SHOW REVIEW: Alt-J at Red Rocks (Westword 7/28/2015)

2015-07-27 22.43.55“Maths and Sex”: The Pulse of Alt-J at Red Rocks
by Adam Perry for Westword 7/28/2015

Since debuting with the beautifully eccentric An Awesome Wave in 2012, Alt-J (which has described its songs as being about “maths and sex”) has become a stalwart at major music festivals around the world, sampling — and befriending — Miley Cyrus, picking up a Grammy nomination for last year’s This Is All Yours, and building successful 2013 and 2014 Fillmore gigs into last night’s sold-out headlining slot at Red Rocks.

Music bouncing off the mountains as Denver loomed in the distance, there was an element of Alt-J’s velvety, angular folktronica that transcended the English quartet’s refined romanticism – dipped in funk reminiscent of, though slower than, early ‘80s Talking Heads – to touch on the truly, gloriously ridiculous. Imagine the bleeding-heart lament of the Cure’s Disentegration juxtaposed with more playful, dancable pop and a game of Mad Libs. At times, that pleasing ridiculousness brought to mind the two American guys who racked up over two million views on YouTube in May by aptly poking fun at guitarist/singer Joe Newman’s singular nasal playfulness and the group’s signature vocals-and-synth pulse.

But the young Brits impressively showed the big Red Rocks crowd (whose members are almost exclusively in their twenties and thirties) how lyrics that touch on math, sex with brooms, Japanese deer and references to both Roald Dahl and Maurice Sendak (sung not unlike Adam Sandler regaling a lunch lady) can translate into worldwide rock stardom.

“We’re so glad this night has finally arrived,” unassuming keyboardist/vocalist Gus Unger-Hamilton remarked after the atmospheric opener, “Hunger of the Pine,” from An Awesome Wave. “We’ve been looking forward to this pretty much forever.”

Unique drummer Thom Green, who mixes a gaggle of electronic drums with humble percussion (bongos, tambourine, etc.), shined on the sincerely weird “Fitzpleasure,” a darkly funny funk workout that essentially challenges listeners to pretend they know the lyrics. Newman’s abstract line “Deep greedy and Googling every corner” served as a quick prelude to Alt-J’s marvelous light show, which has expanded since the band played the Fillmore in October, intermittently either reminiscent of the indistinguishable, twinkling city lights far from Red Rocks or lyrically vibrating and changing shape along with the music. Spotlighting each Alt-J member and each song’s nuances (which, notably, are driven at times by guitar, keyboards, drums or simply vocals), Alt-J’s light show was a more focused, tasteful take on the kind of giant, “whoa”-inspiring light show for which Phish has long been famous.

Not that Alt-J is all fat, funky rock and irreverent lyrics supported by a kind of living, breathing stage set. Green, whose underrated, loping style is highlighted by his choice to play without cymbals, is alone worth the price of admission to an Alt-J show if you can get close enough to see how he fluidly moves around the drum kit. Green suffers from Alport syndrome, which has rendered him around 80 percent deaf, and at Red Rocks was effectively Alt-J’s quarterback through subtle dream-works like “Matilda” and oscillating, dance-inducing soundscapes “Dissolve Me” and “Every Other Freckle.”

Surprisingly, the nexus of Alt-J’s one-hour (only one hour?!) Red Rocks set — punctuated with a four-song encore that, like the Fillmore show in October, ended with the twisted sing-along “Breezeblocks” — was Newman and Green’s a cappella duet “The Ripe & Ruin.” The quixotic piece of poetry, which seems like a riddle when you actually read the lyrics, froze many in the 9,500-strong Red Rocks crowd before melting into “Tessellate.” There’s nothing quite like that mid-summer moment when a group of musicians in their prime (treating us to that sweet spot before they’ve written any songs that suck) make a huge, legendary outdoor venue feel impossibly intimate.

2015-07-28 00.27.06



Torche Breaks the Metal Mold
by Adam Perry for Westword 7/21/2015

If you grew up watching Headbanger’s Ball every weekend, it’s impossible not to associate the term “pop metal” with unequivocal shills like Slaughter, Trixter and Firehouse. It says a lot about how crotchety the international metal scene is now — and how heavy the music has become — that a band like Miami sludgester Torche, which plays the Larimer Lounge this Friday, has routinely been dubbed “pop metal” by Stereogum, Consequence of Sound, and even its hometown newspapers.

