by Tim Van Schmidt
MOMIX, Lincoln Center, Fort Collins, January 28, 2010.
The world of MOMIX is not the real world. At the Lincoln Center on January 28 for the Dance Series, MOMIX created another time and space beyond the one we normally experience. It’s great art and that’s what it should do, but MOMIX delivers new experiences that are so rich in color, shape, movement and light, that they complete the transition from artifice to tenuous, shimmering reality. For fleeting moments on the stage, MOMIX succeeds in cracking open a window to something extraordinary.
Billed as “The Best of MOMIX,” this concert featured a dozen pieces presented rapid-fire over two halves. When I say rapid-fire, I mean that the down time between pieces was absolutely minimal- none of this coming out and waving your arms around for applause at the end of each segment. There was applause, but MOMIX didn’t upset its momentum and moved right on to setting up the next piece. The pacing was excellent.
The physicality of the pieces MOMIX performs is what connects them to dance- the creatively costumed bodies of the troupe members and what they do with them. Some of their movements are acrobatic, while the members also at times entwine and interact physically as dancers.
But it is that MOMIX goes above and beyond the body itself that propels it into another dimension. The troupe members are rarely without other objects on the stage. These objects are not just props, but they are components in creating a larger effect. The dancers are also components as are the lights and the music. MOMIX works purposefully with all of these to create something bigger- something only an audience can see.
You can discuss MOMIX’s Lincoln Center performance from the standpoint of the extra objects- an enormous dancing puppet, exercise balls, a swirling headpiece, long poles, flittering ribbons, skis, a sphere and fabric draped over umbrellas. Add in lighting effects such as fluorescent arms and a screen for artfully projected shadows and there is a lot to describe.
However, what MOMIX accomplishes with all of that is the creation of otherworldly images that hang like clouds over the stage. They move and shift in the light and playfully tug at the eye. The components themselves no longer end up mattering as much as the thing that gets summoned up when they are put together. It’s a different way of seeing, a different way of experiencing live art. What MOMIX creates is not like the real world- it’s a new world full of grace, precious and sweet.
Obama, One Year Later: The State of the Union
I made a special point of watching President Barack Obama’s first State of the Union address on January 27, 2010. This really had nothing to do with the specific policies and political efforts he was going to talk about- jobs, health, international issues, all that stuff. No, after thinking a little about it, I realized that I made the SOTU a date because I wanted, and even needed, some inspiration. That’s why I turned to support Obama in the first place- not because I agreed, or even knew much about his politics, but because he had a knack for delivering inspiring messages, an inspiring attitude. I needed some Obama juice.
But that Obama juice was in short supply for the SOTU and it made me wonder why. He seemed to be in command of the complexities of the issues he was talking about and most of his characteristic strengths as a speaker were evident- humor balanced with stop-on-a-dime seriousness, presented with language that vacillates between political expert and guy at the bar. It’s a strong combination, and though Obama visibly looked weary, I believe he was still in control of what he was delivering.
But the speech fell flat. His ideas did not ring out in the air like a clarion call to gather and achieve. It seemed forced, unnatural and artificial. I think that the SOTU address was strange because it was delivered in front of the wrong people. Sure millions of Americans were in on it, but the members of Congress are a very poor group to stage anything in front of that could be called inspiration.
On the one side, of course, there were the Republicans who showed their contempt for the President by remaining cold and unmoving- dumb rocks without a pulse, putting up with the situation but not with any kind of grace or class. The malevolence in the air was palatable even across the thousands of miles of TV cable.
Then on the other side were the Democrats who were cheering like idiots at every half sentence Obama uttered. They probably feel they have to. It seems kind of like a one-up-manship game in this case. If one person is up cheering like an idiot, the others feel they have to, or be branded a malcontent. Really, the SOTU was probably the most exercise the Democrats get all year- jumping up and out of their chairs scores of times during the address. The insincerity of the Democratic outbursts of support was also palatable across the TV distance.
The result was actually a depressing feeling, not inspiration. Even though Obama was presenting ideas and plans that the people of the United States need very badly, you could kind of hear a “Yeah, right Buddy, good luck with that” going on in the heads of the people in the chamber. The politicians of the United States are calculated, cynical and stuck with their heads in their very comfortable Washington hole. Inside the hole, they’re in control of everything and even the President is kind of unwelcome in their clubhouse. They seem smug and unreachable- certainly not reachable by the oration skills of Obama. These politicians make for a very unsavory group, lacking the ability to inspire or to get jobs done without this babyish schoolyard baloney. Obama was talking politics to the worst crowd imaginable. I realize that’s what the State of the Union is, but it just seemed a shame to waste the effort to talk to them.
