by Tim Van Schmidt
Yes and Dream Theater at the Budweiser Events Center, Loveland, Colorado September 11, 2004
Yes is celebrating their 35th anniversary by touring with a definitive line-up- Jon Anderson, Steve Howe, Chris Squire, Rick Wakeman and Alan White- and by keeping alive the positive energy and crack musicianship that has characterized the band’s career. In fact, you can say that they have even polished up those attributes considerably.
At the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland on September 11, Yes breezed through a standard set that nonetheless was inspiring for its style and sound. The music was based in the past- going back to seminal pieces such as “Starship Trooper” and “Yours is No Disgrace”- but it sounded contemporary thanks to artful mixing, energetic performances and a keen attention to the details of the music. This means that the group has found fresh nuances in familiar material. Howe’s solo acoustic piece “The Clap,” in particular, included certain elements- an extra note here, a kind of extra string bending there- that augmented the original composition and, in fact, made it more exciting. “The Clap” is a quick and precise piece to begin with and the additions only heightened the tension of an exhilarating performance.
The main example of successful tinkering with the music was the “Chicago blues shuffle” version of “Roundabout” during the excellent “acoustic” mini-set. The blues structure barely contained the more complicated Yes music, but added an interesting twist that nonetheless did not distract. Anderson also demonstrated the flexible nature of “Long Distance Runaround” to a reggae beat. In addition, Paul Simon’s tune “America” was a brand new piece of music- a mini-suite, in fact- in the hands of Yes.
Plugged-in, “Yours is No Disgrace” was a dead-on-the-money rocker, the visibly aging members of the band blowing away the years with precision and passion. The acoustic set was a triumph because despite the effectiveness of the electric music, the toned down volume increased the quality of the sound and, perhaps, the bond between the musicians. Wakeman’s piano playing here was crisp and daring. “Owner of a Lonely Heart” benefited from the acoustic treatment. Other favorite moments during the show included Howe and Wakeman trading licks at breakneck speed. Both Howe and Wakeman remain formidable musicians, both fluent on a number of instruments- Wakeman surrounded by layers of keyboards, Howe often working several instruments (on wheels) during a single piece.
But it was the combination of the final two pieces of the main set that turned this from being just another night with a favorite band to being a particularly memorable concert experience. “And You and I” was emotionally uplifting thanks to crystal clear sound and a superlative, dramatic performance. “Awaken” went beyond the composition itself into musical outer space featuring Wakeman’s keyboard sounds. “Starship Trooper” was the encore, bassist Chris Squire stepping up to lead a triumphant musical climax with his bone rattling bass lines and dominant stage presence.
The stage was decorated with Roger Dean inflatables that created a strange, otherworldly atmosphere for the band to spin their musical magic in. The lighting played a big part in emphasizing the music, playing across the inflatables and punctuating the dramatic action on stage. Drummer Alan White added to the scene with tom toms suspended on long arms on either side of him, six all together and each one mechanized with its own mallet- like a gleaming white octopus at work. For decades, fans have turned to Yes to provide something more substantial than standard pop music and the group continues to deliver. The show in Loveland may not have been their biggest- the hall was a little more than half full- but it was better than concise. It was quality Yes music, circa 2004.
Opening was progressive rock band Dream Theater. The best of their set came during long, rambling instrumental sections where the keyboards and guitar were turned loose, stirring strong, beefy rhythms up into a dramatic electric wall of sound. Intense, nearly operatic vocals emphasized the beginnings and endings of tunes, but it was the instrumental twists and turns that made their music take off. Darker and more driving than Yes, Dream Theater nonetheless created a time and space of their own.
Tommy Emmanuel, Sunset Events Center, September 24, 2004.
When I arrived at the Sunset, the healthy-sized crowd was buzzing excitedly. Then began a process of moving through the room, telling acquaintances that indeed I had never seen Australian super guitarist Tommy Emmanuel before. Every single person who heard that insisted that I was going to be impressed. One friend told me that Emmanuel was going to “mess with my mind.” The energy in the Sunset alone told me that fans were ready for a meeting with a master. After seeing him play, now I’m going to be one of those people who tells the new guy that he’s going to impressed.
In the course of his set, Emmanuel made his guitars steamroll like a well-oiled engine, flutter like a butterfly, ease into a light happy groove and dig deep into a dream world of unworldly sound. All of this was accomplished with a stage presence that balanced the display of guitar fireworks with a warm, friendly humor. The crowd responded with delight and enthusiasm at every turn.
Of course, during the course of the evening, Emmanuel paid generous tribute to his friend and mentor, the late Chet Atkins, with both stories and music. The easy-going, yet precise style of playing that Atkins made famous definitely lives on in Emmanuel’s music- combining a low key but infectious groove with light, graceful melody lines. But Emmanuel does much more in the course of his show.
Blues, ragtime, boogie woogie, flamenco, pop, country and traditional folk styles all made their way into the music. Emmanuel seemed completely comfortable with each, adding flair and lightning quick fills. “Classical Gas” was a tour de force of rhythm, control and fun. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” was soft and sweet. The title track to Emmanuel’s latest release, “The Endless Road,” was a journey of mood and direction. A medley of the Beatles’ “Day Tripper” and “Lady Madonna” was pleasantly familiar, yet technically startling, as was the simultaneous combination of “Yankee Doodle” and “Dixie.” His control of guitar harmonics was especially adept.
But it was when Emmanuel stepped away from the guitar maestro role and played with sound that the concert spun off into another realm. On one piece, Emmanuel performed an African-influenced percussion solo- on the guitar body- which was effective as any drum solo I’ve heard recently. even by a drummer. Even better was the tune “Initiation,” a song he introduced as an attempt to capture the sounds of the Australian desert and the Aboriginal people. Using lots of reverb, guitar effects and a willingness to wrangle otherworldly sounds out of the guitar, Emmanuel succeeded in suspending time and place. The addition of some stage smoke increased the experience- one of the few times staging has actually underscored the performance at the Sunset.
As Emmanuel performed, his face was fixed with a kind of perma-grin that betrays the reality of the situation: Emmanuel loves the music as much as the fans. He moved his body to the nuances of the music and increased the drama with little sight gags with his hands- using his picking hand to point out the movement of his other hand. The crowd responded with two standing ovations during the course of the show and a rousing appeal for a single encore.
Emmanuel was joined on stage by singer-songwriter Elizabeth Watkins, whose young, strong voice helped balanced the mostly guitar-oriented performance. Opener Simon Bruce, a 19-year-old Australian singer-songwriter that Emmanuel has produced, also joined Emmanuel on stage for the final tune. Bruce’s opening set featured original songs revealing passion and yearning and a penchant for “starry nights and golden days.” Despite kind of cool, Bob Dylan-ish looks and rock and roll poses, Bruce’s music was characterized by a sweet, expressive voice.
Chances are Emmanuel will be coming through again, if audience adoration is a factor. When he does, I’ll be the guy telling you that you will be impressed as I wait for another meeting with this world-class talent.
The Zombies, Love with Arthur Lee
October 5, 2004
Union Colony Civic Center, Greeley
Right in the middle of Arthur Lee and Love’s opening set at the Union Colony Civic Center on October 5, someone in the audience yelled out a pertinent question: “What year is this?” Lee and the new version of his quintessential psychedelic rock band had already been rocking the decidedly aging baby boomer audience with fresh and vibrant versions of classic tunes and indeed, time had seemed to be suspended.
That was the good news about Lee’s set- that it transcended time and music history and was just a great amalgam of electric rock and soul that brought the audience to its feet several times during the performance. Though going way back to Love’s first hit, the Burt Bacharach and Hal David tune “My Little Red Book,” originally released in 1966, the material remained fresh and vibrant thanks to Lee’s impassioned delivery and cool stage presence and the contributions of several younger musicians.
