SHOW REVIEW: Deer Tick in Denver 8/15/2014 (for Westword)

photos by Adam Perry

photos by Adam Perry

“Strangers Will Buy You Beer When Deer Tick Comes to Town!”
SHOW REVIEW: Deer Tick at the Bluebird Theater, Denver 8/15/2014
by Adam Perry for Westword

People throw all kinds of things at Deer Tick in order to express their love of the gritty rock-and-roll band from Providence, Rhode Island. At the quintet’s sold-out show at the Bluebird Theater in Denver, they threw half-full beers, shoes, even themselves.

Even before the group, led by John McCauley, hit the stage around 10:30 p.m., the crowd was drunk, sweaty and excitable. It was no secret that this would be Deer Tick’s night, a headlining opportunity on the eve of a shorter slot at Red Rocks on Saturday opening for Trampled by Turtles.

A swarm of music lovers, most of them with cans of Pabst in hand, packed in front of the Bluebird stage — between the more dignified, elevated section’s railing and the band — jockeying for position. One tall, visibly excited concert-goer assured those around him, “You’re stressing more than you have to; things are gonna move and it’ll be fine.”

Deer Tick, which focused on crowd-pleasers that included heavy doses of the 2007 breakthrough War Elephant, the first of the Providence outfit’s five LPs, clearly loved the energy in the room.

“We had to cancel a show here back in October” — for medical reasons — “but we’ll make it up to you tonight,” McCauley promised. “We’re gonna do stuff from all our eras. Believe it or not, we’ve been around long enough to have eras.”

The tunes from War Elephant were the most effective, but rollicking classics like “Easy” also highlighted McCauley’s talent for somehow making negativity pleasurable. McCauley is finally approaching thirty (and married Vanessa Carlton last year) but appears to be having more fun on stage than ever.

Early in Deer Tick’s two-hour set at the Bluebird, McCauley – who notoriously used his penis as a guitar pick at the Bluebird a few years ago – played guitar from his knees, drifting backward a la Hendrix. Later he played a dueling solo with guitarist Ian O’Neil (who looks and plays just like Mike Bloomfield circa Dylan going electric) while engaging in a sustained headbutt not unlike young rams lovingly sparring. And just before a phenomenal nine-song encore — well, not really an encore, because McCauley remained on stage while the rest of the band took a breather — the energetic blond frontman played guitar atop Dennis Ryan’s bass drum before leaping off, Pete Townshend-style.

During the faux-metal guitar solo in “These Old Shoes,” McCauley even made a series of faces that suggested he’s seen the recent memes that features everything from slugs to sandwiches Photoshopped in place of guitars while legendary shredders make pained faces. 

photos by Adam Perry

photos by Adam Perry

And those cans of Pabst, raised high over and over, had more of a tendency to shake and spill when McCauley’s giddy showmanship periodically appeared. Jubilant quasi-moshing erupted two-thirds of the way through Deer Tick’s set, to the obvious delight of McCauley, who popped a bottle of champagne on stage and was having such a good time he found time to fit in covers of oldies like “Sleepwalkers” and “La Bamba,” plus teases of “Every Breath You Take” and the theme from The Munsters.

“He looks like Woogie from There’s Something About Mary,” my date hilariously leaned in to tell me at one point. “And the guitarist looks like a cross between Mike Myers and Jimmy Fallon.”

It’s true: Deer Tick is not a handsome band. But women — who made up nearly half the raucous capacity audience — sang along with virtually every word McCauley and his band mates (two of whom did some lead singing themselves) let out, and smiled as big as the musicians, who have clearly bonded something fierce over the past eight or so years of constant touring.

As “The Bump,” which had the Denver crowd screaming along, explains: “We’re full grown men / but we act like kids.” The five members of Deer Tick also act like best friends. And that spirit is contagious: A guy dancing next to us with his girlfriend all night returned from the bar at one point with cans of Pabst for me and my date.

Perhaps the peak of the evening was McCauley’s character-filled two-song solo turn, which turned into a sing-along with the singer/songwriter’s signature Willie Nelson-meets-Pavement tune, “Art Isn’t Real (City of Sin)” and “Something in the Way” by Nirvana, which McCauley famously fronted as Kurt Cobain’s “replacement” in for an April gig in Brooklyn after the grunge legend’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame induction.

The show was brought to a fever pitch when the rest of Deer Tick emerged to join McCauley for the culmination of the Tom Waits-esque ballad “Not So Dense,” slamming into the song’s screaming “hour after hour” crescendo along with the frenzied crowd.