Obama should have delivered this speech to the people who really need the inspiration- the citizens of the United States. The dumb suits- and robes- sitting in judgment of Obama were not inspiring in the least. I don’t care how many times Joe Biden nodded his head in agreement or Nancy Pelosi stood to applaud- both visible the entire time during the speech behind the President- they do not inspire me. That the speech was televised is not the same as actually giving a speech to the people. Obama could have given the same speech in front of a crowd of 100,000 citizens and would have been hailed as a great motivator. In Washington, in front of the elected aristocracy, he looked like a fighter getting in the ring with a barrel of pork one hundred times his size.
There was a little bit of the Obama juice towards the end of the speech, where he revved up the rhetoric and blasted up and above the specific issues. But he had already lost his crowd by that time. There was no real swelling of pride or a feeling of rising above the din. His speech had to finish up and that was it. If I were advising the President about the best way of kick-starting any effort, I would tell him to take his show on the road. Go out and inspire the people at rallies and they will light a fire under those lazy butts in Washington. Politicians talking to each other- and not particularly civilly at that- just does not cut it for the rest of us.
The Who, Super Bowl Broadcast, February 7, 2010.
There was one moment in particular in the Who’s Super Bowl performance on February 7 that made me smile. OK, sure, I’m a Who fan to begin with, so even though the Who is a much different animal today than it was in the beginning, I was still pumped to see them. But it really wasn’t the quick medley of Who classics the group shoveled out in their short set that did it for me. It was the little bit of defiance percolating underneath that came through.
That defiance for me was reflected in a moment when Who guitarist Pete Townshend, in the midst of one of his searing instrumental breaks, rolled his hand up in a fist and then just pounded his guitar. Ah, that’s the spirit. Townshend may not be smashing his guitars anymore, like he did in the band’s formative years, but he still doesn’t mind giving his instrument a work out. The result was just a little tiny bit of that roiling instrumental fire the Who was originally known for.
There was more defiance in Townshend’s stage presence. He had a mess of clothes on, haphazard and sloppy. His shirt was only half-buttoned, so his bare midriff poked through often. Townshend seemed to be dressing down for the occasion.
Still standing by Townshend’s side, of course, is vocalist Roger Daltrey, whose rough and ready voice is as much a trademark of the Who’s music as Townshend’s guitar playing and songwriting. Without this partner, Townshend is just Townshend, not a part of a group. Daltrey’s physical presence alone ties the 21st century version of the Who back to the original unit and his dramatic stage poses continue to illustrate the raw stateliness of the songs with panache.
Also featured prominently throughout the broadcast was drummer Zak Starkey, Ringo’s son. Starkey has now played drums for the Who for years and he was given plenty of face time during the Super Bowl show. Starkey has learned the Who’s songs inside and out by now and he is able to not only reflect elements of original drummer Keith Moon’s distinctive parts, but he is also able to apply some of his own ideas.
But it’s also important to note that the Who still includes longtime keyboardist John “Rabbit” Bundrick, who has been the man working steadily in the shadows of Townshend and Daltrey for decades on stage. The bassist is Pino Palladino, who was called in to replace the late John Entwistle and has stayed with the group.
At this point, the Who seems more of an idea or a concept than a band. The music is there, some of the original members are there, but there is a sense that this ensemble is FULFILLING the role of the Who more than it’s a working, creative unit. This was underscored by the lack of new material during the Super Bowl set, not even a snippet from the recent effort, “Endless Wire.”
It probably should be mentioned that the stage, a huge medallion of flashing lights, stood by itself out in the middle of the football field. Unlike past Super Bowl performances, there was no crowd jammed up close to the stage, imitating the frenzy of a real rock concert. The crowd this time remained in their seats and this gave TV viewers the best seats in the house. However, this left the Who, in a way, to perform to nobody. They were projecting up and out, but there was a kind of coldness to the just-step-up-and-play plan. I missed the shots of people going crazy to the music, I realize. I enjoyed watching Townshend play, believe me, but he’s just not that attractive- especially with his belly button peaking out. The broadcast could have used some fans in the picture.
The Who’s Super Bowl set included abbreviated versions of “Pinball Wizard” and “We’re Not Going to Take It” from “Tommy,” “Baba O-Reilly” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” from “Who’s Next,” and one of the band’s key signature pieces- “Who Are You?” The medallion stage flashed and rolled with patterns of light throughout the entire performance as the group plowed through these well-worn tunes, so very familiar.
But there was just a little bit more of that feisty Who defiance left in “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” Of course, it’s built right into the song- when Daltrey sings “the hypnotized never lie,” Townshend adds a spiteful aside “Do you?” indicating what he really thinks of the crowds that fill stadiums to see the group. Or better yet, the crowds who fill football stadiums for games. What better venue to comment on the effects of mass culture control than the biggest staged American sports event of the year. Nothing says “waste” better than the colossal amount of time, energy and resources spent on professional football.
Well, in a way, Townshend got what he wanted- which was to create a rock opera for the people. But as it turns out, the people’s “opera” on Super Bowl Sunday was made up of the Who’s greatest songs. But in this case, it wasn’t the songs that worked for me, it was the attitude.