Adam Perry: Are you just considered pop metal because you don’t sing in the Cookie Monster voice?

Andrew Elstner: I think you sort of hit the nail on the head. It’s wild, I agree. We’re heavy and it’s metal-ish, but we sing; we don’t scream. It’s just the way we do things, a little more tuneful. I’m 39, so when I think of metal I think of older stuff. There are barely new metal bands that I even give a shit about. High on Fire…I can’t think of anything else off the top of my head. Yeah, I think you’re probably on to something.

I went to see Red Fang in Denver last year and posted a photo on social media. A friend in a metal band insisted it was just “hard rock.”

I would consider Red Fang a metal band. A lot of times if you don’t have super long hair; if you don’t have a costume; if you’re not wearing the required outfit, you’re not [considered] a metal band. Heavy metal is so conservative, man. It’s ridiculous. I that’s why, for us, we’re not really into it as a label. Metal fans can be super loyal and they can also be super ridiculous. Growing up as a metalhead I realized there was a lot more to music than just a scene or wearing a costume. I think a lot of it is the aesthetic. You can file us under bands that appeal to non-metalheads, bands that have more sort of crossover potential. We play metal shows—we had a blast playing Tolmin MetalDays in Slovenia; I felt like we were around our people. And we’ll play indie festivals [as] the sort of token heavy band. There are always a lot of curious people; the crowds are always good.

One of the things that makes many people stray from modern heavy music is that it often seems to either be extremely slow, sludge metal—which is enjoyable when it’s every song—or the Cookie Monster voice over indistinguishable laser-fast noise. The tempos and subject matter on Restarter [Relapse, 2015] are so diverse—as a heavy band, how you decide what qualifies?

I think it’s whatever we want it to be, man. There are parameters within which we work, but as far as the lyrics, a lot of it’s more sort of abstract on purpose and tied together loosely with the album title or song title, but there’s a thread. I think a good example is Dio—a killer melody and a memorable hook, even if the lyrics don’t make perfect sense. It’s more about the cool sounding turn of phrase, using your voice as an instrument instead of trying to be Bob Dylan, which I consider to be the total opposite. Rhythmically, too, we’re all into different stuff; I mean, I could listen to “Mississippi Queen” by Mountain all day long. I don’t think we get too complicated. We’re not too into the mathematical side of things. It’s just whatever we feel like doing at the time.

“Blasted,” in particular, is novel in that it’s a metal song that has so much music coming through that clearly isn’t metal. How do you draw from influences far outside heavy music and put them into what you do?

It’s a little like trial and error. I think we’ve all been at it long enough that you sort of know what works. You know where you can get into melody where it still feels heavy but it doesn’t seem to totally clash. We’re all pretty stringent with our criticisms; we all handle it well and we’re pretty tough-skinned, at least when we’re writing in the studio. There’s nobody in the band with some weird angle, who’ll crush somebody’s idea just to crush it. So there are a lot of ideas that get tossed out just because they do sound too one way or another and just don’t feel comfortable, too dark or too crazy or something. We all listen to so much stuff that it’s about pleasing ourselves first, you know?

What do you say to people who only associate heavy music from Florida with Limp Bizkit and nü-metal?

That’s too bad. That would be unfortunate because there’s so much killer stuff coming out of Florida, and the South in general. There’s a lot of sludgy bands; there’s a lot of death metal. But yeah, I guess the meathead quotient it pretty high.

What have your experiences been like playing Colorado over the years?