But make no mistake- there was a strong connection to the past. Lee performed songs that at points revealed their age- pieces that had some pretty, almost naïve melodies and navel-gazing lyrics that just do not appear in pop music today. Lee’s band also featured the original Love lead guitarist Johnny Echols. These touches, however, served to underscore the fact that this was a rare concert moment indeed- this was music you couldn’t hear anywhere else. The audience responded with enthusiasm and lots of shouts of “thank you for coming.” Lee stopped the applause long enough to remind fans to “love one another.” Other messages throughout the set, including the refrain “we want our freedom,” were inspiring in a unique way. Outside on the sidewalk during the intermission, I overheard two young men discussing the music, one of them admitting “They were really singing about something. Nobody does that much anymore.”
The headlining band was the reformed Zombies, featuring original vocalist Colin Blunstone and keyboardist Rod Argent. While Lee overcame the past with his music and planted himself squarely in the present, the Zombies were more content to relive the past with song introductions geared toward retelling the history of the band. The songs then became kind of museum pieces that the band members seemed to be fond of, performed with energy, but lacking a bonded band sound. The musicians even admitted on stage that the Zombies had broken up before most of their hit material was ever performed on stage. Of course, at the Union Colony Civic Center, it didn’t help that the sound mix was counterproductive- the guitarist was much too loud and often drowned out Blunstone’s fragile reedy vocals and Argent’s keyboard work, marring the inherent texture in the material.
Still, there were moments of rousing music. Of course, it was a treat to hear “Time of the Season.” But it was the 1972 Argent hit, “Hold Your Head Up,” that kicked the performance up to another level. On the more demure side, Blunstone toned things down with a delicate version of a Tim Hardin tune from his first solo album (produced by Argent.)
Blunstone and Argent were joined on stage by original Argent bassist, Jim Rodford. While Blunstone’s contribution was reduced to a whisper thanks to the sound engineering, there were times when Argent’s signature keyboard sounds- ranging from warm organ tones to crisp piano- and those great rolling runs of his came through the badly imbalanced mix. The climax of the show came when the group performed “She’s Not There,” a song that stood with “Hold Your Head Up” as the set’s most dramatic and exciting moments. Other highlights included two new songs from the new Zombies album, one called “I Want to Fly” achieving a more mature, contemporary sound. The final song of the evening was a version of Gershwin’s “Summertime.” In this case, the guitar was toned way down and Blunstone’s pleasing voice could be heard- better late in the set than never, I guess.
But going back to the original question: “What year is this?” Indeed, the music blurred time. But another question comes along with that: “What venue is this?” When I first heard about the show- a partial benefit for Fort Collins public radio station KRFC- I had to do a double-take to make sure I read the venue name correctly- the Union Colony Civic Center? I have been to the UCCC only a few times over the years. Generally their booking mirrors a lot of what the Lincoln Center in Fort Collins books- a variety of shows that appeal to mainstream audiences, mostly tried and true entertainment. If the UCCC doesn’t have the same shows as the Lincoln Center, they usually have shows that are very similar. This is not bad, but kind of predictable.
But this show was different. It actually provided a kind of jolt. First of all, who would have thought that Love or the Zombies were even in the game? Second of all, who would guess that the show would be in Greeley? The Union Colony Civic Center can be praised for trying to step outside of the box and provide a concert that offered not just a blast from the past, but also some moments of high style and musical drama. Far from being sold out, the concert was important in ways that transcended the economics. It showed that there is still room in America’s concert halls for unusual acts. The cheers for Love and the Zombies proved that the audience certainly appreciated the opportunity to see these acts. If it’s possible to see more of this kind of music action at the UCCC, then I’m driving to Greeley more often.
Queensryche, Fillmore Auditorium, October 12, 2004
This may surprise the musicians of Queensryche, but there are still music fans out there who have never heard their music. I was one of them until I checked out their show at the Fillmore Auditorium in Denver on October 12. You see, there is this whole milieu of bands- mostly of the heavy metal variety- that I completely missed having contact with. I had heard the name Queensryche many times, but couldn’t have told you a single title of a song or album. Their reputation spread far enough to pique my interest, but I did not make the trip to see them until I realized that the Fillmore show was going to be a succinct showcase of the band’s material- and an unusual opportunity.
Queensryche’s 2004 World Tour- an “evening with”- features two sets. The first is a greatest hits selection. The second is a full reading of Queensryche’s heavy metal rock opera, “operation” mindcrime,” featuring live actors and poignant video. The band’s performance at the Fillmore was marked by a comfortable ease with the material, but also a readiness to squeeze both tension and drama out of the songs. A lot of this had to do with the gregarious dominance of vocalist Geoff Tate. Tate’s stage presence was friendly and amiable, talking to the crowd as if they were old friends, but when he took over the vocal parts of the songs, he filled them with a lively sense of emotion and meaning.
Though featuring a two-guitar attack on the song arrangements, the instrumental work rarely overpowered Tate’s riveting performing style. For me, a Queensryche neophyte, the highlights of the greatest hits set were when band, sound and audience came together in a kind of triumphant celebration. The song “Jet City” was a prime example. But then again, Queensryche also demonstrated musical ambition by bringing a string section on stage to help with “Lucy.” Far from superfluous, the strings added extra texture and weight to the music, bringing it to a rousing climax.
The strings also helped on the “operation: mindcrime” set. But here, it was guest vocalist Pamela Moore who filled the music with a new, strong flavor. Moore and Tate made a dynamic vocal duo throughout the entire set. “operation: mindcrime” turned over the common problems of modern society- sex, drugs and social manipulation. The actors were simply frills, helping to occasionally illustrate the action. The video screen, however, played a central role in revealing the underpinnings of the “opera.” At times, the performers took the riser in front of the video screen and the combination was powerful indeed- especially when one character’s brains are blown out.
But this was more than just a retelling of a fan favorite. There was a real sense of urgency in Queensryche’s message about the dark side of our society. Considering the political division that is currently upsetting the country, “operation”mindcrime” was poignant indeed. At one point on the video screen, campaign signs for Kerry and Bush exploded into flames. Of course, the poignancy is also commercial in nature, since Queensryche is releasing a sequel to their classic album, “operation: mindcrime II.” After the band completed the reading of the original album, they piped in some of the new music as a teaser.
After 24 years of musicmaking, the Seattle band seems well aware that their audience remains loyal. Tate’s occasionally humble comments in between songs seemed to indicate that they were aware that not everyone has been along for the whole ride. But seeing the majority of the crowd singing along to each tune and pumping their fists in the air proved that most at the Fillmore have been fans for a long time. For music fans like myself, however, this was a new revelation. I liked Queensryche. I liked the aim of the music- to reach heights above and beyond crunching guitars. The band made at least one new fan that night.
Helios Dance Theater, Lincoln Center, October 15, 2004
Over the years, I have been to a lot of shows at the Lincoln Center. In recent times, however, the shows I look most forward to are the dance concerts. Maybe it’s because I see so much live music, but I find it refreshing to be tuning into dance movement, not vocals and guitars.
The first dance concert of the new season at the Lincoln Center was LA-based Helios Dance Theater. It is important to note first off that while many, many dance groups have taken to using stage props and costuming gimmicks to enliven their performances, Helios pares their presentation down to the basics- simply dancers dancing on the stage. The costuming was effective, but not flamboyant, and there were no props at all. Other than the clever use of shadow images, the lighting also remained unobtrusive.
What this means is that truly the movement of the dancers was what was important. To that end, Helios has fostered a very fluid and kinetic style. With both humor and the occasional feat of body contortion, the Helios dancers created a busy world indeed. That business, however, is the part that troubled me as a viewer. Solo dances by Ragen Carlile, Lillian Bitkoff and Maria Gillespie all showcased the Helios style to its best effect. Focusing on the single dancer interacting with the space around them spotlighted the everchanging nuance of the movement.
It was when more than one dancer took the stage that the Helios style became challenging to watch. So much individual movement was going on that it was sometimes difficult to comprehend the overall arrangement of the piece. Choreographed movement often had a ragged feel and the interaction between the dancers was often hampered by the busy movement. Dancers occasionally writhed together, or bounced off each other, but rarely did it seem like they were truly fusing. Here the Helios style that was so strong for the solo dances, seemed to keep the individuals separated during group dances.