Martha Graham Dance Company, Lincoln Center, Fort Collins, April 19, 2010.
Last night’s show at the Lincoln Center, “Essential Graham: Classics from the Martha Graham Dance Company,” could have been renamed “A Night at the Museum.” The presentation was part performance and part lecture, digging into the history and innovations of Graham’s universally lauded work. While the lecture part went a long way to explaining Graham’s genius, it also got in the way of the entertainment value of the pieces, changing an artful experience into a more analytical one.
Perhaps that phrase “entertainment value” will make the powers that be at the Graham company cringe. This is art, after all, which should go above and beyond the face value of “entertainment.” However, art, like entertainment, depends on a certain suspension of reality to be successful. In this case, there is plenty of suspension in Graham’s work. However, the biographical information and critical explanations offered throughout the evening continually distracted from the fragile ambiance of art created by the pieces. The back and forth between experiencing art and talking about it turned the Lincoln Center into a classroom more than a performance hall.
That’s why “Essential Graham” was like a visit to a museum- one where patrons do not stroll around looking at the art, experiencing it for themselves, but are shepherded throughout by a tour guide. The guide talks, the patrons listen and the personal experience of art is left for another time.
Let’s not say, though, that the lecture part was frivolous. Far from it. I learned a great deal about Graham as a result and did find the information useful when getting to the dance pieces themselves. Most interesting were the actual films of Graham performing- her intensity as an artist came through very clearly. It was especially cool to be able to watch a contemporary version of Graham’s breakthrough piece, “Lamentation,” performed live, then a film of Graham performing the same piece. This was an unexpected pleasure, to see, even if just for a few seconds, the original artist at work. If I didn’t come out of the Lincoln Center thinking to myself, “what a great show,” at least I came away much more informed about Graham.
Above and beyond the actual structure of “Essential Graham,” there is another way that experiencing Graham’s work is like visiting an art museum. That is, the pieces themselves are like classic paintings that have come to life. These aren’t specific paintings, but works of art that have a timeless core. They vibrate with meaning that goes deep into the subconscious, touching ancient knowledge and yearnings. This is the “entertainment” that I came to the Lincoln Center for last night- the feeling that something elemental had been experienced- and the Graham company did deliver, in between the verbiage. “Steps in the Street,” in particular, was very powerful, the purposeful movement and intersecting lines of dancers underscoring the devastation of war.
So, for me, “Essential Graham” was a mixed bag. While I enjoyed being informed, the information distracted from the art. However, there was a deepness to the art that goes a long way toward going beyond the mundane talk. I’m glad I got to experience even a little bit of that, but, of course, more would have been welcome.
This will probably be my last Lincoln Center review. The Graham show was the last set of tickets in the drawer and there are no more dates circled on the calendar. Directly following the close of this season- in just a few days- the Lincoln Center will be closing for major renovations and will not be presenting a new season until next year. Times have been changing, too, and it seems that formal reviews are not all that important to anybody any more- in a world where people are reviewing everything from the latest commercials on TV to what they had for breakfast- so I think my time is done.
But I can’t be done without once more stating how important the Lincoln Center has been to my cultural life since moving to Fort Collins in 1980. In those 30 years I have seen such a wide variety of entertainment and art that it would take another full article to give even the best of it its due. Suffice it to say that the Lincoln Center has been a vital and even necessary facility for our region and its renovation is not only long overdue, but also hints that this cultural center will continue to be vital for decades to come. Thanks to all the people at the Lincoln Center, both past and present, who have kept our city cheering, crying and laughing for years. Because of them, and the place that they work, our lives are much, much richer.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Joe Cocker, Red Rocks, Morrison, June 1, 2010.
Let’s just skip to the point to begin with. Tom Petty fans are in for a helluva ride this summer. Petty and the Heartbreakers began their 2010 summer tour last night at Red Rocks with some real thunder. Yeah, there were all those songs everybody loves, but the group showed what they were really worth with new material from their upcoming album release, “Mojo.” That is, a band that still wants to play- and play hard.
After kicking things off with a good chunk of hits, Petty then introduced the “Mojo” section of the show, explaining that he wanted people to hear some new stuff, but promised to play “wall-to-wall hits” afterwards. At a lot of shows, this is usually the part where the group maybe breaks down into an acoustic format, changing things up for variety’s sake. But that was not the case at Red Rocks. The electricity was fully in use.
The buzz about the “Mojo” stuff is that it is blues-based- and that holds true. This is strident, hard-hammering blues, double and triple guitars propelled by wailing harp. There are trademark Petty musical signatures throughout- the discernable hook, a certain twist to the words and cool delivery- but the point here seemed to be more about jamming as a band.