The shows have always been killer. I’ve had family living in Denver my whole life, so I’ve been in and out of Denver since I was a young kid. Everybody tries to pump up their audiences just to be nice, but we’ve genuinely had awesome shows in Denver.


tom trident

The Spirit of Dead Leaf Lives On at Trident Cafe in Boulder
by Adam Perry for Westword 7/8/2015

Boulder’s iconic Trident Cafe, which opened in 1980, is a good place to go if you want to feel bad about your fashion sense. Tom Abraham, one of the cafe’s numerous baristas, can generally be found behind the counter in the daytime sporting his trademark fuzzy black hair and glasses, three-day stubble and the kind of sleek clothes Franz Ferdinand might wear on stage. The 26-year-old former University of Colorado student was one half of the brains behind the now-defunct Boulder indie warehouse Dead Leaf, which closed at the end of last year, and he worked around the clock this spring to put Trident on the map as a reliable venue for Boulder musicians, poets and comedians in need of a performance space.

“We have the back patio as our performance space and just got things up and running in May,” says Abraham, who was given the job as Trident’s booking agent in April. “The constant rain and cold kept people away; now it’s starting to look great.”

Slowly but surely, Trident is bringing back a small portion of the underground vibe that Dead Leaf’s disappearance left behind, though not what Abraham calls the “devil-may-care” spirit of the arts warehouse’s raucous all-night concerts, which were filled with young Boulder residents alienated by the otherwise stale selection of bluegrass, alt-folk and jam-band shows around town.

“It’s a little bit more of a low-key environment [than Dead Leaf],” says Abraham, “suitable for more thought-provoking events and performances.

“I think the philosophy that we’ve had — that I’ve been trying to maintain — is having the space for budding artists and musicians, really trying to be accepting of, ‘Cool, you’ve only played one show ever? I’m down to give you a slot.’”

According to musician and poet Benjamin Bentele, who is running the Trident’s new Monday silent-film series (which features live musical accompaniment), “It ain’t that [we’ve] eschewed the rank nonsense of Boulder more than the rest, but it’s home, a corner at a time. We’ve nestled into something new.

“Coffee shops are generally much too hippity-jittery for music — eyes and egos flitting around all over,” Bentele continues. “But a patio: Stretch! Breathe! Sip, slurp tea. And no captives in the audience. [Patrons] and musicians at the Laughing Goat [another Boulder coffee shop] so often compete for the same limited air.”

Trident’s humble wooden stage and tables out back suggest a more obvious performing environment than that of most cafes, and in the past two weeks, it has hosted such diverse acts as hip-hop instrumentalists August Louko and Sphinx Guillano; psychedelic folk act Bareface; and singer-songwriters Annie Lo & Co.

Most important to Abraham, however, is that Trident aims to host an interesting event of some kind just about every night this summer, including lectures and interactive theater, comedy and movie screenings in addition to music.

Bowling and Booze with Bud Bronson & The Good Timers (Westword 7/1/2015)


Bowling and Booze with Bud Bronson & The Good Timers
by Adam Perry for Westword 7/1/2015

When the members of the punky rock-and-roll quartet Bud Bronson & the Good Timers walk into a room, their camaraderie — which conjures up classic American-youth ensemble flicks like Bad News Bears — is obvious. The genuine kinship among them is easy to see, whether the group is on stage or, say, gathered at Chipper’s Lanes in Broomfield to talk music over bowling and beer.

“This is too nice,” says 28-year-old singer, guitarist and chief songwriter Brian Beer, a New Jersey transplant, after rolling a seven in his first frame. His preferred local alley is Crown Lanes. “Crown is the kind of shitty you enjoy.”

It’s a description you might also apply to Bud Bronson & the Good Timers themselves. Featuring four good friends from three different states (Colorado, New Jersey and Texas), the band plays heavy, fun, distorted-guitar-driven rock with equally uplifting and debauched lyrics about what Beer calls “glory days that continue forever.”

The foursome is full of unsavory stories, from eating what they thought might be barbecued cat the first time they played Tijuana to buying their “Partycraft” van with $4,000 from a dog-bite settlement. (“Ever since then, we’ve been looking for dogs,” quips bassist Austen Grafa.) And the Good Timers’ music, which is a tad less gritty on the two-song seven-inch released last week than it has been on previous efforts, is becoming a priceless mixture of legendary guitar rock and a faster-paced, more punked-out version of Titus Andronicus’s pub rock.

