The creative young Boulder trio Grass is indicative of the music being pushed over the last year by ambitious local cassette label First Base Tapes: gritty and experimental, but catchy, clever and (while ear-bleedin’ loud) deceptively pleasant.
Twenty-four-year-old singer/guitarist Michael Colussi, a University of Colorado student from Indiana, told Westword that Grass’s debut album, Dragwire, was recorded in just two days on a “beat-up” 2008 iMac, with minimal subsequent overdubs. Half of Dragwire was tracked at the band’s warehouse space next to the Bus Stop strip club in Boulder, and half at a warehouse in Denver also used by psychedelic band Tom Waits for No Man.
Dragwire, distributed by First Base Tapes via cassette and download, will have its official release this Saturday, November 5, in Boulder when Grass plays a house party featuring four other bands. Colussi says that playing relatively brief sets at house parties and warehouses with a slew of other acts on the bill is the only current option for a fledgling Boulder rock group, and he’s okay with that.
“It’s challenging, and there can be a feeling of competition, but we’ve learned to do well with them because it’s basically all we know at this point,” he says. “Short sets are just what we know how to do, so we play hard and pack up. We’re also a relatively new band, so we don’t have six albums’ worth of material to draw from.”
For the past decade, Riot Fest (a three-day festival that takes place each year in Denver and Chicago) has been the place where childhood punk-rock dreams come true. For instance, two years ago outside Mile High Stadium, I got to see the Descendents tear through Milo Goes to College, which I played so many times in my Walkman as a high-school freshman in Pittsburgh that the cassette was destroyed. Last year, when Riot Fest’s Denver edition moved to the National Western Complex, I earned a new appreciation for goth trailblazers the Damned and beamed, laughed and sang along with thousands of others to the Dead Milkmen’s “Punk Rock Girl.”
Riot Fest, which began as a multi-venue festival at clubs and theaters in Chicago, is mostly about reveling in raucous performances by edgy, legendary bands you had no idea were still around and making pilgrimages to witness long-awaited reunions. The most anticipated reunion in the history of heavy music, arguably, took place last night in Denver, but I’ll get to that in a bit. (Read the full article at Westword.com)
Beth Preston’s new self-released album, Little Mirrors, unleashes the musical and lyrical giant inside the diminutive Boulder alt-Americana songstress for the first time on record since 2005’s Inside Fire. Produced by Phil Parker, cellist for both Gregory Alan Isakov and Brandi Carlile, Little Mirrors is a deceptively gentle, love-affirming twelve-song collection. Preston will release it this week as she simultaneously plans her wedding and launches a vocal-coaching program. Mostly recorded in Boulder at Parker’s home studio after the producer happened upon Preston performing at a local bar last year, Little Mirrorstransforms the relatively wild, lo-fi spirit of Inside Fire — written and recorded when Preston was still living in San Diego — into the tender, lucid story of Preston’s life in Colorado. A gifted, tasteful guitarist, Preston makes the mellow “Wishing Well” and “Deep Cover” roll like ripples down Boulder Creek, but it’s her thick, captivating and malleable voice — which can dig down deep and bluesy or soar, Jeff Buckley style — that carries the material. Well, that and lines like “You put this mountain range to shame,” which make us look forward to Colorado romance as summer nears.
For almost a decade, it’s been pretty standard for Boulder-born rock bands to relocate to Denver to find regional and national success. That’s at least partly due to Boulder’s lack of a small, music-focused venue that could serve as a bridge between cafes and bar-and-grills and headlining the Fox Theatre. Recently, though, Denver bands have started to make the pilgrimage north for gigs more frequently, largely due to First Base Tapes. It’s a cassette-only Boulder label that started releasing albums by interesting, edgy Denver bands like Male Blonding, Scary Drugs and Montoneros last year and is now greatly contributing to the cultivation of a local rock scene in Boulder.
When they arrive for an interview, the young guys (all of them current or former University of Colorado students and DJs at the tremendous Radio 1190) who run First Base Tapes seem more like an army than an indie label. And only five of the nine music-loving First Base Tapes dudes showed up to speak with Westword earlier this month.
Kenny Prior, age twenty, and Donato Ruscitti, nineteen, met at Monarch High School in Louisville, but everyone else at First Base Tapes — which regularly puts on successful Boulder house concerts and warehouse shows (chiefly at the Forge) in addition to releasing tapes by Boulder and Denver bands — met at the University of Colorado.
“I came here [from Bryan, Texas] not knowing a single person, so the main friend group I built was around 1190,” says 21-year-old Colton O’Connor.
“We got invested in the DIY scene — mainly the Denver scene, because the one in Boulder wasn’t as thriving — and our idea was initially to get a warehouse and start a venue,” Liam Comer, 24 and from Boulder, explains. “We had done some booking with house shows and at smaller venues with 1190 and wanted to look into getting our own space. Based on that idea, we thought about having a recording studio in the back [of the venue] and eventually thought, ‘Why don’t we start a label and put out music ourselves? We don’t need to put down a huge deposit on a location; we can do that from our homes.”’
A record-store owner in Boulder said, matter-of-factly, “That’s cute,” when I told him about First Base Tapes’ frugal cassette-only vision, which stemmed from an 1190 in-studio performance by L.A.’s Death Valley Girls that Comer and O’Connor recorded over an old tape of bird sounds. But First Base Tapes’ connection with a vital, progressive local radio station — meaning access to “very, very expensive equipment” and networking and promotion opportunities — sets it apart from your average hipster dorm-room label.
Only one of the cassettes that First Base Tapes has put out so far — they’re usually done in runs of 100 and sold for $5 — hasn’t sold out, but the dudes in charge say the music will mostly be downloaded, and the point is more to get a Boulder music scene going again. Still, cassettes — and the memory of how touching it was when someone put the effort into making you a mixtape back in the day — are quirky and fun, and encourage listeners to check out album sides rather than fast-food servings of single tracks.
“The cassette revival is really ramping up,” Prior asserts. “You go to Urban Outfitters and see Lana Del Rey tapes. It’s really starting to get commercial.”
“And people our age drive old cars,” Ruscitti adds.
“Especially with Cassette Store Day, I knew it was a pretty big deal here, with Twist & Shout giving out all those cassettes,” says Adam Tammariello, age twenty and from San Diego. “And that Rolling Stone article about Burger Records [which also does cassettes] was pretty cool. That was a nice insight into what we do, actually.”
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?”
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.”
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.