That is, except for one of the outstanding highlights of the evening- a reading of the new tune “First Flash of Freedom.” “Tune” isn’t really a good word for it- maybe “mini-suite” is better. The piece stepped far beyond bone-crunching blues into progressive rock territory, even jazz. Other “Mojo” tracks- like “Running Man’s Bible” and “Good Enough”- maintained a pretty sharp edge, but “First Flash” is a bigger, more polished excursion.
Now, while Petty and the Heartbreakers plowed through some five new songs, the crowd at Red Rocks hung back and listened. You could kind of feel the change in the air- this wasn’t the all-out party the hits produced. Petty got his wish to showcase new stuff and Red Rocks soaked it up- but it was back into party mode once the hits began again.
This show was the opening date on Petty’s “Mojo” tour and while the band seemed to be spot on with most of the music last night- especially the tried and true- I’ll bet the pacing of the show gets snappier once they get this new set down. I’d love to see these guys again in a couple of months- they will be blazing.
Listening intently to the “Mojo” music, maybe there were a few discernable cracks here and there. Maybe all those songs won’t always be in the set list. However, I got the sense that Petty and the Heartbreakers were really applying themselves to the new material- that it was a challenge and their response was musical intensity. Bingo- they’re still a great band, not just a great show.
The highlights of the hit portions of the show were numerous. I’ll specifically mention “Breakdown” because, as one of the group’s earliest pieces it offers a good perspective on where the band is at today and why. “Breakdown” was just great rock and roll theatre- Petty putting himself into the delivery completely. From the beginning to the present, apparently this band has always wanted to transcend the ordinary with rock and roll and the Red Rocks opener should hearten all the fans lined up to see the tour this year that they are still doing just that.
“Mystic Eyes” was also a highlight full of rock and roll drama. Other tunes on the Red Rocks set list included a blasting “Drivin Down to Georgia,” “Refugee,” “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” “I Won’t Back Down” and “Don’t Come Around Here No More.” The whole thing wound up with “Runnin’ Down A Dream”- there isn’t much further you can go after that one.
There were points where Petty and the Red Rocks crowd interacted- the audience filling in a whole verse here and engaging in some call and response fun there- and the evening was beautiful, dark cloud banks rolling harmlessly overhead, a cool breeze buffeting the amphitheatre at times. Actually it was good luck weather-wise considering how volatile Colorado weather can be. Petty and company certainly had their heads in the clouds to get this new, exciting tour rolling.
Like Petty and the Heartbreakers, I got a sense that opener Joe Cocker also still wants to play. That’s right, Tom Petty wasn’t all there was to this deal. Cocker turned in what must be kind of a standard set for him now. I saw him two years ago at Red Rocks opening for the Steve Miller Band and it was mostly the same show. But what a show and while Cocker’s material seems settled, the man continues to work the vocals- applying some more of that “rock and roll theatre” I was talking about above. I was convinced that Cocker was letting loose at times, abandoned to the moment and that’s really what counts with him.
Starting with “Hitchcock Railway,” Cocker’s set included the best of his career- “Feelin Alright,” “Cry Me a River,” “Delta Lady,” a nice subdued “You Are So Beautiful” and “The Letter. But whenever the set needed a little pick-me-up, Cocker just pulled out the Beatles. Sure, “With a Little Help from My Friends” is still emotionally satisfying and “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window” is dramatic and funky, but Cocker’s mainstay showstopper now is “Come Together.” His trademark gravely voice suits it perfectly- and it’s a chance for a some cool psychedelic lighting.
Cocker will be doing further dates with Petty and the Heartbreakers making this the rock and roll double bill of the summer.
Bonepony, Whistle Stop Park, Niwot, June 24, 2010.
Like the trains that kept blasting by Whistle Stop Park in Niwot last night, the Tennessee band Bonepony is a marvel of momentum. Bonepony appeared in Niwot as part of the town’s Rhythm on the Rails summer concert series and once you get this three-man band in motion, there isn’t much you can do to stop them.
But it isn’t just motion that’s on tap with Bonepony, it’s motion propelled by positive energy- the kind that makes you want to move and shout. There’s plenty of that on stage anyhow, especially with the dynamic performing style of vocalist, guitarist and percussionist Scott Johnson. Johnson is a powerhouse of a front man with a booming voice sounding as a clarion call to celebrate.
But Johnson’s partners on stage, Nick Nguyen and Kenny Wright, keep plenty busy also, Nguyen constantly changing stringed instruments like some people change their minds. Wright also played some stringed instruments but mainly propelled it all behind the drum kit. Everybody on stage was active, sometimes with several instruments in hand at the same time, and that’s just a great work ethic.
Bonepony’s original music is some kind of cross between rock, soul and Southern-fried bluegrass but when it all comes down to the very basics, it’s that strong underlying stomp beat that is the important thing. There are fine swelling hooks in the songwriting and especially Nguyen adds instrumental fire, but it’s that incessant thump, thump, thump built into the bottom of just about every piece that keeps everything moving.
