybody Drowns Sad And Lonely: I *Heart* Beulah

Other than Nirvana, I can’t think of another band besides Beulah that makes being depressed sound like so much fun. The sunny, wistful sound Beulah made in their very short life as a band still haunts me to this day. I discovered Beulah back in early 2002 while on a lunch break. The band had released their album THE COAST IS NEVER CLEAR in September 2001 (yes, it came out on 9/11) and the music magazine I was reading had the album prominently placed on several of the staff’s best of the year lists.

At the time, I was really into The Apples In Stereo and Neutral Milk Hotel, bands who had formed this weird collective called The Elephant 6 Recording Company. This collective was really just a group of music nerds that revered pop music of the 1960s, specifically The Beach Boys. The whole thing was out of Denver, Colorado, which I find a bit amusing, as this is where I now live.

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Anyway, The Elephant 6 Recording Company had a lot of mystical sway with my early 20-something mind. When I saw Beulah’s album THE COAST IS NEVER CLEAR show up on a bunch of “Best of 2001” lists I was mildly curious. When a more than one review mentioned the Beatles/Beach Boys-like quality to their songs, I was intrigued. But when I found out that they were part of the Elephant 6 I knew I had no choice but to get their album.

It wasn’t just me that took notice of the band, THE COAST IS NEVER CLEAR is/was the band’s biggest album. This is thanks to the album’s slicker, more refined production and an abnormal (for modern indie pop) use of horns. Ah, the horns. The horns add an extra layer of sweet icing to songs laced with bile and bitterness.

Beulah, at first blush, lulls the listener with golden harmonies and the sunny melodies. But all that sweet sound belies the dark, murky complexity of singer-songwriter Mike Kurosky’s lyrics. Rife with Brian Wilsonian-angst and anxiety, Kuroksy always seems to be on the verge of cutting the poetic bullshit and telling us how he really feels. But he never really does. Instead, we get gorgeous hook-filled pop gems. Gorgeous pop gems that raise an eyebrow and give the listener pause as they wonder: is this song really about…that? Holy shit, that’s kinda fucked up. The best part is that these bright, shining songs with such dark undertones also stick inside your head for weeks upon end.

When I get to California  Gonna write my name in the sand  I'm gonna lay this body down  And watch the waves roll in

When I get to California
Gonna write my name in the sand
I’m gonna lay this body down
And watch the waves roll in

Of course THE COAST IS NEVER CLEAR’S most well known song is the most straightforward: “Popular Mechanics for Lovers.” You’ve heard it, even if you’re not aware that you’ve heard it. About a year after THE COAST IS NEVER CLEAR was released the song was ubiquitous, appearing on the soundtracks of many sappy TV shows and in at least one car commercial. I often wonder how many of those ad/TV executives took the time to really listen to the lyrics. There is a lot of dark shit in “Popular Mechanics for Lovers.”

Such as:

 “Just because he loves you too

He would never take a bullet for you

Don’t believe a word he says

He would never cut his heart out for you”

 THE COAST IS NEVER CLEAR can only be described as a sublime musical experience. I still get goose bumps when listening to “What Will You Do When Your Suntan Fades?” The song compares a slide into inevitable depression to the end of summer vacation. All the drugs, all the women, all the smiles don’t mean anything once the darkness comes. Kurosky is telling this to someone but the uncomfortable reality is that he’s telling this to himself. He’s telling this to us:

“Will you be alright when you’re in the shade?

Tell me tell me you’ll be alright

When you start to fade

Have you heard?

The days are getting shorter

And what will you do when your suntan is fading and the summer’s gone?

Do you feel afraid?”

My favorite track on the album is the staggeringly awesome “Gene Autry.” An epic, rambling song, “Gene Autry” is both about the legendary singing cowboy and also about the ugly beauty and promise that is California. A land of milk and honey, but also one full of loneliness and hopelessness. The chorus of this song is: “That the city spreads out, just like a cut vein, everybody drowns, sad and lonely.” Every time I hear “Gene Autry” the song punches me in the guts. I’m amazed that something so unbearably sad can make me feel so exhilaratingly happy.

I like to think that my feelings of despair are driven away by the fact that I recognize a lot of my own personal hang-ups and sorrow in Beulah’s music. The band doesn’t sing about Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band they are Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band! But the more likely source of my euphoria is really just the result of the band’s upbeat delivery and extreme musical craftsmanship. Oppressive sadness extends into Beulah’s other albums, but it’s never quite as bright and shiny as it is on THE COAST IS NEVER CLEAR. And while it’s not my favorite album of theirs (that would be YOKO, the 2003 album that broke them up), THE COAST IS NEVER CLEAR is my favorite Beulah album to be sad with.

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