2005 Articles

by Tim Van Schmidt

Bobby McFerrin, Lincoln Center, Fort Collins, January 24, 2005

When Bobby McFerrin took the stage for a solo show at the Lincoln Center on January 24, he brought two performers along with him.

The first performer was Bobby McFerrin the Artist. This McFerrin has total control over his breath, his vocal chords and even his body as a rhythm instrument. He held the microphone like it was an instrument as well, his fingers softly playing it like a flute while he vocalized and thumped his chest with his hand for a beat. His octave range is astonishing and his ability to go from falsetto to bass and back again in a few notes was smooth and seemingly effortless. McFerrin is an entire doo wop group in one guy, covering multiple parts while singing music influenced by funk, soul, jazz, gospel, African and pop. Add to this the ability to make cool sound effects happen with his mouth and the mike and you have an exciting artist. At one point, McFerrin shoved the microphone up to the side of his throat and created an exotic rumbling hum inside his throat- something you aren’t hearing anywhere else.

The second performer on stage at the Lincoln Center was Bobby McFerrin the Camp Counselor. This McFerrin made it a priority of the show to interact with audience members and to lead a sing-along experience. Even though the evening’s program claimed that the sing-along element to the show was “a genuine collaborative process of making music in the moment,” it really did turn out like a party around a campfire.

At first, McFerrin’s use of audience participation was beautiful, even spiritual. Early in the program, McFerrin sang a note, then simply pointed to a part of the audience who responded by also singing that note. McFerrin then sang another note, then pointed to another part of the audience who also readily responded. Soon he was singing on top of the gentle blend of voices in the room for a touching surround sound experience. He further controlled the song by directing the audience with “shhh….go” commands. Next, McFerrin started a single note that was picked up by the audience and held while McFerrin improvised in a Middle Eastern vocal style. The effect was otherworldly and meditative. Even the attempt to fuse the first Bach Prelude to “Ave Maria” was pretty- some gorgeous female voices in the audience picking up the “Ave Maria” melody while McFerrin became a human keyboard, singing Bach.

Then McFerrin got playful and assigned certain notes of music to spots on the stage and he encouraged the audience to keep up with the music while he hopped from place to place.

But finally, it got just plain goofy. Some of this has to do with McFerrin’s choice of material. Okay, a funky vocal oom pah pah version of the Beatles’ “Blackbird,” complete with flying sounds and the audience whistling in key spots, was delightful. But then McFerrin threw in some well-worn tunes- nursery rhymes such as “I’m a Little Teapot,” “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”; the “Peter Gunn” theme and the theme song for the “Beverly Hillbillies,” encouraging the audience to join in on certain parts. As his finale, McFerrin did a down and dirty version of the famous songs from “The Wizard of Oz,” using a shrill, mocking tone throughout.

For his encore, McFerrin took the stage and lead the audience in a version of the theme song from the Mickey Mouse Club- a thousand people spelling out Mickey Mouse’s name. That’s entertainment? Television theme songs? The choices of the Mickey Mouse and Beverly Hillbillies themes were particularly interesting especially since following the volunteer choir portion of the show, McFerrin encouraged the audience to “try this at home- get some friends together and turn off the television set and sing.” It’s true that these tunes have become “folk songs” in the purest sense- songs that “the folk” can sing-
but it seemed McFerrin ended up reaching for the lowest common denominator to involve this audience.

Nevertheless, that the audience wanted to, and were even prepared to, participate was obvious. When McFerrin asked for a volunteer dancer to improvise to his vocal work, he got nine. When he asked for twelve volunteer singers to form an impromptu choir, he got forty. Some audience members seemed to think this was a good opportunity to get in the limelight themselves. One audience member stood, asked for lights and started an impromptu group song based on the name “Bobby” while McFerrin relaxed on stage. Another hurried down the stairs from the top of the Lincoln Center to sing “Proud Mary” with McFerrin, only to realize she didn’t know the song.

During McFerrin’s walk into the audience and through the rows of audience members themselves, he stopped to sing little bits of music with random people. It was amazing how he could teach a simple vocal pattern quickly to a stranger, then sing on top of it. He also asked them their names and often repeated them, attempting with marginal results some kind of humorous sound from each name. Some of it was interesting, like when McFerrin sang a snippet of the Beatles tune “Julia” for one of the dance volunteers. But most of it had a little bit of an edge that at times bordered on flippancy. However, sticking a microphone in the faces of strangers can uncover some talent. At one point he asked for a volunteer to sing a song by Patsy Cline and a woman in the audience delivered a good part of “Crazy” with McFerrin joining in at the end.

The evening turned into a free-for-all, exchanging the concert artist experience for one big group hug. The audience seemed to love it and the applause and standing ovations were enthusiastic. But I have to wonder if McFerrin does this material at the international jazz festivals he goes to? Probably not. If not, then why did this Colorado audience get television theme songs instead? Nonetheless, McFerrin delivered an uplifting show even if it was the Camp Counselor who took over.


Oregon dance troupe BodyVox brought a mixed bag of experience to the Lincoln Center stage on February 3. That is, the BodyVox concert was not just a dance experience, but thanks to added media, film in particular and great music choices, it was something more- an art experience. Dance was certainly at the center of the ten-piece performance, but BodyVox has added production touches that surprise, delight and enchant, and puts the group in a whole special class by themselves.

The evening began with BodyVox co-founder and choreographer Jamey Hampton performing a solo piece to some hyper-active Paganini violin music- busy hands, busy violin, all in the space of a single spotlight. Then the company performed a sweet piece of fantasy- “Reverie,” with costumed reeds and flowers dancing in a timeless classical fashion, but with a twist of humor- the flowers end up upside down, their feet wriggling at the heads of the reeds like ears. Following was a showing of the BodyVox film “Deere John,” a humorous urban daydream of a male dancer interacting with a huge machine. The whimsical humor of the film mocked the formality of dance and succeeded in shifting the evening into another gear- one of changing artistic boundaries.

Following was a romance dance, “Falling for Grace,” a white-hatted lead dancer leading a line of darker-suited “echoes” in his pursuit of a woman. But then BodyVox made another gear shift and presented the riveting “X-Axis,” a piece featuring twin male “dancers” intertwining on a single trapeze. Dressed in red tights and bare torsos, performers Daniel Kirk and Eric Skinner writhed together to create symmetrical body sculptures, all in a very slow, even-measured pace. Here the simple but effective lighting and the brilliant choice of music by Brian Eno increased the tension of the performance immeasurably. The first half finished as it began- with a solo performance by Lane Hunter to some intense, driving drums on the soundtrack.

Okay, so I will admit to a little snobbishness. When the second half started with a huge white screen onto which silhouetted poses were being projected, I thought to myself that I have seen this trick before. But then the BodyVox performers stepped up to the screen, cut through it and stepped out, trashing the previous special effect. Then the four male dancers- all dressed in Devo-like uniforms- banded their legs together and did a hilarious step-dance to a Bobs version of the Talking Heads song “Psycho Killer.” What a riot!

BodyVox then shifted gears again and showed the film “Case Studies from the Groat Center for Sleep Disorders,” a comedic look at the nocturnal activities of certain “cases,” including a couple- Hampton and company co-founder Ashley Roland- who intertwine and shift throughout the night. Then it went from film back to stage again with “Dormez Vous,” another piece about nocturnal activities, this time with dark-suited Brownie-type sprites emerging from another couple’s bed, urging the sleepers to dance.

The final piece of the evening then was “Rip/Tide” that featured the entire company on stage with blurry film of a seashore in the background. By the end of the piece, the seashore had become more defined and as the dancers left the stage, they reappeared in the film- cavorting in the sand. The individuals each got screen time, then the performer themselves came on stage to receive applause. Now this is perhaps the very first time I can say I actually enjoyed the “introducing the band” portion of a concert. This was a slick and innovative way of effectively introducing the performers and just another reason to like BodyVox.

The evening was full of action, the dance was captivating and even athletically-inspiring, the music was very effective and the use of film was brilliant. Add a wee little bit of devilish humor and you’ve got a dance troupe that delivers plenty- or is BodyVox an “art troupe?”

The subdudes, The Starlight, Fort Collins. March 12, 2005

The Starlight was packed for the subdudes’ return to Fort Collins on March 12. Packed. For such a large crowd, however, it was a friendly, congenial atmosphere that greeted the band that Fort Collins took into its heart long ago. The group- featuring core members Tommy Malone on guitar, John Magnie on keyboards and accordion and Steve Amedee on percussion, along with Jimmy Messa on bass and guitar and Tim Cook on percussion and bass- responded by showcasing a fresh, revitalized sound, new material and an opportunity for old friends to get together over some musical heat.

As if on cue, snow started falling on the city as the Starlight doors opened to a crowd that included many who had gathered together many times in the past to soak up the subdudes’ rich, rhythmic music. It conjured up memories of many a chilly night when the subdudes kept the hearth stoked at places like the Sports Page, Bar Bazaar- and just about everywhere else. Indeed the room was full of familiar faces and the event took on the feel of a class reunion. Only this class came together over the subdudes’ spicy mix of roots music and soul. In the crowd, it was just like the old days…except for maybe a little more grey hair and a few extra pounds.

On stage, however, it was not like the old days. Sure, the subdudes’ sound was intact- that great mix of funky rhythms, soulful song hooks and delicious vocal harmonies- but the group also now exhibits a much more mature control over the subtleties of the music. Maybe it was the percussion set-up- Amedee kept that spanking tambourine beat in the middle of everything, but had several more drums at his disposal. Then add Cook’s percussion work- adding triangle here, a rattling tambourine there- and you no longer have just rhythm support, but a deliberate combination of percussion that enhances and underscores. Maybe it was Malone’s apparent mastery of the acoustic guitar- at times playing effective and emotive solos, ringing clean and true. Whatever- there is a new clarity to the music of the subdudes that indicates that they are once again on the way up as artists.

The subdudes opened the show at the Starlight with “Need Somebody” and warmed up with a few old favorites like the raucous “Late at Night.” But then the band slipped in several newer tunes from their recent “Miracle Mule” release as well as from their upcoming recording project. “If Wishing Made It So” was emotional and delicate while “Stand and Talk” swaggered. Of the new songs, “Let’s Play” featured a new sense of lyrical play and “Feet Upon the Ground” was a soulful reminder of what you’ve got to do to stay alive. The new stuff fit as comfortable as an old glove.

But for me, it was the older tune “Straight Shot” that crystallized the feeling that the subdudes had grown since reuniting. In the old days, “Straight Shot” was guaranteed to be one of the most scorching tunes of the evening, the group building up into an electric frenzy. Well, at the Starlight, “Straight Shot” took a different turn when Magnie’s keyboard solo explored a kind of jazz-rock-jam area ala Traffic. Malone responded with a guitar solo that fluidly raised up the tension level without adding strain. The result was something familiar- a great old song- given some kind of new breath. That the subdudes have been back playing together enough to discover fresh nuances to older material- as well as find new places to go- means that their recording project in May with producer Keb Mo should produce very interesting results. The subdudes seem to be on the upswing again and they now not only have the chops, but also the control and intent that should help them succeed again as one of America’s premier roots music units. At the Starlight, the subdudes’ music was sounding good and the message that there’s more where that came from was welcome.

Opening the show was singer-songwriter Liz Barnez, a musician who also calls Colorado home but who shares New Orleans roots with the subdudes. For many years, Barnez lead a full band that was a popular nightclub draw. Now, however, Barnez is concentrating on her souful, emotional balladry. At the Starlight, Barnez was joined by acoustic guitarist David Channing, who is also serving as the producer for a new Barnez album that is in the works and expected to be released in May. Her brief acoustic set underscored the fact that Barnez’s rich voice remains strong and that, like the subdudes, there’s plenty to look forward to from her.

This was my first trip to the Starlight since the recent change in ownership and management- and it was a good experience. Although the place does not seem to have changed physically much, there did seem to be a different vibe in the air. First of all, just having the subdudes play the Starlight is a change in atmosphere compared to the stream of rough and ready punk and metal bands that have passed through there in past years. A change in the type of bands that play there means a change in the type of patron who will use the club and that may make all the difference in the world in resurrecting this business. The crowd who crammed into the Starlight for the subdudes was happy, excited and respectful. Starting the show at 8:30 was also a good call considering the type of crowd that came out- people who want to have fun but don’t want to wait until late to see their band. Customizing the use of the venue to the type of crowd they want to attract can only serve the new Starlight management well.

Chris Smither, Avogadro’s Number, Fort Collins. March 18, 2005

When Chris Smither took the stage at Avogadro’s Number on March 18, he had to wind his way carefully through the room. That’s because the standing room only crowd that had assembled to hear his bluesy acoustic music was packed in tight. But once Smither got settled onto the little stage, he got to work picking out lively melodies on the guitar, tapping his shoes on a chunk of board for a rhythm section and applying a weathered voice to wise words.

Smither’s songs, steeped in the blues, were full of colorful characters and wry turns of phrases. “No Love Today” echoed a vegetable street vendor Smither remembered from his childhood in New Orleans. “Let It Go” was a humorous but surly talking blues tune about a guy whose car has just been stolen. But the rhythm of the jaunty guitar parts and the infectious slapping of Smither’s feet on the board were also colorful musically.

Whether playing his own tunes, like the “nostalgia piece” “I Can Love You Like a Man,” (covered by Bonnie Raitt and recently, Diana Krall,) or “Hey Hey Hey,” or others by Jesse Winchester or Bob Dylan, Smither’s approach was direct and effective. After finishing his set with a song he “learned from Mississippi John Hurt,” “Frankie and Albert,” the audience gave him an enthusiastic standing ovation- which meant that Smither basically COULDN’T leave the stage. So he played another one and completed the evening.

Opening the show was singer-songwriter Jeffrey Foucault. Foucault’s serious and contemplative music also maintained a strain of blues. His set was perhaps too short- an unusual complaint about an opener- but he was still able to showcase a mature lyrical depth while stirring up a passionate sound.

Earlier in the afternoon, after an exacting sound check, Smither took a break in a back booth for a King Koncert interview. He was ready and willing to talk about songwriting, performing and the perception of “roots” music. Here are some excerpts:


Right now I’m still writing songs for the next CD. I was hoping to have everything done and be in the studio by June but everything’s taking longer than I’d hoped plus we’re in the middle of a whole process of going to China to adopt a daughter. It’s a big project. It takes precedence over a lot of things and it’s got me occupied. But I expect sometime early next year there will be a new recording.

Songwriting process:

I usually have all the tunes ready and finished for a long time before the words happen, then I just start working at it. I start singing nonsense stuff. Usually it starts with a chord progression and then I just scat sing and improvise a melody over that. It’s all scat singing for a while, just nonsense syllables. Scat singing can rhyme, nonsense syllables can rhyme and that helps you figure out where the rhymes should fall to emphasize certain aspects of the rhythm, then all of a sudden lines just start popping. Now what are we talking about? I’ve often said this, it’s almost a process of trying to communicate with a part of your brain that you’re not on speaking terms with. You try to let it go its own way and you try not to pay too much attention to it so you don’t scare it off. It’s best to just to keep scribbling and try not to make too much sense out of it until you’ve got a good bunch of stuff and then you can look at it and say oh I see what I was trying to say.

…It’s just a very organic process. It takes a lot of thinking- for me. A lot of people who write songs don’t have to think very hard at all, at least that’s the impression I get, not to say from the songs, but just from listening to them talk about writing. It doesn’t require a lot of conscious thought. With me it does. I come up with complex ideas, observations about human nature and human relationships and then how do I distill that into three lines in such a way that somebody says oh he’s talking about me? I don’t want to be up there talking about myself. I want to give them something that approaches universality.

New songs on stage:

As soon as they’re finished and it’s like okay that’s comprehensible then I start playing them in front of people and then I start figuring out why they don’t work the way I think they should. You just sit there and you play it for people and see that they’re not understanding this line. For some reason, that line, it’s a killer line you say to yourself, why don’t they get that? And then you realize it could be something as simple as just giving a pause between two words so they don’t confuse two concepts. Things like that, it’s all in phrasing. Phrasing. That’s why Dylan’s so good. Dylan is brilliant at phrasing. Everyone says he’s a terrible singer. He’s an effective singer. He’s very effective. He gets the message across.

“Roots” music:

That’s a way to avoid calling it folk. Roots music most basically is a term like Americana, like AAA, like all those terms that come and go to avoid using the F word, folk, which the industry feels rightly or wrongly is a turn off for any kind of commercial success. And it really doesn’t matter the slightest bit to me. All music is roots music. It all traces its way back to elemental sounds. I mean in a sense what I do is closer to being some kind of original polyphonic music in a sense that I use a lot of pentatonic scales and that’s something that shows up all over the world very early in almost any kind of music. …It’s another way of saying homemade music…Folk has a real definite meaning in certain circles as well so that doing songs you wrote yourself isn’t really folk music, but if you write songs in a way that sound as though they might have been written a long time ago by somebody, what is that, roots music?

Why play this kind of music:

Partly because I can, partly because I just like the music. If I were better schooled, I might be playing a different kind of music, but I was going to be an anthropologist. It never occurred to me to study music the way I studied any other subject, but it’s this kind of music that I could understand and become competent at without having to refer to a lot of restraints. It’s the kind of music you can make and nobody can tell you you’re doing it wrong. In classical music, everything’s wrong. The idea is to minimize what’s wrong. It’s never perfect. Also, you’re not free to improvise in classical music. You play the notes that are there and dealing in classical composition there are certain rules in composition that you violate at your own risk. And nobody will allow you to attempt it until you’ve proved you know what all the rules are and you know you’re violating the rules. In this kind of music, if it sounds good, if it pleases you, you do it and if you can please other people by doing it so much the better and nobody is allowed to tell you that you’re doing it wrong.

Teaching others:

Most of the time when I’m teaching, they just want to know how to do what I do. I show them what I do and then I try to show them in such a way that they’re going to apply it to their own stuff because most of the people that are interested in learning to play the way I do are writing their own stuff. We talk some about songwriting and some of the approaches to it. Basically, you can teach somebody to play the guitar and it’s very difficult to teach somebody how to write a song. You can suggest directions once they’ve written a song. You can say, okay if this were my song, I would make some adjustments here and here and here in this way and the reason I would do it is such and such and such and such, but that’s not to say you have to do that, it’s just another way of looking at it. I really don’t think you can teach somebody who has never written a song how to write a song. You’ve got to have something to say, that’s the hardest part right there, you know, to have something to say.


Technology wise I have recording equipment nobody could have dreamed of in a big studio when I started making records. It was untouchable. That’s a big difference. Anybody can make a record. Now it isn’t a big deal. What’s a big deal is can you sell it. That’s the problem. That’s where the rub is, but the Internet helps a lot in that respect too. It used to be when I was first making records and make no mistake it’s always been a marginal genre that I’m in- very few people sell large quantities of records in this field. One of the most frustrating things used to be you’d go to places, I’d come to Colorado and the people would say Chris, we love your music but we can’t find your records anywhere. These days, usually I have them with me and I say, here I’ll sell you one…You can go to smither.com or Amazon or you can go anywhere and there’s no excuse to not buy a record if you want one of a given artist. It’s just too easy to find. It’s simplicity itself. As soon as somebody lands on my web site, bingo I’m as big as Warner Brothers.

Others covering your songs:

It’s what every musician hopes for is that other people will do your stuff. I mean that’s apart from being pennies from heaven. It’s like free money, just all of a sudden the checks show up twice a year like clockwork. But it’s also validation and puts the emphasis on the song; that this is a real song I don’t need to hold its hand or tell it when to cross the street anymore. It knows how to go out and make its way in the world. It’s the most wonderful thing in the world. And it doesn’t even matter to an extent if somebody butchers the song, the fact that they wanted to do it in the first place is a nice little testimonial.

Advice for performers:

For performance, the most important thing that takes a long time to discover is that it’s not about me. If the performer can remember that it’s not about them, that it’s about the music, then you’re half way home. All you’ve got to do is remember its about the music and if you succeed in that then the artist as a person will get all the attention he or she requires. But turning a performance into being about oneself instead of about one’s music is almost a sure road to disaster. It won’t make you happy if you’re trying to make yourself look good instead of trying to make the music sound good. Am I cool? If I do this right I will be cool. People may not think I’m cool if I don’t get this exactly right. But the question should be are they going to like the music, can I make it so they like the music? If they like the music their gaze will drift over to you, you don’t have to worry about that. The focus is on music not on oneself.

Dale Hartman Studio Show, March 19, 2005

Tucked back in an apartment building on a side street in Fort Collins is the studio of one of the region’s most talented and enigmatic artists, Dale Hartman. Hartman is a recognized award-winner who paints in several different styles- ranging from photo-realism to a kind of mythical fantasism. However, he is also the quintessential artist- living restlessly with his art while trying to keep the outside world at bay. But for one day, March 19, Hartman let down his creative defenses and let the outside world come in to his personal space to view his work in all its diversity.

Originally from Niagara Falls, New York, Hartman came to Fort Collins via California and established himself regionally with the top prize in the Poudre Valley Art League’s annual show. Since then Hartman has not only successfully shown his work, but he has also put his talents to work on other creative projects- like CD covers, posters, newspaper illustrations and more. While maintaining a low public profile personally, Hartman’s images have often surfaced in the regional mainstream.

However, Hartman’s recent Studio Show was his first solo-produced show, an eight-hour stretch of hobnobbing with friends and patrons. Hartman filled every available wall space in his studio with paintings from throughout his career. These included his award-winning “Gotteradamherring,” a large canvas that sparkles with bright colors and spotlights mythos-based images that reflect the artist’s own personal meaning, but also resonate for the viewer in the same way as a dark fairy tale would.

A perfect juxtaposition to “Gotteradamherring” is Hartman’s latest completed work, “Morning Pancakes.” This photo-realism piece depicts a woman in a sun-drenched kitchen preparing to make some breakfast. The piece is set to be exhibited in a major upcoming art show. On the studio wall, however, the simplicity of the subject mixes dramatically with Hartman’s effective rendering that doesn’t just reflect a realistic image, but enhances it.

Other new work by Hartman includes a series of paintings titled “Snowy Roof.” Mixing the images of modern buildings dusted with snow with vivid sunsets brings the glorious together with the mundane. Hartman is also working on a series of paintings depicting Niagara Falls, the soupy green of the water and the landscape is tempered by the roiling mist of the falls.

But Hartman also displayed plenty of his back catalog on his studio walls. The brightly colored, mythos-based mandolin player and the whimsical “Woman blowing feather” are warm and inviting images, while “Ouch” painfully illustrates what dentistry ends up being like for most people. Effective small pieces such as “Single nude on the beach” and “Self Portrait” were balanced by major works such as Hartman’s ode to the bar crowd, “Happy Hour.”

 Hartman’s Studio Sale was a raging success, according to follow-up reports. In fact Hartman claims it was his biggest show to date. The good news there is that Hartman will be able to stick around a while longer and that his artistic vision is heartily welcomed by his patrons. But when Hartman decides to once again open his doors to the public, he’ll have a few less pieces to choose from. That situation begs for new paintings and no doubt this Studio Sale will propel Hartman into a new era of production. That means that art can only get stronger in northern Colorado!

Bob Dylan w/ Merle Haggard and Amos Lee, Fillmore Auditorium, March 29, 2005.

The last time I saw Bob Dylan, he was touring with Paul Simon in a most curious juxtaposition- the rough and reedy as opposed to the smooth and cool. The current pairing of Dylan and country music survivor Merle Haggard is much more appropriate. The two performers are now senior showmen, both are rooted in similar musical traditions and they both have nothing to prove, so they may as well play. Their show at the Fillmore Auditorium in Denver on Tuesday, March 29 was a testament to the inspiring staying power of artists who are doing just that.

During one of his upbeat honky tonkish numbers, Haggard said it best: “I’m an old, old man trying to live while I can.” And Haggard was living the part- he joked, he mugged with the band- he “introduced” the Strangers- to each other, not the audience. At the end of his well-received set, Haggard trolled the front of the stage, smiling, pointing and soaking up the cheers.

The cheers, however, came not because he was a character, but because he had just served up a good helping of electrified country marked with Haggard’s lyrical directness and honesty. Not only that, but Haggard’s voice still delivers- especially those rich deep bass tones he reaches sometimes at the end of a line. Also on the tune “Rambling Fever,” Haggard turned in a hot guitar solo- he was active on stage and energized.

“Mama Tried” expressed regret for a life gone wrong. “Silver Wings” revealed a touching melancholy. “That’s the Way Love Goes” was a moody ballad. But Haggard also picked up the fiddle and played a couple of snappy tunes, his band- 8 players in all besides Haggard- synching in on a variety of styles. The songs were about love lost, drinking, prison and trains. There was also one about the world at large- “That’s the News”- that took on weightier subjects like war. “The Fightin’ Side of Me” was a clear cut declaration of patriotic steadfastness. “Big City” had an easy swing. “The Bottle Let Me Down” got lower than low. All of these were stamped with Haggard’s heart-on-sleeve honesty and refined turns of phrase. Haggard smiled broadly at the end of the set. After all, why wouldn’t he have fun when he has a well-greased band and a book full of great original songs?

