SHOW REVIEW: Joanna Newsom (4/4/2016)

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photo by Patrycja Humeniek

SHOW REVIEW:
Joanna Newsom at the Boulder Theater
by Adam Perry for Westword 4/4/2016

Robin Pecknold, whose Seattle alt-folk band Fleet Foxes has somewhat vanished since 2011’s Helplessness Blues peaked at number four on the Billboard chart, made for an interesting opening act last night at the Boulder Theater. In 2008, at the age of 22, Pecknold struck indie gold with haunting, creative tunes like “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song,” which was positively transporting when performed for a hushed, capacity crowd on Sunday night at the Boulder Theater. Juxtaposing that brilliant early-Foxes edge with somewhat cheesy new selections such as Fred Neil’s “The Dolphins” and Pecknold’s uneasy, withdrawn stage presence — the silence between songs was broken only by a man shouting, “I want to hang out with you tonight!” — it was hard not to wonder when the talented Pecknold will find another songwriting groove and rise again.

Conversely, the 34-year-old California chamber-folk artist Joanna Newsom, who headlined the 850-capacity theater, was a beam of light from the moment she appeared on stage smiling around 10 p.m. and received a roar of excited applause when she plucked the opening notes of “Bridges and Balloons.” A young woman next to me started sobbing and convulsing, like Beatles fans who famously freaked out on the set of The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964.

In front of a backdrop that resembled a foggy sky over the forests of far northern California, Newsom, a world-class harpist, held court for an hour and a half with her playful voice, cerebral and ambitious poetry and nimble musicianship. Her super-talented quintet of mega-instrumentalists, including a couple of her siblings, was on point from the start, delivering Newsom’s deep, intricate and challenging compositions with the kind of welcoming energy and mesmerizing dynamics it takes thousands of hours of practice to make look natural. Newsom’s band may be the most well-trained ensemble in the pop-music realm since Frank Zappa’s.

The Boulder audience was full of exhilaration and gratitude, shouting out thanks and compliments between every song. During a tuning pause after “Divers,” from Newsom’s 2015 album of the same name, the young woman next to me joined in, yelling, “You’re beautiful!” to Newsom’s amusement.I jokingly whispered, “Tell her she’s talented, too,” and the young woman, after careful consideration, earnestly told me, “Yes, you yell that now,” before saying out loud, “Oh, she’s perfect!”

The inspiring effect Newsom’s densely composed music and inventively feminist lyrics have on young listeners, especially women, was clearly the tangible story of the evening, beyond the absolute awe one can experience simply watching Newsom play the harp, which she virtually possesses, like a master potter manipulating clay or a climber grasping a sheer cliff.

“Go Long,” which Newsom played during her encore, was particularly remarkable in its successful combination of vital, disparate ingredients: depth, humor, insight, grace, honesty, romance and lament, to name a few.

“Go Long” would be an impressive and arresting work of art if it were only a poem, speaking of “the loneliness of mighty men” from the perspective of a thoughtful, strong woman. Along with many of Newsom’s best, “Go Long” is the veritable antithesis of the modern love song; when delivered along with the precision and intimate language of her harp, it made the evening feel as regal as an opera and as personal as a poetry open-mike at Innisfree.

CRITIC’S NOTEBOOK:
Personal Bias: The seated audience made up mostly of music lovers in their twenties and thirties was a rarity for Boulder, which for the last four years or so has enjoyed many concerts by national EDM, jam-band and rock acts at its two major venues but struggled to support original local music or shows by innovative artists such as Newsom. It was great — especially after getting knocked into by sloppy, intoxicated young people at Dr. Dog’s Boulder Theater show — to see so many familiar local faces hanging on every note and word both Pecknold and Newsom put forth last night. It was often so quiet that the sound of my pen while taking notes was almost intrusive.

By the Way: Newsom, though a more accomplished musician, is in many ways the modern extension of Joni Mitchell’s important musical and lyrical accomplishments of the ’60s and ’70s, combining expert musicianship with a sweet, welcoming voice and wise, liberating and profound poetry. My first thought upon entering the Boulder Theater for her concert was a question: What would a singularly interesting and important artist such as Newsom would have for sale at her merch table? Joanna Newsom koozies, bottle openers and beanies would seem out of place. “What about handcrafted Joanna Newsom potholders?” my date joked. A young man nearby quipped, “Maybe she has taxidermy for sale,” and a friend of ours suggested that Newsom could sell sand from California beaches. It turns out she only had T-shirts, albums and tote bags.