This isn’t to say that the performance lacked precision or ambition, it’s just that some parts just didn’t click with me. Some did- especially the solo work. The second half of the show was a performance of the 8-part piece titled “The Quickening.” Especially the final two parts of the piece were effective. “Flock” offered a group of women swiveling their hips and protruding their butts. The diversity of bodies among the dancers offered a clear image of the many different shapes of the contemporary female. “Finale,” of course the final piece of the evening, was the most successful at bringing the individual dancers’ orbits together for a rousing finish.
Now I’ll admit it- I’ve been somewhat spoiled by the unusual images, costuming and props that have become more of a rule at dance concerts. That Helios Dance Theater eschews the trappings is a brave step indeed. After all, the dancers really should be what it’s all about. But I personally want more convincing interaction between the dancers as a group. The Lincoln Center Dance Series continues on November 4 with the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet.
Tish Hinojosa, Colorado Feed & Grain, Timnath October 17, 2004
I had to do a triple take when I saw the poster in the Fort Collins Food Co-op- Tish Hinojosa at the Colorado Feed & Grain in Timnath? CF&G is well-known in the area as a haven for regional musicians, but is not particularly known as a concert venue for touring musicians. But CF&G owner Jon Metcalf explained that one of Hinojosa’s sisters (who lives in Fort Collins) had been in the comfortable roadhouse at a crossroads in tiny Timnath one night, heard her sibling’s music on the jukebox and helped set up the date. Hinojosa was in the area, playing at Swallow Hill in Denver the night before. Her stop in Timnath was an added extra on her current tour and an extra treat for the crowd that warmly welcomed her at the CF&G.
Hinojosa generally plays shows with a small band or just her guitarist, but at the CF&G, she played solo. Accompanying herself on guitar, Hinojosa cast a musical spell that is at first hard to define. Her guitar playing is basic simple, so the instrumental work was not at the core. Her voice is so sweet and emotive, but is not riveting or domineering in the sense that it demands strict attention. Rather it was the nature of her songwriting that draws the listener in. Tunes such as “West Side of Town,” “Sign of Truth” and “Mona Lisa by the Rio Grande” gather strength because of Hinojosa’s very human sense of living in the American west. Her songs tell the story of family, of love of the land and of the hope that struggles to survive in an ever changing world. The material itself is nourishing in a way that more showy performers do not bother with. The songs are truly heartfelt and sincere, and crafted with a personal sense of poetry.
But more, Hinojosa has a personal bearing that invites audience members to let down their defenses and listen. She projects a calm and beautiful positive energy that enhances the songs themselves. Time spent with Hinojosa is time well spent for a kind of revival of the spirit. At the CF&G, it didn’t matter if she lost her place in the songs a couple of times. In fact it didn’t really matter much what she did as long as she kept playing, singing and painting those great word pictures of the heart.
This was my first trip to CF&G and I found the place to be comfortable and inviting. Rock and roll decorations mix with artifacts from bygone bars from the area on the walls. A modest crowd gathered for the show and at times the idea that this was a concert was swept aside. Audience members danced to the delicate music and on occasion the talk from the crowd threatened to interfere with Hinojosa’s music. This, however, did not seem to bother the performer and the result was more of a relaxed living room gathering than a concert as such. The crowd responded warmly at every turn to Hinojosa’s music and the evening at CF&G was happily successful. Here’s hoping some more of this kind of music comes our way. In the mean time, I’m going to have to check out one of the regular Thursday night jams at the CF&G. There’s no doubt I’ll be watching for another Hinojosa date in the future.
Brian Wilson Paramount Theatre October 27, 2004
The morning after seeing Brian Wilson’s triumphant Smile Tour performance at the Paramount Theatre in Denver, I feel good. I feel good because for a few hours last night I allowed myself to be swept up in a swirl of colored lights, pleasant sounds, plenty of stage action and a world view that can only be described as “sunny.” Yes, Brian Wilson’s concert made me smile. It made me dance and it made me sing along.
It also made me sit back and listen to the crystalline sound and the complex layers of instruments it takes to make Wilson’s music simply shine. In Denver, Wilson was joined on stage by up to 18 musicians- including a five piece string section and three horns. They were playing guitars, keyboards, percussion, funny whistles, theramin and more. And it seemed like just about everyone had a vocal mike. Bottom line, the vocals are the key to Wilson’s music, creating a distinctive combination of doo wop breeziness and Gregorian chant complexity. As for the instrumental work, no one part seemed complex in itself, but put together, they make a powerful sound indeed.
Surrounded at all times by his band, Wilson sat in the center of the stage like a musical Buddha, vocalizing and gently conducting the music at times with his hands. The stage lighting was a very effective combination of colored spotlights which played across the big blank screen behind the band and across the audience. Other tricks, other than an occasional projected image, were superfluous with so much going on onstage.
Of course, the main meat of the evening was a complete reading of Wilson’s compositional pop music masterpiece, “Smile.” Featuring some well known Beach Boys songs, “Heroes and Villains” and “Good Vibrations,” “Smile” is a connected suite of pieces that shift, change and sparkle. The entirety of “Smile” is ambitious, complex and ultimately uplifting. “Good Vibrations” took off like a musical rocket and had the audience on its feet and screaming.
The sense of being uplifted is why I call Wilson’s music “sunny.” It’s not that there are not some weighty things being considered, but more that Wilson packages them in beautiful wrappings. Even the song “Forever,” dedicated to his late brothers Carl and Dennis, maintained a warm kind of beauty. On the other side, the old Beach Boys rockers such as “I Get Around,” “Surfin’ USA” and “Help Me Rhonda” were sunny because, well, they’re about a time and place that is now mythical, but for the brief time spent with Wilson still seems real. Instead of facing war, sexual diseases, political turmoil and economic stress, these songs let us pretend all we care about is the surf, the sand and dancing to rock and roll. And I loved it.
The opportunity to see the entirety of “Smile” performed was one too good to pass up. Also judging from some recordings I heard from Wilson’s tour of Europe, seeing the tour late in the game in the US was a good thing because the band has been playing together long enough to have achieved a true cohesiveness and buoyancy. It was letter perfect in Denver, while also displaying a sense of playful intensity. I think the band is having as good of a time as the audience on this tour.
Other highlights from the Denver show included “Sloop John B” and “Sail On, Sailor”- both rich in tone and emotion. “California Girls” was bright and classy and it was worth the drive to Denver just to hear Wilson and group perform “Vega-Tables.” From the back of the Paramount, dead center, this show sounded great and felt great. “Fun, Fun, Fun” indeed.
Aspen Santa Fe Ballet
I have to admit that I was one of the many audience members who gasped in pleasure when the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet launched into their final piece of the evening at the Lincoln Center on November 4. The piece, “Noir Blanc,” features choreography by Moses Pendleton, co-founder of Pilobolus and founder of Momix, and is an otherworldly experience.
But “Noir Blanc” was the very powerful icing on the cake. Aspen Santa Fe demonstrated from the very beginning of the concert a fluid, supple dance style that was both smooth and smart. That style was then underscored by pieces by various choreographers, including Pendleton, Nicolo Fonte, Lar Lubovitch and Twyla Tharp. The combination of top notch company work and interesting choices of material produced an excellent evening of dance that was not only impressive physically, but also inspiring creatively.
The evening began with “Left Unsaid,” by Fonte. The male dancers were dressed in loose-fitting suits and the females wore tight white athletic outfits. Just like the costuming, the dancing also brought together athleticism and grace, combining a necessarily sexy interaction between the dancers with little moments of lightheartedness. Most pleasing, however, was that the synchronized movement of the company often created effective visual effects.
Following an intermission, dancers Lauren Alzamora and Sam Chittenden, an alumni of the CSU School of Dance, performed a duet by Lubovitch to Ravel’s “Bolero.” In this case, the action was focused on the two dancers, melting together while still maintaining a sense of individual movement. “Bolero” is such a long, smoldering piece of music, taking quite a while to build to climax, that the dancers had a lot of work to do to keep the movement interesting. Alzamora and Chittenden succeeded by keeping their physical communication steadfastly centered around their own axis, while the music became a blaring, dramatic wave of sound.