Consequently, the concrete pad in front of the gazebo where Bonepony performed was filled with dancers from start of the band’s two sets in Niwot. In between songs, Johnson kept encouraging the crowd, telling stories, giving shout-outs to dancers and people who knew the words until by the end of the evening, the pad was a happy mass of dancing people.
Whistle Stop Park is just the nicest little venue for a concert series with easy access off of the Diagonal. However, there was a sense that most of the crowd was made up of locals and there was an easygoing, small town feel to the event- people dancing and kids playing while a gorgeous sunset added to the show to the west and a big fat moon rose to the east. The live music series will continue on Thursdays throughout the summer. I might just have to move to Niwot if all the bands on the list are as rousing as Bonepony.
Unity Tour: 311, Offspring, Pepper, Red Rocks, Morrison, July 20, 2010.
You couldn’t have stopped this party even if you tried. That’s the impression the Unity Tour 2010 left last night at Red Rocks when three major party bands- Pepper, the Offspring and 311- took the stage. Forget the rain and wind, this wasn’t about staying dry or hanging out comfortably. This was about waving your arms around, yelling a little and happily bobbing up and down and back and forth to whatever beat was supplied. The crowd itself made this concert exciting.
This isn’t to say there weren’t any fireworks on stage. Pepper started it off with their strong, reggae-inspired rock, all the while informing the crowd that they would act as their “alcohol lifeguards” for the night. The Offspring dispensed with any goofy posturing and just got to business with their high-energy, punky rock. 311 closed the night with hip hop rock and their own take on reggae influences, perhaps putting the most of themselves into their performance as that night’s headliners.
Still, there were times with all three bands that I got the feeling that they were kind of mailing in their stage time. There were some attempts by the bands to make contact with the amped up crowd, but often comments like “this is a special night” and “you’re the best crowd of the tour” sounded kind of insincere.
But what this night lacked in riveting stage presence was made up for by the music itself. The Offspring in particular have a great thing going with their songs and arrangements- so much so they made trotting out pile driving rhythms and irreverent lyrics look easy. 311 wasn’t afraid to let things drift a little throughout their set, including some slower, more meandering pieces in between the hard hitting double vocal hip hop-influenced stuff, creating a nice balance.
None of the particulars seemed to bother the crowd, though, who seemed determined to party all night long, no matter which band was on stage. That’s really where the “unity” comes in for this tour- the fans were united in their quest to have a great time despite a gentle yet insistent rain that fell throughout the first half of the show. I saw happy, dancing people everywhere around me and whether the showmanship on stage was sincere or not didn’t matter. As long as the crowd had the fuel to move, they kept it up with a hedonistic intensity that spelled success for the evening.
Jackson Browne, David Lindley, Red Rocks, Morrison, August 5, 2010.
Maybe it was the rain. Last night’s Jackson Browne show at Red Rocks took a long time to get up to speed. It wasn’t until the final quarter of the show that things really seemed to click and that left precious little time to get things done. However, by that time the rain had lifted, the wind had calmed down and Browne earned a tentative victory- even with a few stars poking out of the clouds at the end.
The surge in the show seemed to occur when a reading of “Too Many Angels” managed to bring the best elements of the evening’s music together- the sound, the darkly percolating instrumental arrangement and a seriousness of intent in the lyrical delivery all achieving a perfect balance, finally.
Honestly, before this point, the show seemed to be kind of fumbling around- just like the crowd sitting out in the rain, fumbling around with their rain ponchos while attempting to pay attention to self-reflecting music. Some moments approached inspiration- like readings of classics like “To a Dancer” and “Fountain of Sorrow”- but the tunes kind of came and went with little sense of momentum.
This was surprising because this particular tour is capitalizing on a kind of momentous reunion effort between Browne and guitarist David Lindley. Lindley played extensively on Browne’s early albums, establishing a trademark electric guitar element to the music that has endured long after Lindley went his own way. Lindley has since become a master of a number of acoustic instruments and he switched often at Red Rocks while guitarist Mark Goldenberg ably handled some of the meaty electric stuff.
The whole evening kicked off with an acoustic version of “For Everyman,” Browne and Lindley sitting down to do an acoustic set together like it was no big deal. This lack of fanfare continued throughout the night when Lindley came back out later to join Browne and band.
But what the situation lacked in fanfare, made up for occasionally with strong musical elements. Whether playing violin, steel guitar or whatever that wide-bellied stringed thing he liked playing was, when Lindley contributed something to the mix, it not only supported, but strengthened the sound.
Shortly after achieving balance with “Too Many Angels,” the ensemble hit an encouraging stride with a three song string of Browne hits- “Doctor My Eyes,” “Running on Empty” and “Take it Easy.” It was a delight to have Lindley wailing on the guitar- just like the old days- for “Running on Empty.”