Random Detail: Early on in the show, Newsom informed the audience that she and her band had almost been stranded because of vehicle trouble. Luckily, she said, they were “rescued by the kind people of Justin Bieber, who gave us bus parts. In the final reckoning — just keep that in mind.” Later, when she was frustrated with a buzz from her harp, Newsom joked, “Bieber! They gave us bus parts, but at what cost?”

INTERVIEW: Ween’s Claude Coleman (Westword 2/9/2016)

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Ween drummer Claude Coleman

WESTWORD EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Ween’s Claude Coleman
by Ada Perry for Westword, 2/9/2016

Ween, the ever-experimental and edgy Philadelphia rock band, is back. With frontman Gene Ween(born Aaron Freeman) in recovery from substance abuse, the brilliantly oddball group will play three shows this weekend at 1STBANK Center, and the list of subsequent dates is growing. Other than a statement last fall and a recent Facebook post from Dean Ween (né Mickey Melchiondo), which promised that the three Broomfield shows will include 94 songs and no repeats, Ween’s reunion — according to its management company — has been interview-free

Unless, of course, you ask the drummer.

Claude Coleman Jr., Ween’s drummer since 1993 and the singer of such refined classics as “Put the Coke on My Dick” and “Deez Nutz,” experienced a near-fatal car accident in 2002, and despite that obstacle and his previous intimations that life in Ween might not be all “Chocolate and Cheese,” he seems more than ready to perform with the band again.

When Coleman is asked if he was more surprised by the upcoming reunion than he was by Freeman announcing his retirement in 2012, he replies, “Boognish almightily rose through the smoldering, smoking cracks of subterranean Earth and into the sky, and slapped Gene and Dean upside their heads with 25 feet of flaccid penis and told them to get their shit together. In other words, the universe more or less initiated the return of Ween.”

And off we go. Read the whole interview at Westword.com.

“Slow Is the New Fast” (Bicycle Times #39)

The new issue of Bicycle Times features my editorial “Slow Is the New Fast,” about embracing the moment rather than the destination in a town like Boulder, where there will always be someone (a lot) faster than you on a bike. Check out Bicycle Times #39 on newsstands everywhere now – from Whole Foods and Barnes & Noble to, preferably, your local bike shop.

Slow is the New Fast BT Feb 2016

SHOW REVIEW: Los Lobos at the Boulder Theater (Westword 1/29/2016)

Los Lobos Boulder 1-28-2016
photo by Adam Perry

SHOW REVIEW: Los Lobos at the Boulder Theater
by Adam Perry for Westword 1/29/2016

Remember that scene in the classic ’80s bio-pic La Bamba when Ritchie Valens, played by Lou Diamond Phillips, is blowing the roof off a late-’50s party in Los Angeles with both Latinos and whites dancing their asses off to Mexican-American rock and roll? That feeling of joy, abandon and possibility—just before Ritchie’s misfit brother stumbles in and starts a brawl—is what it felt like at times last night at the Boulder Theater with Los Lobos (which provided much of the music in La Bamba) on stage and cries of te amo! filling the marijuana-tinged air.

“We’re glad to be back in the land of weed,” cool-as-ice guitarist and singer Cesar Rosas said early in the band’s two-hour (mostly) acoustic set, which traversed roots rock, blues, psychedelia, hard rock and exuberant traditional Mexican. “But my ganja days are over now. I get all paranoid and shit. I get up here, like, ‘Why are all these people staring at me?’”

Read the rest of this article at Westword.com

RIP David Bowie: Music’s Greatest Gateway Drug (Westword 1/12/2016)

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RIP David Bowie: Music’s Greatest Gateway Drug
by Adam Perry for Westword 1/12/2016

David Bowie always paid tribute to his older brother, most famously in “All the Young Dudes,” for changing his life as a teenager by turning him on to rock music and the Beat Generation. So it makes sense that Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars would become a musical gateway drug for many listeners—including me. When I was fifteen, my own older brother handed me a discarded, unopened copy of the 1972 Bowie classic—a Columbia House freebie he didn’t want. And it changed my life.