It’s a difficult feat to pull off, but Deer Tick had me feeling glad be jammed into a 100-year-old, 500-capacity theater on a steamy summer night rather than under the stars at Red Rocks.

SHOW REVIEW: Jolie Holland in Denver (Westword 8/8/2014)

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SHOW REVIEW:
Jolie Holland at the Larimer Lounge, Denver 8/7/2014
by Adam Perry for Westword 8/8/2014

When a music-geek favorite such as Jolie Holland comes to town, the Larimer Lounge on a summer Thursday is pure Denver: tattooed, homegrown punks hanging at the bar and (mostly) transplants — hippies, middle-aged alcoholics, young white-collar music lovers and everything in between — milling around on the back porch waiting for the headliner’s set.

Last night, local duo Plume Varia and the energetic trio Shy Hunters opened for Holland at the Larimer. Having virtually nothing in common with the 38-year-old Holland’s well-known countrified Brooklyn alt-folk (besides the fact that two-thirds of Shy Hunters is also in Holland’s band), the two openers drew only 20 or 30 of the roughly 90 people in attendance into the performance space.

It was a slow night until Holland, who had been sitting on the front patio on her smartphone off-and-on for several hours before chatting with fans at the merch table, started playing guitar over the house music around 11 p.m. That was ostensibly Holland’s cue to the embattled sound engineer that she and her band were ready to go.

The Texas-born singer-songwriter and guitarist/violinist — whose work as a solo artist and with the Be Good Tanyas has memorably traversed blues, folk, country, soul and rock — repeatedly paid tribute to the “loud, drunk crowd,” as she called it, and made no mention of the obvious, which members of her exceedingly youthful band had discussed with me at length outside the Larimer before the show: Her current tour represents a serious musical departure.

Guitarist Adam Brisbin, writing out setlists for the group, told me how the musicians on Wine Dark Sea — Holland’s edgy new album — were generally excited about adding a touch of the avant garde (shades of noise-rock and the Velvet Underground) to Holland’s work.Wine even features a two-drummer experiment (only one of which was present at the Larimer); it’s Holland’s most musically ambitious album.

Flanked by two lead guitarists (the Marc Ribot-esque dervish Brisbin on an eccentric little Harmony and Indigo Street playing clean, articulate blues on a white Telecaster), Holland switched between a gold Les Paul and a violin throughout the night, doing her captivating Texas-meets-Brooklyn thing while her free-flowing band occasionally reached Ornette Coleman-worthy heights of madness.

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The dusky new tune “Palm Wine Drunkard” led off the hour-and-a-half set, matched fittingly with a cover of labelmate Tom Waits’ “Who Are You.” Both clearly stated Holland’s current musical intentions, which attempt to juxtapose world-class lyrics and singing with a whole bunch of electric guitars and risky, almost free-jazz drumming that can either take a beautiful song and it make it holy or swallow it whole. The latter, caused not by the drummer alone but by the rest of the band, at times thinking it was playing “Expressway to Yr Skull,” did happen a few times at the Larimer, causing Holland to throw her hands up, but more often than not the bombastic group did come together impressively.

Surprisingly, the highlights of the evening were Holland’s takes on “Do Me Justice,” a tropical dance tune by the late West African musician S.E. Rogie, and the bold ’60s soul number “The Love You Save.” The jazz-rock noise was hit (mostly) or miss, but Holland’s band really nailed the aforementioned sultry covers — one upbeat, one slow and sexy.

Holland’s singularly beautiful singing, to which she’s added a quiver that thankfully moves more like Sidney Bechet’s trumpet than Joan Baez’s voice, is generally more at home inside subtle, confidently graceful music — her stunning original “Do You?” was also a treasure last night — than cacophony. But Holland is just like her heroes — ambitious — and Denver was blessed last night when her ambition, talent and tastefulness met with her band’s virtuosity.

CD REVIEW: Freeman / Gene Ween “Freeman” (East Bay Express 7/16/2014)

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CD REVIEW:
Freeman (Gene Ween) Freeman
by Adam Perry for the East Bay Express 7/16/2014

Since forming the oddball alt-rock act Ween with Mickey Melchiondo (aka Dean Ween) in an eighth-grade class near Philadelphia, Aaron Freeman (aka Gene Ween) has played very weird and very memorable music (Ween was, in some ways, to Frank Zappa as Phish is to the Grateful Dead) and struggled mightily with drug abuse. Two years ago the malleable-voiced singer-songwriter announced the end of Ween in a Rolling Stone interview, to the shock and rage of not only the band’s fans but also Dean Ween, his bandmate of almost 30 years. Now, the artist formerly known as “Gener” has unveiled an album called Freeman–with a band called Freeman–that serves as a proper solo debut (Marvelous Clouds, an exceptionally strange—but underrated—collection of Rod McKuen tunes, was released in 2012). 

