SHOW REVIEW: Steve Earle at Chautauqua (Westword 8/24/2015)

photo by Adam Perry
photo by Adam Perry

More Than Music: Steve Earle Soars Sober at Chautauqua
by Adam Perry for Westword, 8/24/2015

Even if he or she is in peak form — like country rocker Steve Earle surely is, as evidenced by his new blues album, Terraplane — a true musical legend always ends up putting on a show that’s about more than the music. That was a bad thing when egomaniac Bono repeatedly prostrated himself at the Pepsi Center earlier this year while walking through his life story. It was a halfway good thing when a chatty, fall-down drunk Eddie Vedder celebrated Pearl Jam’s 24th anniversary in Denver last fall.

Friday night at old-fashioned Chautauqua Auditorium in Boulder, the 60-year-old Earle was captivating as he put on a veritable clinic of country, blues and home-fried rock ‘n’ roll, with self-deprecating tales of his seven-marriage love life and his widely publicized struggles with alcohol and narcotics.

After opening the show with “Baby Baby Baby (Baby)” (featuring Earle on harmonica and the “Big Boss Man” nod “Can’t you hear me wail my call?”) Earle commented on how hard it is to make a powerful blues album if you’re from the South, “because the bar is set pretty high.”

“There’s no such thing as a Los Angeles shuffle,” he quipped.

Though the sound at this particular show was uncharacteristically bad, with the bass almost non-existent and the drums as flat as you’d expect at a high-school Battle of the Bands, multi-instrumentalist Eleanor Whitmore (who soared on violin most of the night) and lead guitarist Chris Masterson shined. Not only did they bring snippets of Earle’s fifteen-album catalog (plus a little Hendrix) to life, Whitmore and Masterson also showed what anyone who has seen a top-flight country band knows: country’s finest are the most versatile and tight, and arguably the best, musicians in popular music.

When the “’80s hits” portion of the show kicked in (beginning with Guitar Town’s title track and “Copperhead Road”), Earle and his Dukes finally got some energy back from the virtually all white, middle-aged Boulder crowd, partly by doing something it’s been hard not to notice at concerts lately. During anthemic instrumental passages of well-known tunes, everyone in the band (except the drummer, of course) walked four or five paces closer to the audience, which went wild.

Earle, for his part, spent most of his between-song banter joking about his wild past. He mused on his failed relationships, stumped for action on climate change, and deservedly gave himself praise for using his early ‘90s bottoming out (heroin, cocaine, weapons charges, etc.) to transform himself from a Grammy-winning mess to an outspoken, recovered — and humble — musical icon who is also a respected actor and poet.

“After the show I’ll be at the merch table,” Earle said at one point, “because diesel is expensive.”

Earle — who is currently single, looking relatively healthy, with a salt-and-pepper beard and Santa Claus physique — also touched on his seven marriages (two of them to the same woman) by commenting that at least he “gets to keep the songs,” though not necessarily the royalties.

“Goodbye,” which Earle (whose affable stage presence has moved closer to Ramblin’ Jack Elliot’s) called “the first song I wrote sober,” was delivered beautifully, sung with gut-wrenching clarity and common sense. He followed it by joking that when he “sees the mirror out of the corner of my eye I think, ‘Who the fuck let Allen Ginsberg in here?’”

Other than the darkly powerful song-poem “The Tennessee Kid” from his new album, Earle’s high point at Chautauqua was following the pointed self-criticism “A lot of these songs have a tendency to make my [substance abuse] sound a lot more fucking fun than it was,” with the inescapable misery of “CCKP (Cocaine Cannot Kill My Pain).”

For a bona fide living legend whose songs have been recorded by the likes of Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings, Earle was remarkably self-effacing, which was even more interesting for those of us who’d seen Earle’s son Justin Townes, who is also a recovering addict, play the Fox Theatre last year. The younger Earle, who plays a lighter, mellower form of country-rock, also regaled Boulder with comical, earnest tales of debauchery.

One hopes that the few young people inside Chautauqua Auditorium on Friday night—side note: Why don’t they open the big doors and let the music out anymore?—trusted the elder Earle’s lesson they can write, and play, great music without getting in as much trouble as he once did.

Synesthesia and the Growth of Psych Rock in Denver (Westword 8/13/2015)


Synesthesia and the Growth of Psych Rock in Denver
by Adam Perry for Westword, 8/13/2015

When Synesthesia debuted in Denver’s RiNo district a couple years ago, it was a Spartan affair at the Meadowlark and Larimer Lounge, attracting just 200 people. Now, the Larimer’s Bart Dahl says he’s happy to see what was formerly called Denver Psych Fest “flourish in our neighborhood” — this year’s synesthesia will feature 36 bands on five stages, including those inside the Larimer, Meadowlark and Dateline, along with outdoor stages courtesy of the Savoy and the Big Wonderful.