“As far as themes go,” Beer explains, “when you spell ’em out, it’s hard to make it not sound cheesy. But it’s just coming of age, that prolonged adolescence, that in-between feeling with wanting to be a kid forever and wanting to have fun forever but also realizing that maybe the party can’t continue your entire life. Whether that’s a lifestyle that is tenable is a question we don’t need to answer quite this second — but within the scope of what this band can do, we want to continue that for as long as possible.”

They chose the group’s name to embody those ideas. “It’s just a fictional name I made up,” Beer says. “Bud Bronson sounds like someone who hangs out in the bars every single night and can change your motor oil for you by hand and can drink twenty beers and drive his car home and not hurt anyone.”

“It’s just a fun name. And the Good Timers — we have no problem with saying things directly, and we’re the Good Timers. How direct is that?”

Since 2012, Beer has been fronting the Good Timers in front of sweaty, drunken, smiling crowds at Denver venues like the Lion’s Lair, Lost Lake Lounge and the hi-dive (which he calls “the center of our scene”), recently opening for notable national acts Twin Peaks and Diarrhea Planet. The group’s four members work day jobs ranging from tire dealer to copywriter, and three of them work for Lyft when they can, describing the experience as “driving around Denver making friends and handing out fliers.” There is no independent wealth backing this band, and that take-nothing-for-granted spirit comes out in the Good Timers’ welcoming music.

“I think we all have the self-awareness to do the rock-and-roll thing with some knowledge, and we take it seriously enough to make the music good. But we know that at the very least, it’s just a little form of escape,” says Beer, who puts it another way in the opening lines of “Denver Rock City”:

I know a place we don’t gotta get old/Run wild ’til the day we die/And if you’ve got a sweet koozie and an empty stomach/We can lose our minds tonight.

Guitarist Luke Gottlieb, who grew up on early Metallica in Grand Junction while Beer was cutting his teeth on the Drive-By Truckers and ’90s punk in New Jersey, adds that Thin Lizzy, in particular, is an influence not only because of the band’s tasteful, harmonized guitar solos and boys’-club lyrics, but also because the bandmembers “really took their music seriously, but were a good example of people who didn’t take themselves too seriously.”

When a punk band sings about “learning what it means to be a man” by watching football with Dad, and the first single from its debut LP (the upcoming Fantasy Machine) is a rock anthem about preferring blunts to vape pens, it’s nearly impossible for anyone to opine that it takes itself too seriously.

“When you think about classic rock, you think about those radio DJs making really cheesy puns, and you think about big, sweaty dudes almost embodying all the worst stereotypes of what a guy is like,” Beer explains of the Good Timers’ vision. “But if you’re a good person, if you’re a cool person and you like good things, why can’t we take that back and do it in a fun way? Why do all the assholes get to have good times? We can have good times, too.”

The four musicians, who can often be found around Denver wearing matching jackets, like members of a cheerful motorcycle club, have just launched a two-month tour that they hope will take good times from Colorado down to Tijuana and up to Vancouver, then all the way around the Midwest before returning home.

“We’re all in on this,” says Beer. “We really want to take it as far as we can, touring a bunch and having people in other cities come out to our shows and know the words and sing along and have fun and [feel] the way we do when our favorite bands come to town once a year. I’d love for people to look forward to our shows in that way.”

Fantasy Machine, which the Good Timers say will be ready for release in September on the Illegal Pete’s label, was recorded at the Black in Bluhm studio with Denver stalwart Chris Fogal, who Gottlieb says served as more than an engineer on the album’s twelve tracks.

“I think we had a lot of ideas going in, especially for how we were gonna set up the guitars. We’re a guitar-heavy band. He sat down with the guitar players and just hashed out every song and what guitars were going to come in where and everything. We had ideas for that going in, and Fogal really helped put it all together.”

The Sandlot mentality that’s so obvious when the Good Timers walk into a room is also joyously evident in the brotherly guitar leads that Beer and Gottlieb play on the new tracks. And it’s just as present in Beer’s fellowship-intense lyrics, which touch on all-night salad-days shenanigans with at least as much “we” as “I.”