“Covert Discretion,” the LP’s opener, establishes Freeman as the most earnest, or at least outspoken and personal, work by anyone associated with Ween. Written a week after Freeman’s incredibly ugly 2012 onstage breakdown with Ween in Vancouver, “Covert Discretion” alludes to his fight to either keep himself sober or keep making big money, and triumphantly ends with a repeated coda of “fuck you all / I’ve got a reason to live / and I’m never gonna die.” Freeman, which juxtaposes the androgynous operatic rock of Queen and early Elton John with Freeman’s more jangly late work with Ween (see: “Tried and True” and “Spirit Walker”), occasionally grates with religious tales of “wheels of alabaster” and golden monkeys. But its highlights, like the inviting “(For a While) I Couldn’t Play My Guitar Like a Man,” with its endearing guitar solo a la “The Stallion Pt. 3,” are a window into how hauntingly brilliant Ween records like White Pepper and Quebec might’ve sounded with a focus more on introspection than Zoloft and cocaine. If only Bill Hicks was alive, he’d have Freeman as proof that sober musicians don’t always suck. 

CD REVIEW: Andrew Bird “Things Are Really Great Here, Sort of…” (East Bay Express 7/2/2014)

CD REVIEW:
Andrew Bird Things Are Really Great Here, Sort of… 
by Adam Perry for the East Bay Express 7/2/2014

It’s common knowledge that Andrew Bird’s genius transcends music. Witnessing a recent performance of his new indie-Americana group Hands of Glory, each time Bird touched his violin, or whistled, I felt unable to stop recalling the times I saw transcendent athletes (Mario Lemieux, Barry Bonds, etc.) in action as a kid. But, as evidenced on Bird’s new album Things Are Really Great Here, Sort of… , the forty-year-old violin virtuoso is no Steve Vai. The prolific Bird’s love of irreverent-yet-profound songwriting dates back to his late-Nineties days collaborating with Squirrel Nut Zippers and leading Bowl of Fire. Things Are Really Great Here, which continues with the dusty Americana style Bird undertook with 2012’s Hands of Glory, focuses solely on covers of Handsome Family tunes. The Albuquerque-via-Chicago duo’s darkly enlightened odes to everything from cathedrals that look like spaceships to sad milkmen to poodles who think they’re cowboys fit Bird well. Though the Handsome Family is more steeped in folk tradition (as though June Carter teamed with Stephen Malkmus) than Bird, several sparsely recorded tracks here, like “Tin Foiled” and “Drunk By Noon,” seem more like an evolution of Bird’s sound than covers. Bird’s been known to write about snack machines that dream and clouds mistaken for mountains — and his strong, sweet voice would fit in any era of American music — so these captivating tall tales (“The Giant of Illinois”) and modern American curiosities (“Frogs Singing”) succeed in simply bringing a touch of eccentric country, and almost Gothic wildness to an artist often known for getting by on instrumental prowess and playful lyricism alone.

 

SHOW REVIEW: Mavis Staples in Boulder (6/25/2014)

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SHOW REVIEW:
Mavis Staples at Chautauqua Auditorium, Boulder
6/25/2014

Standing just feet from Mavis Staples as she swaggered through Buffalo Springfield’s classic “For What It’s Worth” last night at Boulder’s historic Chautauqua Auditorium, it was obvious – even as she approaches 75 years old – why Bob Dylan famously asked Staples’ father for her hand in marriage so many years ago.

She’s got moxie; she’s got blues; she’s got style; she’s got class; and she’s got taste. That was clear when Staples and her band – three backup singers, including her sister; drums, bass and guitar – launched into a confident, badass version of the Talking Heads’ “Slippery People.” Even Stop Making Sense, one of the great concert films of all time, could’ve used Mavis Staples.

“We bring you greetings from the Windy City…but I can breathe much easier in Chicago,” Staples (who, with the Staples Singers, was once considered the musical voice of the Civil Rights movement led by Martin Luther King, Jr.) admitted at one point. “We come to bring you joy, happiness, inspiration and positive vibrations…enough to last you maybe six months.”