Dylan also seemed to be having a good time. Though his face was as inscrutable as a rockfish, the fact that his band was cranking seemed to have him enthralled to the rock and roll, boogie woogie, blues and country music churning from the stage. Dylan would lean forward to deliver each line of the lyrics then fall back to rock on the keyboards. The occasional harmonica part was thrown in but it was mostly Dylan punching out the words. Here it can be said that he doesn’t so much sing as recite his famous lyrics. Therefore the “songs” really end up being just an opportunity to zero in on some kind of  ragged boogie woogie groove, connected at times to a song form but mostly meant to just get up and go.

That’s exactly what Dylan and band did at the Fillmore. It all started with a rollicking version of “Tombstone Blues.” The pace remained energetic and the material rich- “Watching the River Flow,” “Desolation Row,” “This Wheel’s on Fire” and “Lay Lady Lay.” “Highway 61” has become Dylan’s surefire rocker.

Dylan’s constant stream of words was at times hard to keep up with, even if you could hear them all. So certain lines tended to jump out of the songs and stick while the others were washed away by a full plugged-in band in full gear. By the encore, “All Along the Watchtower,” Dylan had certainly presented plenty in an hour and a half. It had been a feast of keen Dylan phrases as well as a dynamic stage show.

The Dylan/Haggard combination is a strong touring show. These two guys seem to like playing and it seems that the product itself- the famous songs- isn’t so much the important thing, it’s the process. That Dylan and Haggard remain on the road and actually rock their fans is what’s important. Every song they play is a “classic” so anything they choose to play is just fine. It’s that they continue to play that is what’s significant.

In between tunes during his set, Haggard joked with the audience: “We’re the oldest beer joint band in America that is still functioning as a beer joint band. We’re the only band that tours with an ambulance…and nurses.” That’s a joke, but really, if that’s what it takes to keep these guys playing, then bring it on. There was no shortage of prime rock and country at the Fillmore on Tuesday, Dylan and Haggard, each in their own way, delivering fully in the here and now.

Opening the show was Amos Lee, a fresh new voice backed by drums, stand-up bass and guitar/trumpet/mando. With a darker, mellower side, Lee also revved up some funky, even jazzy sounds. Stand-out work by instrumentalist Nate Sciles underscored Lee’s smooth delivery on original tunes such as “Supply and Demand” and “Bottom of the Barrel.”

King Kolumn- April

The reason I’m writing it is because I love live music. No, not just rock and jazz and a little reggae; I love all kinds of live music. In fact, it doesn’t matter to me very much at all what genre it is, as long as whoever is performing it is doing so with heart and soul.

I’ve been going to concerts for many, many years because there’s something about the experience- the music, the volume, the crowds, the venues- that is exciting time and time again. In many ways, I feel that these events, where musical expression creates a bond among a diversity of people, are some of the true highlights of human existence. Is that a little too bombastic? Not at all. When everything is right, a good concert can be inspiring, energizing and even spiritual. So read on and in the months to come I hope to give you new perspectives, information and recommendations for great upcoming shows.

Aggie Theatre: What does it take to keep a place like the Aggie Theatre- the crown jewel of the Fort Collins live music scene- rocking month after month? According to Aggie owner Scoo Leary, it takes a lot of endurance, business savvy and, of course, a strong attraction to music. “The hardest part is the hours. Sometimes the nights and days bleed into one another,” Leary said recently about running the Aggie. “The greatest satisfaction is running a successful music venue, combining my love for music with my business tenacity.”

Leary has been a live show promoter for 14 years. That time has included lots of independently produced events as well as serving as the owner of the Starlight. “I can’t remember the first show I promoted,” Leary said. “Fishbone, Blues Traveler, Primus,
Fog Hat and Mr. Bungle were some of the first ones I promoted. I took over the Aggie 3 years ago and I felt like Ft. Collins was in for a treat.”

Some of Leary’s favorite shows at the Aggie have been Rose Hill Drive, North Mississippi All-Stars, Gwar, G Love and Hank Williams III. His recommendation for April at the Aggie: Drive by Truckers (4/14). Other upcoming shows at the Aggie: Maktub (4/12), Kreator (4/15), Nomeansno (4/16), Vince Herman (4/21) and the Wailers (4/30).

Liz Barnez: There was no better choice for opener for the recent subdudes show at the Starlight than singer-songwriter Liz Barnez. Barnez has long been associated with the subdudes and her Louisiana roots informs her music with some of the same rich musical textures. At the Starlight on March 12, Barnez took the stage along with guitarist David Channing, who is also acting as producer for the new recording project by Barnez. After the show, Barnez apologized for the subdued nature of the set- in comparison to the excitement of the recordings she and Channing have been working on. “It was so hard to try to convey those songs with just two of us,” Barnez said.

The new Barnez CD is currently in the mixing stage and it’s easy to see why Barnez feels a little restless about getting the project out into the world, after she explained what’s going on out in Los Angeles. “The CD is really coming out great,” she said. “We have some heavy hitters from Los Angeles on the record. Vinnie Coliauta is playing drums (Sting, Joni Mitchell, Frank Zappa). Patrick Leonard is playing keys on a song (he produced Madonna, Elton.) The subdudes are gracing it, thankfully. Dan Marnien is mixing with David. He was Joni Mitchell and Larry Klein’s house engineer for about 25 years. He’s worked on some of my favorite records of all times.” Barnez is expecting to have the CD out as early as May, so watch this column for news of her area CD release concert.

Chris Smither: Following his sound check at Avogadro’s Number on March 18, acoustic bluesman Chris Smither sat down in a back booth and discussed songwriting and performing. Here’s a juicy quote: “If the performer can remember that it’s not about them, that it’s about the music, then you’re half way home. All you’ve got to do is remember its about the music and if you succeed in that then the artist as a person will get all the attention he or she requires.” The Smither show was being promoted by Fort Collins production company Quantum Arts. Other upcoming shows by Quantum Arts: John Gorka at the Elks Club on April 22 and Vance Gilbert at Everyday Joe’s on May 14.

Afterword April 8, 2005

Rod Stewart treated northern Colorado to a first rate production at the Budweiser Events Center on April 5. Even though you would expect that Stewart’s swaggering bad boy image had diminished with age, he still elicited a healthy amount of female-sounding screaming- including the lady near me who yelled out “I love you Rod” in between every verse of every song.<p>

Stewart’s show was smart- mixing in hit material with a chunk of his fine “American Songbook” albums. Huge video screens underscored the action on stage- like scorching versions of “Every Picture Tells A Story” and “Hot Legs,” a very cool version of a Faces song by Ronnie Lane as well as exquisite readings of classic pop standards like “As Time Goes By,” “Blue Moon,” and “What a Wonderful World.” This stuff showed Stewart at his best, crooning without clowning to an all-female orchestra and all-out rocking. The rest of the evening was given over to his rollicking pop star image, a kind of rock and roll WC Fields plowing into sing-along hits like “Tonight’s the Night” and opener “Forever Young.”

Stewart changed costumes a number of times throughout the show, though keeping with his slightly disheveled image most of the time. His seven-piece band was augmented by four female vocalists who took over the show at one point for a revved up version of “Proud Mary.” The women served another purpose too- to give Stewart someone to mug around with. The set list also included a video-enhanced reading of “Downtown Train.”

Of course, “Maggie May” was the calculated climax to Stewart’s show, but the section with the orchestra was the true highlight. Then again, the eternal smirk on Stewart’s face is something to behold. After all, who wouldn’t be amused if crowds continued to gobble up “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy” like it was still the 1970s? While still pandering to nostalgia, Stewart also has found a great new niche singing the old standards- tunes that deserve some attention to get it right musically, never mind the nostalgia. The rest got him there.

Ann-Margret: Ann-Margret’s show at the Lincoln Center on April 6, however, was pure nostalgia. In between film clips of what the screen superstar has accomplished- and that’s plenty- Ann performed hit show tunes from throughout her career including songs from “Bye Bye Birdie,” “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” and “Tommy.” Multiple costume changes and vigorous dance routines seemed to tire the performer, however, and it was when she just sat down and sang that the real beauty of the show came through- her voice. Emotive and sexy in itself, when Ann laid back against the stage setting or sat in a chair to sing, her voice had a convincing quality that leant plenty of showbiz experience and panache to the material. The footwork, however, and the interaction with her three backup singers/dancers was not as convincing and the show seesawed back and forth between rests and workouts.

Anecdotes of celebrities like George Burns and Charlton Heston, a salute to the veterans in the audience and numerous thank yous filled in while Ann caught her breath. For me, I’d rather hear more of the Swedish folk songs Ann sat down and sang to the audience and less of the production numbers- like the one where Ann jumps- with help- onto a full-sized motorcycle prop brought on stage. I recently saw an old video clip of Peggy Lee singing “Fever” and she hardly moved physically, but was still plenty sexy. Thanks to the pace of Ann’s show however, she could barely sit down. In keeping with that, “Viva Las Vegas,” truncated into an introduction of the seven-piece band, brought the show to a rousing close, the musicians cranking, Ann winning a standing ovation for plenty of effort. If I was advising Ann, however, I would tell her to sit down and relax- let the others on stage do the moving and just concentrate on her voice. There’s plenty of sex kitten left in there.

Contact: The tickets for the Lincoln Center stop for the national touring production of “Contact!” on March 28 warned: “Mature Content!” Indeed, there were elements to the production that teetered close to the edge of taste for general northern Colorado audiences. Sex acts were mimicked in a farcical vignette about a couple swinging in a forest glade and a single obscenity was uttered during a bar room fight, but perhaps that’s not what they were talking about when they said “mature.”

Besides some frivolity, “Contact!” also presented dance-enhanced dramatic sequences that asked some mature questions. “Part II: Did You Move?” took on spousal abuse and fantasies of murder. “Part III: Contact” confronted depression and suicide. The slick production at times seemed to make light of the gravity of the material, dancers gliding easily around the stage while a character was obviously suffering. The stage settings worked well at creating the vignettes- in a glade, in a New York restaurant, in an apartment and a fantasy bar. Costuming also helped paint a pleasing image. Sugar-coated or not, however, “Contact!” did succeed in offering the “mature content” the tickets warned about. But are fans of stage productions ready for depictions of abuse and suicide? It may have confused some patrons which may not be bad at all.

Tori Amos/Matt Nathanson, Paramount Theater, Denver, April 19, 2005

The Tori Amos show at the Paramount Theater on April 19 was a hot concert. I mean it. The theater must have soaked up some radiation from the Spring good weather. Add the body heat of an enthusiastic sold out audience and it was steaming hot inside when Amos took the stage to play a solo concert of her dramatic art songs. It was a physical test of endurance even before you got to the music.

There were times, however, when the clarity of Amos’ music overcame the discomfort. Especially during a few choice pieces from Amos’ newest album release and a cover of Leonard Cohen’s song “Suzanne,” her strong, emotive voice, unusual pronunciation style and purposeful instrumental work combined to reveal a powerfully textured musical vision. Not only is Amos a striking figure on stage- wearing tight white pants and a sheer flowing cape- but she has crafted a highly dynamic, personal and artful songwriting style that began to shine at key moments.

Unfortunately those moments of clarity were offset by music that was often buried in a sound mix that did its best to hide what Amos was actually doing. Accentuating the broad sonic quality of the various keyboards Amos dominated during her set tended to drown out what she was doing vocally. That left much to the imagination for those unfamiliar with the songs, obviously a minority in this crowd. Basically, you could only hear snatches of the words and a whole lot of swelling vocals and keyboards. That did not seem to bother devoted audience members who mouthed most of the words and let out sustained, high pitched shrieks at the start and end of every song.

But it should have bothered Amos, though understandably she was caught up in the smoldering passion of the music. However, it seems that there is enough lyrical detail and musical nuance to her songs to warrant extra sound care in concert. Add the sound gaffe to the fact that the video projector worked only part of the time- a guy had to go over, climb up and turn the thing on several times during the middle of songs- and you wonder why whoever is in charge of production for this tour still has their job. This artist was not being served to showcase her best potential. Granted, it was exciting to see Amos straddle her piano bench, rising up and down on it while mixing the sounds of two keyboards. The lighting at times was also effective at creating a mood, but without decent vocal sound, the heart of Amos’ art was diminished.

Opener Matt Nathanson fared a little better. But the sound mix again worked against the performer- his twelve string guitar was way overamped and while it made for a big sound, it also ruined his vocals. Fortunately, Nathanson has lots of personality and his easygoing and funny between song patter probably did as much to make new fans as the handful of songs he played. While Nathanson wryly played the part of the unknown opener, the cheers from the audience that greeted his energetic heart-on-the-sleeve tunes indicated that indeed he himself has built up a devoted fan base. Nathanson did succeed in overcoming the rough sound because his songs maintain a warm sense of melody, his lyrics are thoughtful and personal and he has some real vocal power. But further, Nathanson purposely reaches out to the audience. His final number in his limited set became a singalong- he taught the audience the lyrics, set the song in motion, then sang on top of the swelling voices. It was a fine moment. A new song was included in the set- “Detroit Wave”- but as Nathanson put it, probably all of his songs are new to most people. Hopefully not for long.

Velvet Revolver, Hoobastank, Magness Arena, Denver, April 26, 2005.

Okay, so Velvet Revolver is not doing anything new with their music. It’s just dynamic, straight-ahead hard rock with perhaps more energy than style. But after witnessing their revved up performance at Magness Arena in Denver on April 26, I’m okay with that. In fact what is not new about Velvet Revolver- the crunching guitars, heavy forceful rhythms and on-the-edge-of-control vocals plus lots of lights, constant stage action and sweat, hair and posturing- is what’s right about them. The band cranked up the crowd and seemed to have some fun doing it and really that’s all that counts.

Sure you can get serious about Velvet Revolver’s place in pop music history. Vocalist Scott Weiland fronted the Stone Temple Pilots. The core of the band- Slash, Duff McKagan and Matt Sorum- are ex-members of the seminal hard rock band Guns N’ Roses. Guitarist Dave Kushner played in Wasted Youth and Infectious Grooves. That the group chose to go over familiar musical territory- fist-pumping rock full of hooks and plenty of attitude- only meant that they could get their act together quickly and confidently. The band, which started at a kind of reunion gig for the three GNR alumni in 2002, just won a Grammy for their tune “Slither” and the album, “Contraband,” is selling well.

But that’s all talk. On stage at Magness, Velvet Revolver showed what they could do as a band right now. Perhaps because this is what these guys have been doing for years, in the new band format there wasn’t a bit of hesitation, not a moment of wasted time. For a relatively new unit, Velvet Revolver has quickly become powerful indeed. Weiland- stick thin and extremely wiry- in particular is a riveting and exciting figure on stage. He donned his German officer’s cap, ranted through a bullhorn, stripped off his shirt, prowled the stage, leaned nearly all the way backward, leaned way forward, bugging his eyes out intensely at the roaring crowd. His shouting vocal style managed to hold its own while the rest of the band bashed away, Slash- dressed in a Die Yuppie Scum shirt- continuously churning around inside the sound.

Velvet Revolver’s set was upbeat and direct. Okay, covering Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here,” for the start of the encore, Slash playing a double-neck guitar, was a surprise. But the rest of the evening was just rock and roll business, down and dirty- ultimately satisfying. A few videos, especially featuring that great sexy silhouette, and bright lights spelling out the band’s name augmented the bright stage setting. Weiland also took a journey out into the arena and performed from some seats on the side. But it was what Velvet Revolver was doing on the stage that was important- playing some good, tough rock and stirring up some irreverent release as a result.

The same could be said for opening band Hoobastank. More flavored by alternative rock than hard rock, Hoobastank stirred up some power of their own, the vocalist injecting a dramatic sense of melody into a dynamic wash of electricity.

Sarah McLachlan, The Perishers, Budweiser Events Center, Loveland, April 28, 2005.

David Bowie move over. In the short history of the Budweiser Events Center, the high-water mark for concerts has been last year’s appearance by Bowie. Well, measure the new high-water mark: Canadian singer-songwriter Sarah McLachlan’s show at the BEC on April 28 was a graceful, emotive, dazzling and heart-warming experience all at once. Aided by fantastic stage settings, a large band and gorgeous shifting colored lights, McLachlan presented her purposeful songs about love’s many moods with a full luscious voice and classy stage presence.

Huge stylized tree trunks twisted together behind the seven-piece band, screens stretched in between, emblazoned with images of the performers and colorful designs. Spotlights cut across the darkness around the stage while McLachlan made a conscious attempt to use all parts of the setting during the show- moving from center stage, playing guitar and singing, to the piano on the side, to vocalizing on a version of the Beatles’ “Blackbird” over by the drum kit on the other side. Everything about the production was smoothly choreographed and picture perfect. But more, it was also sound perfect. That McLachlan’s sound was so clearly controlled showcased a nuance about the BEC that has perhaps been overlooked in the past- it actually sounded great, given a little extra care.

That means that one of the primary elements to McLachlan’s music- her lilting voice, fragile yet capable of becoming very strong indeed- was heard clearly. Every bluesy dip of the pitch, every grace note she added was predominant in the mix. You may think- well, of course. But that is not the case. Like at the recent Tori Amos show at the Paramount, sound engineers are not always a performer’s friend. McLachlan’s sound was, once again, impeccable. That means that McLachlan’s between-song chattiness was also heard, making them intimate moments with the performer rather than exercises in futility.

McLachlan explained that her set was comprised simply of some of her favorite songs and she delivered tune after tune of her heart-on-the-sleeve confessionals like “I Will Remember You” and “Sweet Surrender” and a large chunk of her 2003 Arista release, “Afterglow,” including “Time,” “Fallen” and “Stupid.” By the time McLachlan took the stage for her brief second encore- a solo reading of “Dirty Little Secret,” only McLachlan at the piano in the spotlight- she had served up a generous and fully satisfying helping of state-of-the-art live music entertainment- from simple and clean to deep and electric. The sold-out audience should feel thankful that they got to see McLachlan in such a relatively intimate environment. Last time around, McLachlan played the Pepsi Center in Denver. McLachlan is top-notch and it was great to have her at the BEC. Other acts will have to go far to match her elegance.

Swedish band The Perishers opened the show. Working the same purposeful enhanced singer-songwriter material as McLachlan, the band was indeed a proper warm-up- inobtrusive yet effective. The group- six players- played big ballads and a touch of rock, an ultimately melodic electric music with smooth edges.

Motley Crue, Budweiser Events Center, Loveland, May 1, 2005

There was a peculiar smell in the Budweiser Events Center on May 1- kind of musty and maybe even just a little rank. But that smell was the smell of success for heavy metal legends Motley Crue’s return to the stage- it was the smell of rock and roll sweat. As the four original Motley members blazed through a more than two hour set of mostly high octane songs, the sold-out crowd at the BEC was busy pumping their fists in the air, jumping, screaming and singing along. A little sloshed beer, a lot of sweat and explosive (literally) rock and you’ve got a mighty wind that’s hard to deny.

Now let’s just say that the Budweiser Events Center was packed with Motley Crue fans because it didn’t matter which songs they lurched into- “Shout at the Devil,” “Red Hot,” “Girls, Girls, Girls” or “Don’t Go Away Mad (Just Go Away)”- this crowd was chanting every word- double force on each chorus. Okay so the number two new song, “If I Die Tomorrow,” a power rock ballad, was a convenient bathroom break for many, but I saw people reciting the other new one, “Sick Love Song.” Two full sets of songs made to rock the body and strain the vocal chords proved Motley Crue could still deliver.

Motley crude? Well, definitely. Besides the between song expletives and bassist Nikki Sixx’s habit of spitting a gob up in the air, catching it in his hand, then throwing it back in his mouth, there was drummer Tommy Lee’s long stint at the front of the stage with a video camera. While the others in the band lounged around the set, Lee took off looking for some local color- flesh tone, that is, encouraging especially women in the audience to lift up their tops. There were multiple takers on the request to all sides of the stage. A few men responded too, but were greeted with catcalls.

As advertised, there were sideshow elements to Motley Crue’s rock and roll circus- the band surrounded by striped tent-like material. Sexy female aerialists and a reappearing dwarf character joined the band on stage at times- always just a little bit sinister and sordid. Add some pyrotechnics- flame throwers, sparks, explosions- and three full sized choppers, which the frontmen rode onto the stage in the second half, and you have stage action galore. Video screens helped introduce the show with a short claymation feature. Tommy Lee’s fantastic stint in suspended percussion stations, pulled across by a wire in between, was entertaining indeed.

But it was the rock and roll business of the night to keep pumping out songs that the crowd could rally behind that the 21st Century Motley Crue took care of with panache. Now here’s the thing- despite some blistering solos by guitarist Mick Mars and some good thumping rhythms, the real key to Motley Crue’s music is the singing. Yes, Motley vocalist Vince Neil is a strong rocker- his thin, reedy tone sitting comfortably on top of all the other stuff the rest of the band throws in. He is also an able showman, working the stage from end to end, moving with purpose and authority. But the point is that the audience can sing the songs. At the BEC, everyone around me was belting every song out. If they weren’t singing along, they were shaking their heads or thrusting their fists in the air. Motley’s mission here was accomplished.

It was Mars’ birthday and the band forced him to listen to the Loveland crowd sing “Happy Birthday” to him.  Happy Birthday indeed- still making rock and roll that ignites the roaring animal in heart of the crowd. Not bad. Motley will return- on August 6 at Red Rocks- but the crowd at the BEC has already seen it- Motley Crue is back in spades. A new album is in the works and the band promised the BEC fans that this was not a “farewell tour.” That’s the Motley plan, evidently- just keep on rocking.

Los Lobos, Poquito Maz, Island Grove Events Center, Greeley, May 4, 2005.

The grounds of Island Grove Park in Greeley on May 4 were quiet and pretty in the early evening on May 4. Ball games were in progress, the sun was shining and a crowd was peacefully, pleasantly and happily gathering at the park’s events center for a Cinco de Mayo celebration starring the venerable East LA band Los Lobos.

What greeted patrons at the door however were the uniformed officers of the Greeley police department who insisted on frisking everyone who came in- especially concentrating on males. This wasn’t the quick-search-at-the-door concert goers are used to and accept, but very thorough police frisking- grabbing at the clothes, running the hands hard on the body. An officer searched me extensively and I couldn’t have felt more humiliated at an entertainment event. I watched them do the same to others. To make a point- this kind of overzealous frisking was uncalled for and rude. It was shameful how they treated people out for a nice evening like a herd of potential criminals. Honestly, the city should apologize for this disrespect to the couples and families who wanted to celebrate Hispanic culture and see a good band. Yes, the Greeley police department was disrespectful- is this how they greet other events concerning Hispanic culture or are they this disrespectful to everyone?

The police officers also made a strong presence inside the Events Center as well, constantly strolling around in groups. This was also ridiculous because there was not the least bit of tension in the room otherwise. All I saw were music fans talking among themselves, having a cold drink and getting ready to dance to the music. The actions of the Greeley police department- paranoid and dumb- nearly marred the otherwise fine situation- lots of room, inexpensive refreshments and plenty of seating (including sets of bleachers.)

But when Los Lobos finally hit the stage, the scrutiny of the police was rolled back by electric guitars and well-steeped rock. Altogether, there were ten guitars (electric and acoustic) strewn around the stage and throughout the evening the Los Lobos members on the front line- Cesar Rosas, Louie Perez and David Hidalgo- switched instruments constantly. Hidalgo also played accordion while Steve Berlin plugged in sax, flute and more from the side. Add a dynamic rhythm section and Los Lobos were powerful indeed.

For music, Los Lobos dug way back to their first breakthrough hit, “Come On Let’s Go” and then moved forward. The set list included plenty of the band’s electric music- like my favorite, the dynamic “Don’t Worry Baby”- but it was when the group shifted to a more acoustic-flavored music- folk informed songs in Spanish and English- that it became apparent why this band has become one of America’s most respected musical units. The bright jangling of the acoustic instruments, the richness and expressiveness of particularly Hidalgo’s voice and the easy flow of the songs themselves combined to create a positive and uplifting sound. Throw in some traditional Mexican tunes and this celebration of Cinco de Mayo was in full gear.

Those who wanted to gather around the stage could and those who wanted to sit did and despite the apparent fears of the Greeley police department, the concert ended happily. Los Lobos kicked back into their electric mode, Rosas inciting the crowd to dance from the edge of the stage, a broad, calm smile on his face. But more than the cumbias and the Los Lobos originals, what finally lit this crowd on fire was a more or less obligatory reading of “La Bamba,” which included a good bit of the old hit “Good Lovin’” in the middle. This song, perhaps more than any other contemporary song, expresses a particular joy of Hispanic culture- that recording star Richie Valens made it a hit is a point of pride and it is a surefire party dance tune. Los Lobos knows this and even they seemed to be taken over by it themselves on stage. The bandmembers were rocking and digging some unabashed fun out of those guitars. The crowd was dancing furiously around the stage and this celebration was complete.