The group sealed the deal with an encore that opened up with a rousing version of “Mercury Blues,” a song associated with Lindley’s solo days- really, it was worth the whole thing just for this. Then Browne and group capped it off with “I Am a Patriot,” an involved, emotional and dramatic triumph considering how the rest of the night went.
Bohemian Nights at NewWestFest, Fort Collins, August 20-22, 2010.
There is a particular thrill which never gets old for me. That is, the thrill you get when photographing a big band at a big concert with a press pass around your neck. The press pass usually means that for just a few songs, you get the run of the security pit at the front of the stage to take photos. It’s great- the band is right in your face and the screaming fans are right at your back. It’s a big shot of adrenalin.
That was still the case last weekend when I photographed Earth, Wind and Fire, the Saturday night headliner for this year’s edition of Bohemian Nights at NewWestFest. Often, the thrill is so satisfying that after completing the brief time in the pit, I don’t mind sauntering to the back of the crowd to enjoy more of the music- after all, I had just been as close as you can get. On Saturday, however, Mountain Avenue was so packed with music fans that I found it rather difficult to find the back of the crowd.
The crowd stretched so far from the Mountain Avenue stage where Earth, Wind and Fire was playing that I decided that this year I would go ahead and check out the simulcasts of the show elsewhere in the downtown area. What I found at the simulcasts on Linden Street and at Library Park were more big crowds. Linden Street wasn’t quite as packed as it was for Friday’s kick-off show by the Flobots, but it was plenty full. Library Park had more people enjoying the broadcast than I had seen there all day.
When I say that people were enjoying the simulcasts, I mean that they were reacting to the music and the stage patter as though the huge image on the video screen was the live performance itself. People cheered and howled at all the right times. Although I am more of a live music purist- I prefer to see the bands play in person- I did get a sense of why the simulcasts are perhaps even a little bit better than being packed into the crowd over on Mountain. The sound was great and the video screens were so big that the crowds on Linden and in Library Park probably could see more of the show, more of the performer’s faces and expressions than many in the main audience could see.
After leaving Library Park, I realized that thanks to technology, a big chunk of downtown Fort Collins was just one big concert. Between the three locations- Mountain, Linden and Library Park- the crowd was estimated at 20,000. I don’t think you could have jammed all those people into just one location in the downtown area, so the simulcasts really helped spread things out. More people could take advantage of the entertainment more comfortably. The simulcasts are just one more way that Bohemian Nights strives to make this annual music festival better.
But other than a handful of headliners- Earth, Wind and Fire on Saturday and Earl Scruggs on Sunday- another great aspect to Bohemian Nights is its dedication to Colorado music. Throughout the three days this year, more than 60 Colorado acts churned out everything from funk, rock and reggae to folk, jazz and bluegrass. There is hardly ever a clinker in the schedule and it is obvious that the acts are chosen with care. Thanks to a solid six-year run for Bohemian Nights at NewWestFest, the audiences have become accustomed to this and healthy-sized crowds greet the Colorado musicians with enthusiasm. It’s a unique situation and the regional music scene gets a big boost every year from this festival. I would wager that bands who are showcased at Bohemian Nights benefit all year round from the exposure they receive in Fort Collins as they add new fans and keep old fans happy.
I managed to check out 44 bands and performers during this year’s festival. That’s a lot of hoofing- in fact, the first day I lost three pounds in the process. What I saw last weekend was very typical of the Bohemian Nights festival- a high level of quality and a wide diversity of genres. Just that kaleidoscope of 44 bands in general was inspiring and the highlights were plentiful.
Among my favorites this year was the exotic and sophisticated world music of Kalin Yong and the Peace Project. Young Michaela Rae, a 15-year-old female guitarist who plays like a seasoned professional already, also stood out. I also had to grin like an idiot when Paul Soderman and BluezHouse kicked off Sunday’s schedule with some rollicking barroom blues. SHEL’s set in Old Town Square was a triumphant hometown love fest, their energetic, fresh music supported by an enthusiastic crowd. I enjoyed the Acidophiles cool electronic dance music- even if it was in the middle of the bright, sunlit day- and Angie Stevens and the Beautiful Wreck continue to make irresistible, dynamic rock. I’ll also mention the set by Post Paradise, who make a dark, thick progressive rock.
But my very favorite this year was just like last year- the Informants, playing an irreverent rock. They’ve got the chops and the attitude that make them very entertaining indeed. While the lead female vocalist in the Informants is hot and sassy, the entire band gets props for working as hard as they do to produce a big, streetwise sound.
But more, above and beyond the music, I think I enjoy Bohemian Nights at NewWestFest because it is truly a community party. I missed a few performers here and there because I got caught up in conversations with people I hadn’t seen for quite a while. The music is very effective at bringing people out and basically all you have to do is wander around a little and chances are you’ll run into someone you know. It’s like a big, annual reunion where everybody is smiling, everyone is excited. Music and friends go together and on that basic level, Bohemian Nights at NewWestFest hits the mark like no other event in the area.