“That feeling of friendship is huge,” Beer says. “I can’t imagine going through life without it. I know that all of us are just gonna be hanging out forever, and we try to pass that feeling on with the music. What else is life but a celebration of hanging out with your best friends? What’s more important than that?”

As for the young band’s goals, those can be found in the lyrics of the soon-to-be-released track “Living in a Beer Commercial”: We’ll play the hi-dive until the day we die/Or at least until we sell out.

Ten Legendary Summer Bike Rides in Colorado (Westword 6/17/2015)


Ten Legendary Summer Bike Rides in Colorado
by Adam Perry for Westword 6/17/2015

Metro Denver is such a great place for cycling that you could pretty much head in any direction from your front door and find kindred spirits and stunning scenery. But there are many rides that have rightfully reached legendary status; here are ten that should have you on a roll this summer.

Downtown Denver to Oskar Blues
(Start at Platte River Trail)
We’re sure you have friends who crave Oskar Blues’s ever-popular beer and comfort food as much as you do but don’t have the legs to bike 55 winding miles from Denver to Lyons in order to indulge. So ask them to meet you there; that way, they can give you a ride back. From downtown Denver, take the Platte River Trail all the way to Arvada, use the Little Dry Creek Path to make your way through Superior and Louisville, then head north on Broadway Street in Boulder until it becomes the idyllic rolling hills of Highway 36, which is full of cyclists of all skill levels every weekend. Have a Dale’s Pale Ale to celebrate the end of the run: Some nutritionists are now calling hoppy beer a bona fide recovery beverage.

Poorman Road
(Start at Boulder Creek Path)
If you work in Boulder and need a perfect hour-long lunchtime ride or are simply a newbie cyclist looking to strengthen your legs, try tackling the ten-mile Poorman loop this summer. With a road, hybrid or mountain bike, start anywhere along Boulder Creek Path (pavement and then gravel) and take it until you see the porta-potties, then cross carefully to flood-damaged Fourmile Canyon, where you’ll climb gradually about two and a half miles to a sharp right turn onto Poorman. It’s a grind from the start, feeling significantly steeper than the top elevation of 14 percent because of the dirt surface (which will make subsequent road climbs seem easy), but the awe-inspiring rush of flying down Sunshine Canyon after conquering Poorman is worth it.

Boulder to Coors Field on “Bike to the Game” Sundays
(Start at Lucile’s Creole Cafe, 2124 14th Street, Boulder)
Chicory coffee, two eggs, red beans and a couple of beignets: That’s the perfect way to fuel up before biking south on Broadway in Boulder to Arvada — via Marshall, McCaslin and Coalton roads, then Interlocken and Wadsworth boulevards. From there you’ll jump onto the Little Dry Creek Path at 80th Avenue and take the smooth and serene (except for the smelly Commerce City “Poop Loop”) route to Gate E at Coors Field. At noon on Sunday game days, the Rockies offer monitored bike parking, complimentary energy bars and bottled water, and entry into a lottery for in-game prizes like autographed memorabilia, tickets and invitations to batting practice. Bike all the way from Boulder (forty miles, two and a half hours) and you’ve burned enough calories to justifying inhaling hot dogs and beer during the game, too.

Denver to Red Rocks
(Start at Washington Park)
There is surprisingly little climbing in this genuine bucket-list ride, which takes you from downtown Denver to the greatest outdoor music venue in the world in just over twenty miles. But after you’ve made it through Bear Creek, the steeper-than-steep (but thankfully short) climb through sandstone to Red Rocks Amphitheatre won’t feel like a “little” climbing. On a summer night — say, July 27, when Alt-J and TV on the Radio play Red Rocks — check out’s intricate directions and bike from Denver to Morrison, toward the waiting music and a waiting friend who’ll drive you home after the show.


Boulder to Ward
(Start on Broadway in Boulder)
Good for professional training, preparation if you’re planning a bike tour, or just a mid-summer quest for some cool weather, the challenging climb from Boulder to Ward via Lefthand Canyon is a staple for Front Range cyclists more interested in physical and mental challenges than scenery. From Broadway in Boulder, head north to Lee Hill, then make a left to begin an unforgettably punishing climb that finishes with a view of a junkyard. Continue over Olde Stage Road — a heart-pumping ascent — until the relenting roll to Lefthand Canyon. There you’ll climb a couple of gradual miles until the iconic left turn that begins the real deal: eleven miles of steep, mostly nondescript climbing that is almost masochistic in the final mile (a 20 percent grade) to Utica Street Market, where you’ll find hearty cyclists sipping espresso and munching on snacks. With 4,000 feet of climbing in forty miles, you’ll need snacks on the way, too.