Following “Fandango” was Tharp’s “Sinatra Suite,” a series of dance vignettes composed to several selections of Frank Sinatra recordings. During the “Suite,” the company balanced urban ballroom elegance with showbiz brassiness.
When Aspen Santa Fe took another intermission, a number of audience members took the opportunity to go ahead and leave. It did seem a little much to have to wait through another intermission, but it turned out to be definitely worth the wait. “Noir Blanc” took the concert to another level, leaving behind the simple joy of watching the dancer’s move to creating an awe-inspiring look at something kind of alien. The front of the stage had been draped with a huge semi-transparent screen on which were projected images such as planets and strange landscapes. Meanwhile, the dancers were dressed in costumes that were half black and half white. Banks of black lights lit up the white halves creating the illusion of half-human beings, dancing oddly on one leg, the halves needing and wanting to find each other. The interaction between the dancers often created gravity-defying illusions as these strange tapers of light twisted, turned and moved together.
Now, I don’t NEED special effects to enjoy dance, but after seeing “Noir Blanc” I guess it becomes clear that sometimes it’s the special production techniques that turns a very good performance into something awe-inspiring and memorable. I like what Aspen Santa Fe has done with style and would recommend them based on that alone. But I don’t mind admitting that indeed the special effects add to the experience. Those strange, yet gentle and friendly fluorescent figures hopping around on stage are now flying around in my memory.
Matt Nathanson Fox Theatre, Boulder, November 17, 2004
On stage at the Fox Theatre on November 17, San Francisco-based songwriter Matt Nathanson was hot- literally. Sweat poured down his face and he often snatched up a towel to wipe himself down. He was producing all that sweat because this guy was giving an all-out performance that was dynamic, emotive and humorous. I’m really not sure which was more entertaining- rock band arrangements of his heart-on-the-sleeve material or his insane and comic chatter in between tunes. Between the two, Nathanson kept the pace steady from the moment he walked on.
Just an hour or so earlier, Nathanson was calm and relaxed, hanging out on a couch in the basement band room of the Fox with bassist John Thomasson and guitarist Aben Eubanks. Nathanson was writing the night’s set list on a sex ad in a Denver magazine and began the interview by admitting that he was looking forward to a break from touring and digging into his next musical “evolution.” Here are some quotes:
“That’s the thing about touring, that’s the only really grueling part about it is that there’s a real lack of balance, because you don’t really get your weekends, you don’t really get your nights. It’s still the best thing to do with my life, it’s like the most fantastic thing in the world, but I find that in order to write songs, in order to be creative, there has to be a sense of balance…On tour it’s like you’re kind of battling for the best meal you can get or you’re battling for the most sleep you can find or so you’re spending as much time as you can trying to eek out a normalcy.”
New musical direction:
“The one thing I can say is that I definitely want to sort of see if I can lean a little bit more towards an optimistic lyrical thing. It’s difficult to write joy into lyrics…I feel like I have an endless well of the sad stuff that makes it into my songs and I feel like the next step is a little bit more of an optimistic evolution. It feels like what needs to happen, like where it’s going.”
“It’s just when it articulates what you want to articulate in a way that feels like it didn’t happened through you, that’s when it feels like kind of a magic moment, when you look back and you’re like, wow, that’s exactly how I felt, who wrote that? Oh I wrote it. Well that’s impossible, it must have come from something greater, like I was a conduit for that moment…I feel like the great stuff is unexplainable.”
“The last record was the first record I’d ever made that wasn’t on my own dime and what to the record label felt like just a normal budget felt like millions of dollars to me…I felt like every record that I made by myself always felt like a nice step forward, a nice step forward, a nice step forward, then this record, because of the opportunities that I got and the tools that were at my disposals like the musicians that I’ve always worshipped and money and studio time and great engineers, I was able to kind of take more than a step forward. It felt like a leap. It felt like someone kind of took me out of line and moved me up, it’s like here you go.”
Special guest musicians on “Fireworks”:
“To be able to like sit in the presence of people that I’ve always dug and watch them interpret the songs and watch them sort of bring their stuff to the party, that’s totally great, that’s the stuff that I remember the most…Matt Chamberlain is someone that I just have always loved as a drummer, I always thought he was the king, every record he played on I’d buy, then here he is playing and hanging out and laughing and going to eat with me…These people that I got to play on my record were some of the people who formed who I am and so, without knowing it, they’re kind of essential parts of who I am and so it was pretty kick ass. It felt like going to baseball fantasy camp…”
“Playing on stage is all about the crowd, it’s all about the people that come to the show and that’s not at all a made up, canned answer. It’s like when we play and we’re having a great time and we’re killing it and rocking it and the crowd isn’t connecting, we don’t elevate to the place we need to elevate to. That’s why I spend so much of my show trying to get the connection because to get that connection then everything becomes fantastic and everything becomes better than we could ever be.”
At the Fox, Nathanson made his connection with some keen wit, some dramatic music and masterful control of the stage. Along with the sweat that was pouring off his forehead, Nathanson also had this kind of perma-grin on his face that indicated that indeed he was having fun too. You can’t blame him- his music is infectious and expressive in itself and he has synched in completely with his three-piece backing band.
As powerful as his performance was with the band, however, Nathanson’s final act of the evening showed the most class. Claiming a curfew time, Nathanson disregarded the tradition of walking off stage, waiting, then doing an encore. Instead, Nathanson stepped up to sing a solo song. But he didn’t step up to the mike. Rather, he unplugged his guitar, stepped around the equipment and played and sang at the edge of the stage, the audience singing along at his feet. There were no barriers between them- no artificial sounds. This turned a brilliant performance into an intimate moment in the blink of an eye, endearing him all the more to the Boulder fans. Hopefully, Nathanson defines his next “evolution” soon as he takes a break from the road, because the fans are going to miss him while he’s away.
Drift Takes the Cake! Bands Battle at City Limits Lounge for Glory and Recording Time!
When Scene Magazine publisher Michael Mockler stepped up to the mike at the City Limits Lounge to announce the top four winners in this year’s Battle of the Bands, a tense hush came over the room. Even though the day-long event had left the crowd well-lubricated with great local music- 12 bands competing throughout the day- everybody stopped the chatter and listened.
When Mockler finally announced the First Place winners- powerful regional rock band Drift- there was a tremendous explosion of triumphant rock and roll testosterone. The members of Drift, obviously thrilled to be named the number one band of the day, set to work hugging everybody within reach- each other, their fans and even the judges.
When Mockler told the crowd that “it was close, it was really, really close” he wasn’t kidding. The energy on stage throughout the day was tremendous and the music was diverse. Drift won the 13th Annual Scene Magazine Battle of the Bands with a swaggering, dead-on-the-money guitar rock that was both emotive and dramatic. They were chosen the winners by a panel of judges that included booking professionals, music writers (me, that is) and Scene staff members who dutifully filled out a voting form for each band, giving points for such aspects of performing as stage presence, originality, technical proficiency and professionalism. Each band only got a 30 minute set to show off their stuff, so the musicians had to jam and jam quickly. Here are the top winners of the day:
First Place- Drift. You can’t talk about Drift without first saying that vocalist T. Jones has a riveting stage presence. Let’s just say that when Jones is performing, it’s hard to pay attention to anyone else in the room. But Jones is going no where without the confidence that his bandmates apply to the group’s rough-edged guitar-driven rock. So Drift won the First Place nod with a tough, cohesive performance that dangled happily on the edge of chaos- with Jones wailing in the center of it all. Drift has a sound that could easily work on the big stage and in a club it is downright stunning. Drift won recording time at the Blasting Room.
Second Place- On the Rocks. Coming up real close on Drift’s heels in Second Place was another band that pulled plenty of power out of rock and roll roots- On the Rocks. Fronted by singer, songwriter and guitarist Shawn Wright, On the Rocks plays a similar guitar-based rock as Drift and proved to be masters of dynamics. Wright’s gritty, gravely voice might start some of the songs off in a low down mood, but it usually didn’t take long for On the Rocks to build it up into something raging and dramatic. They had the crowd pumping their fists in the air by the end of their set.