Opening the show was Poquito Maz, a seven-piece outfit that also managed to draw dancers out onto the floor. With a strong female vocalist, Poquito Maz makes a dance music that ranges from traditional styles to synthesizer punctuated pop songs, performed with a unified group vigor.

Nelly, Fat Joe, T.I., Budweiser Events Center, Loveland, May 10, 2005.

Okay, so I must be a fool for big productions. Last January’s Snoop Dogg concert at the Budweiser Events Center was so dull and negative that I almost didn’t bother with checking out Nelly at the BEC on May 10. After all, I’ll admit that hip hop is not my favorite genre and the Snoop Dogg show suffered from a chaotic schedule, the less than riveting presence of the star and a lack of stagecraft to produce bad vibes- and little incentive to go to another hip hop show any time soon.

But the Nelly show was a pleasant surprise indeed. First of all, the feeling in the room was much different than the Snoop show- despite the extensive airport style search at the door. Even though there was only a half-capacity crowd (or less,) those who were there really seemed to want to be there. Cheers by mostly higher pitched female voices greeted just about everyone who took the stage and just about every tune they performed. It wasn’t just Nelly, but the whole package that kept this crowd entertained, on their feet, waving their arms in the air and doing that little hip hop dance from side to side.

When Nelly took the stage, he first appeared at the top of a platform and stairs that became the main stage prop for the night, affording Nelly and his four man vocal posse somewhere to go on the stage besides back and forth along the front. Nelly’s name was spelled out in lights above and the stairs and platform was outfitted with video screens that added an innocuous touch of multi-media effects. Add in some stage fog, constantly whirling lights and four athletic female dancers and you’ve got plenty of action.

But more, Nelly proved to be a confident showman whose higher register voice was particularly distinctive. It didn’t matter what piece he pulled out- hits like the party anthem “Hot in Herre”- the crowd was right there with him, punctuating the vocal parts with their own contributions, especially when the music would stop suddenly and the crowd would keep right on going. The elements of soul- including melodic hooks- gave Nelly’s music some much needed variety from the layers of interwoven rapping that marks hip hop in general. There is a primitive power in the constant flow of multiple voices, but the musical elements that would often creep into Nelly’s arrangements worked to keep the edges smooth.

One of the openers, Fat Joe, had similar success pumping up the crowd. He had a full scale sing-along going with, once again, the females in the crowd during “What’s Love.” In between Fat Joe and Nelly was the deeper and more intense sound of T.I., the “urban legend.” As a showcase, this show worked- no long waits like at the Snoop show, just some rowdy show business. Call it more commercial, less cool, whatever you want, but Nelly put on a much more satisfying show than Snoop.

The Mars Volta, Fillmore Auditorium, Denver, May 31, 2005.

Just about half way through the Mars Volta’s blistering set at the Fillmore on May 31, vocalist Cedric Bixler Zavala “broke character” and admonished audience members for throwing water onto the stage. Citing reasons as simple as “no money” and that water damages the band’s electronic equipment, Zavala pleaded with fans to contain themselves, though he thanked them for their “enthusiasm.”

The enthusiasm was easy to understand. In its relatively short 90 minute show, the seven-piece band had stirred up a hurricane of electricity- combining heavy rock grooves, Latin rhythmic flavors, spacey music-of-the-moment and just plain jamming. The sold-out show kicked off nearly an hour after the start time printed on the ticket, but once the Mars Volta took the stage, the band didn’t stop shoveling out their musical intensity until an hour and a half later. When the Mars Volta left the stage, they left for good- no encore. But then again, what else could they do? The Mars Volta had already pulled out all of the electrical stops and though it confused the audience a little when the lights came on quickly at the end, the band left behind a satisfying hum that this had been a full helping of what they can do.

Now, in many bands, the vocalist is often the center of attention and Zavala is worthy of attention. His higher register voice is perfect for cutting over the top of all that roiling instrumental work. He is all voice when reaching for top intensity wailing and Zavala’s stage presence is riveting, the musician swinging the microphone wildly out on its cord.

But the man who is truly on fire in the Mars Volta is guitarist Omar a Rodriguez-Lopez. Rodriguez-Lopez is a stick thin, wiry young man who seems to be almost surgically attached to his guitar. Using a full arsenal of effects, Rodriguez-Lopez’s mastery of the instrument allowed him to get physically taken over by the music, jerking to the rhythmic changes, swinging around, digging fully into the fretboard and coming out with a swirling storm of sounds.

Please note, this isn’t to say that the Mars Volta is not a crack unit altogether. Between keyboards, percussion, bass, sax/flute and mighty drumming, the background on which Rodriguez-Lopez and Zavala play on is thick, meaty and dynamic. I watched the unspoken communication going on onstage, the musicians’ eyes meeting while in the throes of some challenging musical figure, often a knowing kind of smile coming to their faces. It must be satisfying indeed to be making music in the Mars Volta.

Certainly there were songs- and the crowd sang along to favorites from the recent “Frances the Mute” album- but what was important here was the intensity of the performance. Certainly, the quickly changing musical figures and the high level of musicianship involved is impressive, but it was the mesmerizing wall of sound the group created that made a more lasting impression. When the Mars Volta cut loose and started playing with sound, textures and effects, experimenting and creating some other kind of world out of electricity, the evening lifted off, suspending time and place. The Mars Volta isn’t just a great band, they are intense artists playing at the peak of their game.

No encore? It didn’t matter- the Mars Volta had delivered plenty. Finally, I was amazed at how easily Rodriguez-Lopez waved to the crowd after taking off his guitar at the end of the set. It seemed natural and casual, like nothing special had just happened.

Mishawaka Blues: Parking Hassles Threaten Music Haven

Music lovers beware. The world of regulations and rules is closing in on one the region’s finest music venues- the Mishawaka Inn. Anyone who has recently taken a drive in the Poudre Canyon lately has probably seen the signs of the times ahead- literally. Up and down the canyon on either side of Mishawaka are signs prohibiting parking along the road from 7 pm to 7 am. These signs are not a joke, but the county’s way of dealing with a perennial canyon problem- which is the crowds of musiclovers- and their cars- that are attracted to Mishawaka during the summer season.

Check that, however. The problem of traffic in the canyon is not just because of an active food, drink and music establishment that is definitely a mainstay for regional fans. “This isn’t like they’re trying to put us out of business. It’s just that the traffic in general has increased so much up there,” Mishawaka owner Robin Jones said recently. His son and co-manager Chris Jones agreed: “That road is one of your major accesses to Steamboat and Walden. It’s not a ton of traffic, but you just put a fair amount of cars on the hill and you can have a problem.”

So the signs are in place and if Mishawaka wants to keep providing live music on the scale patrons have come to expect from the venue- a whole summer season full of national touring acts playing a variety of genres- they need a new plan. That plan includes building a bridge and a parking lot on Mishawaka land. That means engineering reports, specifications, meetings and official approvals. All of that is in the works.

“For the last eight months, we’ve been in the process of working on the parking problem,” Chris Jones explained. “Our answer is a 100 foot free-span bridge…that would allow us to get access to the other side of the river. We have a total of 80 acres over there to put in about a 2 ½ acre parking lot. We’ll excavate part of the mountain…but we don’t want to interrupt the flow of rafters and kayakers.”

Key approval meetings are already scheduled and Robin Jones is very optimistic: “We hope to have everything approved by June. I think we can build the bridge and parking lot within a month.”

That Mishawaka is willing to take this problem by the horns and create a solution tells northern Colorado that the transition period is worth the wait. This venue is a special place. When just the right combination of weather, music and canyon beauty comes together, there is no better place to spend some time. Musicians know it- that’s why stars as diverse as David Grisman and Ziggy Marley make the trek up the canyon to play. That’s why music fans line the highway.

Van Morrison, Red Rocks, June 10, 2005.

A blustery storm was blowing off of the Rocky Mountains on June 10 when Van Morrison returned to Colorado for the first time in 25 years. The entire day was wet and wild, tempestuous. A personal connection backstage at Red Rocks phoned in reports during the day- earlier, it was raining steadily at the park, but no word of cancellation, then it was still raining, but Morrison and band were already in the house and “he was feeling good.”

The storm over Morrison’s rare regional appearance, however, had started weeks before the show. Ticket sales had been announced only a month ago and, according to widely circulating rumors, the show was sold out in 20 minutes. Other rumors put ticket sales online at $600 a pop. This was a highly anticipated show and many who were left out of the ticket rush seemed truly disappointed.

A lot of rain was not enough, however, to deter the happy Colorado Morrison fans who had tickets. It said 7:30 SHARP on the tickets and despite the weather, this crowd was in place and ready to go on time- not many stragglers in the parking lot, that’s for sure. And even though the sky swirled with grey clouds above, there wasn’t a drop of rain- the Rocks jutted up into the inky sky and a sliver of moon even came out by the end of the set. A canopy of clouds spread out across the flats beyond, while the sightline was crisp and clear towards downtown Denver. Though a little chilly, it turned out to be a beautiful night in this fine natural environment.

The chill was more or less insignificant anyway because the crowd kept warm by gently dancing and partying to Morrison’s lively jazz and soul music. With all the hoopla surrounding Morrison’s appearance- one of only a bare handful of American shows- Morrison’s stage presence was certainly understated. Morrison and his seven-piece band took the stage, grouped together in the center with set lighting and absolutely no other frills. There was no attempt to communicate with the crowd- not even a wave of the hand- just straight ahead musical business. The presentation had the feel of old school entertaining- no multi-media tricks and whirling lights, just a band, great charts and a front man who not only has written some great tunes, but who also covers a diversity of parts in the arrangement himself.

Throughout Morrison’s 90-minute show- a sleek and efficient presentation- he played quite a bit of saxophone, harmonica and guitar. But more, and this is key to understanding his appeal, Morrison used HIMSELF as an instrument. As he vocalizes, Morrison plays around with the melodies, the sounds of the words and the rhythmic flow, singing as if he were playing an instrument, say a saxophone. It’s a distinctive and effective performance style that puts a bluesy, jazzy, souful gospel sound at the root of the music and allows for a certain amount of improvisation. At Red Rocks, his voice was fully powerful and you could here his entertaining vocal scatting all the way to the top of the amphitheatre. Morrison’s attack may have mellowed, but his ability to play with sounds has not diminished.

What also hasn’t diminished is Morrison’s ability to compose material that has a meaningful resonance. Many of the songs Morrison performed at Red Rocks- including “Real Real Gone,” “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You,” “Days Like This,” “Stop Drinking,” “Keep Mediocrity at Bay” and “Precious Time”- had a certain melancholy viewpoint, words chiseled out of the experience of living. While often there is just a touch of sadness to the wisdom, ultimately the perspective leads to a resolve to keep on moving, keep on living, keep on trying, keep on loving. Hits or not, it seems whatever Morrison chooses to perform has a certain elemental quality that massages the soul. And if the words don’t do it, then Morrison’s soulful and unique deliver does.

Still, having a big fat catalog of hits doesn’t hurt either and throughout the evening Morrison was generous with the big ones. “Moondance”- under the swirling mountain sky- was easy and gentle and evolved into an extended jazz jam featuring all of the players. A surprise- a buoyant reading of “Brown-Eyed Girl,” a song I would guess Morrison would be sick of especially when considering his attraction to the more artistic and jazzy side of things in his newer music. But the wistful reminiscing of the song fits in very well with the atmosphere Morrison creates as a mature performer. “Jackie Wilson Said” percolated.

These tunes helped keep people dancing and singing along, while the other material drove straight for the heart. Heart and fun- what more do you need? Morrison wisely let loose at the end with the elemental power of “Gloria,” a song so simple in nature and yet so directly effective- building, getting the voices of the crowd in on the action, Morrison taking advantage of the frenzy by exiting, leaving the band and the crowd to finish things up. No encore- lights up, show over.

For all the effort, all the speculation, all the anticipation- and all the expense since these tickets did sell for premium prices- a bare hour and a half seemed kind of short for a show by a major artist without an opener. Be that as it may, Morrison did deliver a full helping of his warmly infectious music. Though crammed in tight from top to bottom at Red Rocks, the Colorado crowd responded with happy celebration. The vibe was solidly positive. Morrison completes his American visit in Atlantic City on June 11 and then heads to the UK, Ireland, Switzerland, Belgium and Germany.

Buddy Guy Interview

Calling from his home in Chicago, bluesman Buddy Guy kept his comments measured and even throughout our conversation on June 22. But the words themselves tell some bigger stories about the music called blues, the artists who have developed it and changed it and about the world of rapidly changing technology. Guy can be granted “legendary” status- thanks to numerous awards and accolades from critics and top musicians alike- but on the phone, he just tried to keep it real, basing his ideas and explanations on a lifetime of experience. And what a lifetime- rubbing elbows with the greats- being one himself, traveling the world being powered by the blues. Guy said “I’m having fun doing it…It’s the most joyful thing to do.” Here are some other Buddy Guy comments:

Blues labels:

The Sixties brought all that on…I’m branded as a bluesman right now, but back before then, the places we played all had jukeboxes and you just had to play the top ten on those jukeboxes- Ray Charles, Little Richard…but really, all it is, is m-u-s-i-c…

Origins of blues:

I would sit and talk with Son House and Fred McDowell about it, where it came from. And my dad and grandfather used to tell stories about singers who didn’t need a mike, who were wailing. There were rumors about the slaves chopping out in the fields, moaning and groaning. There was a spiritual singer on the radio once who was moaning and groaning too. It doesn’t come from any one place…

Early memories:

Before there were 45s, there were 78s- you had to play them faster. Those turntables, I remember the first one my dad had, the needle used to go bad quick but you could stick a needle or a straw from the broom in your mouth and you could still hear it.

Fast and slow styles:

Now back then if you took one of Little Richard’s 78s and slowed it down to 45, you’ve got the blues. It’s an expression. Like BB says, it’s a long meter…To me, my best way to describe it is that it’s fast or slow and that’s where they started separating it. Little Richard speeded it up. You see, black folks like to dance and if they can’t dance to it, they don’t want to see you. They just speeded up what Lightning Hopkins was doing…all those guys like Little Richard and James Brown were just playing a faster dance music…

Blues influence:

Blues isn’t played on the big radio stations anymore, but kids keep coming up and saying the only thing I know about you is what I read that Eric Clapton said about you. You’ve heard of them- Hendrix, Stevie, Jeff Beck. Eric. He inducted me into the Hall of Fame. While everyone was listening to him, he said he was listening to me…

Music education:

It started when I first heard Lightning Hopkins, then BB, then when I graduated from grade school to the ninth grade, there was a music teacher and I wanted to play guitar. When I went to see him to enroll in the class, I took along a 78 record, it was probably one by BB or Lightning, and I said I want to play this. But there was this thing called Book One and the teacher said I can’t teach you that, you have to do Book One. So I said if you can’t teach me what I want to play then I just won’t do it…We didn’t even have a radio when I started. When I was 14, you could count the guitar players on one hand, but now, you can be walking down the street and a six year old can come up and show you things you haven’t done yet- and I’ve been playing for 50 years…We didn’t have a television, there wasn’t that kind of exposure. I learned to play myself, I figured it out on my own, but now there’re videos where you just have to watch to learn something. There’s even an instruction video out on me.


I’m older than television and most of this technology is beyond my knowledge and I don’t even try to keep up. When I come around to your area, I’m just bringing you Buddy Guy and all I can hope to do is play the right thing at the right time for the right people…Now there’s CDs and you can go out and buy one and then make as many copies as you want…The record business is changing but it’s like everything else. You go to the grocery store and the clerks you saw last time aren’t there anymore because they’ve been replaced by technology. Now a construction job that took 200 men, now 10 to 12 men are out there doing it. Computer technology is affecting all of it, but it’s here, whether you like it or not. These politicians come on and say they’re creating jobs, but not for guys like the guy in the elevator, or at the doughnut shop. I remember the first time I went looking for a job, I went to a place where they were making soup and there was a guy in hip boots and a paddle stirring the soup. There aren’t jobs like that for people anymore…

Playing live:

There’s a lot of entertainment that isn’t live, but when you see me doing it, it’s me…the audience brings it all out of me. It makes me want to play something good. And if you’re not paying attention to me, I might come down there and do something that will make you pay attention.

Get the Summertime Blues: It’s Festival Time

Everyone who loves music in Colorado knows that as soon as things start warming up (even before spring turns to summer) the live music festival season begins. And why not? Colorado has a lot of great outdoor venues and even though the weather at times can be unpredictable, if you want to get the best value out of your concert dollar, you’ll brave the elements to get in some good rock and roll, or jazz, or folk, or…exactly what kind of music do you like?

So starting in late spring, music fans from all over the state- and from other states too- start heading to Telluride, or the big venues like Red Rocks and Coors Amphitheatre for festivals and showcases featuring a diversity of music- from bluegrass to screaming metal. And it continues to happen even past Labor Day: on city streets, in parks and just about anywhere a stage and a crowd will fit. (Check out our Festival Calendar for full details, on page 12.)

This year, that includes a brand new festival event- the Greeley Blues Festival- being held at the Island Grove Arena on August 6. The event is not only a celebration of American roots music but also an attempt to use facilities in Greeley in a new way.

“We hope to make the Greeley Blues Fest an annual event,” says Lonnie Cooper, Director of Cultural Affairs for the City of Greeley. “Island Grove’s facilities are a tremendous resource for the citizens of Greeley and we are trying to find new and exciting ways to use them. An annual Blues festival should bring significant positive economic and cultural impact to the community.”

And who could be a better ambassador of the blues to Greeley but guitarist Buddy Guy? In the course of a 45-year career, Guy has sold over two million albums; earned four Grammy awards; and won nineteen WC Handy Blues Awards- more than any single artist. But more, Guy is known as one of the most exciting players of Chicago-style electric blues. This is whay he says about his music: “It’s the blues that keeps you young. When you stretch that string, you’re stretching your life.”

Although Guy has been widely acknowledged for his electric blues, he has also been recording acoustically. His recent release “Blues Singer” album release on Silverone/Jive takes an acoustic journey into blues history, covering songs by Skip James, Son House, Jack Owens, Johnny Shines and Frankie Lee Sims. Guy is truly a musician who is living and teaching the blues.

But blues is not just a man’s game, however. And it isn’t just a guitarist’s game either. The proof is in keyboardist Marcia Ball. The Associated press put it this way: “Take a buttery voice laid over two-fisted barrelhouse piano playing and apply it to boogie, blues, rock and soul and it’s a killer combination…”

For more than 30 years, Ball has been delivering her signature brand of Texas blues, Louisiana R&B and Gulf Coast swamp pop to audiences all over the world. Ball is rewarding her fans with her new, first-ever full-length live album on Alligator Records, Live! Down the Road, a set recorded at the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company in 2004. After the first tune, “Big Shot,” Ball tells the crowd, “I hope we can get you dancing because that’s what we’re here for,” and doesn’t look back from there, mixing songs from throughout her career, including longtime fan favorites like “La Ti Da” and “Crawfishin’” as well as newer material like “Louella.”

Marcia Ball and Buddy Guy are a one-two knockout punch for live music fans who attend the Greeley Blues Festival on August 6. But not only is blues continuing to grow in popularity among music fans, thanks to performers like Ball and Guy, it is also becoming a popular subject of study. The Colorado Blues Society, co-sponsors of the Greeley Blues Festival, have been working to create a greater awareness and wider appreciation of the blues. Their Blues in the Schools community service education program, for example, sends “ambassadors” to visit schools throughout the state.

The Colorado Blues Society will also be conducting a “Blueskool” and sponsoring a workshop stage during the Greeley Blues Festival. So whether you are just learning about the blues, or you’re a long time fan, the Greeley Blues Festival is aiming to please. Also on the bill with Guy and Ball are the Duke Robillard Band, the Erica Brown Band, Tommy Thomas and the Jess Redmon Band.

Captured by Robots, Aggie Theatre, Fort Collins, June 26, 2005.

At long last, Fort Collins got to experience the creative insanity that is Captured By Robots on June 26 at the Aggie Theatre. Twice, this performing amalgam of technology and human moxie was scheduled for area shows, only to disappoint curious music lovers with cancellations both times. But this time, human slave to a band of mechanical malcontents, J-Bot, took the stage at the Aggie and proceeded to twist the whole idea of musicmaking into something very strange- and very exciting.

In Captured By Robots, J-Bot is the only human on stage. Masked, chained and literally spilling his guts from the front of his shirt, J-Bot divides his time interacting with the robots and toys that surround him, pumping up the crowd with wry, edgy humor, and digging into a combination guitar/keyboard unit all the while wailing, growling and shouting into the microphone. The music itself- like “physical fitness” tunes such as “Abs of Steel” and “Thighmaster” and rowdy “Speed Food Pyramid”- was a blasting mix of punk, metal, rock, a little hip hop and even some convoluted reggae, almost entirely upbeat and energetic- literally wired.

But as J-Bot plows throw his set, the “personalities” of the robots on stage with him are revealed- and it’s mostly done with disdain towards humans in general. On stage left was the drum ensemble called Drum Bum, a compact kit with a dreadlocked zombie head that would shoot into the air, eyes flashing. On stage right was GTR-Bot, a clever electric guitar ensemble “played” with an elaborate system of strumming sticks, the figure looming tall over J-Bot, also with flashing eyes and a swinging head. A tom tom bot stood next to GTR-Bot and “spoke” by flapping the lids of the trunks supporting the percussion creation. All three of these figures had malevolent attitudes, scorning humankind in general and verbally abusing J-Bot at every opportunity with shrill voices and crude language.

Behind the front line was a pair of bears who occasionally added to the show, as well as a three-piece “horn section,” three standing figures with banks of horns coming from their chests, their heads bearing the images of Donald Rumsfeld, George Bush and Dick Cheney. The horns at times added an extra audio tension that heightened the thick electric song arrangements- as well as a visual element that was hard to ignore. Even thinking about these big Republicans being in the Captured By Robots line-up was disturbing, but more, the figures continually moved like a hyperactive brass choir given a little too much juice.

So the show proceeded with J-Bot tweaking his mechanized partners while stirring up a roiling barrage of electricity and constant activity. Several times, J-Bot leapt off the stage and mingled with the audience, encouraging members to participate in physical fitness dances, as well as gently clobbering them with tablets representing the Ten Commandments. At one point, J-Bot took the opportunity to heckle his “bandmates” from the audience, while they played a tune without him.

While a lot of what makes Captured By Robots, based in San Francisco, fun and exciting is the cleverness of the act itself- a truly unique take on the one-man-band idea- there is more. At the Aggie, one tune in particular, “Passover,” reached beyond the schtick and demonstrated a distinct musical power that had more to do with the expression than the novelty elements. But mostly it was the craziness of the situation that impressed and invigorated- one maniacal guy surrounded by sound creating machines with attitudes.

The shame was that so few people showed up at the Aggie to see the sight. The tiny but appreciative crowd was treated to a very unique show, the last night of Captured By Robots’ most recent nine week tour. It was worth the wait.

Neville Brothers, Chautauqua, Boulder, June 29, 2005.

So the inevitable happened when the funky Neville Brothers brought their family musical vision to Chautauqua Auditorium in Boulder on June 29. By the end of their brawny, soul-drenched set, the audience was on its feet, hundreds of pairs of hands thrust into the air, clapping along to the beat- the band was synched and steamrolling on stage and the crowd was happy to join in. Yes, just another successful night for the Neville Brothers.

Of course, the Neville Brothers have been making people dance for years. But it isn’t just the dancing that has made this unit a powerful presence on the contemporary American music scene. It has to do with the way the group approaches a wide range of material and still sound like the Neville Brothers every time- their skill at picking resonant songs- no matter who’s- and finding that certain Neville twist that makes it theirs.

For example, at Chautauqua, the Nevilles- now a big nine-piece band- played a version of the Temptations’ old hit “Ball of Confusion”- and just when you thought ’I know this song,’ they added just a little vocal punctuation that reminded that this wasn’t the Temptations at all, but the Neville Brothers and this is how THEY do this one. The band did this with a number of cover songs- like Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady” and the rousing encore, Bob Marley’s “One Love”- percussionist Cyril Neville finding unique places for his reedy vocals to go.  Perhaps its ridiculous to even call any of the material the Nevilles perform “cover songs.” They aren’t covering anything, they’re reinventing the songs.

That included turning an old pop tune like “Ode to Billie Jo” into an instrumental showcase for saxophonist Charles Neville. Of course, the Nevilles also threw in their well-steeped version of Professor Longhair’s “Big Chief,” which is more of a New Orleans folk song belonging to the musical community than a “hit.”