Mixing in other classics (like a spot-on “The Weight” and Staples’ signature “I’ll Take You There”), gospel-tinged tunes, freedom rallies and lonesome-yet-hopeful ballads like “You’re Not Alone,” Staples and her band succeeded even where nearly everyone fails: They got the stilted, virtually all-white Boulder crowd to seem even a smidgen like an old-time revival, hollering “positive vibrations” right back.

“We love you, Mavis!” someone shouted between songs.

“I love you more!” the legend responded.

SHOW REVIEW: Andrew Bird in Boulder (Boulder Weekly 6/23/2014)

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SHOW REVIEW:
Andrew Bird at Chautauqua Auditorium, Boulder
Friday, June 20, 2014
by Adam Perry for Boulder Weekly

When I first heard that Kanye West had referred to himself as “the Michael Jordan of music,” I immediately recalled the first time I heard Andrew Bird’s instrumental Useless Creatures album, which introduced me to a genius that really does transcend music. To see Bird playing violin, guitar and xylophone; singing; and whistling is like watching a world-class ballerina, athlete, chess master, etc., at work. And yet even a shred of the kind of classless, shallow egotism that makes West, also notorious for saying “I am Michaelangelo,” so abhorrent is missing from Bird. That sadly antiquated humility made his performance at 116-year-old Chautauqua Auditorium in Boulder this past Friday especially fitting.

The first time I saw Andrew Bird in concert was with my partner, Irene, at the Ogden in Denver, back in 2009; that show was oversold, packed with chatty hipsters and plagued by repeated sound problems. And still, Bird’s exceptional musicianship, and sheer love of playing, came through, making for a special night with the future mother of my child and love of my life. Bird has a way of delivering his poetry and music as if it flows from him as naturally as snowmelt down Boulder Creek, but a rock club isn’t the best fit for him.

The big, beautiful barn (at the feet of the Flatirons) that is Chautauqua Auditorium, however, felt like it was made for an Andrew Bird concert. The 40-year-old Chicago virtuoso, who has released four albums and two EP’s in the past three years, followed a sweet opening set by Tift Merritt with three solo tunes that juxtaposed tasteful, mesmerizing loops with Bird’s strong, clear voice. The highlight of Bird’s solo turn was “Hole in the Ocean Floor,” from 2012’s Break It Yourself; the swirl of playful, neo-classical music and lyrics about “all God’s creatures roaring” brought to mind hikes in Flatirons just feet from Chautauqua.

After telling the sold-out audience of around 1,500 “This is truly one of my all-time places to play music and I’d play hear every year if I could,” Bird brought out his new, old-timey band The Hands of Glory. Featuring standup bass, pedal steel, acoustic guitar and drums, the quartet’s indie-Americana sound, which includes just the right amount of country spunk, and enough stop-on-a-dime classical and jazz credibility to back up Bird, was perfect for such an old-timey venue.

But the group didn’t just focus on tunes from Things Are Really Great Here, Kind Of…, Bird’s new album of Handsome Family covers. Instead, it delved all the way back into Bird’s Bowl of Fire days with “Dear Old Greenland”; unleashed a fitting cover of Townes Van Zandt’s gentle classic “Colorado Girl”; and succeeded into translating eccentric beauties, like “Effigy,“ from Bird’s more art-rock (think Blonde on Blonde meets Amnesiac) periods into a more Americana realm.

The moments when the whole band, save for the drummer, huddled around one microphone to convey tunes was particularly transporting. Especially for listeners sitting on ancient wooden benches in a venue so old you can almost smell the sawdust that once covered the floor back in the days when the likes of John Philip Sousa was on stage.

Let’s hope Bird does keep playing Chautauqua every year. After Friday, I’ll also hope I happen upon a friend with homemade pre-show apple pie on the grass outside the Auditorium every year.

The Jokers of Spades: Interview with Red Fang (Boulder Weekly 6/5/2014)

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THE JOKERS OF SPADES
Red Fang Likes Its Sludge-Metal With a Hint of Whimsy
by Adam Perry for Boulder Weekly, 6/5/2014

Not many modern metal groups are featured on NPR’s First Listen or routinely garner nearly a halfmillion YouTube views when a new music video is released. But Portland sludge-rock favorite Red Fang, which plays the Gothic Theatre in Denver this Friday night, has a unique way of maintaining a sense of unbridled fun, for both band and listener, while playing remarkably heavy songs with remarkably dark lyrics.

“I think both darkness and whimsy can come from the same place, which is an indirect expression of repressed feelings,” Red Fang lead vocalist and bassist Aaron Beam says. “In many cases, I think whimsy is an expression of repressed darkness.”