Third Place- Holy Moses and the High Rollers. Playing easily with rhythms and grooves, Holy Moses and the High Rollers took Third Place at the Battle with a jam-oriented music that toured the world. Within their short 30-minute set, Holy Moses explored Dead rock, Latin-based rhythms, reggae grooves, soul, funk and jazz. Recent transplants from Pennsylvania, Holy Moses is well-synched and very capable of taking the audience on an exotic ride indeed.
Fourth Place- Fatty Jenkins. Fourth Place Battle winners Fatty Jenkins also included some reggae grooves in their set, as well as jazz-oriented jamming and Latin-flavored dance music. Fatty Jenkins balances the supple tenor vocals of John McKay with the strong keyboard work of Nikki Hershberger for a rich and positive music.
Now, let’s pour on some sugar for the other bands that competed at the best Battle in years. “In my mind, all the bands are winners. Each one that played tonight was chosen from a much bigger field of talent. We try to represent a lot of different musical genres and these bands were all the best in their field,” Mockler explained to one of the Battle musicians during the event.
Other Battle of the Band Winners (in no particular order):
Patchwork Blue: This trio displayed not only a bright, precise music, but also a comfort with leaving their basic stage positions- vocalist Ryan Edwards left the stage to play guitar on the dance floor and drummer Corey Barnes walked around his drum kit playing the cymbals.
Tim Hanauer Band: Songwriter Tim Hanauer’s vocal style is smooth and easy, but the music that his band plays is not simple- it’s rich in rhythmic jangle, stylishly soulful inflections and cool, calculated dynamics.
Shattered Faith: While digging into deep, loud grooves, heavy metal trio Shattered Faith also dug into some weighty social subjects in their lyrics. Guitarist and vocalist Eric Romero dedicated the day’s performance to the memory of his grandfather, who encouraged him with his music.
Bob Fortuna Band: The Bob Fortuna Band had an unassuming stage presence, but created music that was full of jazzy precision and instant energy. The time signatures kept changing and so did the heavy amalgam of influences the band gathered, including some funk, soul and rock guitar excess.
Strand: The keyboard-based sound of Strand was a refreshing change from all the guitar work at the Battle and the trio made the most of the moment by delivering strong, ambitious music with a big sound. Changing musical figures and moods at will, Strand’s music was well-textured and emotionally effective.
All Ways Out: No representation of local music would be complete without a punk band and All Ways Out filled the bill. The band kept up a quick and energetic pace with direct, melodic punk anthems that pulled the crowd around the stage and even ignited a brief moment of moshing.
Deep Pocket Three: The big jamming guitar rock of the Deep Pocket Three was fast and nimble, featuring the fluid yet raw guitar work of Zac Lee, who wowed the crowd with behind-the-back guitar antics.
Lindsey O’Brien Band: The largest band of the night- seven players- also featured the only female lead singer of the night. The Lindsay O’Brien Band featured sassy, bluesy vocals, as well as lots of infectious percussion. The band also passed out shakers to the crowd so that everyone could join in.
Sound for the evening was engineered by Stacy Adams, also a drummer with local band Hollowbody. (Hollowbody, by the way, hosts an open mic night at the City Limits Lounge on Thursdays.)
This was my first trip to the City Limits Lounge, located at 320 Link Lane (inside Castillon’s), and I was very impressed. I remember that bar (in a much earlier incarnation) as being much smaller and kind of dingy. But as host for the Battle of the Bands, the City Limits served as a great room- long and wide enough to accommodate each band’s fans easily, while letting others play pool or just hang out in back. The table service was excellent and there were some great graphics in the men’s bathroom (no kidding). The City Limits Lounge stage seemed large enough to easily accommodate the bands, but left plenty of dance floor room- which was used frequently throughout the Battle. Some simple twirling lights added color and flash for a comfortable, friendly nightclub experience.
So put all of that together and you have a great time! Local music continues to thrive no matter what the whiners in the music industry say about the state of the art. Bands like Drift, On the Rocks, Holy Moses and the High Rollers and Fatty Jenkins are keeping us rocking hard!
Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Pepsi Center, Denver, December 7, 2004
There were more than just a few flashes of brilliance during the Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s performance at the Pepsi Center in Denver on December 7- literally. Not only did the huge arsenal of lights- colored spotlights, strobes, lasers and bright white flood lights- turn the staging into an ever changing visual playground, but occasionally those lights were turned directly on the audience, full force. The shock value was significant, all in keeping with the general aesthetic of the show, which seemed to be fast-paced stimulation musically and visually.
What worked best during the concert was when the big band configuration, featuring a full rock ensemble and an eight-piece string section, got down to the business of rocking. The dramatic heavy metal-oriented music was driven by a pounding beat and wailing guitars, quick musical figures getting peeled off at an energetic pace. All the while the lights, and even pyrotechnics, blazed and shifted in an uplifting show of electric power.
Though the passages of rock were satisfying indeed, it’s important to note that the Trans-Siberian Orchestra did not draw the full half-house audience to the Pepsi Center for just such macho bravado. The group has built its reputation as an exciting performing unit by combining their rocking musical roots with Christmas holiday themes. What that means is that Christmas rules in the lyrics, along with sentimental philosophy about sharing and caring. It also begs the arrangers for the group to include ramped up holiday favorites throughout the show, along with theme-based originals. “Joy to the World” reached to the rafters of the Pepsi Center with soaring guitars and crashing percussion.
The first half of the show on December 7 was a Broadway musical-style presentation that told stories of Christmas Eve with the aim of warming the heart. Narrator Tony Gaynor, in slow and evenly measured lines, created a storyline while various male and female vocalists took turns in the spotlights, singing about the season and the emotions that well up. The music shifted from torch-burning ballads to soul to blues and rock according to the revolving roster of vocal talent and their specialties. The stage movement was very efficiently choreographed, down to the flick of the hair of the singers doing back-up duty.
The second half of the show was a selection of Trans-Siberian favorites from the past. This included a healthy portion of the Trans-Siberian release “Beethoven’s Last Night,” which features a breath-taking amalgam of heavy rock and classical music, dizzying and ultimately triumphant. An interesting cover tune that came up in the second set was a Joe Cocker arrangement version of the Beatles’ song “With a Little Help from My Friends.” Also interesting was a dark, Gothic rock work out from the group’s upcoming recording project. Some of the sentimental holiday stuff was lost on me, but how can you resist a raging big rock band ripping through some Beethoven licks while flames are shooting up in the air and sparklers are shooting down from the ceiling?
The group that performed at the Pepsi Center is one of two troupes currently touring as the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Vocalist Tommy Farese and guitarist Al Pitrelli stepped up often during the second half of the show to joke with the audience and offer some individual personality. The audience responded warmly and enthusiastically, and the energy level was high in the hallways and outside the Pepsi Center afterwards.
It has to be said that the Trans-Siberian Orchestra is carrying perhaps one of the most powerful lighting rigs in the business and the spectacle that the production creates is dazzling to say the least. The music matches the domineering presence of the lights with volume and progressive rock tendencies that also dazzle in their own way. The Christmas theme provides a focus and platform for the Trans-Siberian Orchestra to succeed. Together, the package- and it is a package- makes for a charming way to end the concert year and get into the holiday spirit.
But I have to wonder if the Trans-Siberian Orchestra will remain a holiday tradition, or whether they will be able to break their own mold and become something bigger. The show itself can’t get much bigger production-wise, so if the group is to expand in the future, it really should be in the area of theme and musical texture. The brooding new piece included in the second set at the Pepsi Center may be heralding this very move. Fortunately, the group has attracted an enthusiastic audience that may allow them the room to grow. The Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s latest release is “The Lost Christmas Eve.”