While the full, meaty sound of the band- with lots of keyboards, percussion and guitars driving the sound, sax wailing on top- was ultimately what got the crowd off at Chautauqua, there was no mistaking the excited thrill that swept the room every time vocalist Aaron Neville stepped up to sing in his beautiful falsetto voice. At these times- such as during a signature reading of Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come”- the sound became crystal clear, you could hear every vocal jump and dip, his quick grace notes filling in between the melody with confidence and purpose. He is a superb vocal stylist, a master of control, yet connected somehow straight to the heart. That kind of mastery means being able to take a song so overexposed such as “Amazing Grace” and giving it the soul it was meant to have- a simple, yet very effective combination of Aaron’s voice and the mellow organ sounds played by brother Art Neville on keyboards.

Most haunting of the songs the Nevilles performed at Chautauqua, however, was an original- “Yellow Moon” with its sensuous rhythm and entrancing melody. But when the chips were all down, it was the rhythm of funk- like in the Meters’ old tune “Africa”- that made the crowd move. Whatever- the main mission of the Neville Brothers was to offer any excuse to celebrate life through rhythm and song- and to do it as only they can- with style and purpose. The Chautauqua crowd energetically proved that the mission was well accomplished; it was another successful night for the Neville Brothers.

KOOL Concert 2005, Coors Amphitheatre, Denver, July 2, 2005.

While the rest of the world was watching the G-8 Live concerts, a healthy sized crowd gathered at Coors Amphitheatre on July 2 to celebrate the present and the past. They celebrated the past because the acts at the annual KOOL Concert, sponsored by oldies radio station KOOL 105, unabashedly played off their old hits, riding the margin between nostalgia and anachronism.  They celebrated the present because, well, both the acts and the audience were definitely on the mature side and, really, there is cause for many of us to celebrate just being alive.

This is the exact case for the headlining act, Little Richard. Revealing to the crowd that he was 72 and counting, Little Richard still manages to excite with his seminal rock and roll music. But it was perhaps just as important to spend time with this unique character. Dressed in a pure white spangly suit, Richard sat at the piano or stiffly moved along the front of the stage and talked as easily as he cranked up his old hits. He mentioned having a toothache many times- that as soon as the gig was over he was going to fly to LA to go to the dentist. He admonished people in the crowd with video cameras, claiming that “people have been stealing from me my whole life.” Richard invited people onto the stage to dance for one number and spent time questioning the racial mix of the volunteers and the audience as a result.

Just being Little Richard evidently makes him sweat and he continually grabbed tissues off the top of his piano and dabbed at his face, a make-up laden moon with a sharp black pencil thin mustache around his mouth and wide, crazy eyes under layers of wild hair.  Richard took off his watch and threw it out into the crowd. He also presented someone in the front row with a bottle of juice (he had a full supply on the piano.) Richard told the crowd he loved them, then asked if they loved him in return. He mentioned how beautiful Colorado was as a state and that since he had brought his “beautiful things” to town, that it was even more beautiful. Richard told the crowd to “shut up” a number of times, working the role of the persnickety veteran performer with relish.

The thing that got him there, however, is part of the root stock of rock and roll. Little Richard was literally there at the beginning, when rhythm and blues morphed into a cross-cultural hybrid. His flamboyancy only aided what was already thrilling- a rough and ready, small combo arrangement of sped-up blues accompanying a voice that could screech and howl. At Coors, Richard plowed into enough of his signature songs- and there was enough howl left- to give a taste of this artist’s real contribution: bedrock dance music with an edge.

To accomplish the musical portion, Richard was joined on stage by an eight piece band- including two full drum kits. These were not all old school players either- the drumming was especially crisp and aggressive and often the guitar work blasted through the mix with a grungy, fuzzy tone. Still, when applied to the old great 1950s hits like “Tutti Frutti,” “Lucille,” “Jenny Jenny,” and the great classic “Good Golly Miss Molly,” it was the rock and roll nature of the material that succeeded, not necessarily the power of the group. As the set progressed, Richard’s voice warmed up and his whoops and vocal punctuations became more frequent. Despite covering “Blueberry Hill” and a truncated version of the Rolling Stones’ “It’s Only Rock and Roll,” it was Richard’s own hits that inspired the crowd. It was especially a pleasure to watch Richard reach out and play a little rock and roll piano during the tunes- another distinctive link to the birth of the music.

There was also plenty of personality on stage at the KOOL Concert with Paul Revere and the Raiders. A good one fourth of the act has to do with Paul Revere mugging with the band, saying random things, punching sound effects buttons on his Mustang bedecked keyboard and generally living up to his self-anointed title of “the last madman of rock and roll.” While not particularly a seminal musical figure like Little Richard, however, Paul Revere is a rock and roll icon, perhaps mostly because his band was known as a fun party band and he has kept this spirit very much alive. The humor and goofy gags- like Revere pointing a flintlock pistol at the group often during the set- served to keep things in perspective. This was not supposed to be art, but fun.

Starting with an energetic reading of “Just Like Me,” the Raiders exhibited their own pedigree by sprinkling band hits like “Kicks” and “Hungry” along the way- even a snippet of the “Where the Action Is” theme song. But the group also did some period pieces by other bands as well, including the Buffalo Springfield tune “For What It’s Worth,” along with two morphed Creedence Clearwater songs, “Fortunate One” and “Run Through the Jungle.” New in the band is lead singer Darren Medley, son of the Righteous Brothers’ Bill Medley, which inspired a Raiders’ version of “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling.” But Medley, or “Baby Raider” as Revere called him, added plenty to the music, his voice sounding reminiscent of old Raiders vocalist Mark Lindsay, and his relative youthful energy adding to the stage action. That Medley grew up around the pop music of the 1960s perhaps gives him an authentic claim to being in the Raiders. Whatever the reason, however, it worked fine.

While the Raiders finished their set with a rollicking version of Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild”- the crowd dancing and singing along, it was the group’s reading of “Indian Reservation,” with its chant-like refrain and deep, driving rhythm line that stirred up some real power. You had to shake your head and smile as Revere and crew left the stage- this wasn’t a deep emotional experience, but a light, happy, mad cap one.

Other acts at KOOL Concert 2005 included vocalist BJ Thomas. As he started his set, some clouds opened up and showered for some minutes on the crowd, only to have the sun come back out for “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head,” birds happily singing along from their nests above the stage. Thomas’ pop crooning, safe and conservative, was underscored by the famous songs he has made hits, including the biggie, “Hooked on a Feeling,” “Rock and Roll Lullaby” and even the country-flavored hit “(Hey Won’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song.” It was not until Thomas revved up some upbeat gospel music at the end of the set that he showed a more aggressive performing style and more passion.

The popular 1970s soul group the Spinners also turned in a set of hit songs. Five vocalists in costumes stretched across the front of the stage, synching in loosely with choreography that was kind of innocent and charming. Of course not everybody on the front line was young any more, so the slick moves at times were not so slick, members participating to various degrees. Still, having so many voices kept the stage action upbeat, songs like “I’ll Be Around” and “Could It Be I’m Falling in Love” coming and going in quick succession.

Strangest of the day was the reunion set by the Raspberries- sandwiched in between the Raiders and Little Richard. Featuring a big eight piece band, including Eric Carmen on guitar, keyboards and vocals, the group’s sound was big and powerful indeed. While the Raspberries were responsible for several radio hits, the group was very short-lived and first of all suffered from not having enough universally familiar material to win over this oldies crowd- some audience-members near my seat were audibly complaining as the set wore on. Added to this was the fact that squeezed in between the Carmen-penned Raspberries hits that put a modern rock gloss on doo wop-influenced vocalizing were several tunes that made the set uneven. After cranking into a multi-layered hit song, the group would then play some country-influenced rock, or just plain hard rock. While this may have represented the varying musical interests in the group, it made for unbalanced listening. Maybe this divergence in group vision is what broke them up in the first place.

However, despite being somewhat out of place on a pure oldies show, as well as losing momentum thanks to scattered material, there was one brilliant moment during the Raspberries’ set. That was when Carmen sat down at the keyboards and performed “Overnight Sensation (Hit Record,)” a tune he explained expressed his cynical attitude towards the music business at the time. Propelling themselves beyond performing the song just for the sake of playing, the Raspberries achieved a rare moment of emotion and artifice. Carmen gave himself over to the song and the group supported him with big chunky layers of electricity and vocals. It was the single most sincere artistic triumph of the day, the Raspberries achieving something that went entirely beyond the concepts of hit songs and favorite tunes- it was just great, inspiring music, played with panache.

The KOOL Concert 2005 finished with a rousing fireworks display. By that time, Little Richard was probably on his way to the dentist.

Lyle Lovett, Red Rocks, Morrison, July 8, 2005.

Lyle Lovett’s performance at Red Rocks on July 8 fit like an old pair of gloves. Not just any gloves, mind you, but some beautiful ones- finely made, intricately adorned, molded and shaped to the hands like another layer of skin- comfortable and perfect.

What made it so comfortable? Songs with both mind and heart, crafted to fit Lovett’s smooth, yet fragile voice. Lovett’s stage presence also contributes. He’s cool and calm with a slightly twisted perspective and wry humor. Further, how can you miss with a 17-piece band of music veterans- the Large Band- shifting and changing according to the mood of the song- from big and brassy, to low and delicate?

The evening’s material was mainly tried and true: a seamless blend of country, Texas swing, jazz, blues, soul and gospel- mostly upbeat and buoyant. Any Lovett fan could tick off the classic stuff- “She’s No Lady,” “Here I Am,” “If I Had A Boat” and “M-O-N-E-Y.” From the quiet beauty of “Nobody Knows Me” to the big attitude of “That’s Right (You’re Not From Texas,)” Lovett performed each with aplomb. The band, including a four-piece horn section and four vocalists, could stop on a dime, fiddle around with style and rock to an edge, giving each arrangement just the right treatment.

Then add in a good chunk of the newest release- “My Baby Don’t Tolerate”- including the upbeat “Cute As A Bug,” the easygoing country tune “In My Own Mind” and the title tune, a deep down potboiler. “San Antonio Girl” (which was included on Lovett’s “Live In Texas” album) was just plain fun. Even though these are “new” songs, Lovett has honed his composing style to the point that each sounds familiar from the get-go. His characteristic phrasing and sense of melody serves to make just about everything he does instantly distinctive. That is the mark of a well-developed artist indeed.

Despite the power of the band and Lovett’s well-oiled set list, the moments that really resonated at Red Rocks were the quieter more introspective tunes- like the dark, stoic “You Were Always There” and the gentle “Nobody Knows Me.” Several times during the evening, Lovett brought the music down to a low purr and the crowd reaction told the story. When Lovett reached down into his musical soul, the audience shut up. You could hear every nuance to his voice and soak up the melancholy nature of the finely crafted words. These moments were sublime as the weather was kept at bay- storms buffeted Denver in the distance, but not on the Rocks.

That Lovett has surrounded himself with talent is important to understanding the success that he enjoys on stage. At Red Rocks, vocalist Francine Reed got the crowd pumped even before Lovett took his spot in the middle of the band, Reed entering from the sound booth and weaving through the crowd while delivering “Wild Women Don’t Get the Blues.” Cellist John Hagen continues to add a rich texture the arrangements as well as turned in an edgy solo- nearly a requirement for a Lovett show. Drums were handled by Russ Kunkel. Pianist Jim Cox added plenty- creating some of the most emotionally responsive instrumental work of the night.

Despite the very large band indeed, the sound was slightly understated throughout the evening- at least compared to the jet engine volume employed at most concerts. Like the recent Van Morrison concert at Red Rocks, I found myself leaning forward to listen more intently.

Opener Shawn Colvin’s sound was also understated- or maybe it was her performance. Taking the stage with only an acoustic guitar and a handful of distinctive songs, Colvin played while the crowd talked, audibly competing with her delicate voice. The constant tuning in between songs served to interrupt the set, while Colvin filled in with chatter- including the news that she could actually see the audience, thanks to some new contacts, which made her experience that day “kind of psychedelic.” Finally, she connected with the crowd over a pair of songs from her 1989 breakthrough album, “Steady On.” She told the audience that “Shotgun Down the Avalanche” belonged to them and Lovett made an appearance on stage to duet with Colvin on “Diamond in the Rough (Colvin returned the favor during Lovett’s set.) Colvin earned an enthusiastic ovation as a result.

During his set, Lovett shared with the fans his opinion that Red Rocks is “one of the most beautiful places to play in the world.” Lovett’s appearances at Red Rocks are now an annual celebration. That’s something to count on for those who enjoy a comfortable fit.

Phil Lesh and Friends, Red Rocks, Morrison, July 16, 2005.

Phil Lesh and Friends acted as their own warm-up band at Red Rocks on July 16- and that seemed to work in everybody’s favor. After doing a little jamming while plugging everybody in, the group launched into “Cold Rain and Snow,” and got a second special Colorado appearance underway. Lesh and Friends- featuring Rob Barraco on keyboards, Jimmy Herring on guitar, Jeff Sipe on drums, Barry Sless on pedal steel guitar and newcomer Ryan Adams on guitar and the lion’s share of lead vocals- had played the Fillmore the night before in Denver to gear up for the Red Rocks date, their only scheduled summer shows. The weather was reasonable fine- an incessant breeze blowing over the bowl as the night wore on- but no rain- not a bad combination after an excessively hot day.

That this was a new configuration- particularly because Adams is not only new to the group, but he became such a featured part of it- was evident in the first set. The playing seemed a little tentative and clinker notes were peppered into nearly every tune. Fortunately, enough of the group was comfortably in the groove to give the music a fitting enough anchor to sound right. There was a new song titled “Easy Plateau,” a delicate reading of “Friend of the Devil” and a little buoyancy with “Bertha.” It wasn’t until the “Scarlet Begonias”/”Fire on the Mountain” combination that everything seemed to be synched in and reaching for a true musical climax- and then the group took an extended break.

The second set, however, was a different story. Beginning again with a brief jam, Lesh and friends then launched into “Dark Star,” which became the jumping off point for a sequence that spun through a joyous reading of “Sugar Magnolia”/”Sunshine Daydream,” “Uncle John’s Band” and “Terrapin Station.” Then it was back to “Dark Star.” The musicians were then ready to roll and “The Other One” was cranked into full gear- the most powerful tune of the night. Two other new songs made their appearance during the second set- “Magnolia Mountain” and “Life is Beautiful”- but it was the old Dead standards that worked best. The set ended with “China Cat Sunflower”/”I Know You Rider” with an “Uncle John’s Band” reprise. The encore was “Wharf Rat,” the show ending well after one in the morning- a late night even for Red Rocks.

That Adams was a new guy in this bunch was ultimately positive. His voice is vaguely reminiscent of Jerry Garcia’s, working in the thin, higher register that many of the songs were written for. That made for a particularly expressive version of “Stella Blue” during the second set. Though Lesh did a fair amount of singing throughout the evening, it was Adams who brought the most to the mike, adding some fresh and impassioned energy to the material. But more, Adams also added plenty of guitar, his rougher tone making a nice counterpoint to Herring’s smoother sound. It was a good mix which made a little something new happen in each arrangement. Adams’ treatment of “Sugar Magnolia” for example showed that he was not just a special guest, but that he seemed to find something that he personally related to in the music- it was one of the major highlights of the evening.

Meanwhile, Herring seemed to kind of hang back a little, letting Adams do his work. Still, the music was full of his nimble, kinetic style. The same held true for Barraco, Sless adding some distinctive leads at key points. Sipe not only filled in with drumming sensitive to the dynamics of the pieces, but also added some pleasant wind chime sounds and even some chirping sounds that served to counterpoint all that electricity on stage- simple but effective. Lesh seemed to be enjoying himself and his deep bass lines remained the bedrock for the material.

Maybe it should be mentioned that because Lesh and group are all longtime stage veterans, there seemed to be a lax attitude going on toward presenting their show. The band took the stage nearly an hour late, they often took long pauses in between tunes and the intermission break was very long. It doesn’t matter how experienced a group of players are, when you neglect momentum as an aspect of your show, you begin to pull the plug on the energy the concert can achieve. Now, in this case, the audience didn’t seem to mind- they waited patiently and cheered when the group finally got each piece going. However, compared to most shows on the road today, this one lacked the kind of focused intensity that is normally a part of contemporary showmanship. They finally found a flow in the second set, but it took so long to get there.

This could partially be the reason that the Lesh show at Red Rocks didn’t sell out. It was reasonably full, but there was plenty of room to move at the top of the amphitheatre. The Grateful Dead always had a reputation for taking its own time, but in this configuration- Lesh being the lone Dead member- a loose reputation may be detrimental. In today’s concert atmosphere- high ticket prices and intense competition for those dollars- a lackadaisical attitude will make fans sitting on the fence go back over to the other side. Maybe Lesh and company don’t feel the need to work the situation with vigor- maybe it’s more of a lark for them- and even the loyal fans don’t require it, but it seems if an artist is going through all the trouble to play a place like Red Rocks they would want the best out of themselves and their band. Snapping up the program on stage would go a long way to giving the audience more.

But that there wasn’t a sell-out type hype going for the Red Rocks date was kind of refreshing in a way. This served to kind of demystify the proceedings- the musicians weren’t legends living up to the expectations of a hungry crowd. It was just a good band to go see on a Saturday night.

Sounds of the Underground, Universal Lending Pavilion, Denver, July 31, 2005.

So before going to the staggering Sounds of the Underground festival at the Universal Lending Pavilion in Denver on July 31, I had to admit that I was confused as to what was meant by the term “underground.” Was this meant to indicate that this event represented a burgeoning music movement that was below the radar of the corporate middle class mainstream?

The actual event answered that question. Despite the generally gnarly nature of the music, this was as much of a cash fest as any other summer event- mainstream corporate or otherwise. The show seemed well attended, the merchandise tables were kept busy with band signings and drinks and food were expensive. I mean just look at the name of the venue- UNIVERSAL LENDING Pavilion. There’s big business attached to the whole thing. I wish I had a piece of all the t-shirt sales- nearly everybody in the audience had a tour shirt of some kind on.

But then after witnessing performances by 16 of the bands that played the Denver show, I realized that indeed what I had heard were the sounds of the “underground.” What I’m talking about here is the “underground” in the human soul- the deep, dark places where tortured angst is set free by the churning of an electric guitar. If you would lift up any manhole cover and listen for what the denizens of the underworld are listening to, you’d hear any of these bands. If the people in Hell get to listen to music, this is what it would be- harsh, incendiary and powerful.

Perhaps that’s why Lamb of God wrapped up the night. Finally darkness had descended and the band seemed to sum up the major themes of the day with confidence and vigor. The stage fog and lights kicked in to make Lamb of God something bigger and stronger than just a band plowing through its material. Here was the essence of this “underground”- psyche cleansing vocal mayhem backed by buzzsaw guitar and underscored by rapid punches of rhythm, its piledriving rawness pummeling the crowd.

Now let’s say that Lamb of God did succeed in finally defining the “sound of the underground” with the most powerful set of the long, long day. But, of course, the band that had the best toys was Gwar. Unlike most of the groups, who simply used banners for stage dressing, Gwar pulled all their cool, blood-stained stuff out and started a riot of fun from start to finish. Not only do the band members wear those warped-out mythological costumes, but they also bring special “guests” on stage- like the Pope, George Bush, trolls and other creatures- to dismember them and spray the audience with fake blood. But fake blood isn’t enough because Gwar also soaks everybody within range with weird water cannons spewing green and blue fluids. By the end of the set, audience members were drenched in various dyes and for the rest of the day, faces took on a zombie-like pallor as the dye dried- green, blue and red streaks truly making some look like the undead.

Because of the irreverent chaos on stage during Gwar’s set, I saw some of the hugest smiles on fans’ faces. Gwar proved that “underground” people can still laugh and be amused- that all this angst-release doesn’t have to be so completely serious. It’s probably unfair to compare Gwar to any of the other bands because Gwar isn’t just a band, but a show. They belong in a special “underground” category all their own.

As for the rest of the day at the Pavilion- the final day of the Sounds of the Underground Tour- there were plenty of highlights. Early in the day, Devil Driver succeeded in doing what many of the later bands attempted- they got a huge pit going that stretched from one side of the stage to the other- shoes were literally flying through the air. All That Remains’ quick, active and precise music was augmented by crowd-rousing antics like climbing the Pavilion scaffolding. I would have to say that this particular band seemed to be having a great time and it showed.

Terror also worked the crowd, continually trying to incite interaction- stopping the set to admonish those involved in a fight on the floor, then turning around and trying to get a pit started. Strapping Young Lad, besides music punctuated by double bass drums that kept going off like a Gatlin gun, also took home the prize for Best Crowd Abuse with their insulting verbal harangues being met with cheers. Throwdown echoed the theme of unity, while presenting direct musical mayhem. Norma Jean gets the prize for Best Throat Ripping Vocals. Chimaira kicked things up a notch, the dominant groove dramatically shifting and changing- this band had the best individual sound mix of the day.

A pleasant surprise was the band Clutch. In the midst of all this hardcore and metal came a band playing an aggressive blues rock. The vocalist actually SANG and there was even room for an old fashioned guitar solo or two. Despite the basic edginess of the sound, the music seemed out of place compared to the rest of the bill. However, it helped refresh my ears and the crowd seemed to like it- throwing their “horns” in the air while boogying to some guttural, amped-up blues.

Perhaps the most challenging music of the day came from the band Opeth, who mixed some of that white noise screaming with instrumental work that at times traveled above and beyond the generally aggressive pace of the day. Exotic, introspective and trippy, the guitar work often took on a flavorful tone. This band wasn’t afraid to experiment with their sound.

Throw in sets by A Life Once Lost, High On Fire (a raging power trio,) Every Time I Die, Unearth and Poison the Well and you have a stunning roster of “underground” talent. It should be said that the production for the show was top notch- the set changes were quick and the sound was relatively trouble free. The people over at Elitch’s probably were wondering what the all the screaming was about- all day.

So was this a tour of rebels, bucking the system and carving out a piece of the musical pie for themselves? That’s certainly debatable. But as a celebration of the dark, twisted, angst-ridden parts of the human experience- a confrontation of it, even- the Sounds of the Underground Tour succeeded without question.

Sugar Water Festival. Coors Amphitheatre, Denver, August 2, 2005.

After the intense maleness of the recent Sounds of the Underground Tour, a show devoted to female artists was welcome indeed. The Sugar Water Festival brought four female acts- Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, Queen Latifah and Floetry- onto the stage at Coors Amphitheatre on August 2. But not just any acts- these were contemporary rhythm and blues artists who are setting the pace for others in the genre. And these women not only had talent, but also proud attitudes which went a long way toward securing the delight of the fans.

To label the Sugar Water artists rhythm and blues, soul or any other old fashioned moniker is probably a mistake. The music these acts made was varied and flavorful and included elements of several different genres- urban soul, hip hop, jazz, funk, blues and even a little classical and reggae. Much of the music was upbeat, but all of the artists were willing to bring things down to a low simmer at times, adding a keen sense of dynamics and drama. This show music- perhaps rooted in rhythm and blues- was fresh with contemporary sounds.

Floetry kicked things off with their dual-vocal mix of singing and rapping, adding a sense of up-and-coming youth to the show. Latifah then dominated the stage with a far-ranging mix of music styles- from show tunes and hip hop favorites to a soulful reading of “California Dreaming”- and a personality that roused the crowd. With a calm, congenial as well as purposeful stage presence, Scott then brought a sense of grace to the festival, even stopping the flow of hits to perform some operatic vocals, scatting classical scales. Badu finished the evening with her own masterful mix of funky, jazzy band arrangements and her streetwise vocals.

If you had to pick a single highlight of the evening, though, it would have to be Latifah’s long excursion into the crowd toward the end of her set. While the band roiled on stage with an upbeat groove, Latifah left the stage and (with bodyguards helping) picked her way through the crowd all the way up one aisle and down the next. This simple bit of showmanship electrified the amphitheatre- everyone was out of their chairs, craning their necks, people laughing in delight, yanking out their phone cams, and rushing towards the star. “U-N-I-T-Y” indeed.

What Latifah did physically- to actually get down into the crowd- was what each act seemed to be doing on stage. Each performer spent portions of their sets casually talking to the crowd, telling them stories and making chatty comments. Badu has even turned the process into a long song where she muses out loud about life and drug abuse. The conversational appeals toward the audience worked some magic, drawing the fans closer than they would be with just a string of familiar songs.

But more, the things that the Sugar Water women talked about is key to understanding why such a festival is important. That is, each of the performers- Floetry, Latifah, Scott and Badu- shared messages of encouragement and empowerment- at times irreverent, but mainly positive. This is where the attitude comes in. In the midst of being real women themselves- as evidenced by their songs about living and loving- the Sugar Water artists encourage their fans to look at their own lives and not only deal with problems, but also go ahead and celebrate personal talents. That Latifah left the stage and actually rubbed shoulders with the real women (and men) in the audience served to cement the bond.