Green Day, AFI, Comfort Dental Amphitheatre, Denver, August 28, 2010.
Here’s the breaking news: Roger Daltrey can now retire because we’ve found his replacement in the classic rock band the Who. That replacement, surprisingly, is Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day. At Comfort Dental Amphitheatre in Denver last night, Armstrong and the rest of Green Day took a curious detour from their own music to reference rock hits from the past by such artists as Black Sabbath, the Rolling Stones and the Beatles.
When Green Day got to punching out a version of the Who’s “Baba O’Reilly,” Armstrong channeled Daltrey’s dynamic vocal parts with accuracy and strength- maybe even better than the venerable vocalist himself these days. Apparently Armstrong was enjoying it too because when the band broke the song off- as they had done for the other tunes- he told them “I’m not done yet.”
But the cover tune that Green Day finally revved up that worked the crowd into a lather was the Isley Brothers’ 1959 dance hit “Shout.” The frantic pace, the call-and-response elements, the softer and louder swing of the musical pendulum of “Shout” actually fit in fine with Green Day’s stage show and was an odd highlight of the evening.
What was odd about it was the fact that Green Day’s original music is plenty powerful enough, if perhaps lacking the wider musical range the cover songs helped provide. Even odder was how this part of the show bogged things down significantly- it essentially killed the momentum Green Day had achieved in the first half of the show. It took them some time to get it back too.
But this is Green Day and you can expect some resistance to the usual expectations in terms of showmanship. If they want to interrupt their show to play some old favorites by other people, I guess no one can stop them.
But then again, it was clear that though Armstrong was the main focus of the evening, he didn’t mind sharing the spotlight with just about anybody. Several times during the show, Armstrong pulled beaming fans from the crowd and let them perform parts of songs. When he didn’t have kids on the stage- from just one or two to a whole mob at one point- he continually worked the crowd to sing the lyrics or just respond to his constant “ay-o” calls.
Then there was the constant raising of the arms to stoke up applause, the constant exhortations to “get those hands in the air” and the continual shout-outs to “Denver, Colorado.” Armstrong also had a habit of asking the crowd “Are you ready?” inviting them to “Go crazy” while informing all that he was losing his “fucking mind.” The crowd-rousing elements to the show were heavy-handed to say the least, but that did not bother the fans one bit, who responded enthusiastically from beginning to end.
Let’s also mention that Armstrong took some time out to shoot some t-shirts into the crowd. He also worked an interesting machine that blew toilet paper out into the crowd. Added to this was a hose Armstrong (and a volunteer from the crowd) used to cool off everybody in spraying distance. For Green Day, apparently, anything goes on stage.
Putting all of that aside, I’ll say that Green Day has quite successfully expanded the relatively narrow scope of the punk rock sound into a strong, muscular music that works really well in the arena setting. It’s a dynamic and dramatic music, full of attitude. Thanks to some effective staging- which included a city-scape background that towered over the band- and hyperactive lighting, the whole package is exciting.
Green Day’s show clocked in at well over two hours and that’s a lot of time to fill with short, sharp punk songs, so it is understandable that the band would work other material into the set. However, considering the power and cultural impact of the band’s original stuff, I just don’t think they needed all the extra material. In fact, the show could have been shorter and much more effective without it.
But once again, this is Green Day and they’re going to do whatever they want to do. The crowd was OK with that too.
For me, however, the best music occurred at the end of the show, when Armstrong took the stage by himself with only an acoustic guitar. For just a moment, Armstrong dropped the pretense and was just a musician with a guitar, singing his song. His voice became clearer, the guitar work could actually be heard and the lyrics weren’t buried under a mountain of volume. In the end, that could very well have been the most “punk” part of the night, when even the showmanship was put aside in favor of sincere personal expression.
AFI, another band that was all about stage control, opened the show with their fresh pop-punk.
John Mayer, Owl City, Red Rocks, Morrison, September 1, 2010.
At one point during his recent show at Red Rocks, after a raucous session of playing his guitar right up against his amplifier, John Mayer admitted to the crowd that, really, he did not want to be like Jimi Hendrix. Mayer said he often “prayed” to the “guitar gods” that he could play like Hendrix, but then he observed that Hendrix died at the age of 27, a victim of a drug overdose. Mayer said that if taking a stand against taking drugs means he doesn’t touch the same guitar wavelength that Hendrix did, then so be it. He’d rather live and play his own style than play with fire and die too soon.
Mayer’s style is a keen mix of blues, rock and white soul that comes out as a polished pop that nonetheless maintains some teeth. The songs feature Mayer’s pleasing vocals, but it is when he steps back to add a few bars of guitar work that things start to heat up. This was the case on his originals as well as a fistful of covers. The covers included a jamming version of Bill Withers’ hit “Ain’t No Sunshine” and Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile”- both offering an extended opportunity for Mayer to work away from the mike.