The Top Ten Concerts of 2004
When the most ambitious touring festival of the year- the Lollapalooza- was cancelled due to poor ticket sales, the mainstream media spread the word that the concert industry was having a lousy year in 2004. That may have been true business-wise, but artistically, 2004 rocked. The Strokes, Rasputina, Buckethead, Rose Hill Drive, Jo Dee Messina, Rosanne Cash, Yes, Tommy Emmanuel, Love with Arthur Lee, Tish Hinojosa, Matt Nathanson, Rush and Dokken all played great sets on the Front Range this past year- and they were only a part of the fun. Here are my choices for the Top Ten area concerts for 2004:
1. Prince (August 27, Pepsi Center)- Many of the cooler folk may scoff at my choice for the number one concert of 2004- Prince. But if there is a performer who is more in control of the big stage, I haven’t seen them perform. Prince not only makes infectious funky music, but he TAKES CONTROL of the room as soon as he hits the stage. Constantly moving, dancing, digging into a guitar solo or breezing through the vocal parts, Prince is a performer who WORKS. Though making much different music, Prince stands alongside Bruce Springsteen as a master of the big show. And like Springsteen, Prince surrounds himself with a band that is not just a collection of great musicians, but also a cast of characters that endear themselves to the crowd. In the case of the first of two Pepsi Center shows in Denver, that included saxophonists Maceo Parker and Candy Dulfer, who Prince dubbed some of the funkiest people on the planet.
That the show was slick goes without saying. In fact at times the slickness detracted from the songs, Prince often covering only part of a tune before moving on to the next. But as the performer continually said during his show- “This isn’t MTV, this is real music”- and the evening was all about partying with Prince, no matter which songs he pulled out, or how much of them he got through. The song list was satisfying, however: “Musicology,” “Kiss,” “When Doves Cry,” “Sign O the Times,” “Pop Life” and much more. Perhaps the most riveting part of the show was when Prince sat down in a swivel chair in the middle of the stage and played a brief acoustic set including versions of “Little Red Corvette,” “Raspberry Beret,” “Cream” and the Stones’ “Satisfaction.” But then again, how can anyone deny the crowd-rousing power of “Purple Rain,” which closed the show. Earlier in the evening, when kicking into “Let’s Go Crazy,” Prince included the cryptic spoken word intro that goes “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life.” Indeed, getting through life with the help of a consummate performer who wields both confidence and style is a great way to go. The hallways of the Pepsi Center were buzzing with an energetic excitement afterwards, proof that Prince had done his job.
2. A Perfect Circle (June 13, Red Rocks)- Perhaps the polar opposite of Prince’s sexy, get it on party music is the dramatic, angst-ridden sound of A Perfect Circle. The Red Rocks date was A Perfect Circle’s last show of 2004 and they couldn’t have had better conditions for showcasing what the group has developed- a total experience of electricity. Between the heavy, dark music and the blazing lighting rigs, there was hardly a static moment during the show. Of course, the riveting stage presence of Maynard James Keenan, who performed in darkness on his own riser behind the rest of the band, added to the palpable tension of the performance, but it became clear that A Perfect Circle has clearly become a great BAND even in the shadow of Keenan’s other influential musical unit, Tool. Opening with the tune “Vanishing,” other highlights of the show included “The Outsider,” with its powerful rising crescendos, and “The Package.” Everything about this show- from the beautiful night weather to A Perfect Circle’s raging 21st Century rock- was, well, perfect. The Burning Brides opened.
3. David Bowie (April 25, Budweiser Events Center)- When matchbox twenty played the Events Center in 2003, they took the stage sans the mammoth lighting and video rigs they were using elsewhere on their tour. Not so with David Bowie. Bowie jammed all of his lights and video screens into the Events Center and proceeded to treat northern Colorado to a first-rate production. Beginning with “Rebel, Rebel,” Bowie spent the evening reminiscing over his long career, pulling out hits and oddities. These included “All the Young Dudes,” “China Girl” (with a smattering of Chinese lyrics,) “Fame,” “The Man Who Sold the World,” “Ashes to Ashes,” “Quicksand (from the “Hunky Dory” album,) and a George Harrison tune, “Try Some, Buy Some.” Newer song “The Loneliest Guy” was the most theatrical piece of the evening and “I’m Afraid of Americans” was the most deeply powerful. But what finally blew the roof off the Events Center was the four-song encore that Bowie drew from his breakthrough “Ziggy Stardust” album- “Hang On to Yourself,” “Five Years,” “Suffragette City” and the title tune. All Bowie’s music sounded fresh- even the slightly dated early stuff- and Bowie was friendly and talkative with the crowd. This show will be the high mark that others at the Events Center will try to achieve and it will be tough to equal. Opening was one of the most unique touring units out there- the Polyphonic Spree, a 24-member group dressed in white choir robes that presented nothing but positive, uplifting music, certainly an unusual take on contemporary music in this time of pop stupidity and negative angst.
4. Brian Wilson (October 27, Paramount Theatre)- I was never really a big fan of the Beach Boys’ sunny music. But that did not affect my joy at seeing Beach Boy mastermind Brian Wilson’s extravagant “Smile Tour” that stopped in Denver at the Paramount. Surrounded by up to 18 musicians at a time, Wilson worked over Beach Boys hits as well as performed the entirety of the long lost album “Smile.” That work remains an artistic coup especially after more than thirty years on the shelf thanks to great contemporary sound and a combination of familiar Beach Boys songs such as “Heroes and Villains,” “Surf’s Up” and the spine-tingling, spirit-lifting climax of the musical suite, “Good Vibrations.” Personally, it was worth the drive to Denver just to hear Wilson play “Vege-Tables”- one of the quirkiest songs in the Beach Boys catalogue. Add in great tunes such as “Sloop John B,” “Sail On, Sailor,” “California Girls,” “I Get Around,” “Surfin’ USA” and much more and you have a night that blew away the rest of the world and turned the Paramount into a happy sock hop.
5. David Byrne (September 6, Chautauqua Auditorium)- The final show of the Chautauqua Auditorium summer season in Boulder was a hip-shaking blow-out. Chautauqua is known primarily for acoustic-oriented performances, but former Talking Head David Byrne turned it into a dance club with his unique combination of world music and art rock. Joined on stage by a rock band and the Tosca Strings, Byrne sang in multiple languages- French, Portuguese, Creole and Italian- as well as pulled out an arsenal of Talking Heads tunes, all calculated to stimulate both the brain and the body. The set list included “I Zimbra,” “Once in a Lifetime,” “This Must Be the Place,” “Road to Nowhere,” “And She Was” and “Blind.” The highlights were plentiful but “Psycho Killer,” (arranged with strings) remained a tension-filled anthem for the mentally confused and “Life During Wartime” simply rocked the building. Added to the fun was the opening set by Sam Phillips, a femme fatale figure with huge haunting eyes and a strange deadpan delivery style.
6. Linkin Park (August 30, Coors Amphitheatre)- With the Lollapalooza out of the running, the Projekt Revolution Tour, headlining Linkin Park, became the mainstream alternative rock festival of the year. On the second stage, acts like Wu Tang rapper Ghostface turned the parking lot into a rollicking party place, even ignoring the security barriers to invite dancers onto the stage. On the main stage, the Used turned in an incendiary proto-punk set and Snoop Dogg happily mugged his way through a set that had the audience waving their arms and chanting his name. But nothing else mattered when Korn took the stage and proceeded to deliver a powerful, muscular set that included a rough and ready version of Pink Floyd’s “The Wall.” Linkin Park then outclassed them all with a music that has propelled itself far beyond the rap metal the group initially scored with. Video sequences synched in well to the dynamic and dramatic music Linkin Park has now mastered. This was an excellent way to end the summer season at Coors (formally Fiddler’s Green.)
7. Coors Light Mountain Jam (August 14, Red Rocks)- In its second year as an annual event, the Coors Light Mountain Jam continued to please with a wildly diverse program. That included matching sets by Nickleback and Kid Rock with Cypress Hill and Galactic. Also on the performers’ list was Lil Jon and the East Side Boyz, Our Lady Peace, Molotov (from Mexico City) and Ludacris. Our Lady Peace turned in perhaps the most satisfying rock performance of the day, recalling the triumphant sound of U2. Cypress Hill were coolly in control during their otherwise irreverent set. Ludacris ended up being the ringmaster for a hip hop celebration with guest artists and plenty of stage action. Nickleback sported the best special effects of the show, with metal staging that erupted into flames at key points. Kid Rock mixed crudeness with stage savvy to close the long day with a classic rock sound. MC Dave Attell brought a little more star power to the production that also featured appearances by the Coors Light Twins. As a showcase for a variety of genres, this event has few peers.