Without these positive affirmations, this would have been just another good show. Each performer added plenty. Latifah, Scott and Badu all had well-oiled big bands. The weather even cooperated. But what was sweet about the Sugar Water Festival was the personal outreach that went above and beyond the funky tunes.

Randy Travis, Budweiser Events Center, Loveland, August 5, 2005.

Country music star Randy Travis was given a truly gregarious welcome when he stepped onto the stage at the Budweiser Events Center on August 5 as the headlining entertainment for this year’s Larimer County Fair. This wasn’t the usual bellowing reception most contemporary stars get, but one made up more of delight than pent up expectation. It was as though you could feel the audience saying to itself- now here’s an entertainer who we can trust to play good music and act with integrity- someone you just might invite to your home for dinner- and it translated into a rousing, warm welcome for Travis. With an eight-piece band behind him, Travis then delivered a show that fulfilled the audience’s trust.

There was something country classic about Travis’ music. His deep sonorous voice recalled the days of the country crooner. Though the band was lively indeed, there was a sense of veteran control to the arrangements. For one thing, the music did not overpower Travis’ vocals at all, keeping his voice and words up front. When it was time for the band to rock, they rocked, but never without a sense of place- this was not about the power of the band, rather it was about the power of the songs.

The songs themselves leant a classic luster to the performance as well. Travis does not shovel out ditties about drinking, cheating or tunes based on some inane twist of common clichés. Instead, he sings purposeful songs whose aim seems to be at touching the human heart and soul. Swelling ballads, deep swampy bayou country, story songs and even a waltz all revolved around love based on fidelity, family and faith. In Travis’ world, it seems to be more about how well you live and love and not how much you can selfishly squeeze out of life.

Though Travis maintained a calm and humorous stage presence in between songs- telling jokes and sharing observations- and my favorite tune of the night- “Pray for the Fish”- had a kind of whimsical nature, a lot of Travis’ material was based on a kind of personal sincerity. Particularly pieces like “Raise Him Up” and “Angels” even sought to inspire. That makes the kind of country music that Travis brought to the Fair something different- not cowboy hat waving, big truck squealing country music, but person-to-person, we’re-all-in-this-together country music. That’s probably why the audience couldn’t help but greet Travis with smiles and cheers. For those tired of unchecked angst, conflict, sex, violence and more, there was something very real to cheer about.

Garage A Trois, Aggie Theatre, August 5.

One night several years ago I got stopped in my tracks by a musician named Skerik. He’s a saxophone player, if you had to use a label, and he was a part of a special grouping of contemporary jam players that was hard to resist. Skerik spent that night blasting on his horn- honking, tweaking, squeezing and growling. He had a seemingly endless supply of effects that he applied to the playing, making him the Jimi Hendrix of the horn- on the edge, making sounds that didn’t seem like they came from a horn at all. Skerik was on fire.

On the same stage that night was Charlie Hunter. You could call Hunter a guitarist, but I think a more expansive term like “fretboardist” is more appropriate because he plays this wild looking instrument that combines guitar strings and bass strings- 8 strings altogether- and he plays the two parts simultaneously.  Talk about complex- between Hunter’s exacting, yet fleet fret work and Skerik’s otherworldly experiments- there was plenty to listen to. Oh, and there were other musicians on stage, but these two- Hunter and Skerik- were burned into my memory.

Better yet, they are coming back to town. Skerik and Hunter will be at the Aggie Theatre on August 5, touring with Stanton Moore and Mike Dillon under the name of Garage A Trois, a jam fusion unit they have been pursuing on a part time basis since 1999. Moore is the drummer from Galactic and percussionist/vibraphonist Dillon has played with Critters Buggin’ and Les Claypool.

The current news is that the group has recently released a new record- “Outre Mer,” the soundtrack to a French film. You can get the new one- music improvised live in the studio- only from the band’s web site, or at shows. Also on the web site (garageatrois.com) you can still get a download of their 2003 live show at the Fox Theatre in Boulder. Garage A Trois will be beginning their new tour in Colorado, returning to the Fox on August 3, playing Cervantes in Denver on August 4 and at the Aggie on August 5.

Rob Zombie: The Devil’s Rejects

Though Rob Zombie didn’t release a new record in 2005, he did release a new movie. The story begins with the vision of carnage that Zombie brought to the big screen in 2002, “House of 1,000 Corpses.” In this psychedelic, hallucinogenic mish mash of horror, Zombie lets his little demons out to play for an extended romp of torture, pain, blood and abuse. There’s a plot: young travelers with an interest for the bizarre become victims of ultra-violence by sick kidnappers and murderers. But what’s really up front here is a manipulation of the screen- applying a shifting montage of various quality imagery to reprehensible action creates a tension the story itself would not be able to achieve on its own. You feel uneasy not just because the characters in this ode to the disturbed are slicing up the travelers, but also because Zombie keeps the screen busy. It’s crude, disgusting and indeed a horrifying trip into the psyche of the insane- thanks for the memories, Rob.

In 2005, Zombie released a brand new film titled “The Devil’s Rejects” out from Lion’s Gate Films. It reunites the characters and actors introduced in “1,000 Corpses,” including Bill Moseley as Otis, Sid Haig as Capt. Spaulding and Sherri Moon Zombie as Baby. Here’s how Lion’s Gate describes it: “Deftly blending traditional horror with macabre humor and suspense, “The Devil’s Rejects,” is a shocking portrait of outlaw violence, from one of horror cinema’s most original directors.”

Iron Maiden, Rob Zombie, Mastodon, Coors Amphitheatre, Denver, August 9, 2005.

When Iron Maiden vocalist Bruce Dickinson told the ramped up crowd at Coors Amphitheatre on August 9 that the venerable heavy metal band had come there because the fans were there, he wasn’t exaggerating the importance of this audience. A large part of the excitement that was stirred up in the urban amphitheatre under gray, wet skies has to be credited to the fans themselves, who greeted Iron Maiden with a roar of approval that did not quit- from the top of the grass down to the front row barrier- even across the big band of relatively empty seats in the middle. Chanting the words, “horns” pulsing to the groove, spotlights often played over a crowd that shouted, jumped and played air guitar in sweet abandonment.

Not that there wasn’t a lot going on onstage. As Iron Maiden celebrated the release of a recent retrospective DVD collection, “The History of Iron Maiden Part 1: The Early Days,” by slamming down fan favorites from the first albums, guitars criss-crossed the stage, keeping motion a high priority. Long banks of lights stayed active- including lights pointed at the audience. The backdrop art kept changing. But ultimately it was Dickinson who dominated the stage, balancing on the tops of the monitors up front, blasting around the platform surrounding the group, taking up a power point on the drum riser right in front of the bass drum. Dickinson- whose seriously operatic vocals are a marvel in themselves- continually encouraged the crowd to respond as the amphitheatre rocked.

Support act Rob Zombie had a different take on the situation earlier in the evening. He flat out told the crowd, “I hate places like this…this is the kind of place you go to see Kenny G…” He’s not wrong. But in this case, it was a modern metal master on the stage, cynical and surly. Before performing a beefy “More Human Than Human,” he admitted he’d played the song “a million times.” Same thing for the highlight of the set- “Dragula,” a tune Zombie claimed, tongue-in-cheek, “sounded great in the past but probably will sound better than it ever has right now.” It did sound great.

Though not the same kind of all-out pandemonium that Iron Maiden commands, Zombie’s fans were also eager to jam. I watched what I guessed were a father and son combination, both playing air guitar to Zombie’s set. Eschewing the horror movie theme, Zombie’s staging was decorated with huge, sexy starlet posters. Zombie also added a little bit of musical kitsch by throwing in a snippet of “Sweet Home Alabama.” But it wasn’t the props, jokes or comments that made a difference here. It was the directly aggressive nature of Zombie’s music- strong, confident and sharply defined. There’s a cutting edge to it that cannot be denied.

Further removed from fan interaction was the opening band, Mastodon, only because they had such an early slot. That was too bad because a lot of the crowd missed some of the most challenging music of the day. The four man band played with hardcore sensibilities, though exploring a number of hard rock tangents. There were some particularly progressive moments in the instrumental sections when dual guitar lines snaked through the blaring sound. Capable of precise change-ups, offering a variety in their aggressive guitar attack, Mastadon delivered an inventive electric music. That included their recent single, “Blood and Thunder” and a flavorful tune titled “Seabeast.”

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Red Rocks, Morrison, August 18, 2005.

If Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ two Red Rocks shows at the end of the month (August 30-31) weren’t already sold out, they would be this morning. Petty and company added an August 18 Red Rocks date after the two later shows were sold out. Also sold out, the third show serves as a rocking preview of what the crowds will be treated to at the tail end of Petty’s current tour. And as those who were there tell the tale of Petty’s strong performance, others will wish they were there.

It all started with a beefy rock set by the Black Crowes, peppered by a few brief showers of huge rain drops. Opening with the old Band tune, “Don’t Do It,” the Black Crowes then set to work marinating medium tempo grooves with grungy electricity, then cooking them until they were well done. If not marred by lousy sound, their set alone would have been satisfying, and the crowd responded warmly.

But then Petty and the Heartbreakers took the stage to a hero’s welcome. The band itself has a larger than life aura just as a performing unit- with players like guitarist Mike Campbell and keyboardist Benmont Tench anchoring the proceedings with dynamic performances while the boss picks and grins his way through a trunk load of classic tunes that continue to make the crowd bump, grind and play air guitar with fury. Aiding the band’s stature, however, was a huge bank of video screens, outlined in neon and projecting a cornucopia of live action images. The screens- laid out in various geometric patterns- not only followed the progress of the performers, but also underscored many of the dramatic high points of the material. And those high points were plentiful.

Now just about any Tom Petty fan can probably draw up the majority of the set list. But is it Petty’s fault that these very familiar tunes continue to carry so much weight? You get the sense that even though many of the songs have traveled long and far that the band continues to enjoy performing them. Why not? If fans love playing air guitar to all this stuff, why wouldn’t it be great to be REALLY playing guitar in the band? Despite the well-worn nature of the material, the built-in instrumental dynamics and expressive vocal hooks continue to deliver plenty.

The band’s first single, “Breakdown” was an early highlight. “Free Fallin’” helped underscore how great it felt to be on top of the rock and roll world at Red Rocks. “Refugee,” “I Won’t Back Down,” the Byrds tune “Feel A Whole Lot Better,”  “Don’t Come Around Here No More” and the Traveling Wilburys tune “Handle With Care” all hit the long ago calculated emotional mark. “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” predictably, was the hands down air guitar work out everybody had come for- fans dancing frantically, singing along with abandonment and raking the night air with imaginary guitar picks. “American Girl” finished the evening’s encore in rollicking high style.

For me, however, the most interesting moments came when Petty and the Heartbreakers mixed in some less predictable material. When the band launched into a buoyant version of the Animals’ old hit “I’m Cryin’,” the whole focus seemed to become fresher and sharper. The relatively new song from the group’s recent DVD, “Sound Stage,” “Melinda,” was the artistic centerpiece of the evening, especially thanks to an extended keyboard solo by Tench that not only gave a break from the guitar basics but also broke away from the set arrangements of the other material.

As a side note, it was interesting indeed to witness Petty’s crowd-pleasing version of “Gloria,” especially after seeing Van Morrison perform it earlier in the summer at Red Rocks. While Morrison maintained the elemental, root basics of the song, Petty took off on a personal rap that infused his easy-going but streetwise personality with the core of the tune. The result was celebration, especially when the band kicked into the song’s final reprise.

That Petty is beloved by his fans is obvious and he often soaked up the adulation by throwing his arms out wide, encouraging the crowd to go ahead and scream. While such a motion could be considered arrogant and/or egotistical, it also served to give the people what they want. If they are going to go nuts anyway, why not just go with it?

Once again, Petty triumphed, which seems to be a familiar accomplishment for him and his crew. Now the only screams you’ll be hearing until Petty returns in a few days are those of the people who didn’t get tickets to any of the three shows. They’re the ones who’ll be howling without satisfaction while the smarter concert-goers who already saw the show, or who will see it soon, can sit back and smile.

NewWestFest, Fort Collins, August 20-21, 2005.

A full summer sun baked the streets of downtown Fort Collins during this year’s NewWestFest, Fort Collins’ lively annual street festival. This year was particularly lively thanks to a new, more aggressive live music schedule. Four stages- on Linden, Chestnut, Old Town Square and Library Park- were cranking strong with regional talent. The NewWestFest has always been known as a showcase for local talent, but this year’s booking was kicked up significantly to include some of the most popular acts in Colorado. The three days of music- “Bohemian Nights”- were presented by the Bohemian Foundation and in one stroke reenergized the NewWestFest’s music tradition.

The national act headliner was War on Linden Street on Saturday, August 20. The NewWestFest has often hosted national bands and this was certainly fitting. But the real story this year was the other 36 performing groups, all from Colorado, who played rock, funk, hip hop, bluegrass, reggae, jazz and more, bringing out loyal fans, entertaining passersby and generally making the NewWestFest an exciting place to be for live music lovers. After a kick off concert on Friday, the performances were staggered on Saturday and Sunday to make it possible to go from one stage to another and enjoy constant live music, in high festival style.

Of the 36 groups, I was able to able to see 11 and it was an experience full of discovery. On Saturday, the Motet played an upbeat world jazz fusion and Rose Hill Drive blasted through a set of tough electric rock on the Linden Street Stage. On the Old Town Stage, WhiteWater Ramble played an energetic and progressive “jamgrass” music and Union Break dominated the stage with a swaggering blues rock. Over in Library Park, Rodney James and the Blue Flames incited dancing with their upbeat, frenetic rockabilly.

On Sunday, August 21, the Chestnut Stage featured the hip hop flavored Yo, Flaco!, whose horn section also joined the Mercury Project. The Mercury Project’s “adult alternative” music was an amalgam of styles- even featuring some trippy DJ scratching- all performed with stop-on-a-dime precision. Despite a schedule misunderstanding, Wendy Woo also took the Chesnut Stage to turn in a dynamic set, drawing an appreciative crowd of fans. Meanwhile, the Old Town Stage highlighted the hearty country flavored rock of Soul Creek, the smooth and nearly understated pop rock of the Tim Hanauer Band and the hefty and dynamic world rock of the Atoll. Of course there was much more on the schedule.

As a showcase for Colorado music, “Bohemian Nights” at the NewWestFest was certainly a success. They added not just more entertainment during the festival, but a new level of attraction. This wasn’t just a schedule of acts, but rather a deliberate attempt to bolster Colorado music. The acts themselves proved that they were worthy- every group I saw handled themselves with confidence and panache. And in general the fans were worthy- I heard cheers for every band as well. At least for one weekend this summer, Fort Collins was a music center for Colorado music- and that’s something that can be built on.

Kan’Nal, Mishawaka Amphitheatre, August 26.

On July 22- the day after the hottest summer day on record- I saw an audience at the Lincoln Center Sculpture Garden dancing in ecstasy- under the full noon sun. They were whirling in the heat because dynamic Boulder band Kan’Nal was whipping up their high octane, exotic jam music as a part of the free Friday concert series at the Lincoln Center, all the while being broadcast live on 88.9 FM KRFC. It was a short set- only an hour- but the band- and the dancers- traveled a long way.

Kan’Nal’s music fuses jamming electric rock with especially Middle Eastern spice, creating a fully kinetic and rich sound. Layers of polyrhythmic percussion- supplied by Gilly Gonzales and Aaron Jerad (who also added didjeridoo)- underscored the active lead guitar work of Tierro and bassist Rodolfo Escobar III while vocalist Tzol wailed. But more than just a tight band, Kan’Nal is also a stage show. There was a kind of shrine laid out in front of the group- with a burning candle (in 100 degree heat?), crystals, incense and shells- and on either side of the five-player band were two dancer/performers who emphasized the primal grooves with sensuous bellydancing, twirling costumes, percussion and vocals.

Teresita and Akayate are striking figures and they add an arresting visual element to the performance that is indeed hard to deny. The pair mutated their costumes as the set wore on, bringing some of the performance out beyond the stage area- right in front of the crowd. By the end, their faces wrapped in colorful gauze, they were dancing with the fans, blurring the lines between performer and audience.

Just as Kan’Nal was finishing up with their brief set, a friend came up to say, “You’ve got to see this band at night- they dance with fire.” Maybe we’ll get a chance to see that when the group returns to the area with a show at Mishawaka Amphitheatre on Friday, August 26. Until then, there’s the band’s new release, “Dreamwalker” to mull over- a sprawling musical journey that is set to receive national distribution in September.

Lost 80s Live featuring Devo, Coors Amphitheatre, Denver, August 23, 2005.

A nostalgia tour for the music of the 1980s? Why not? As the lineup for the Lost 80s Live tour proved at Coors Amphitheatre on August 23, there is a kind of musical unity to the popular music of that decade/time period. At least a certain number of popular 80s bands- as reflected in Denver by Missing Persons, A Flock of Seagulls, the English Beat and headliner Devo- had an upbeat sound made of quick, precise rhythms, a penchant for electronic keyboard accompaniment, lyrics on the more introspective side and vocals with attitude. It’s dance music with a brain.

Taken that way, Missing Persons, A Flock of Seagulls and English Beat fulfilled their part of the bargain by giving just enough of a taste of what made them popular to compliment each other on an endeavor such as this tour. Missing Persons’ vocalist Dale Bozzio cut a colorful figure on stage early in the day, delivering crowd favorites like “Windows,” “Destination Unknown” and the scorching finale, “Walking in LA” with hair-flipping energy. A Flock of Seagulls took things deeper with their darker, grungier synth-pop dance music. The English Beat lightened things back up, including down and dirty versions of hits like “I Confess,” “Mirror in the Bathroom” and “Sooner or Later.”

While Missing Persons and the English Beat in particular were able to create a reasonable enough facsimile of their “lost” hit music to move the crowd, there seemed to be less of a sense of artifice going on and more of a sense of nostalgia. These units were simply cranking out the songs the fans remembered. They seemed to be deliberately presenting period pieces. One exception during the English Beat’s set was a lively reading of the Staple Singers’ “I’ll Take You There.” A Flock of Seagulls also included some new material.

Though Devo’s set was also made up of old favorites, there was a sense of urgency and poignancy in the material and the performance that made it something completely different than the other bands. Up to this point, the concert had only really been cooking on one burner. Devo took the stage and turned all the burners on at once.

Introduced by video clips from the band’s past, Devo rushed on stage in matching jumpsuits and “flower pot” hats and immediately cranked up the energy level several notches. It’s important to note that above and beyond the song list- which included choice tunes from the big hit “Whip It” to the early atonal rocker “Mongoloid”- that the members of Devo did much more than just play the songs. Vocalist Mark Mothersbaugh stalked the stage, ripping the sleeves and pant legs off of his bandmates while everyone else kept in motion. The group’s costumes changed as they shucked the suits and revealed black Devo athletic garb complete with black and white knee guards. Mothersbaugh also took the stage late in the show with a huge red cowboy hat, his shorts obviously stuffed in front and behind. Paying attention to their image and maintaining plenty of stage action went a long way to revving this concert up into an exciting climax.

I was pleased to hear the funky crispness of Devo’s cover of “Satisfaction”- the first Devo record I heard via a 45. It still sounded twisted and bizarre. “Gates of Steel” was not only powerful sonically, but also remained inspiring. Those plaintive lyrics still resonate- “A man is real, not made of steel.” The hands down rocker “Freedom of Choice” was the encore- big, dynamic and still thought provoking.

That’s what set Devo apart from the other groups at Coors. What the bands earlier in the day seemed to lack was a connection to the present. Their songs are still fun, but good songs are just good songs. Devo’s material, wryly cynical and wildly madcap, sounds as fresh today as it did years ago. Maybe it is even a little more poignant than it was back then because more and more people can see the evidence of “de-evolution,” Devo’s most concise philosophical stance, in our everyday lives. Society has cracked a lot more since the band released their first album in 1978 and maybe Devo’s message, its infectious rhythms and edge-of-sanity stage presence is even necessary to help revive the hope that music can still be fun, but also artistically expressive and socially meaningful.

Those elements were the bedrock of the New Wave movement of the late1970s- something Devo helped create- which eventually morphed into the 1980s pop scene that this tour was aiming to celebrate. 1980s? 1970s? 2000s? Whatever the decade, Devo’s aggressive attitude and intense showmanship is welcome. This is not nostalgia, this is Devo!

Steppenwolf, Budweiser Events Center, Loveland, September 1, 2005.

The opening night concert for the inaugural Thunder in the Rockies motorcycle rally not only featured some tough, familiar rock, but also some positive messages. The headliner was John Kay and Steppenwolf, perhaps thanks entirely to the fact that the band’s 1968 hit, “Born to Be Wild,” is an unofficial biker anthem, something that speaks so well to the restless part of the American spirit. The song embodies the desire to hit the road and live a life that is not predetermined in any way- not even by death. That the song was featured prominently in the motorcycle movie classic “Easy Rider” only makes it all the more appropriate that Kay and band would help celebrate the new rally’s start.

More than an oldies hit band, however, Kay and Steppenwolf continue to play a rough-edged blues rock that they applied to group staples and newer material. The group staples included opener “Sookie, Sookie” and Willie Dixon’s “Hootchie Kootchie Man.” The relatively newer material- from 1990s releases- included tunes like “Rise and Shine” and “Hold On (Never Give Up, Never Give In),” both co-written by Kay and longtime keyboardist Michael Wilk. Both songs also carry a strong, uplifting message that especially gained power thanks to the gritty aggressiveness of the arrangements. Add in guitarist Danny Johnson’s original “Higher Power” and you’re starting to realize that there is a kind of band vision at work here. It seems that Steppenwolf has decided not only to entertain people with old, popular songs but is also in business to give them some positive things to think about.

During the September 1 performance, Kay repeatedly mentioned the disaster in New Orleans thanks to hurricane Katrina and the group announced that proceeds from merchandise sales over their web site- Steppenwolf.com- over the next two weeks will go to the American Red Cross to help the relief effort. While singing songs about being wild and free- taking charge of your own life and living it to the fullest- Steppenwolf reminds that you have to help pull up people in need. It’s just the right thing to do.

That’s a dividing line between a nostalgia act and a contemporary act. Steppenwolf remains contemporary not because of the music especially, but because of ideals. Songs about the crush of corporate culture, constant reminders to get socially involved and even Kay’s final statement- “Stay well and stay alive!”- are good and valuable messages often missing from contemporary performances. Remember that one of Steppenwolf’s most popular hits- Hoyt Axton’s “The Pusher”- is an anti-drug song.

So where does the rock and roll come in? The rough-edged guitar rock of Steppenwolf remains a good compliment to this act of taking intellectual stock. Did they say that even though you have to stay aware of the world around you, that you couldn’t have fun too? That’s what driving rhythms, rich keyboard sounds and lots of guitar are for and Steppenwolf has a great one-two punch in the pair of hits “Magic Carpet Ride” and, of course, “Born to Be Wild.” Living right up to the edge means getting all your priorities straight, from politics and personal concerns to rocking fully. “Born to Be Wild” is indeed an ace up the band’s sleeve- they can cover a lot of ground otherwise because no matter what they do, “Born to Be Wild” will make just about any crowd get up and cheer. The group’s encore was “The Pusher,” which is a mighty combination of Kay’s expressive, gravely voice and a down and dirty groove.

Supporting Steppenwolf for the Thunder in the Rockies was Blue Oyster Cult and they conveyed a positive message of a different sort. Even though the group was a man short at the BEC due to illness, a quartet version of the band still dug into their rich catalog of progressive hard rock and managed a triumphant performance. They especially hit stride during an elongated version of “Godzilla”- including impressive bass and drum solos- followed up by an energetic reading of “(Don’t Fear) the Reaper.” Opening the show were the Groove Hawgs.

Alice Cooper, Budweiser Events Center, Loveland, September 4, 2005.

Well, I finally got to see one of the great moments in rock and roll showmanship last night. That is, when shock rocker godfather Alice Cooper laid down on a ghoulish guillotine and got his head chopped off. It was a theatrical special effect that indeed shocked back in the 1970s when it was new and still entertained mightily today even in a world where real beheadings can be seen on the evening news. You just don’t see a guillotine in action very much these days and when a bad boy like Cooper steps up to receive his punishment in the climax of the show, it’s just downright riveting. The crowd at the BEC certainly was going nuts.

What makes the guillotine bit so great is actually what makes Cooper great in general. That is, a willingness to take the proceedings on the concert stage beyond what you expect from a typical rock show. Yes, Cooper uses the regular stuff- stage fog, bright, colored lights, an energetic electric band full of rhythmic punch and screaming guitars, gritty, rough vocals and a string of infectious songs full of attitude. But more, Cooper illustrates his songs with props and stage action that take a large step toward turning rock and roll into a heightened sense of drama. The drama isn’t a result of the rock and roll (though the songs themselves clearly contain some naturally.) Instead it is another whole element to the show that defines the music and kicks the performance up into a totally new level.