Mayer’s band knew where to go on each piece and so did the crowd, which often helped Mayer with the vocals. There was little sense of surprise as much as a well-worn friendliness all around. I was pleased to find guitarist Robbie McIntosh in the group- someone I had admired in both the Pretenders and in Paul McCartney’s band.
Opening was Owl City, whose light, sing-songy approach remains consistent throughout their material. If you have heard “Fireflies,” you have heard their core sound.
Roger Waters, Pepsi Center, Denver, November 23, 2010.
As big as two city blocks, stretching completely across one end of the Pepsi Center in Denver, Roger Waters’ Wall staging for his current tour is the grandest rock and roll spectacle on earth. Used as a prop, a stage and a projection surface, the Wall is a multi-use technical wonder that could not fail to impress on November 23 with animated art work and archival footage morphing across an expanse you could drive a truck across.
In this case, it was a good thing to have seats directly across the arena from the stage- you had to be that far away to appreciate the size of the Wall. Waters was also in command of some tremendous sound that blasted the place at times- you could certainly hear the music no matter where you sat. Waters had a large band, though purposely obscured, with live sounds mixing freely with soundtracks. But above and beyond the music was the monolithic presence of the Wall.
Of course, this is clearly the theme of Waters’ performance of the entirety of his Pink Floyd classic album “The Wall,” a suite of music Waters noted was enjoying its thirtieth anniversary with this tour.
“The Wall” is a masterpiece of passionate confusion, with personal and social pressures mounting in one big rock opera of angst. Messages about alienation, defying authority and questioning sanity came through loud and clear in Denver, thanks to the projection power of the Wall. Add in a few grotesque inflatables, faux helicopters, a little bit of costuming and staging- Waters performing from a lonely motel room at one point- and you’ve got a show that is pushing all the right buttons for big time entertainment.
Oh and don’t forget the chorus of kids who helped with dancing and vocals, but also in shouting down the mean inflatable teacher. Waters also pulled off a duet with himself, singing along to a 1980 live performance of “Mother.”
The appeal here is partly based in nostalgia- the recreation of Pink Floyd magic- but the show was not heavily anticipated for nostalgia alone because this crowd came expecting to be blown away.
For all of those expectations, Waters delivered. He included an appearance by the inflatable pig and a crashing airplane, but it was the Wall that undeniably lit up the Pepsi Center.
At one point, Waters was out on the stage alone in front of the Wall, just kind of wandering around. Everything was in full swing- the band was in full gear, the Wall was flashing, everything was roaring- and all Waters could do is punch his fists into the air, the mad conductor of a huge, runaway train.
Why Rock and Roll Will Never Die!!
This is my final entry on Kingkoncert. I’ve been publishing reviews and photos on this site for more than 6 years and at this point, it’s full. Maybe I could get some more server space, maybe not- it doesn’t matter because Kingkoncert FEELS full and it’s time to leave it well enough alone. If I do anything with this site in the future, it will be an organizing effort, but not to add new material. So, welcome to the “Silver Edition” of Kingkoncert, featuring the entire site in its original form, covering live music from 2005-2010.
But before signing off on Kingkoncert, I’d like to try to make one last grand statement about rock and roll, because, after all, that is what it has all been about. I mean the act of getting out and celebrating life with a good band and good friends. You don’t have to know the band or the friends, really- it’s more a matter of your own initiative, because a no-name band can be just as exciting as a popular one and strangers can become friends quickly when everyone is synched into the same musical groove.
That seems to be the overall point- that people gathering together to experience live music creates a special situation that can be temporarily unifying. There seems to be a real human need to get together with one another to hear music and dance. It takes us out of ourselves and our selfish concerns and blasts away the details of the outside world. It becomes a special time and place. It begs to be shared with other people.
Now, let’s face it, it isn’t all a bed of roses when rock and roll is on the stage. Just as there seems to be a need for people to gather and rock, there also seems to be a need for jerks to become even bigger jerks- you’ll find them in every crowd as well as on stage. This is just some of the leftover debris from the bigger world you have to sweep away if you want to get to the real heart of rock and roll- that moment when the band, the music, the lights and the crowd all smack together in just the right way, achieving a kind of mass ecstatic experience. And believe me, the concert will be over at one point or another- which makes our encounter with live music all the more precious besides.
Life is not perfect so rock and roll is not perfect but we use it to celebrate anyway. It’s a feeling. It’s a situation. It’s some human glory in the face of all that troubles us; brief, loud and powerful. Rock and roll will never die as long as there are people who get together to shake their fists at fate, freely stomping out a heart-pumping rhythm and shouting out a temporary truth right in the face of the universe. These brilliant moments of rock and roll stir the blood and the restless soul with relentless energy, affecting all who participate. It’s a magnificent high. It’s an inspiring encounter. It’s noise to some and lifeblood for others. Why will rock and roll never die? It makes life worth living.