Murder the Mountains, Red Fang’s critically acclaimed 2011 sophomore longplay, was accompanied by an exceptionally whimsical video for the song “Wires,” which hilariously features the band spending a $5,000 check from its record label — ostensibly meant to cover the video’s production budget — on junk food, beer, a used car and miscellaneous items (from gallons of milk to furniture) the members of Red Fang jubilantly run over with the car. It was literally a smash hit, quickly becoming a YouTube sensation and making Red Fang as close to a household name as underground metal bands get.

Probably not since Suicidal Tendencies’ legendary 1983 “Institutionalized” video has a metal group so creatively and successfully roped audiences who might not normally listen to heavy music into its unrelenting lyrics and music with a brilliantly comical video.

“The ‘Wires’ video is amazing and turned us on to a lot of new people for sure,” Beam says. “Making [it] was definitely about as much fun as you can have making a video. I mean, come on, we got to smash shit with a car all day. Duh. It was all our buddy Whitey McConnaughey’s idea. He is a genius for ideas like that. He’s made all our videos so far.”

Not surprisingly, Beam remembers the glam-metal act Twisted Sister, with its memorable videos starring Animal House’s Mark Metcalf, as “the first band I got interested in, and it was definitely because of the video for ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It.’”

Still, despite the more widespread attention brought by numerous whimsical music videos — and a performance on The Late Show with David Letterman, of all places, with Paul Shaffer sitting in — Beam says Red Fang isn’t focused on homogenizing its image or sound for a wider audience.

“We’ve never written any rules for ourselves,” Beam says. “No, I lied. We wrote one rule: If we all like it, it can be a Red Fang song. Doesn’t matter at all what it sounds like or how heavy or light it is.”

Beam, whose “first favorite pop song” was “Private Eyes” by Hall & Oates, insists there is no musical formula for Red Fang, despite the obvious influences of early metal such as Black Sabbath and the gory lyrics of sadistic greats like Samhain.

“Each of us listens to and appreciates pretty diverse music, and I think that definitely affects our songwriting,” he says. “Our fundamental form of expression, no matter what we are listening to or thinking about when we are writing, is dark and heavy…[but] we don’t really think about trying to achieve a balance.”

“Speaking just for myself, it’s really just whatever comes out when I put the pen to paper. Usually it is some sort of expression, whether direct or symbolic, of emotional shit I am trying to process. Sometimes I don’t even know what the hell a song is about until months after writing it.”

The term “stoner rock” has been used in regards to Red Fang’s music, which continued its thick, driving — but well short of hardcore as far as tempo goes — tendencies on last year’sWhales and Leeches. The crunchy psychedelia of classic stoner rockers such as Kyuss is missing, but the pounding drums, dark themes and God-size rhythm guitar of Sabbath’s surely stoner-rock early ’70s material are crucial to Red Fang’s big, imposing metal. Not that Beam pays any mind to how his group gets labeled.

“I feel like stoner rock has blossomed as a genre in the last five years or so, to the point where there is basically a formula for making a stoner band,” he says. “We do not fit that formula…but if you enjoy smoking weed while listening to us, then I guess we are [stoner rock]. I guess I don’t really care, because ultimately, labels are sort of useless.

“I think the closest you can come to describing what a band sounds like is to do one of those formulas where it’s like Black Sabbath plus Hot Snakes plus Balkan Brass Music minus trumpet solos equals Red Fang. But that still is obviously not 100 percent effective, and genre names are convenient and people like them, so whatever.”

Red Fang, more than anything else, embodies what Flea once called “playing ferocious music as a healthy release of anger…turning a source of misery into something beautiful.” No matter how you choose to describe Red Fang’s sound, it’s obviously an impressive feat to gain such widespread appeal while juxtaposing such uncompromisingly heavy music with lyrics like “just before I take you / paint your lips with blood / you’ve stripped away the skin / babe frothing at the teeth / carry him to me, his blood like cream.”

It’s no sin for Red Fang to acquire much of that mainstream attention, which no doubt has helped the group book its mighty metal into some major festivals this summer, by making music videos featuring such unforgettable sights as a zombie ripping a bloody fist through Fred Armison’s rib cage Alien-style in a dive bar just to snatch a can of Tecate from the Portlandia star. The videos are veritable sugar to get the medicine (Red Fang’s searing live shows) down and deliver what the band calls “The Joy of Red Fang.”

“I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me, expressing darkness through the music and lyrics means that I have purged it in a way, and then I don’t carry it with me, so I don’t act like a goth,” says Beam.