So when Cooper sings about “Dirty Diamonds,” he’s got silver Mari Gras beads dripping from his fist. During “Billion Dollar Babies,” he’s got $100 Alice Cooper bucks skewered on a fencing sword. For “Only Women Bleed,” an actress/dancer plays the part of the victim in a tiny nightie and bruises and scrapes on her body. For the classic teenage rock anthem “Eighteen,” Cooper waves around a crutch. Even a set of maracas, when wielded by Cooper, becomes a dramatic focal point that helps make the songs vibrate. As the show proceeded, Cooper placed body parts in an upright coffin (guess where Alice’s head goes in the end) to create a rock and roll Frankenstein. The dancer cracked a whip. Huge balloons bounced out to the crowd and Cooper burst them with a sword when they came back. He had a huge snake wrapped around his neck for “Welcome to My Nightmare.” A Paris Hilton figure had her throat ripped out by her little dog and Cooper ended up in a straight jacket. Now that’s just fun to watch.

Don’t get me wrong- the music certainly plays a big part in Cooper’s success. The songs are keenly honed to balance churning hard rock guitars and sandpaper vocals with memorable lyrical hooks. The material in general stays well within the traditional arena of rock and roll- painting portraits of alienated, loner characters who are confused socially in an unsympathetic world. However, ultimately Cooper’s message is positive. In “Eighteen” for instance, the character ends up not only pondering life’s limitations, but also thumbing his nose at them. There is some kind of twisted empowerment in Cooper’s songs. “No More Mr. Nice Guy” is actually about a nice guy. Even when Cooper’s character gets his head lopped off, there remains some kind of redemption in the raging rock on stage.

But put that rough and ready, expressive rock together with those theatrical elements and you’ve got a show that goes above and beyond the average performance. At the BEC, Cooper kept things moving along quickly- the pace was snappy. “School’s Out” was the triumphant climax to the show, but finally it was the grungy rock and roll underpinnings of “Under My Wheels” that sealed the deal. How appropriate for the final concert of the inaugural Thunder in the Rockies motorcycle rally event- Cooper came, he and his troupe played it up big and they left with tires squealing. It was flat out a very satisfying show.

An extra added treat was the full opening set by power poppers Cheap Trick. Also adept at combining raw electric rock with melodic sing-along hooks, Cheap Trick has plenty to work with- especially considering the one-two punch of strong, dramatic vocalist Robin Zander and crazed guitarist Rick Nielsen.

Nielsen in particular made Cheap Trick a fun band to watch thanks to the constant string of wild guitars he used- strapping on a different one for each song. These included a great double-neck unit that sported a cartoon effigy of Nielsen, a five-necked guitar, as well as lots of colorful single-necked guitars- custom jobs like the custom bikes that have been jamming the parking lot over the weekend. But more, Nielsen is a powerful guitarist, ripping off leads from his black and white checkered riser or stalking the stage while wanging on the strings- even breaking some in the process. At the BEC, Nielsen also exhibited a pumped up attitude and took the mike often between tunes to ramble on to the audience and spent most of his time while not playing guitar, pointing to audience members and throwing hundreds of guitar picks into the crowd.

However, while the guitar work raged, it was Zander’s vocal presence that held it all together. Part of it was the material- well crafted rockers like “Southern Girls” and “I Want You to Want Me” churning with electricity, yet buoyant with infectious melodic refrains. But a lot of it was Zander himself, ably handling the main work of each tune while Nielsen buzzed around and did his thing. My favorite was the deep groove of “Venus.” Cheap Trick returned for an encore with “Dream Police.”

Often during Cheap Trick’s set, banks of lights pointing directly at the audience would emphasize the dramatic moments. Not just a little, but a lot. The constant blinding light was really unnecessary for Cheap Trick to succeed, but complimented the frenzied stage presence of Nielsen. Between this band- introduced as “the best fucking band this town will ever see”- and Cooper, the end of the Thunder in the Rockies event was celebrated in high style- high as the blade in a guillotine.

King Koncert column
Lullabies to Paralyze: A Dark Opera by The Queens of the Stone Age

Have you seen the movie “Donnie Darko”? This poor kid is bedeviled by hallucinations- or maybe better, visions- of frightening foreboding. Especially haunted by a huge, sinister rabbit, Donnie gets caught up in a twist of time and darkness.

That’s what the new Oueens of the Stone Age Interscope Records release, “Lullabies to Paralyze,” is like. It starts with the hallucinogenic booklet filled with cryptic snippets of lyrics and disconnected images. The words express the pain and the strength needed to survive intense personal loss. The images have a sinister quality- little piggies dancing in the woods then drinking in front of an oven; a clothed wolf resting easy over several human corpses; the band sitting at the dinner table wearing lamb masks.

The music then rolls out of the speakers like a roiling storm front. The darkness- filled with references to suicide and absence- becomes a powerful canvas for Josh Homme, Troy Van Leeuwen and Joey Castillo.

Though “Lullabies to Paralyze” begins with an acoustic introduction featuring the deep, sonorous voice of Mark Lanegan, the rest of the record is full-bore electric music. It’s all based on a rock attitude- thick, driving guitars and drums fused together- but the songs swing from the bouncy show tune “Tangled Up in Plaid” to the hard pop of “Burn the Witch” and “In My Head” and finally to the deep, loud psychedelic excess of “Someone’s in the Wolf.” “The Blood is Love” finally steps over the edge into thundering, raging freefall.

“Lullabies to Paralyze” is an opera of darkness for sure, full of intense introspection, pain, yearning, question, confusion- and a strong will to blast it all away with powerful arrangements and inventive production. Like “Donnie Darko,” “Lullabies to Paralyze” progresses like a series of apparently meaningful but artfully inscrutable visions- music for the shadowed corners of the mind.

Queens of the Stone Age will be supporting Nine Inch Nails at the Pepsi Center in Denver on October 5. Also playing: Autolux.

More recommended shows: System of a Down and Mars Volta at the Pepsi Center on October 2; Styx and REO Speedwagon at the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland on October 4; Gov’t Mule at the Aggie Theatre in Fort Collins October 6-7; Richard Thompson at the Boulder Theater on October 10; Porcupine Tree at the Fox Theatre in Boulder on October 15; Horrorpops at the Aggie October 18; Blues Travler and Carbon Leaf at the Fox October 25-26; and, of course, Front Magazine’s Bash at the White Buffalo in Loveland on October 29.

Reviews: The Thunder in the Rockies motorcycle rally at the Ranch in Loveland over the Labor Day weekend not only inaugurated a new biker event, but also kick started a new concert series that started off with some strong classic rock shows. I went to the first and the fourth show of the rally- Steppenwolf on September 1 and Alice Cooper on September 4.

More than an oldies hit band, John Kay and Steppenwolf continue to play a rough-edged blues rock that they applied to group staples and newer material. The relatively newer material- from 1990s releases- included tunes like “Rise and Shine” and “Hold On (Never Give Up, Never Give In),” both co-written by Kay and longtime keyboardist Michael Wilk. Both songs also carry a strong, uplifting message that especially gained power thanks to the gritty aggressiveness of the arrangements. Add in guitarist Danny Johnson’s original “Higher Power” and you’re starting to realize that there is a kind of band vision at work here. It seems that Steppenwolf has decided not only to entertain people with old, popular songs but is also in business to give them some positive things to think about.

So where does the rock and roll come in? The rough-edged guitar rock of Steppenwolf remains a good compliment to this act of taking intellectual stock. Did they say that even though you have to stay aware of the world around you, that you couldn’t have fun too? That’s what driving rhythms, rich keyboard sounds and lots of guitar are for and Steppenwolf has a great one-two punch in the pair of hits “Magic Carpet Ride” and, of course, “Born to Be Wild.” The group’s encore was “The Pusher,” which is a mighty combination of Kay’s expressive, gravely voice and a down and dirty groove.

On September 4, I finally got to see one of the great moments in rock and roll showmanship last night. That is, when shock rocker godfather Alice Cooper laid down on a ghoulish guillotine and got his head chopped off.

What makes the guillotine bit so great is actually what makes Cooper great in general. That is, a willingness to take the proceedings on the concert stage beyond what you expect from a typical rock show. When Cooper sings about “Dirty Diamonds,” he’s got silver Mari Gras beads dripping from his fist. During “Billion Dollar Babies,” he’s got $100 Alice Cooper bucks skewered on a fencing sword. For “Only Women Bleed,” an actress/dancer plays the part of the victim in a tiny nightie and bruises and scrapes on her body. As the show proceeded, Cooper placed body parts in an upright coffin (guess where Alice’s head goes in the end) to create a rock and roll Frankenstein. He had a huge snake wrapped around his neck for “Welcome to My Nightmare.” A Paris Hilton figure had her throat ripped out by her little dog and Cooper ended up in a straight jacket. Now that’s just fun to watch.

Don’t get me wrong- the music certainly plays a big part in Cooper’s success. The songs are keenly honed to balance churning hard rock guitars and sandpaper vocals with memorable lyrical hooks. But put that rough and ready, expressive rock together with those theatrical elements and you’ve got a show that goes above and beyond the average performance. “School’s Out” was the triumphant climax to the show, but finally it was the grungy rock and roll underpinnings of “Under My Wheels” that sealed the deal. How appropriate for the final concert of the inaugural Thunder in the Rockies motorcycle rally event- Cooper came, he and his troupe played it up big and they left with tires squealing.

In Your Honor: Foo Fighters Put Out Their Best

In press materials for the Foo Fighters’ upcoming tour- hitting the Pepsi Center in Denver on September 30- Dave Grohl admits the band was trying to make a classic album release with their recent two-CD set, In Your Honor. He explains: “In 20 years, when some kid asks his dad, ‘You ever hear of Foo Fighters? Which record should I get?’ They should say In Your Honor. Like, if you wanna hear some Led Zeppelin, get Physical Graffiti. That’s exactly what I want to happen with this record. I want people to say ‘Wow, that’s the album they’ll be remembered for.'”

As a definitive statement by a band that has now enjoyed ten years of success, Foo Fighters have succeeded mightily again. Between the two discs, there is plenty of room for the group to become a raging wall of sound- as well as introspective acoustic folkies. In fact, the discs are divided into “Loud” and “Not So Loud” musical categories, splitting the band’s range of musical personalities down the middle. According to Grohl, the divide, or “splitting the difference,” was intentional. “By splitting the difference,” Grohl says, “You eliminate the middle ground. We can make the acoustic record far more delicate and beautiful and atmospheric than anything we’ve ever done and we can make the rock record far more brutal and aggressive and powerful than anything from our past.”

The first disc of In Your Honor is the “Loud” one and it is a masterwork of a leading contemporary rock band. Actually, the whole sequence from track four, “DOA,” through to the rousing finale, “End Over End,” is classic record making, from the crisp, layered production of each track to the keen sense of sequencing, creating a basic momentum that does not falter. It all ends up becoming one big dramatic release of angst and personal awareness. That the subject of the songs seems to often veer towards death makes the sharp precision of the playing all the more sweet. If rock and roll can dissuade Death- which Foo Fighters remind isn’t really true- then this is the stuff might be able to do it. You want to believe it could, anyhow.

The second disc, “Not So Loud,” shows another more melodic and intricate side to Foo Fighters. There’s no shouting here, no buzzsaw guitar or freight train drumming. The second disc is about listening and considering. The highly personal nature of the lyrics and the delicate arrangements create a much different space and time than the first disc. Calling them “delicate” arrangements, however, doesn’t mean there isn’t meat here because the production is quite full at times. But there is a sense of purposefulness to this music that achieves its own power. The final tune, “Razor,” is as harrowing a piece on the second disc as “Free Me” is full of an unrelenting intensity on the first disc.

Still, I can’t help but wonder if anyone who really likes the first disc will ever listen to the second disc more than once. Quite honestly, this album will be remembered as one of Foo Fighters best- if not THE best- even without the second record. But hey, when you have the pull to bring in guest vocalists like jazz pop diva Norah Jones and Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones, you may as well throw it into the package. By the way, my CD came with a sticker that warned: “This CD is protected against unauthorized duplication.” The In Your Honor artwork also carries an anti-piracy warning. There’s another brand of seriousness for you.

In Your Honor is Foo Fighters’ fifth release. Weezer will be opening for the band at the Pepsi Center on September 30. Weezer has also recently released their fifth album, “Make Believe,” recorded with producer Rick Rubin. The Kaiser Chiefs also will join the bill.

Porcupine Tree, Fox Theatre, Boulder, October 15, 2005.

This morning in my office, all I can hear is the persistent hum of my computer. This is in stark contrast to what I witnessed last night in Boulder- that is, a feast of electricity thanks to the British band Porcupine Tree. This was no hum, but a blast of powerful volume, melody and rhythm, all presented in a passionate and purposeful manner. Porcupine Tree doesn’t make frivolous music and doesn’t mess around with stage antics. They simply dig into the music- dark and dramatic- and keep stirring it up until the room surges.

Currently touring to support their new Lava Records release, “Deadwing,” Porcupine Tree returned to Boulder for their fourth visit in recent years. The band seems to have benefited from the frequent dates in Colorado because the serious quintet was greeted by a full house. That their music was known and savored became obvious as each tune was greeted enthusiastically. From more or less obscure tunes- from out of print releases- such as “Don’t Hate Me” to key selections from “Deadwing” such as the slower, more melodic “Lazarus,” Boulder fans were tuned in, mouthing the words and banging their heads.

But it was what the crowd did after the tunes that was important. That is, they erupted into hearty cheers that meant that just about anything the band did was all right with them. It all came together when the band brought the show to a dramatic and powerful climax with “Halo,” from “Deadwing.” Between the driving, blasting music, demonstrative, challenging lyrics, the ever-changing images on the video screen and the crowd’s enthusiasm, there wasn’t anything left to be desired. This is what fans of live music are after when they go out- those moments when everything is synched into glorious, loud abandonment- and Porcupine Tree delivered plenty.

Opening band Marjorie Fair, also stirred up some power. However, this band’s method was a little less forward than Porcupine Tree’s. Marjorie Fair started with a little more sedate musical timbre, soaring melody lying on top of full, grungy electricity. But by the end of their set, each man in the band was busy wailing on their instruments, bringing the slow burn to a full flame.

While the mainstream commercial market continues to waddle under its own weight, lacking any real focus other than shoveling out whatever will sell, it’s refreshing to run across a band like Porcupine Tree that stays firmly on their own path. This group didn’t bother with jokes and dumb come-ons and didn’t seem saddled with “hits” that ended up dictating the set list. Instead, Porcupine Tree is their own band and that suits their fans in Boulder just fine.

Paul McCartney, Pepsi Center, Denver, November 1, 2005

You want to say that a musician as beloved as Paul McCartney can do no wrong as far as his fans are concerned. Generally that holds true and McCartney’s appearance at the Pepsi Center on November 1 was punctuated by plenty of crowd adoration. But up in the nosebleed seats, there were several times when crowd members grew tired of McCartney’s new and more unfamiliar songs and called for Beatles tunes. These less imaginative fans didn’t seem to get it- that McCartney remains not just a former member of the world’s most popular band of the last 50 years but also a viable contemporary artist. Therefore, an evening spent with him is not going to be simply a walk down memory lane.

That McCartney’s new Capitol Records album, “Chaos and Creation in the Backyard,” is a mature and introspective work probably doesn’t mean much to fans who only want the golden oldies. But to music lovers who don’t mind giving a powerful artist the space to make new expression, the album signals much more than just another product from a reliable hitmaker. “Chaos and Creation” is at times beautiful and evocative. The production is top notch and arrangements are imaginative. But more importantly, the songs are written from a very personal point of view and unflinchingly speaks toward loss, loneliness, weariness, aging and, yes, love. But love here is much more subtle than the come-ons of a twenty year old at the top of the world. Love on McCartney’s new album has a lot more to do with kindness, thankfulness, appreciation and caring- a mature perspective indeed.

Once again this kind of songwriting makes him a spokesman for a generation- but not for the freewheeling youth cultural explosion, but as a man who has been through plenty and is clearly facing twilight. Just as the Beatles were there for a generation as it discovered and exploited its youth, McCartney is still there for that generation as it ages and sorts through life experiences.

On stage, the new songs fit in just fine with the classic material. After all, all the tunes were written by McCartney and his unmistakable style is imprinted on each. At the Pepsi Center, that allowed him the luxury to include several new pieces, including “Fine Line,” “English Tea,” “Follow Me” and the delicate “Jenny Wren,” all songs with the indelible McCartney stamp and played with aplomb by McCartney’s crack band. Aesthetically, the new stuff added enough of what McCartney has been so good at supplying for decades- some piano-driven rock, some sweet melodies, some passionate intent and imagination- to work well enough to elicit rousing crowd reaction.

However, it could be said that the new songs as well as some unexpected rarities- like a pre-Beatles acoustic rocker- actually tended to interrupt the flow of the show. This is perhaps what had the nosebleeders ruffled. McCartney has long been known as a master of the big stage, having plenty of material to fit any need along with the ability to use it to the best dramatic effect. That he took chances with this tour’s set list is in itself a dramatic move- taking concert goers by surprise and making them listen rather than rock on autopilot.

That McCartney seriously wanted to spotlight new work was evident from even before the start of the show. McCartney’s orchestral music greeted patrons taking their seats, then a DJ gave a demonstration of McCartney electronica- at times fusing familiar melodies with a driving modern beat. All the while, the video screens remained active with designs and color.

But the past is very powerful in McCartney’s case. A brief film retrospective of McCartney’s career- from footage of his childhood home through his performance at this year’s Super Bowl- then revved up into the opening tune, “Magical Mystery Tour.” From here, McCartney played continuously for more than two hours, squeezing the new stuff in between the hunks of hits. Even the band got a couple of breaks as McCartney strapped on an acoustic guitar to play by himself. While McCartney is not a showman in the sense that he physically works the stage- other than a lot of arm waving to various parts of the arena after each tune- that he was on stage for the entirety of the show is impressive. He also took the opportunity to tell a few stories throughout the evening too- like explaining how he included “I Will” in the set list- after an encounter with a fan in a hotel- and recounting his experience falling into the piano pit at the start of the tour. “Good Day Sunshine,” McCartney proudly explained, was recently used to wake up astronauts in a recent troubled space station mission.

The set included big band numbers from the Beatles catalog, including “Drive My Car,” “Got to Get You Into My Life,” “She Came In Through the Bathroom Window,” “I’ve Got A Feeling,” “Penny Lane” and “Back in the USSR.” Added to those were the big band arrangements of McCartney solo and Wings material, such as “Jet,” the awesome “Let Me Roll It” (which ended up riffing off of Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady,”) the gritty “Too Many People,” the joyful “Band on the Run” and the perennial showstopper “Live and Let Die.” All were greeted with celebration by the crowd at the Pepsi Center.

At the piano, McCartney read through the passionate “Maybe I’m Amazed” and “The Long and Winding Road.” During his acoustic spots, he brought the room to a hushed quiet for “Black Bird” and “For No One.” Some unexpected oldies such as “Til There Was You,” “I’ll Follow the Sun,” complete with multiple endings, and “I’ll Get You” took a healthy nod to the naïve early years. Particular highlights included a fully textured arrangement of “Eleanor Rigby” and a buoyant “Fixing a Hole.” McCartney good-naturedly sprinkled in a little of “Baby Face” before launching into the predictable emotional peak of the evening- a huge group sing-along to “Hey Jude.”

The first encore at the Pepsi Center began with what many had hoped for- a simple and direct version of “Yesterday”- the most-covered song in music history. But then McCartney kicked into “Get Back” and the arena was rocking. Then he added an electrifying version of “Helter Skelter”- edgy and raw. As McCartney and band took the stage for a second encore, they were waving both US and Colorado flags, then dug back to the Beatles’ breakout hit, “Please, Please Me.” “Let It Be” brought the pulse rate down a little which allowed McCartney to raise the bar again with “Sgt. Pepper’s,” followed by “The End.” For the encore, McCartney had changed his shirt into one that read “No More Landmines.” But the message that resonated when the house lights came up came from the music- “The love you take is equal to the love you make.”

The staging for this tour was slick- the floor and surrounding staging made of glossy blocks that projected images and flashed designs. Crisp images on the video screens magnified the stage action. Some special effects included a shower of sparks, fireworks and explosions, adding to the fact that this wasn’t just a concert but a SHOW.

Before and after the show, the world outside the Pepsi Center churned fitfully.  Tightened security at the door made for long lines and significantly delayed the concert. The snarl of traffic leaving the parking lots afterwards was slow and chaotic. But for a few precious hours- while some of the finest pop music of our time was being showcased inside the arena- none of that existed. Thanks, Paul.

Jethro Tull, Paramount Theatre, Denver, November 17, 2005.

Somewhere in the middle of a reading of the song “My God” last night at the Paramount Theatre in Denver, a definitive moment seemed to pass between frontman Ian Anderson and guitarist Martin Barre. Anderson was wailing on his flute, leaning close to Barre who picked up the riff and let it rip on guitar, the musical moment going back and forth between the two. It said a lot about what is essentially the root of Jethro Tull’s signature music- the balance between the clear but jazzy flute and churning, ragged electric guitar tones, both propelled by distinctive songwriting and progressive arrangements.

The event was the second night of a two-night stand in Denver and it was a full house. The day also marked Martin Barre’s birthday and he celebrated by doing what he does best- digging into the Tull catalog and filling each pick with his unique, chunky guitarwork. At 59, Barre remains sharp and exciting as a player and has honed his sound into something unique indeed. Jethro Tull’s sound depends on it. Barre was featured during the show on an instrumental workout titled “Morris Minus.” His many solos on everything else added essential fire to the evening.

Of course, front and center was Anderson, who remains a charismatic stage presence. He has become quite comfortable being in control on stage- during the tunes and in between. Thanks perhaps to his unique “Rubbing Elbows” tour of a few years ago, where Anderson not only performed, but also interacted directly with the crowd. At the Paramount, a good-sized theater, but relatively intimate for Tull, Anderson was chatty in a kind of vaudeville MC way, telling a few factoids and wisecracking his way through the show. Some salty jokes had their calculated effect and the audience laughed and cheered. Of course, this audience seemed thrilled with everything and they gave the band multiple standing ovations throughout the night.

Of course, as a performer, Anderson still works hard at remaining active on stage, hopping around, stretching, posturing- yes, often on one foot. He’s all over- in front, behind, left, front and center. Anderson’s vocals have become a little whispery perhaps, but the timbre is built into the songs and works fine, but what distinguishes this musician most is that trademark flute playing- aggressive, nimble, the tone at times stepping on the edge of control. Like Barre’s guitar playing, there is no mistaking Anderson’s flute work and Jethro Tull’s music depends on it. That’s why when Barre and Anderson put their heads together during that section in “My God,” the essence of the band’s music glows. Anderson plays a lot of guitar during the current show and that work is distinctive in itself, but all Anderson had to do to kick things up a notch was to grab that flute.

At the door at the Paramount, patrons were greeted with free CDs- copies of “Aqualung Live,” 11 tracks of the original tunes from the album plus “patter, banter and bunkum” tracks. Of course, the “Aqualung” music was featured throughout the evening. What about the chugging power of “Cross-Eyed Mary,” the instantly electrifying riff of “Aqualung,” and the highly energetic encore work-out of “Locomotive Breath”? Well, of course, it’s the guaranteed pay-off.

But now let’s discuss this tour’s extra added treat. That is, violinist Lucia Micarelli, who joined the band on stage several times throughout the show. It was obvious that Anderson is starry-eyed impressed with this musician who indeed added plenty. She dueted with Anderson, added a bright classical flair to standard tunes like “Mother Goose”- fusing easily with recorders in harmony- and, of course, “Bouree”- Jethro Tull chamber music?

Now here’s the strange part. While Micarelli was a welcome addition, she also was given a couple of interesting feature spots. One was an impassioned version of “Love Theme from Godfather” and the other was a fully rocking reading of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir.” Now, I think that if you had told Ian Anderson twenty-five years ago that he would one day be covering movie themes and Zeppelin tunes on stage, he probably would have strangled you. But I guess when talent is in the house as strong as Micarelli, you learn to go with the flow.

Harking back to Anderson’s “Rubbing Elbows” tour, the music he performed then was stripped down, acoustic-based- finding a kinder, gentler way of presenting his music on stage. I think adding Micarelli into the mix stems from that effort and her playing not only added another type of sound to the music, but also an aesthetic. While Micarelli was certainly plugged in, the band naturally played differently with a violin as part of the arrangement. Especially the first set seemed to feature music achieving a delicate balance between electric and acoustic sounds, something the intimate theatre environment enhanced, and Micarelli was essential to making it successful.