Yesterday as social media overflowed with tributes to Bowie in the wake of the British music legend’s surprising death due to cancer at age 69, I wondered why—even in an age when the deaths of rock icons such as Lemmy garner much-deserved flashes of social-media attention—it appeared that the widespread reaction to Bowie’s death was the most inescapable and emotional since perhaps Kurt Cobain’s suicide in 1994.

As I read post after post about how introductions to Bowie and his music influenced the trajectory of so many interesting people, I remembered hearing the sci-fi glam-rock of Ziggy Stardust as a teenager. Becoming a hardcore fan of Bowie, following the signposts in his lyrics and the fascinating evolution of his music from album to album and genre to genre, meant so much more than being a hardcore fan of other classic-rock musicians because it inevitably meant an education in music and literature outside of David Bowie himself. Not to mention an education in being an artist—or even a person—without limits. Read the rest of this article here. 

10 Best Unexpected Covers (Westword 1/11/2016)

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THE 10 BEST UNEXPECTED COVERS
by Adam Perry for Westword 1/11/2016

When Radiohead demanded public access to Prince’s fantabulous cover of “Creep” recently, I couldn’t help but recall falling in love with creative covers as a teenage drummer and finishing all my own shows in the clubs, bars and garages of Pittsburgh with the punk trio Falling Short by blazing through“Riverbottom Nightmare Band” from Jim Henson’s Emmet Otter. Later, with the Yawpers, I grinned through our double-time version of “Sweet Emotion.”

If you’re going to do someone else’s song, do something different with it. And if you’re going to something different with it, for God’s sake, make it fun.

We all know the most beloved covers in popular music history, from Jimi Hendrix’s timeless “All Along the Watchtower” to Nirvana’s emotive “Where Do You Sleep Last Night?” to Jeff Buckley’s immortal version of “Hallelujah.” In art, stealing is a compliment when you do something new—and, as Frank Zappa said, “Everything’s one note.”

It’s fun when a great band launches into an unexpected yet faithful cover, like the War On Drugs’ surprising “Touch of Grey” or Tool’s majestic, spot-on “No Quarter.” But the MVPs of musical tributes are usually those willing to effectively transpose a classic song for another genre, sometimes going so far out that listeners (in the case of, say, Alt-J’s 2014 cover of “Lovely Day”) don’t know it’s a cover until the vocals kick in. To be that successfully, slyly creative—paying enjoyable homage while still maintaining your own unique voice—is quite an accomplishment. Read our top 10 here.

INTERVIEW: Murder By Death Hunts Ghosts at the Stanley Hotel (Westword 1/6/2016)

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MURDER BY DEATH HUNTS GHOSTS AT THE STANLEY HOTEL
by Adam Perry for Westword 1/6/2016

In January 2014, the gothic-Americana band Murder by Death played the reputedly haunted Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, but singer-guitarist Adam Turla didn’t have any paranormal experiences. So when the quintet returned for three shows in early January 2015 — just before its seventh album, Big Dark Love, was released — Turla and company met with the Stanley’s resident paranormal experts, and shit got serious.

“We’re sitting in one of the most haunted rooms with them, and they’re telling us about the ghost that sometimes appears in that room, and then the door just slams shut,” recalls Turla. “I watched the door, completely by itself, slam shut. That’s crazy!

“It could have something to do with winds and drafts in an old building,” he admits, “but in that same room, later, our stage manager, after hearing that story, walked into the room and the lightbulb just immediately burned out. So she was alone in the dark in that room. She said, ‘I’m a cool-headed lady, but that scared the shit out of me.’”

When speaking with Turla in advance of Murder by Death’s three January shows at the Stanley, I shared my own brush with the paranormal from the audience perspective: When my partner, Irene, and I attended one of last year’s shows, we heard a strange voice a few steps outside the Stanley. Even stranger, after the group’s set had ended, we realized that bassist Matt Armstrong’s pick was in Irene’s coat pocket. The coat had been lying at her feet during the show.