8. Queensryche (October 12, Fillmore Auditorium)- While I cannot say I ever really knew much about Queensryche before seeing their show at the Fillmore in Denver, I know plenty about them now. What I learned in this two-set “evening with” concert is that Queensryche’s music is big and dramatic and that vocalist Geoff Tate is a riveting figure on stage. The first half of the show offered some of the band’s greatest hits. But it was the second half- a full reading of the group’s heavy metal rock opera, “Operation: Mindcrime,” complete with synched-in video sequences and a handful of live actors- that made this show an artistic must-see. Though written for another time and place, the psychological angst of “Operation: Mindcrime” seemed especially poignant in an election year.
9. Gwar (May 15, Aggie Theatre)- I didn’t really know what I was getting into when I went to the Gwar show at the Aggie Theatre and the black plastic covering the walls of the venue didn’t help much to clue me in. But once the outrageous metal band hit the stage and started soaking the audience with streams of dyed water, I got the idea. In between ducking the gushing water, there was plenty about Gwar’s show that delighted, including the cast of costumed characters that took the stage during the show, including George Bush, Osama Bin Laden, Mike Tyson and John Kerry. Of course, each of the characters were mutilated or dismembered during the course of each song, leading to more spraying water. With all of that went Gwar’s heavy, crunching metal and the bizarre costuming of the bandmembers, who maintain a kind of band mythology as part of the act. This was the single best production I have ever seen at the Aggie and perhaps the most ambitious production to come to Fort Collins in general. That it was irreverent and at times even offensive made the chaos factor all the more exciting. Gwar announced at the show that the band’s future plans included working on their newest album at a studio here in Fort Collins.
10. Jet, The Vines (April 1, Ogden Theater)- Great rock continually gets reinvented and the band Jet has successfully reinvented screaming blues rock that works off of equal measures of volume and attitude. While Jet’s set (following an efficient and fun punk-oriented work out by the Living End) was an example of some of the best in revisited rock, the set by the Vines was an example of the worst. Evidently addled by too many inebriants, the Vines’ vocalist became unraveled by the end of the set, falling back into and knocking over a stack of amplifiers before being grabbed by a bandmate and dragged off stage. In a way, the Vines demonstrated that chaos still remains a factor in rock, and that message is not entirely unwelcome. Fortunately, Jet’s part of the show was nothing but direct, hard, effective rock and roll, making the trip to Denver worthwhile.
Venue of the Year: Budweiser Events Center
In Northern Colorado, no concert news was bigger than the opening of the Budweiser Events Center in the fall of 2003. While just getting going in ’03, the Events Center flexed its muscles during 2004 to show its potential as a major area concert venue. During 2004, acts such as Lynyrd Skynyrd, David Bowie, REO Speedwagon, Grand Funk Railroad, Jo Dee Messina, Yes and Incubus all took the stage at the Bud Center- a true diversity of talent.
While the design of the Events Center has more to do with function rather than style, its 7200 seat capacity is very much in tune with the times. The bigger venues in the region have been hosting fewer shows and selling fewer tickets because the numbers just aren’t there to fill the big arenas, especially thanks to severely hiked ticket prices. That means that smaller-sized venues like the Events Center have become much more important to the industry.
How important? Check the list of upcoming concerts at the Events Center in 2005: Snoop Dogg on January 17, Rod Stewart on April 5, Sarah McLachlan on April 28 and Motley Crue on May 1- and that’s just the beginning. It’s worth taking a look at the promoters too- Snoop is being produced by House of Blues, Rod is produced by Global Spectrum (who manages the Events Center,) and Sarah is produced by Clear Channel. House of Blues and Clear Channel are responsible for the lion’s share of the major concerts being produced in the country and they seem to have recognized that not only is the Events Center a worthy venue, but that northern Colorado is a worthy market. Global Spectrum’s date with Rod Stewart is the only Colorado stop on this tour, offering a little sweetness for northern Colorado music fans- for once, the music fans of the Denver/Boulder metro area will have to travel to OUR venue for a change!
But don’t just take my word for it. Just recently the Events Center was named among the top twenty venues in the world in its size category by Venues Today, one of the entertainment industry’s leading trade publications. The ranking is based on total gross and attendance for events during the one-year period of 10/15/03-10/15/04. The Budweiser Events Center grossed $2,776,504, drawing 105,319 customers to 33 events. That news means that the Events Center already stands among venues such as the venerable Royal Albert Hall in London, the Greek Theater in Los Angeles, Radio City Music Hall in New York and even Red Rocks (still one of the finest venues in the world.) Even though the facility has performers such as David Bowie wondering where they are (“It’s out in the middle of a field!” Bowie told the fans at his show on April 25,) the Events Center is fast becoming a destination spot for performers and music fans alike. Here’s looking forward to a new concert year at the Budweiser Center and the other great venues in the area!
The late Chet Atkins called lauded Australian guitar maestro Tommy Emmanuel “the greatest guitarist on the planet.” Emmanuel’s records highlight his nimble finger-picking style, but his performances are enhanced by a vibrant stage personality. Emmanuel has appeared several times in the area over the last few years, playing live and on the radio. Emmanuel will be returning to the Sunset Events Center on Friday, September 24. Opening will be Australian guitarist Troy Cassar-Daley. The show is being produced by Quantum Arts, who will also be hosting Brian Joseph, winner of the 2004 Telluride Troubadour Competition, at Avogadro’s Number on September 26.
Yes: Two of the biggest names in progressive rock- Yes and Dream Theater- are set for a show at the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland on September 11. The line-up for the Yes includes lead vocalist Jon Anderson, bassist Chris Squire, lead guitarist Steve Howe, keyboardist Rick Wakeman and drummer Alan White. Yes recently re-released many of their classic songs along with two new studio tracks, “That, That Is,” and “Be the One.” Dream Theater’s most recent release is the two-disc album “Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence.”
Coming up at the Aggie Theatre: the deep industrial rock of Ministry on September 18, with opening band My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult. New voters can register at this show.
Creative forces: Photographer and filmmaker Christopher Felver has worked with some of the greatest creative forces of our times- writers, poets, actors, musicians and more. Felver will be showing photos at Gallery 233 on September 10, signing books at Gallery 233 for “The Beat Sound: an Evening of Poetry & Such” on September 11, and discussing films at the Lory Student Center Theater at CSU on September 12.
Coors Light Mountain Jam: The second annual Coors Light Mountain Jam firmly established its credentials as a major addition to the summer festival season on August 14 at Red Rocks with a widely diverse line-up. Like last year’s rain-soaked event, the Jam touched on a number of different musical styles, this year featuring the rough and ready motor city showmanship of Kid Rock, the aggressive pop rock of Nickleback, the crowd rousing antics of hip hop artists such as Ludacris, Cypress Hill and Lil Jon and the East Side Boyz, the New Orleans soul rock jamming of Galactic and the feisty Mexican punk rock of Molotov. This was all under beautiful skies. For me, however, the most inspiring set of the day was turned in by Canadian rockers Our Lady Peace, whose music recalled the defiant integrity of U2.
A bonus for covering the event as a journalist was the opportunity to talk with some of the bands in a press tent after their sets. The members of Molotov, from Mexico City, expressed deep concern for current American foreign policies, as did Our Lady Peace. Nickleback simply chuckled their way through the interviews while the members of area band Ion, who opened the show, were just glad to be there. (Ion will be at the Starlight- under new ownership- on September 24.)
I get a lot of phone calls from publicists. But recently I received a phone call from the best kind of publicist. That is, a Brian Wilson fan from Fort Collins got in touch to simply promote the artist he loves. Wilson, of course, is the inspired architect of the Beach Boys’ sunny, beautifully crafted pop music. Only recently Wilson released “Smile,” a storied Beach Boys album that was never released according to the composer’s vision. That vision is now complete and a reason to celebrate for people like the loyal Fort Collins fan.