Cherry Creek Reservoir
(Start anywhere in downtown Denver)
It’s a great, mellow ride from downtown to the heart of Cherry Creek State Park, with barely any climbing but lots of classic scenery on a jaunt you could fit in at lunchtime or make a day of, depending on your starting point. According to local attorney Tim Franklin, who has lived in Denver for nearly 25 years, “No matter what part of town I’ve lived in, it dawns on me when cresting the hill on the south side [of Cherry Creek Reservoir] how lucky we are to have such a beautiful ride in the middle of the city. The Denver skyline framed by the Rocky Mountains, with deer eating grass by the side of the road, has to be one of the best go-to in-a-hurry rides in the country.”

Boulder to Gold Hill
(Start in downtown Boulder)
About 3,000 feet above Boulder sits Gold Hill, with its general store and the Gold Hill Inn (a respected music-venue/restaurant), a population of about 200 people, and a history — dating back to the 1850s — of legendary gold discoveries. For a very challenging ten-mile climb with a maximum ascent grade of 23 percent, take Mapleton Street west from downtown Boulder until it turns into Sunshine Canyon and leads all the way up to Gold Hill, traversing pavement, gravel and dirt. For a more gradual, casual climb to the funky former mining town, take the Boulder Creek Path to serene Fourmile Canyon, where you’ll see lingering damage from the 2010 fire that destroyed about 170 homes in and around Gold Hill. Bring full-fingered gloves if you’ll be bombing back to Boulder near sundown, as it gets cold quickly up there.


Betasso Preserve
(Off of Fourmile Canyon)
Non-cyclists drive past the pristine, gorgeous and pretty technical mountain-biking trails of Betasso Preserve every day on drives through Fourmile Canyon without realizing the local gem is there. A set of steep stairs leads down to the heavenly mountain-biking haven, which features mostly one-direction trails good for longtime riders shredding and newbies just getting familiar with the enjoyable flow of forested singletrack that intermittently offers sweeping canyon vistas and, once in a while, glimpses of bears and mountain lions. Betasso is closed to cyclists Wednesdays and Saturdays — no doubt part of the reason it stays so pristine.

Golden Gate Canyon
(Start at Parfet Park, Golden)
The words “classic” and “Golden Gate” are heard together a lot in these parts, though immaculate Golden Gate Canyon State Park is known more for fishing, hiking and camping than the stellar cycling routes surrounding it. For a fun half-day loop, begin at Parfet Park in Golden, climb Golden Gate Canyon Road until it hits the Peak to Peak Highway for a few epic miles, then bike up and down Coal Creek Canyon before making your way back to Golden. With 5,000 feet of climbing in fifty miles, you’ll get in an impressive workout and some seriously stunning views. Take a detour to Crawford Gulch Road and get a picture by the “Caution — 19% Grade” sign if you want to gloat.

Super Flagstaff
(Start in downtown Boulder)
Meet a friend for coffee and a snack at the hip Trident Cafe before climbing Ninth Street to Chautauqua Park, where a right on Baseline Road will take you to the internationally famous six-mile climb known as Super Flagstaff, put on the cycling map in part by local legend Andy Hampsten. Cyclists new to difficult climbs will relish the challenge of switchback after switchback as Boulder and the Flatirons start looking smaller and smaller and your legs get used to the unrelenting ascent to the iconic panorama at Sunrise Amphitheatre. But a bigger challenge — which includes an even more beautiful view, at Lost Gulch — is the 1,000 extra feet of climbing if you skip the amphitheater, continue all the way to the mailboxes at the beginning of Boulder Open Space, and roll over the other side to Meyers Homestead. Fair warning: The almost unbelievably steep, twisting climb just before Lost Gulch is a heartbreaker.