Beyond the supernatural, Murder by Death’s now-annual residency at the Stanley is a truly distinctive concert event — a chance to hang out with the band in the bar of the hotel that inspired Stephen King’sThe Shining, after hearing Turla sing lines like “Spirits are restless/Can’t you hear them yell?” in a place where spirits are believed to reside. Turla says that such site-specific experiences are the reason that the Indiana-bred act has booked destination concerts such as the ones at the Stanley and others in a cave in Kentucky and in a Hollywood ghost-town saloon in the California desert.

“When we started this band, we talked about doing a lot of concept shows and non-traditional concerts, because being a band that’s a little weirder, that doesn’t have an automatic genre to fit into, we wanted to do something a little bit different than be a club band,” he explains. “Our aspirations were not to sell out Madison Square Garden or anything — that stuff’s never entered our minds. We celebrate the weird and the different, so the associations that people make with these shows and these places, it all kind of clicks.”

“You start to realize the opportunity for culture beyond ‘I went to a bar and saw a band,’” Turla continues. “These events link people’s lives. We get people’s imaginations stirred up a little bit. “

Murder by Death’s music is indie rock with a wicked Tim Burton edge and a smidgen of haunted antique Western rumble. Not every underground band with a cello and a macabre, deep-voiced frontman would fit as well at the Stanley, but Turla’s romantic tales of drinking, dreaming and the devil seem to raise the perfect kind of hell, one in which Jack is never a dull boy.

“I think it’s just the nature of what we’re trying to do, which is create this spooky but sing-along angle,” says Turla. “And it’s important, for instance, when you play a haunted hotel, to realize the lyrics that sort of got you to the show. I’ve read about paranormal stuff my whole life as a fun hobby, and here I am at this place that’s known for it, and I’ve created a party there, and how cool is that? Part of it is that it’s just fun for me to be in the song, doing my job, but then suddenly realize where everything came together and got me to this moment.”

Lately, Murder by Death has made an admirable habit of letting fans dictate where they want the band’s career to go. Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon, the quintet’s 2012 breakthrough album, was funded in part by more than $180,000 raised on Kickstarter, and Big Dark Love had a Kickstarter pre-sale of $278,000. What’s more, last month Murder by Death released As You Wish Vol. 2, the second in a series of diverse cover albums full of songs picked by fans. With such a close connection to its biggest fans, it’s not surprising that Turla initially had some reservations about doing destination concerts.

“There was this worry,” he remembers. “We’re putting all the people who like us the most in one place. Could that be a problem? We didn’t think it would be so easy. There are some nights when you feel more famous than other nights, and I feel like the more famous you get, the worse it is. I don’t want to be a famous person; I want to be able to just hang out. And it turns out that in our case, people are just being cool. These are people who know your music and want to participate. It’s a party, and we’re the house band. I’ve had all sorts of great conversations as a result.”

Murder by Death Goes Ghost Hunting at Stanley Hotel

So far, neither Jack Nicholson nor Stephen King have shown up to any of the Murder by Death gigs at the Stanley Hotel. Not even Shelley Duvall. But the band, notes Turla, probably shows up with more energy and intention at the Stanley than at any other venue.

“It’s a way longer set than you’re normally gonna get. We’re practicing, like, 55 songs to have ready,” he says. “We thought it would be fun to pick some songs that kind of fell by the wayside. There’s gonna be some obscure stuff coming out of the woodwork, and this is the right audience to realize that’s happening. It’ll be fun. The three nights should be distinctly different. There’s not a show that I think about the setlist for more than the Stanley every year.”

Turla says that when Murder by Death played the Stanley two years ago, he drank so much whiskey that not only was he unable to tap into the legendary paranormal activity at the hotel, but “there could have been an earthquake and I wouldn’t have known it.” Now he’s got a new plan.

“I have more fun if I just really pace myself there, because there are so many people to meet and there’s so much going on. [Last year] I got kind of wrecked the first night, and then I thought, ‘You know what? This is a cool thing. I wanna be awake.’ And this time we’re doing a full-on ghost hunt with the paranormal investigator, with gear and everything. They’re gonna entertain the hell out of us.”