Other highlights at the Paramount included the acoustic lightness of “Up the ‘pool,” the deep, twisted churning blues of “Beggar’s Farm,” from the band’s first album, “This Was.” The maniacal laughing of “Up to Me” was delightfully creepy and “Wond’ring Aloud” was delightfully sweet. For me, the nostalgic highlight was “Nothing is Easy,” which remains powerful and dramatic. But for the best all around music of the evening, “One Night in Budapest” was the evening’s artistic climax- dramatic lyrics, textured instrumental work, great lights and a band perfectly synched in combining to prove that Jethro Tull is alive and thriving in 2005. I’m glad I saw that.

The first time I saw Tull play was back in October 1970 in Phoenix. At that time, Jethro Tull was the first band that I claimed as my own without anyone else’s influence. I found out about them, I listened to the music and I still remember finally getting to see the group- on their “Benefit” tour. They were electric and wild and I screamed myself hoarse that night.

At the end of the band’s set last night, before the encore, I heard something like that coming from all over the Paramount- stomping, cheering, whistling, screaming. That’s what hasn’t changed at all in 35 years- Tull still whips people up into a frenzy. Not a bad way to celebrate your birthday, Martin.

Rolling Stones, Pepsi Center, Denver, November 24, 2005.

The mood in the Pepsi Center just prior to the Thanksgiving Day appearance of the Rolling Stones in Denver was, well, mellow. Quietly seated or milling around in the hallways without much hub bub, the crowd didn’t seem like they were about to experience what is still one of the most powerful rock bands in the world. Maybe it was heavy afternoon eating, or just a patient effort to conserve energy.

That all changed, however, when the lights went out and the video screen above the stage exploded with imagery and designs introducing the “Bigger Bang” tour. The crowd that just moments earlier had been content to quietly bide their time was on its feet greeting the Stones with a roar. They were ready to dance and cheer and as the Stones kicked into “Start Me Up,” they had good reason to. How fast things changed.

Opener Jason Mraz, playing to big chunks of empty seats, complimented the pre-Stones mood with a set of pleasantly melodic, richly arranged singer-songwriter material. That may be an unfair tag because while Mraz’s music centered solidly on the flow of his smooth, attractive voice, he was supported mightily by a five-piece band who offered plenty of drama and texture. Though sporting a sign that read “Geeks Welcome” on the some stage equipment, this was not geek music in any way; coolly conceived and performed with passion. Mraz received a hearty ovation for strong songs and effective grooves as well some spacey instrumental exploration and even some faux operatic vocalizing.

But when the Stones finally arrived, with a blast of lights and colors, everything else was forgotten- as it should be with rock and roll. “Start Me Up” moved on to “It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll,” then to “Shattered,” building a brisk momentum. If there was any question as to frontman Mick Jagger’s reputation as a bad boy rocker, he dispelled that with a joke. After musing about things to be thankful for on Thanksgiving- like the Broncos’ overtime victory over the Dallas Cowboys earlier that day- he quipped: “If the Pilgrims hadn’t killed a turkey, but a cat, we’d all be eating pussy today.” A buoyant version of “Tumbling Dice” then gave way to a pair of new songs from the recent “Bigger Bang” album release- rocker “Oh No Not You Again” and “Rain Fall Down,” featuring Jagger on guitar and a simmering, deep medium groove.

The set then swung from the brand new to the old with a sweet version of “Ruby Tuesday,” a tune that despite being slightly anachronistic, sounded bright and fresh. What followed was the polar opposite of “Ruby Tuesday”- the old warhorse “Midnight Rambler,” still the Stones’ ace in the hole thanks to its chugging blues groove, rough edged guitar and harp work and Jagger’s dramatic stage antics. Particularly interesting was the very short little solo introduction to the song by drummer Charlie Watts- light, roving, jazzy flourishes distinctly different from his usual anchor-like drumming he provides on the rest of the material.

Then came the number one special surprise of the set, a reading of Ray Charles’ “The Night Time is the Right Time,” an upbeat soul workout that featured a feisty vocal duel between Jagger and vocalist Lisa Fisher. Full of plenty of energy and even introduced with a few choice shots of Charles on the video screen, this was one of the major highlights of the evening.

Then an inflatable turkey was wheeled around on stage to herald guitarist Keith Richards’ spotlight feature in the show. How appropriate since Richards, whose on-stage persona has been consciously nurtured as a professional loose cannon, got seriously lost in the first tune- a marred version of “Slipping Away,” perhaps the evening’s lowest point. Fortunately the “Bigger Bang” tune, “Infamy” was much better. Mistakes or not, Richards was applauded warmly. Really all he has to do is present that shy but devilish smile of his and pretty much all is forgiven.

But then came the bigger bang everyone was waiting for. As the band cranked into “Miss You,” they all gravitated towards the middle of the stage and not long into the song, the portion of the stage hugging Watts’ drum kit rose up and slowly made its way down a runway in the middle of the arena to the other end, where the crowd there was rewarded with a four-song mini set. By the time “Miss You” was done, the stage was in place and the Stones ripped off another new one- the gritty “Rough Justice,” following up with “Off My Cloud” and “Honky Tonk Women.” You have got to love a band that makes the people from end to end in an arena feel like they got a piece of the spectacle right in their faces. The moving stage was a great trick- returning to the other end while “Honky Tonk Women” raged, keyboardist Chuck Leavell jumping off a little early so he could get ready for his piano solo.

From this point, the Stones knew better than to make the audience wade through any more new tunes and went straight for the crowd-pleasers: when they kicked into “Sympathy for the Devil,” the crowd knew what to do and “woo-wooed” during the introduction, Jagger taking the stage in a pimp hat and coat. There was more “woo wooing,” of course, for “Brown Sugar,” and “Jumping Jack Flash” underscored that indeed things are still alright if you can get a dose of live rock and roll from the Stones..

The band then left the stage for the perfunctory cheering that preceded the final rock and roll volley. The purposeful progress of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” built into a rousing climax. But only one song really could have capped off the two-hour work-out properly- “Satisfaction”- and the crowd in the arena was shouting along with abandon. After a tantalizing few minutes of hope for a second encore, the lights came up and the arena cleared quickly and quietly. Faces in the hallways seemed happy if not a little worn on a holiday traditionally spent at home, eating big and then recovering.

At the final moment of the show, after the rest of the band had exited, Jagger, Richards and guitarist Ron Wood fell together into a boyish group hug. Watts, standing nearby saw what was going on and tried to make a hasty retreat, but got pulled into the mix anyway. This band has been at it for so many years and while you might understand that the group bows are something of a goof, it was still great to see these guys hanging together.

Now can it be said that the band’s music remains top notch? Throughout the evening, there was a light peppering of clinker notes that indicated that someone on stage wasn’t always paying attention- maybe that loose cannon? But fortunately there are enough musicians on stage- particularly bassist Darryl Jones- hitting the right notes and chords that these instances were fairly innocuous. Watts remains the steadiest of the crew, driving the musical arrangements in nearly every instance. Wood added great support work on the guitar, as well as turned in several tasty solos throughout the evening.

But in the end, what it really seems to be about from the fan standpoint is Jagger. At 62, Jagger is a physical marvel, lean and wiry. From the moment he hits the stage until the end of the show, Jagger is moving, writhing, pointing in all directions, clapping, shifting from side to side and down the middle. He is like a high-precision athlete, someone perhaps of the caliber of champion cyclist Lance Armstrong. There aren’t many performers his age who looks good in a bare midriff outfit. But then mix in the attitude that is inherent in the material- and in the position of being the world’s greatest rocker- and you have an entertainer who pushes the envelope every time. They say Elvis was the king of rock and roll. I say that Jagger is and whenever his band goes on tour, that is a cause for celebration.

While the Stones may be rough around the edges in terms of their current arrangements- and depend heavily on Jagger’s success as rabble rouser- the rough part is actually part of what keeps them vital. Of course, so do premium prices for tickets. If you’re going to go for the cash, you had better deliver or you’re not going to be selling those tickets again. So- satisfaction? Sure, there was plenty. The video technology was fine- the screen sharp, the images playing through a variety of visual effects. The extra added touch of an explosion of brightly colored streamers at the end was a delight. But really, all the group has to do to succeed is to plug in and play some of those great songs with passion. That mission was accomplished on Thanksgiving in Denver. A bigger bang for the Rolling Stones? Maybe, but right now it is the biggest bang on tour. 

January Recommended

When 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, last year rocked. Here are my choices for the Top Ten area concerts for 2004:

1. Prince (August 27, Pepsi Center)- If there is another performer other than Prince who is more effective on 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 arrives. He continually told the crowd during the show, “This isn’t MTV, this is real music”- and the evening was all about partying to the upbeat grooves.

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.

3. David Bowie (April 25, Budweiser Events Center)-  Bowie jammed all of his lights and video screens into the Events Center and proceeded to treat northern Colorado to a first-rate production. This show will be the high mark that others at the Events Center will try to achieve and it will be tough to equal.

4. Brian Wilson (October 27, Paramount Theatre)- 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,” turning the Paramount into a happy sock hop.

5. David Byrne (September 6, Chautauqua Auditorium)- Byrne turned Chautauqua into another kind of dance club with his unique combination of world music and art rock. Added to the fun was the opening set by femme fatale singer-songwriter Sam Phillips.

6. Linkin Park (August 30, Coors Amphitheatre)- The Projekt Revolution Tour featured the Used, Snoop Dogg and Korn. Linkin Park outclassed them all, however, with a music that has gone far beyond the rap metal the group initially scored with.

7. Coors Light Mountain Jam (August 14, Red Rocks)- In its second year, the Mountain Jam continued to please with a wildly diverse program, including sets by Nickleback, Kid Rock, Cypress Hill, Galactic, Lil Jon and the East Side Boyz, Our Lady Peace, Molotov and Ludacris.

8. Queensryche (October 12, Fillmore Auditorium)- The second half of this “evening with” was 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.

9. Gwar (May 15, Aggie Theatre)- Gwar combines heavy, crunching metal with an outrageous stage show geared around soaking the audience with dyed water spurting from the dismembered limbs of a cast of costumed characters. You have to see it to believe it.

10. Jet, The Vines (April 1, Ogden Theater)- Jet has successfully reinvented screaming blues rock that works off of equal measures of volume and attitude. The Vines have reinvented chaos. Their 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,

February Recommended

OpenStage Etc, an artistic endeavor of OpenStage Theatre Company, will present “Rasputin” at the Armstrong Hotel, February 25-March 13. Written by prize-winning Colorado playwright David Hall, “Rasputin” is being co-directed by Denise Burson Freestone and Eric W. Corneliuson. The play takes a look at a dark and vibrant character in Russian history- Rasputin, the peasant who held unusual power over the country’s rulers. The script was chosen for production by OpenStage in its effort to find fresh, new voices in theatre.

Jeff Finlin: Fort Collins is a well-known haven for a number of top notch musicians.  Well, add singer-songwriter Jeff Finlin to that list. Finlin established himself with a career that lead from Nashville to New York City to touring with Steve Earle in the UK and Ireland. Now based in Fort Collins, Finlin brings a gritty sense of the world to his songwriting- and an ear for sound. He is now set to release his new CD, “Epinonymous” and the record defies the singer-songwriter mold. Yes there are definitely lyrics on the album that reveals the mature sense of a poet. But Finlin makes sure the production on the album remains lively indeed- mixing glossy, production savvy with his world-wise musical vision. Finlin celebrates the local release of “Epinonymous” at Avogadro’s Number on Friday, February 18.

More Music: The Mid-Winter Bluegrass Festival gets under way February 18-20 at the Northglenn Holiday Inn. It’s the 20th annual event hosted by venerable Fort Collins bluegrass stars The Bluegrass Patriots. This year, besides jams, workshops and special “band scrambles,” the performer’s roster includes Laurie Lewis and Tom Rozum, the Reeltime Travelers, Pine Mountain Railroad and the Steep Canyon Rangers.

Americana mainstay Tim O’Brien will be playing the Sunset Events Center on February 26. Coming up at the Aggie Theatre: The Rebirth Brass Band on February 19, Umphrey’s McGee on February 24, Derek Trucks on March 2 and the Ska is Dead Tour, featuring Voodoo Glow Skulls, on March 4. In Denver, check out the Legends of Hip Hop Tour- featuring Public Enemy, Naughty by Nature, The Sugar Hill Gang, Kurtis Blow and Kool Mo Dee, on February 19 at the Fillmore Auditorium. Also coming up at the Fillmore: Social Distortion on February 11, Gov’t Mule with Rose Hill Drive on February 12 and Lil Jon and the East Side Boyz on February 17.

Lincoln Center: Bobby McFerrin did everything but stand on his head to entertain the audience at the Lincoln Center on January 24. A hallmark of his solo performances seems to be intense crowd interaction, meaning everything from leading a hushed, meditative moment of harmony and sweet vocal improvisation to getting everybody in the building to sing the Mickey Mouse Club theme song- it was that wild. After a brief concert portion showcasing McFerrin’s incredible vocal control, he opened the show up to interacting with whatever talent he found in the room- from volunteer singers and dancers to random people in the crowd. The result was mostly marginal musically, but the crowd was electrified and McFerrin earned an enthusiastic standing ovation.

Coming up at the Lincoln Center: The Italian Saxophone Quartet continues the Classical Music Series on February 12, the Travelogue Film Series continues on February 14 with “Hawaii” and singer-songwriter Marc Cohn makes a special one-night appearance on February 21. The Super Series for Kids continues with Fred Garbo, February 24-25. “The Rat Pack” continues the Anything Goes Series on February 26 and the ShowStopper Series features a production of “The Full Monty,” March 8-11.

March Recommended

Fort Collins has grown a lot, so there may be some newer citizens who have not heard of the subdudes. The subdudes, four soulful roots musicians, came to Fort Collins in the chilly fall/winter of 1987 to get away from the New Orleans music scene where they had been working in various band formats and get their act together. While here, the band won Musician magazine’s “Best Unsigned Bands” contest and were propelled into a national recording deal and high profile tours. Coincidentally, the band also became Fort Collins’ favorite club band, playing just about everywhere at one time or another and always making the fans dance.

The original subdudes- guitarist Tommy Malone, keyboardist John Magnie, percussionist Steve Amedee and bassist Johnny Ray Allen- disbanded in 1996, but occasionally did reunion gigs. The reunion efforts became more frequent and a new subdudes lineup took shape, featuring Malone, Magnie and Amedee along with Tim Cook and Jimmy Messa. The revitalized group has released a new album- their first studio effort in eight years- titled “Miracle Mule,” and is coming back to town to the revitalized Starlight on March 12. Opening will be Liz Barnez, another Louisiana musician who found widespread acceptance in Colorado. This will thrill longtime subdudes fans- it’ll be like old times- and it’s a great opportunity for new ones to get tuned into one of the best things that ever happened to the Fort Collins music scene.

More music: Hip hop artist Lyrics Born will be bringing his signature blend of funk, R & B, reggae, soul and more to the Aggie Theatre in Fort Collins on March 12. Also coming to the Aggie: The North Mississippi All-Stars on March 19, guitarslinger Jonny Lang on March 25 and Gift of Gab and Lateef the Truth Speaker on April 2. Quantum Arts presents bluesman Chris Smither, with special guest Jeffrey Foucault, on March 18 at Avogadro’s Number. Another popular regional band, the Starlite Ramblers, will be staging a reunion concert at the Rialto Theater in Loveland on March 19.

Hot April:  April 2005 is shaping up to be a powerful concert month. Comedian Brian Regan kicks things off at the Lincoln Center on April 2. That same night Kenny Rogers returns to the Budweiser Events Center. Ann-Margret, “one of the world’s most glamorous and versatile superstars,” plays the Lincoln Center April 3, 5-8. Northern Colorado gets another taste of entertainment royalty when Rod Stewart plays the BEC on April 4. Sting is at Magness Arena in Denver on April 12, Tori Amos and opener Matt Nathanson are at the Paramount Theater on April 19. U2 is scheduled for two sold out shows at the Pepsi Center, April 20 and 21. Slipknot headlines the KBPI bash at Magness Arena on April 20. Velvet Revolver is at Magness on April 26, along with Hoobastank. Also on April 26, Maroon 5 and the Thrills are at the Pepsi Center. Sarah McLachlan is at the Budweiser Events Center on April 28, and just one step further on the calendar, Motley Crue brings its heralded reunion tour to the BEC on May 1.

Lincoln Center: “Contact,” playing at the Lincoln Center on March 28, features three sensual stories told entirely through dance about people in the wild pursuit of love, performed to a wide range of music – from pieces by Grieg, Tchaikovsky and Bizet to Robert Palmer, Dean Martin, and the Squirrel Nut Zippers. Also coming to the Lincoln Center: Quartet San Francisco on March 29 and Trout Fishing in America, playing two shows each on March 31 and April 1 (no fooling.)

April Recommended

The Budweiser Events Center has suddenly come of age. The recent Rod Stewart concert (more below) seems to be the start of something- that is, a full roster of upcoming concerts. No longer once in a while gigs at the BEC, upcoming concerts include a country music benefit featuring stars such as Billy Dean, Melissa Fuller and Jamie O’Neal on April 23, the classy pop rocker Sarah McLachlan on April 28, and the reunited Motley Crue (long before their August Red Rocks date!) on May 1. But more, pop hip hop artist Nelly will be at the BEC on May 10.

More music: Slipknot headlines the KBPI Birthday Bash at Magness Arena in Denver on April 20. Velvet Revolver plays Magness on April 26. Los Lobos will be at the Island Grove Event Center in Greeley on May 4 . At the Fillmore, the Shins play on May 10 and Lenny Kravitz brings his Electric Church tour to the Fillmore on May 11.

Film: The Rialto Theater in Loveland will be showing the original 1961 film “West Side Story” on April 20. Also coming up at the Rialto: the Silver Spoon Student Film Festival on May 13 and “American Graffiti” on April 18. Call the Rialto at 962-2120 for info.

Art: Fort Collins photographer Joe Coca presents a new exhibit of work, “People, Places & Things” at Gallery 233 now through April 22.

Afterword: Rod Stewart treated northern Colorado to a first rate production at the Budweiser Events Center on April 5. Even though you would expect that Stewart’s swaggering bad boy image had diminished with age, he still elicited a healthy amount of female-sounding screaming- including the lady near me who yelled out “I love you Rod” in between every verse of every song. Stewart’s show was smart- mixing in hit material with a chunk of his fine “American Songbook” album. Huge video screens underscored the action on stage- like scorching versions of “Every Picture Tells A Story” and “Hot Legs” as well as exquisite readings of classic pop standards like “As Time Goes By,” “Blue Moon,” and “What a Wonderful World.” This stuff showed Stewart at his best, crooning without clowning to an all-female orchestra. The rest of the evening was given over to his rollicking pop star image, a kind of rock and roll WC Fields plowing into singalong hits like “Tonight’s the Night.”

Ann-Margret’s show at the Lincoln Center on April 6, however, was pure nostalgia. In between film clips of what the screen superstar has accomplished- and that’s plenty- Ann performed hit show tunes from throughout her career including songs from “Bye Bye Birdie,” “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” and “Tommy.” Multiple costume changes and vigorous dance routines seemed to tire the performer, however, and it was when she just sat down and sang that the real beauty of the show came through- her voice. Emotive and sexy in itself, when Ann laid back against the stage setting or sat in a chair to sing, her voice had a convincing quality that leant plenty of showbiz experience and panache to the material. The footwork, however, and the interaction with her three backup singers/dancers was not as convincing and the show seesawed back and forth between rests and workouts. “Viva Las Vegas” brought the show to a rousing close, the seven-piece band cranking, Ann winning a standing ovation for plenty of effort.

May Colorado Concert

The start of this month’s Colorado Concert column is easy. I have a May concert recommendation to give that is no-holds-barred. And that is, if you want to witness a powerful musical vision, you should check out the upcoming show by the Mars Volta at the Fillmore Auditorium in Denver on May 31. The band’s latest album, “Frances the Mute,” is not just another record, but it is a milestone for 21st Century rock.

Okay, so I’m old school and I have to explain it like this: I checked out the Mars Volta because of an enthusiastic tip from a fan. I went to the Finest, plunked down some cash and was totally taken by surprise. As I listened, I began thinking to myself that I was being introduced to a new Led Zeppelin, thanks to sections of bone-rattling intensity featuring seriously scorching guitar and rocket fueled vocals. But no, some of it had the spacey artistic intent of pre-Dark Side of the Moon Pink Floyd. But then again, some parts of the record had the sharp precision and challenging musical figures of the Yes. Still further, there is some hot Latin rock fusion that none of those old bands ever touched, approaching world music status. By the time I got to the end of this hefty, long playing CONCEPT album, I was convinced- “Frances the Mute” is 2005’s answer to the Beatles’ “White Album.”

But let’s get beyond just the fact that “Frances the Mute” is a great recording. I sense that the Mars Volta has exactly the right attitude toward their art- and that currently they are on fire. The album demonstrates that this group is not only willing to condense their expression into a screaming fireball, but they are also willing to stretch it way out, diddling with found sound and getting downright trippy. But the musicians here seem to be truly INVOLVED with the music. The punches- the kaleidoscope of musical ideas- come fast and furiously on “Frances the Mute” and if the Mars Volta can do even half of what’s on that album live, the drive to Denver will be worth while. Bottom line: this should be a GREAT time to see this band! See the Mars Volta at the Fillmore on May 31- it’s “an evening with” starting at 7:30, ages 16 and up. Other upcoming shows at the Fillmore: The Shins on May 10.

Plan B: On April 16, I made it out to the Starlight to check out local band Plan B. What I found was a group of crazy, intense performers. While Plan B’s music raged- vocals screaming, guitars churning at break-neck speed- a mosh pit formed on the dance floor among a healthy-sized, enthusiastic crowd. But then the action started happening on stage. At first the guitarist only did a little bumper car action on the vocalist. But then at one point, I turned away for a second and when I returned my gaze to the stage, the bassist had his guitar off and he was full-body tackling the vocalist. Talk about the right attitude- this band just likes to have fun! By the end of the set, everyone in the band had their shirts off and there was nothing but sweat, energy and volume cranking from the stage. Obviously a band that has succeeded in creating a core fan-base, Plan B is recommended for raw, revved up music and edge-of-chaos intensity. Plan B will be joining Forget Today, 8OM, Synaptic Collapse and Greg Baerns at Bottoms Up (3124 S. Parker Road) in Aurora on May 13. Cost is five bucks, 21 and over. Also watch for another Starlight date in the near future.

More Music: This month starts off with something sweet- Los Lobos at the Island Grove Events Center in Greeley on May 4. String Cheese side project Zilla will be at the Aggie Theater on May 7. Also on May 7, catch bluesman Kenny Wayne Shepard and hip world fusion band Ozomatli at the Boulder Reservoir. Hip hop star Nelly is at the Budweiser Events Center on May 10. Country fans can catch Alan Jackson at Red Rocks- the opening of the season- on May 13 and Clay Walker at the BEC on May 18. Punk legends Agnostic Front play the Aggie on May 17, Peter Murphy is at the Ogden in Denver on May 20 and the Queens of the Stone Age play the Paramount Theater in Denver on May 25.

May Recommended

Bluegrass fans take note: a new festival is premiering May13-15 in Greeley. The event is the Greeley Bluegrass Roundup and it is being held at Island Grove Regional Park. Produced by the same folks who organize the annual Mid-Winter Bluegrass Festival in Northglenn- Seaman Productions- this event will be featuring the Wilders, Open Road, Hit & Run Bluegrass Band, the Bluegrass Patriots and much more. Billed as “Northern Colorado’s first-ever family bluegrass festival,” other activities include workshops, vendors and non-stop jamming.

More music: Country fans can catch Alan Jackson at Red Rocks- the opening of the season- on May 13 and Clay Walker at the BEC on May 18. Superb vocalist and songwriter Vance Gilbert will be playing at Everyday Joe’s on May 14- Fubar II opens. Punk legends Agnostic Front play the Aggie on May 17, Peter Murphy is at the Ogden in Denver on May 20 and the Queens of the Stone Age play the Paramount Theater in Denver on May 25. The Mars Volta, whose latest release “Frances the Mute” is a 21st Century rock milestone, will be playing at the Fillmore Auditorium in Denver on May 31.

Afterword: David Bowie move over. In the short history of the Budweiser Events Center, the high-water mark for concerts has been last year’s appearance by Bowie. Well, measure the new high-water mark: Canadian singer-songwriter Sarah McLachlan’s show at the BEC on April 28 was a graceful, emotive, dazzling and heart-warming experience all at once. Aided by fantastic stage settings, a large band and gorgeous shifting colored lights, McLachlan presented her purposeful songs about love’s many moods with a full luscious voice and classy stage presence.

Everything about the production was smoothly choreographed and picture perfect. But more, it was also sound perfect. That means that one of the primary elements to McLachlan’s music- her lilting voice, fragile yet capable of becoming very strong indeed- was heard clearly. McLachlan explained that her set was comprised simply of some of her favorite songs and she delivered tune after tune of her heart-on-the-sleeve confessionals. By the time McLachlan took the stage for her brief second encore- a solo reading of “Dirty Little Secret”- she had served up a generous and fully satisfying helping of state-of-the-art live music entertainment- from simple and clean to deep and electric. Swedish band The Perishers opened the show. Working the same purposeful enhanced singer-songwriter material as McLachlan, the band was indeed a proper warm-up- inobtrusive yet effective.