SHOW REVIEW: Cage the Elephant & Portugal. the Man at Red Rocks (Westword 6/2/15)


Cage the Elephant & Portugal. The Man at Red Rocks
by Adam Perry for Westword, 6/2/2015

With the lights of Denver in the background and Red Rocks’ iconic natural beauty surrounding him, 31-year-old Kentuckian Matthew Shultz shook and spun and generally ran around the stage last night as his Southern alt-rock band, Cage the Elephant, entertained a sold-out young crowd. The former construction worker and plumber, who has said he discovered punk music a few years after Cage the Elephant (with its southern-fried 2008 blues-funk single “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked”) became famous, showed a smidgen of raw power a la Iggy Pop while racing around the big Red Rocks stage and into the crowd. However, Cage the Elephant’s inherently pop sensibilities ultimately made Shultz’s act – preening haphazardly like he and his mic stand might both fall over and break at any moment – look mostly like a Some Girls-era Mick Jagger fronting Bush.

Unlike the night’s co-headliner, the sweetly dark Alaska psych-pop outfit Portugal. The Man, Cage the Elephant portends an element of danger in their live performances. You know: Axl Rose might jump into the audience and punch you out; Rose might also decide an audience member looked at him the wrong way and call it a night; G.G. Allin might defecate and throw it around; Glenn Danzig might grab, and toss, your smartphone if you take his photo; and the baby-faced Shultz, a stagehand frantically following him around to give the microphone cord slack, might get too close and bob his shaggy hair in your face.

About that stagehand – he’s a busy guy. With how much exercise Shultz gets running all over during Cage the Elephant shows, his stagehand’s job – making sure Shultz’s extra-long microphone cord doesn’t get stuck on a monitor or elsewhere – appears not unlike a cat following a string it will never catch. Multiple people around me wondered aloud why a band co-headlining Red Rocks doesn’t have access to a cordless microphone, but the consensus was that it’s all part of the show, ostensibly part of the “danger” façade.

Portugal. The Man, however, played a set that was relatively reserved and refined, its best songs, such as “Modern Jesus“ and “All Your Light,” mysteriously beamed somewhere between Black Sabbath’s “Electric Funeral” and tastes of Traffic’s “Low Spark of High Heeled Boys.”

The moment it hit me that the aforementioned creatively dark combination equals T. Rex, Portugal. The Man wowed the capacity Red Rocks audience with a patient, gratifying Phish-esque jam into T. Rex’s “Children of the Revolution,” simultaneously giving the metaphorical light bulb over my head a soundtrack. It also made me feel old – for the thousands of teens in the audience, Cage the Elephant’s sing-along performance of its claim to fame (“Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked”) no doubt seemed like a window into classic rock.


Personal Bias: When my show-mate and I saw a young man with a baseball cap over an obvious gaping head wound, blood running down his face as he nonchalantly balanced two beers and a hotdog while walking up the challenging Red Rocks stairs before the Mowgli’s‘ early set, it was a little tough to focus on the music. When he sat down, the guy’s friends didn’t even say anything at first, as if it was normal for him to return from grabbing pre-show beers looking like “Massive Headwound Harry.” Eventually I was convinced they’d taken him to find assistance.

Random Detail: Frank Zappa’s “I Could Be a Star Now” famously said of rock ‘n’ roll, “In this business you either gotta play the blues or sing with a high voice.” Needless to say, Cage the Elephant does not play the blues, and Shultz’s soaring voice (even higher than that of Portugal’s John Baldwin Gourey) sounds remarkably similar to that of Dr. Dog’s Scott McMicken, just less soulful and extraordinary. It’s as if McMicken was raised on Ray Charles and the Dead Milkmen and Shultz was raised on Ray Charles and Fall Out Boy.

By The Way: Cage the Elephant’s jangly 2014 single “Cigarette Daydreams” – with its “looking for the answers in the pouring rain” chorus – sounded downright meaningful and magical at Red Rocks. But doesn’t everything? Maybe; but no, I’m not testing that theory by going to see Ed Sheeran later this month.