The Wilson “publicist” that called me so much wanted to share his idol’s music that he sent me both studio and live recordings of Wilson’s new music. My reaction is positive- there’s a refreshing emphasis on crystal clear production values on the studio stuff and the live stuff not only showcases the buoyant melodic quality of the music, but it’s also just fun. That’s why I have no problem recommending Wilson’s upcoming date at the Paramount Theater in Denver on October 27. This will be a “historic first performance” of “Smile.” Surf’s up.
More music: Unfortunately I arrived a little late to the Umphrey McGee’s show at the Aggie Theatre on September 29 and missed most of the opening set by Lotus. Fortunately this jamming rock fusion band from Philadelphia will be returning to the Aggie twice in upcoming months. They’ll be opening for Granola Funk Express on October 21, and for Ekoostik Hookah on November 6. Also coming to the Aggie: Fishbone on October 15, Cabaret Diosa on October 28, Martin Sexton on October 29 and Junior Brown on November 3. Singer-songwriter and former gambler Darryl Purpose will be performing at Avogadro’s Number on October 22, along with opener Barbara Clark.
Dance: The Lincoln Center’s new season is in full swing. The Dance Series opens on October 15 with the Helios Dance Theater. Helios “traces the energy of life’s different stages, explores passion and conflict, achievement and contentment, self-obsession and self-sacrifice, and the elements of a woman’s journey that asks: are we in control of our lives?” The Dance Series continues on November 4 with the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, combining “fresh, fluid athleticism and sensuality.”
Also coming up at the Lincoln Center: Australia’s Ten Tenors continue the Showstopper Series on November 8-11, with a matinee on November 7. The Classical Music Series opens with the Berlin Piano Quartet on October 19.
Theatre: These scary stories are just in time for Halloween. The Debut Theatre Company presents “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” at the Lincoln Center October 15-16. Openstage etc., the more experimental branch of Openstage Theatre, will be presenting “The Weir” from October 29-November 14. Performance location is to be determined. Call 484-5237 for info. Also playing: OpenStage’s production of Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale, at the Lincoln Center October 23-November 20. The Bas Bleu Theatre Company will be offering Part 1 of Tony Kushner’s play “Angels in America,” through November 20.
Just in time for the holidays- again. The Trans-Siberian Orchestra, fast becoming a perennial holiday stage sensation, has returned with not only another holiday concert tour but also with a new studio record. The album is “The Lost Christmas Eve,” which features 23 new tracks of the group’s signature fusion of classical, rock, Broadway and R&B music. “The Lost Christmas Eve” will be supported by a North American concert tour that will hit over 80 cities, including a December 7 date at the Pepsi Center in Denver.
Matt Nathanson: Massachusetts-born, San Francisco-based singer-songwriter Matt Nathanson has succeeded the good old-fashioned way- by creating a passionate grassroots following with relentless touring and fresh, energetic songwriting. Armed with a 12 -string guitar, an arsenal of confessional songs and a cello player named Matt Fish, Nathanson has earned a solid reputation as a performer.
His latest album release, “Beneath These Fireworks,” also proves Nathanson’s strength in the studio thanks to his irrepressible music and some help from some powerful friends. The record was produced by Ron Aniello (Barenaked Ladies, Guster,) mixed by Mark Endert (Fiona Apple, Vertical Horizon) and features players such as drummer Matt Chamberlain (Tori Amos), keyboardist Jamie Muhoberac (Seal) and vocalist Glen Phillips (Toad the Wet Sprocket.) Nathanson will be playing two dates in the area- November 16 at the Larimer Lounge in Denver and November 17 at the Fox Theatre in Boulder.
Cinderella: Rodgers and Hammerstein’s family musical classic “Cinderella” will be presented at the Lincoln Center November 18-21. The Fort Collins Children’s Theatre production will be based on the script used in three television specials, starting in 1957 with Julie Andrews. The cast of 33 performers ranges in age from 12 years to over 65 and the production will include a 24-piece live orchestra, lavish costumes and a custom-designed set. Special “Patron” packages will be available, which include tickets to the Friday, November 19 night show, a buffet dinner catered by the Rainbow Restaurant, silent auction and a special “chocolate fountain” dessert party with the cast. The November 18 night show will be signed for the hearing impaired.
More music: The Budweiser Events Center in Loveland is hosting progressive rock band Incubus on November 20. Touring in support of their latest release, “A Crow Left Of The Murder,” Incubus will be joined by the Music, one of my favorite second stage bands at last year’s Lollapalooza. Coming up at the Aggie Theatre, Boulder’s hot power trio, Rose Hill Drive on November 12, the Big Wu on November 16 and the Dwarves on November 18.
On the local scene, John Magnie and Friends (including Tim Cook, Steve Amedee, Mark Sloniker and Kevin Jones) will be playing a special benefit concert for the Fellowship House at Everyday Joe’s on November 26. A limited number of advance tickets are available. Also, the Fabulous Lamp Shades, with Chris Hammang and featuring special guest guitarist Mark Van Ark, will be celebrating the release of their new CD, “Blowin’ the Roof Off,” at the City Limits Lounge on November 19. The album, released on Pocket Rocket Records, features 16 tracks of swinging, rough-edged blues.
Acoustic Eidolon, featuring Joe Scott on double-neck14-string guitar and Hannah Alkire on cello, will be at the Rialto Theater in Loveland, December 2-3. Scott and Alkire will be joined by Celtic harpist Thomas Loefke, and will be playing seasonal tunes and selections from their latest release, “Live to Dance.” Also coming to the Rialto, Holden Wofford and the Hi-Beams and the Bluegrass Patriots on December 4.
The Bas Bleu Theatre Company brings Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s classic children’s novel, “The Little Prince,” to the stage now through January 15. This “galactic journey through space and time” is directed by John Hill and “reveals the true mystery and meaning of life.”
OpenStage Theatre Company will open “Copenhagen,” written by Michael Frayn and directed by Bruce K. Freestone, on January 8 at the Lincoln Center. “Copenhagen” plays through February 5.
Art: The Lincoln Center presents “Creative Spaces,” functional and fun art for the home environment now through December 21 in all galleries. The show focuses on objects and elements that are important in every home environment, displaying items such as one-of-a-kind lamps; rock, tile and wood furniture; clocks, ceramics and other objects common within our everyday surroundings. All galleries are free and open to the public.
Gallery 233 in Fort Collins hosts the artists of the Dellnova Gallery of Loveland until January 21. Artists include Dave Phelps, William Sharp, Tom Katsimpalis, Jim Hayes, Maggie Rowlett, Larry Wilson, Edsel Karmann-Ghia and Claudette Phelps.
Music: Sweet Honey in the Rock, internationally renowned a cappella ensemble, has been a vital and innovative presence in the music culture of Washington DC and “in communities of conscience” around the world. Dedicated to preserving and celebrating African American culture and singing traditions, Sweet Honey in the Rock is comprised of five women who continually evolve as musicians, composers, arrangers, singers and storytellers. The group will be returning to the Boulder Theater on Saturday, January 22.
Nashville songwriter Steve Seskin has written plenty of hits, like “Grown Men Don’t Cry,” recorded by Tim McGraw and other songs made popular by the likes of Neal McCoy, John Michael Montgomery, Ricochet, Colin Raye and Kenny Chesney. But his song “Don’t Laugh at Me,” may be making the biggest impact because it has become a touchstone to teaching tolerance in schools. Seskin’s latest release is a two-CD live set and he will be performing at Avogadro’s Number on February 5, 2005.
Also coming up: Vince Herman of Leftover Salmon at Mugs Underground in Fort Collins on December 10, Mannheim Steamroller at the Pepsi Center in Denver on December 22, the Reverend Horton Heat at the Aggie Theatre on January 6, 2005, Hot Tuna at the Fox Theatre in Boulder on January 8, Michael Franti and Spearhead at the Fillmore Auditorium in Denver on January 15, Bobby McFerrin at the Lincoln Center on January 24, and Lyle Lovett and Guy Clark at Macky Auditorium in Boulder on February 5.