Motley Crue: Now for the polar opposite of the McLachlan show- Motley Crue’s May 1 appearance at the BEC. Rough, raw, irreverent and outrageous, the heavy metal legends rocked the crowd with more than two hours of music, bawdy circus-style sideshows, pyrotechnics and wild stage antics. Those included drummer Tommy Lee’s percussion solo performed from suspended platforms. It also includes Lee’s trip around the edge of the stage with a video camera, looking for volunteers- women specifically- who wanted to lift up their shirts and bare their skin. He found them too. As beautiful and dead-on serious as McLachlan’s show was, Motley’s show was raucous and rude in a highly entertaining way. Motley guitarist Mick Mars celebrated his birthday at the BEC- the crowd singing to him- by proving with his bandmates that Motley remains powerful indeed. Motley will be appearing at the World Arena in Colorado Springs in July and at Red Rocks in August. But we got to witness the “splendor” first!!

June Recommended

“The World’s Largest 4th of July Rodeo & Western Celebration”- The Greeley Stampede- will once again “seize the moment” with their annual concert series during the June-July rodeo event. Headlining will be Brooks & Dunn, along with Chris Cagle, on June 24. ZZ Top rocks Greeley on June 25 along with openers Montgomery Gentry (one of country’s most exciting stage acts.) On July 2, LeAnn Rimes is joined by Dierks Bentley, Collin Raye plays with Jimmy Wayne on July 3 and Kelly Clarkson will be followed by fireworks on July 4. Besides concerts, the Greeley Stampede also features pro rodeos (of course), a western art show, demo derby, “kids korral,” parades, carnivals and more, all from June 24 to July 4.

More music: Innovative Fort Collins band vee device will be celebrating the release of their sophomore album effort, “Autobiography of a Dying Band,” with a CD Party at Everyday Joe’s on Friday July 1. You can hear a preview of the new music when vee device plays “Live at Lunch” on 88.9 FM KRFC on Wednesday, June 29, starting at 12 noon. Also coming: The KOOL Koncert 2005 will feature one of rock and roll’s screaming progenitors- Little Richard- along with the Raspberries, Paul Revere and the Raiders, the Spinners, BJ Thomas and more at Coors Amphitheatre in Denver on July 2.
Art: The “Picasso: 25 Years of Edition Ceramics” exhibit from The Edward Weston Collection will be presented at the Loveland Museum/Gallery from June 15-August 14.  The exhibition presents a selection of the ceramics created by Pablo Picasso in collaboration with George and Suzanne Ramie and the artisans at their Madoura pottery workshop in Vallauris, Southern France, between the years 1947 and 1971. Included in the exhibition are 65 ceramic works- plates, bowls, pitchers, vases, and plaques- plus posters from previous Picasso ceramics exhibitions and photographs of Picasso at work at the Madoura workshop.

Senior celebration: With over 3 million people through its doors in the last decade, the Fort Collins Senior Center has much to cheer about during its tenth anniversary celebration on June 17. The public is invited to join Recreation staff in marking the anniversary with free all-day activities and live entertainment. Bob Swerer and the Colorado Sunshine Band perform from 3-5 p.m. while the Altered Egos band will close out the festivities with a live concert/dance from 8-11 p.m.

Kids: Singer-songwriters Don and Victoria Armstrong return to Fort Collins to tell another of their engaging stories at the Fort Collins Public Library. This summer, it’s “The Mystery of the Phantom Dragon,” about two kids who discover what was once a dragon’s cave. 

Television: Cary Morin of the Fort Collins band, the Atoll, is producing a series of 30 minute TV programs entitled Roots Magazine. The show is hosted by Atoll drummer Crip Erickson and features stories on local artists and athletes who create and compete along the Front Range. The next issue of Roots Magazine will air in June and features an interview with 2004 Olympic Silver Medalist Rebecca Giddens, who sits down with Roots Magazine between workouts on the Clear Creek slalom course in Golden to talk about her paddling experiences and her favorite music. Watch Roots Magazine on Comcast channel 68 Mondays at 9pm, and Wednesday and Thursday at 10pm in Fort Collins, Loveland, and Greeley.

July Recommended

On July 31, 1970, I went to my first rock concert- a six-band bill that headlined Ten Years After. Thirty five years later, I am still hooked on the excitement of live music. For me, there’s just something great about the combination of music, stage action, the crowd and the environment that satisfies and inspires.

To celebrate my 35th “anniversary” of concert going, I will head down to the Universal Lending Pavilion (on the grounds of the Pepsi Center in Denver) on July 31 for the Sounds of the Underground tour, a multi-band bill that brings together cutting edge bands from the metal and hardcore worlds. I was immediately attracted by one of the bands- Gwar- who played one of the most entertaining shows I saw in 2004. Their bone-splitting music is augmented by striking band member costumes, a band “mythology” and a cast of characters (like Mike Tyson, Osama Bin Laden and George Bush) who take the stage during the songs only to be dismembered and disemboweled. Then add the group’s penchant for soaking the audience with fake blood and other unappetizing liquids and you have plenty to watch.

But more, the Sounds of the Underground Tour also features Lamb of God, Clutch, Poison the Well, Opeth, Unearth, Norma Jean, Every Time I Die, Chimaira, Throwdown, Strapping Young Lad, High on Fire, Madball, Terror, A Life Once Lost, All That Remains, Devildriver, the Red Chord, Full Blown Chaos and FBTMOF. I still go to classic rock concerts, but give me an opportunity to see so many new bands in one day and I’m going to that one too. Check out the tour’s web site for more info: SoundsOfTheUndergroundTour.com.

Aggie Theatre: Now, I like the big shows a lot, but even better at times is a great nightclub experience. The Aggie Theatre in downtown Fort Collins is one of the only venues in the area that continues to bring in touring talent on a regular basis and the summertime- a season when the big shows and festivals are cranking- is no exception.  Upcoming at the Aggie: the Young Dubliners on July 14, Rebirth Brass Band on July 22, Garage A Trois (featuring Skerik, Charlie Hunter, Stanton Moore and Mike Dillon) on August 5 and the crazy Aquabats on August 9. Go to the Aggie’s web site for more: aggietheatre.com.

Phil Lesh: Dead bassist Phil Lesh has said that Red Rocks is one of his favorite venues to play and he’s proving it. Lesh will be coming to Colorado with his friends to play his only scheduled summer dates. Lesh performs at the Fillmore in Denver on July 15, then Red Rocks on July 16 and will be joined on stage by Jimmy Herring, Rob Barraco, Jeff Sipe and Barry Sless as well as special guest Ryan Adams. An extra treat for Dead fans will be an on stage “appearance” of Wolf, Jerry Garcia’s famous guitar.

More music: The Larimer County Fair this year will feature a performance by country superstar Randy Travis, whose musical achievements include three Grammys, five CMA awards, eight Academy of County Music Awards, ten American Music Awards, and eleven albums. Travis will be at the Budweiser Events Center on August 5. Other great shows coming to the area: a showcase of female R & B talent, including Erykah Badu, Queen Latifah and Floetry at Coors Amphitheatre in Denver on August 2. Also on August 2, 1980s retro band the Killers headline the Nextfest at Red Rocks. Famed singer-songwriter Carole King will be at Red Rocks on August 3, the David Grisman Quintet will be at Mishawaka on August 6 and Rob Zombie will be supporting Iron Maiden’s greatest hits tour at Coors Amphitheatre on August 9.

August Recommended

The summer concert season is cranking strong. Here are a few upcoming events and reports from the field:

NewWestFest- The Bohemian Foundation has stepped in as a sponsor to help liven up the music scene at this year’s NewWestFest, scheduled for downtown Fort Collins, August 19-21. “Bohemian Nights” will feature two nights of music on the Linden Street Stage, headlining Chris Daniels and the Kings on Friday night and War on Saturday. Also on Saturday will be the Tropical Coyotes, the Motet, Rose Hill Drive, Kyle Hollingsworth and Mark Sloniker. There will also be three other stages on Saturday and Sunday, featuring bands like Kenny Cordova and the Olde Rock Band on the Library Park Stage, the Atoll on the Old Town Square Stage and Liz Barnez on the Chestnut Street Stage.

Devo- Some of my favorite pop music comes from the 1980s- it was usually crisp and precise, based on catchy rhythms and quirky lyrics and sounded great sonically. On August 23 at Coors Amphitheatre, the 1980s return with headliners Devo. Talk about quirky- Devo had the moxy to tell the world they were “through being cool” and made some of the oddest, pro-nerd music of the twentieth century. But on this bill also add the English Beat (“Mirror in the Bathroom,”) as well as Missing Persons, A Flock of Seagulls and Dramarama, and you have funky tunes 1980s style- full strength. 

Kan’Nal: On July 22- the day after the hottest summer day on record- I saw an audience at the Lincoln Center Sculpture Garden dancing in ecstasy- under the full noon sun. They were whirling in the heat because dynamic Boulder band Kan’Nal was whipping up their high octane, exotic jam music as a part of the free Friday concert series. It was a short set- only an hour- but the band- and the dancers- traveled a long way. Kan’Nal returns to the area on August 26, when they play the Mishawaka Amphitheatre. Reportedly the parking regulations have eased in the canyon.

BEC: The Budweiser Events Center will be hosting a string of shows as part of the Thunder in the Rockies motorcycle rally, revving up on Labor Day weekend. The line-up is born to be wild: Steppenwolf and Blue Oyster Cult on September 1, .38 Special and Firehouse on September 2, comedian Ron White on September 3 and Alice Cooper and Cheap Trick on September 4. Also coming to the BEC: The Backstreet Boys on August 23 and Styx, along with REO Speedwagon, on October 4.

Afterword: After witnessing performances by 16 of the bands that played the Sounds of the Underground show at the Pavilion in Denver on July 31, I realized that indeed what I had heard were the sounds of the “underground.” What I’m talking about here is the “underground” in the human soul- the deep, dark places where tortured angst is set free by the churning of an electric guitar.

Lamb of God wrapped up a long, hot festival day that included memorable performances by All That Remains, Chimaira, Clutch and Opeth. Finally darkness had descended and Lamb of God seemed to sum up the major themes of the day with confidence and vigor. Here was the essence of this “underground”- psyche cleansing vocal mayhem backed by buzzsaw guitar and underscored by rapid punches of rhythm, its piledriving rawness pummeling the crowd.

But, of course, the band that had the best toys of the day was Gwar. Unlike most of the groups, who simply used banners for stage dressing, Gwar pulled all their cool, blood-stained stuff out and started a riot of fun from start to finish. As a celebration of the dark, twisted, angst-ridden parts of the human experience- a confrontation of it, even- the Sounds of the Underground Tour succeeded without question.

September Recommended

As the summer concert season wraps up, the fall season is building up steam quickly. That includes a date with Foo Fighters at the Pepsi Center in Denver on September 30. Touring in support of their latest release, “In Your Honor,” Foo Fighters, featuring Dave Grohl from the band Nirvana, are currently at the top of the contemporary rock game. “In Your Honor” is a two-disc set that divides their “loud” from their “not so loud” music. The not so loud stuff is beautifully crafted and artistically interesting, but the loud stuff shows a fury and control that is unmistakably powerful. The loud disc in particular is a masterpiece of dynamics, sequencing and pop tunesmithing and displays a band in full bloom. In short, this is a great time to see Foo Fighters. An added treat- Weezer will be opening the show.

More music: Sophie B. Hawkins will be at the Rialto Theater in Loveland on September 9. Zilla, featuring Mike Travis of String Cheese Incident, will be at the Aggie Theatre on September 10. The venerable Four Tops kick off the Lincoln Center’s new season September 14-17. Grammy-winning punk stars Green Day return to the Pepsi Center in Denver on September 19. See the psyche scraping hardcore of Unearth, Dillinger Escape Plan, A Life Once Lost and more at the Aggie on September 20.

Counter culture comedian George Carlin will be at the Union Colony Civic Center in Greeley on September 22. Jazz guitarist John Scofield plays the music of Ray Charles at the Aggie on September 23. Acoustic guitarist extraordinaire Tommy Emmanuel will be playing the Sunset Events Center on September 24, the same night Christine Lavin plays the Rialto. Rapper Lyrics Born is at the Aggie on September 25 and Franz Ferdinand is at the Fillmore in Denver on September 27. Santana plays Red Rocks for two nights- September 27-28- with opener Robert Randolph. Amy Grant plays the UCCC in Greeley on September 29-30.

Poet Billy Collins will be at the Rialto on October 1, the same night singer-songwriter Lucy Kaplansky plays Avogadro’s Number. System of a Down and Mars Volta combine forces for a powerful night of contemporary rock at the Pepsi Center on October 2. Styx joins REO Speedwagon at the Budweiser Events Center on October 4, Nine Inch Nails play the Pepsi Center, along with Queens of the Stone Age, on October 5 and Gov’t Mule- featuring Warren Haynes, the hardest working guitarist on the scene today- will be playing a two-night stand at the Aggie on October 6-7.

Afterword: Traditionally, August is the busiest live music month. This last August did not disappoint, starting with the cool and funky soul of the Sugar Water Festival, featuring Erykah Badu, Queen Latifah, Jill Scott and Floetry, at Coors Amphitheatre in Denver on August 2. On August 5, Randy Travis played a stylish and inspiring set of country at the Budweiser Events Center for this year’s Larimer County Fair, while Garage A Trois played jazz funk fusion at the Aggie Theatre later that night. The next event at Coors was on the polar opposite end from the Sugar Water Festival- Iron Maiden returned to play a greatest hits show, supported by sets by Rob Zombie and Mastadon, on August 9, all supplying tough, hard rock.

Tom Petty’s show with the Heartbreakers at Red Rocks on August 18 was top notch classic rock- a great band, buoyant songs, a devoted crowd and a world-class venue- it doesn’t get much better than this. Also top notch was this year’s NewWestFest live music schedule. While the headliner was venerable urban hit band War, the real story was the dozens of Colorado bands that cranked through sets on four stages throughout the weekend- a true feast for music fans. A final trip back to Coors Amphitheatre on August 23 was necessary to catch the most welcome act of the season- Devo. The band is still manically crazy on stage and their quirky techno rock music remains fresh and even poignant. For me, August was a solid rocking month- again.

October Recommended

It takes more than just music to forge an independent music career in this day and age. Front Range singer-songwriter Jennifer Friedman, however, is up to the challenge. Currently based in Longmont, Friedman has made a name for herself in the region by doing the hard work it takes to learn, polish and practice her craft. She has taken workshops with such acoustic luminaries as Vance Gilbert, Maggie Simpson and Catie Curtis, written plenty of original material and has played in select venues in Denver, Boulder, Fort Collins and other cities on a regular basis.

The next step in Friedman’s budding career is her debut CD release, “You Are Creation.” An 11 track collection recorded by Russ Hopkins, “You Are Creation” reveals a mature purposefulness that takes on some heavy subjects such as relationships, physical abuse, war, peace and love. That Friedman’s expressive vocals are up front, underscoring the passion in the words, keeps it intensely personal while the songs themselves keep it accessible. It’s clear that Friedman believes in the power of music to transform and her album ultimately offers strength. Friedman will be celebrating the release of “You Are Creation” at Avogadro’s Number on October 14. Also coming to Avo’s: The Bluegrass Patriots (celebrating their 25th anniversary) on October 21, Melissa Ferrick on October 23, Jerry Palmer on October 28 and Fred and Cathay Zipp on November 5.

More local music: Jazz keyboardist Monty Hogan will be joined by the Pythons as well as the Brazilian guitar and voice of Marcelo Galdos at Sullivan’s on Saturday, October 15. Liz Barnez joins Rebecca Folsom and other regional singer-songwriters when Women Rock the Rialto at the Rialto Theater in Loveland on October 22.

Porcupine Tree: A new discovery for me is British band Porcupine Tree. Long an indie favorite in England and Europe, Porcupine Tree is making further inroads into America with their latest Lava Records release, “Deadwing.” It’s a long rambling masterpiece of ever-shifting progressive rock, swinging from the full-on instrumental assault of a band like Ozric Tentacles to the trippy, dreamy exploration of Pink Floyd. As the album progresses, just about everything gets tried- from glossy art songs to heavy rock riffs. That alone should make Porcupine Tree’s upcoming gig at the Fox Theatre in Boulder on October 15 interesting. But also add in audiophile quality sound as well as “video wall” technology and the deal gets sweeter.

More music: Lucero plays the Starlight on October 17. Underground rockabilly sensations the Horrorpops play the Aggie Theatre on October 18. Bones, Thugs and Harmony will be at the Aggie on October 21. Five-man “mouth group” Ball in the House will be at the Rialto on October 21. Blues Traveler, supported by Carbon leaf, will be at the Fox Theatre on October 25-26. Quiet Riot plays the White Buffalo in Loveland on October 29, along with Fat Knuckle Jack. Paul McCartney plays the Pepsi Center in Denver on November 1. Drums and Tuba are at the Aggie on November 2. Loudon Wainwright III is at the Rialto on November 3. Matt Nathanson, along with Matt Wertz, plays the Aggie on November 4.

Afterword: It was strange enough to see how crowded the Rialto Theater in Loveland was for popular American poet Billy Collins’ reading on October 1. A packed house for a poetry reading was a surprise indeed. Even stranger, however, was the sound coming from the audience during Collins’ performance- laughter. US Poet Laureate from 2001-2003, Collins has been known for bringing new audiences to contemporary poetry, as well as for active educational programs. The event at the Rialto drew audience members of all ages and Collins entertained with a keen wit. His poetry often begins with the mundane, but then spins off into new territory, where flights of fancy can swing from finely polished description to sarcastically hilarious personal observations. The result was a presentation that often made the audience laugh heartily. Laughter is not what you expect out of poetry, generally considered a serious, soul-searching endeavor. But it may very well be the ingredient that will make poetry grow in popularity in the future. Collins certainly made it work at the Rialto.

November Recommended

The 3 Twins, John Magnie, Steve Amedee and Tim Cook, are the Fort Collins contingent of the subdudes. As the 3 Twins, the trio had developed a string of local “dance parties” that became popular events, until the revived subdudes schedule cut them short. However, a break in the subdude schedule has afforded the opportunity for the 3 Twins to reunite and throw a Dance Party on November 19 to benefit the Fellowship House, an addiction recovery center. The event will be at the Sunset Events Center and will also feature a silent auction.

More music: Buckethead is a strange looking dude- always wearing a face mask and a KFC bucket. However, the man makes powerful electric instrumental rock with his guitar. Buckethead returns to the Aggie Theatre on November 12. Other upcoming Aggie dates include the Supersuckers- celebrating the release of vocalist Eddie Spaghetti’s new release, “Old No. 2”- on November 13, The Dwarves and Mondo Generator on November 22 and the Steve Kimock Band, featuring Robert Walter, on December 8.

Live music continues at Mishawaka in the Poudre Canyon, featuring Shanti Groove on November 19, Vince Herman of Leftover Salmon on November 25 and 3 Peas and Friends on December 3. Coming up at Avogadro’s Number: the 12-piece mandolin orchestra, Mandomonium, on November 11, vocalist Mollie O’Brien on November 18, Jubilant Bridge on November 26 and Johnsmith on December 3. Singer-songwriter Ellis Paul will be performing at Everyday Joe’s on November 18 and Acoustic Eidolon plays the Rialto Theater in Loveland on December 1-2.

Lincoln Center: The Fort Collins Children’s Theatre will be presenting “The Sound of Music” at the Lincoln Center, November 17-20.  This production is a full-scale musical with live orchestra and is being directed by Bruce Freestone (OpenStage Theatre co-founder.) The cast of about 30 will include both children and adults. Also coming up at the Lincoln Center: filmmaker John Holod’s travel film, “The Southeast Coast: Virginia Beach to Key West,” on November 21, Sister’s Christmas Catechism on December 2 and Michael Martin Murphey’s Cowboy Christmas on December 3 for two shows at 2 and 7:30 pm.

Afterword: As expected, the Porcupine Tree show at the Fox Theatre in Boulder on October 15 was a feast of progressive rock. Aggressive, dramatic and serious, Porcupine’s set featured some obscure oldies and showcased tunes from their latest release, “Deadwing,” climaxing with the super powerful “Halo.” It was highly electric music and thoroughly satisfying. Other memorable October events included a surprisingly dry, achingly clinical reading by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Jorie Graham at the Hatton Gallery on the CSU campus on October 27 and an ear-busting rock and roll workout with Quiet Riot at the White Buffalo in Loveland on October 29.

Most fun of all, however, was Paul McCartney’s November 1 show at the Pepsi Center in Denver.  How can a guy miss with most of the greatest pop music of our time at his fingertips? And McCartney and band delivered: “Hey Jude” was a huge group sing-along, “Eleanor Rigby” was fully textured like the record, “Maybe I’m Amazed” sizzled with passion, “Black Bird” sparkled in its simplicity, and “Helter Skelter” stepped over the edge with a raw, blasting performance. Just as interesting, however, were tunes from McCartney’s new album, “Chaos and Creation in the Backyard.” While introspective in nature, new ones such as “Fine Line” and the delicate “Jenny Wren” fit in just fine and anchored this artist to the present. A tear came to my eye the next morning when I realized just how great it was to hear the old McCartney and Beatles stuff again- and that a hero like McCartney continues to be a viable artist today. Next issue, Greatest Rock Part II: the Rolling Stones.

December Recommended

One of the most successful bands in the contemporary Christian rock movement, the Newsboys, will be playing a year-end show at the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland on December 29. The group has five gold albums and more than 20 number one radio hits, including “Shine,” the song that put them on the map. Their music is glossy and fully electric and the band is known for high energy performances.

DIA: If you’re traveling on December 22, check out a set by Fort Collins musician Francesco Bonifazi, the “jazz whistler.” Bonifazi has been collecting regional radio play for his CD “Air Play,” and has been jamming with area jazz and bluegrass musicians alike. Bonifazi will be whistling for travelers at Denver International Airport on December 22 from 1:30-5:30 in the main passenger terminal as part of the DIA International Performance Series.

Aggie: Recent fun at the Aggie Theatre included a November 4 show with emotive singer-songwriter Matt Nathanson. Then on November 22, the Dwarves churned up their grungy, aggressive punk rock. Like old grandpas compared to the more youthful openers Turbo AC’s and the Vacancies, nonetheless the Dwarves delivered their raw, jagged punk with full force. Coming up: punk legends Agent Orange on December 9, reggae band John Brown’s Body on December 10, a special showing of the film “Fort Collins?” including live sets by DJ Golden B on December 19 and Rose Hill Drive playing the entirety of “Led Zeppelin I” on New Year’s Eve. In the future: the Wailers on January 19 and Zilla on January 20.

Afterword: So it was a little hard to turn the page on the calendar this month. November was a great concert month- starting off with the shiny nostalgia of Paul McCartney’s show at the Pepsi Center on November 1. Then Jethro Tull’s publicist came through with a ticket and photo pass for the band’s show at the Paramount Theatre in Denver on November 17, the second night of a two-night stand. While frontman Ian Anderson still remains in tight control of the proceedings and the band continues to please the fans with readings of their most famous material, (patrons were greeted at the door with a free copy of the new “Aqualung Live” CD,) it was the guest appearance of violinist Lucia Micarelli that really sparked things up. Micarelli’s youthful confidence, aggressive playing and, well, female presence kept things fresh whenever she was on stage.

Now, 25 years ago, if you told Anderson that he would be playing movie theme songs or covering Led Zeppelin on stage, he’d have strangled you, but that’s what happened at the Paramount, Tull and Micarelli covering “Love Theme from the Godfather” and “Kashmir.” Luckily, the band also did “Nothing is Easy” and the evening highlight “One Night in Budapest.” That night was also guitarist Martin Barre’s birthday and he celebrated with some sharp, edgy guitar work, proof that while Anderson leads the pack, Jethro Tull has a distinct band sound that continues to please.

For my generation, only one band could top Tull and McCartney and sure enough, the Rolling Stones came to Denver on Thanksgiving Day on their current “Bigger Bang” tour. The “bigger bang” on this tour, above and beyond a two-hour show featuring hits and a handful of new stuff, was when the stage lifted up and traveled the length of the arena and set back down, all while the Stones were performing “Miss You.” After a few tunes, including the new “Rough Justice” and “Get Off My Cloud,” (right in front of my seat, by the way,) the band cranked into “Honky Tonk Women” and the stage began its journey back to the main staging area. But as great as the staging was, nothing compares to the performing machine that Mick Jagger is. At 62, he remains a very active rabble rouser- truly the king of rock ‘n’ roll. McCartney, Tull and the Stones- a great November to remember!