Innocence, Experience and $45 T-Shirts: U2 in Denver


U2 at the Pepsi Center, Denver
by Adam Perry for Westword

$10 beers, $45 t-shirts and an egregious number of people having their pictures taken in front of an oversized concert poster for the show they were about to see: this was the scene inside the Pepsi Center leading up to U2’s 8 p.m. set in Denver on Saturday night. Nine months ago, U2 released a myopic album – Songs of Innocence – that was forced down the throats of 500 million iTunes users via an infamous automatic-download deal with Apple. That obscenely aggressive and corporate marketing strategy has led to perhaps the biggest backlash against U2 since the Replacements’ 1981 lampooning of U2 in the form of the snarky song, “Kids Don’t Follow.” But U2’s previous tour (“U2 360”) was the most financially successful tour any band has ever embarked on, and the sold-out Pepsi Center was filled on Saturday night with hardcore U2 fans – mostly in their 40s – raising their iPhones in approval as history’s signature arena-rock band emerged.

Actually, Bono emerged first, like a boxer or a television evangelist, climbing a small set of stairs to a catwalk as he was showered with politician-esque adoration. In sunglasses and bleached blond hair, the Irish rock star raised both arms to the crowd – a move he would repeat through the evening – and when the gesture was returned, I couldn’t help thinking how truly weird it is that Bono has become the Pope of rock ‘n’ roll.

Indeed, after the frontman crossed the catwalk to meet his three waiting bandmates and the light show kicked in, along with the quixotically adult-contemporary tribute to punk rock “The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone),” things got even more Catholic and egotistic quickly. Bono knelt on the stage asking for fans to “surrender”; he also called on concertgoers to “sing their blessings.” Sure, the band showed its pure musical prowess with two still-powerful 35-year-old post-punk tracks (“The Electric Co.” and “I Will Follow”), but that smidgen of a rock concert was a prelude to a sort of living museum exhibit about Bono’s childhood.

Five of the next seven tracks were from the controversial Songs of Innocence album and featured Bono intermittently walking through a double-sided video screen featuring moving images of his youth. At one point the singer commented, “All this technology is about making every seat feel like a front row seat.” And that’s true. Because of the diverse setup, there may not have been a bad seat in the house, especially not the one given (during “Mysterious Ways” and “Desire”) to a young woman named Victoria, who Bono picked out of the crowd to take live video of U2 that was streamed in the arena and online.

The press seats were where center ice is at Avs games, in the first section above the floor, because that gave the best view of the horizontal interactive-video spectacle that featured a small stage at one end and a stereotypical arena-rock stage at the other. But those seats, as any, also provided a good view of the 55-year-old Bono strangely pouring bottled water over the crowd as if dousing it in holy water, kneeling in an emotional heap screaming “comfort me!” over and over, and repeatedly playing air guitar and air drums in such an awkward manner he looked like both Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Terminator and Phil Hartman as Frankenstein.

I had never seen U2 in concert before. The woman next to me remarked how she saw the quartet at Mile High Stadium in the early ‘90s (“I’m a lot older now; Bono is a lot older now”) and, seeing them again for the first time since, realized they haven’t written any good songs in the twenty-plus years since. Her opinion seems about right, but – despite the Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen, Jr. having the collective stage presence of a man reading Camus in a leather chair – it’s worth a trip to see U2 in concert just to hear the Edge’s skyscraping, singularly exceptional guitar style in person, and feel the still-influential and exciting momentum of oldies like “Bullet the Blue Sky” and “Where the Streets Have No Name.”

It’s just that the technology – and the inherent spectacle – can’t cover up the fact that, while U2’s stage show has remained ambitious and gigantic, the group hasn’t been writing great music and lyrics for decades. In fact, in the moments when the multimedia extravaganza is so huge and the songs being played are such broad-stroked morass, the technology and the spectacle — especially when juxtaposed with from-on-high politics — become simply transparent and a little depressing, leaving many concertgoers to pine for a stripped-down rock ‘n’ roll show during which the songs, and a band’s performance of those songs, either stand tall on their own or not. As U2 played “Beautiful Day” I felt a twinge of pain for missing Garage Fest at the hi-dive.