Festival founder Ray Koren, who enlisted organizational help from local psych-rock stalwart Jordan Hubner last year, started Denver Psych Fest for selfish reasons that proved auspicious.

“I had wanted to throw a festival [and] was excited to book my band [Thee Dang Dangs] alongside bigger acts but we broke up before last year’s festival. It was at that point I realized for me it’s more about bringing in bands we love that don’t play here much, getting them in front of a good crowd in Denver.”

Koren says the name change is aimed at shedding stereotypes.

“It’s all just rock ‘n’ roll to me,” he says. “I do enjoy the particular sounds and sonic styling of a lot of the psych bands, but I like to book a broader spectrum of artists. I by no means am only interested in psych-rock, which is why we are moving forward as Synesthesia.”

Hubner, who has also begun to work with the Black Angels-founded Levitation [which puts on Austin Psych Fest and similar festivals internationally], is on board with the effort to avoid turning Synesthesia into twelve hours of Warlocks clones.

“We just have to like their music,” Hubner said when asked what qualifies a band to get booked for Synesthesia. “It doesn’t have to be tripped-out, reverbed-out psych music. There are so many people who ask ‘What is psychedelic rock music?’ and maybe for some older folks they think of the Dead and that whole scene, but I think of all the bands that transpired from Brian Jonestown Massacre and everything like that, modern psychedelic music.”

There is a punk element at this year’s Synesthesia, with Denver favorites Colfax Speed Queen and Dirty Few playing the Meadowlark’s patio. Euforquestra, a Ft. Collins staple that could be called a world-beat act will play an afternoon set outside at the Big Wonderful.

“We really like to break bands that are up and coming locally,” says Hubner. “There is so much good local music, especially in the psych realm. We’re looking to support that and provide a really good time, and expose people to national acts that they maybe haven’t heard of. We could spend all our money on two bands that everybody knows and go home with a fistful of cash, but that’s not where we’re at. It’s always about breaking new artists.”

In years past, Denver Psych Fest exposed bands like Vacant Lots and the Cosmonauts to wider audiences, and this year Moon Duo – a Wooden Shjips spinoff – headlines the Savoy with a highly anticipated midnight set.

“I learned a ton last year,” says Hubner, “what works and doesn’t work. But mostly we’re trying to keep our own thing; that’s why we chose a venue like the Savoy, which doesn’t do a lot of events like this. We’re able to take that space and make it our own, off the beaten path. And the Curtis Park/RiNo District is my favorite in Denver. I love being over there. Josh [Sampson] from the Big Wonderful has been really helpful, too, so we have this outdoor element and if you want to bring your kids and check it out you’re not just in a stuffy rock club. We’re trying to make it appealing to all audiences.”

Interestingly, the festival formerly known as Denver Psych Fest will not include jam bands, perhaps the artists most closely associated with psychedelic music if you ask the general public.

“I think the jam [and] psych crowds do not mix for a couple reasons,” Koren muses. “Bands like Widespread Panic and Phish all have roots in the Dead’s extended jams [but] I just stop caring about 20 minutes in as meandering, noodling solos become annoying. In my opinion, newer psych-rock bands have more in common with the Rolling Stones, the Velvet Underground, Hendrix and the Doors, who had a bit more focused song structures and get into darker territory, which I like. That, I believe, is the disconnect between the scenes music-wise. There is also a decent gap culturally, hippie vs. hipster.”

It’s hard to argue with Koren’s assessment that it’s more likely to see Phish fan getting turned on to the Black Angels and checking out Synesthesia than a Fresh and Onlys devotee hoola hooping at a String Cheese Incident show. Hubner, for his part, flatly responded “no” when asked if he’d ever book a jamband.

“I guess a lot of psych bands do play three chords and do play for longer than a pop song, and kind of go off on that and make it big, make it a wall of sound, like My Bloody Valentine. I just feel like it’s two different things, jam band music and modern psych music. If I was gonna go see Phish I’d say, ‘I’m going to see a jam band tonight,’ which would probably never happen.”

Not that Synesthesia needs to recruit the jam band audience. The festival’s growth has been remarkable.

“The majority of [concertgoers] are from Denver,” Hubner says, “but we’re really bringing people from all over the world, which is exciting. This year we’re expecting three thousand people, and we have this projection art team behind us and so many people who have come forth who want to be a part of it. We’ve got 20 volunteers and all these people who want to help out, because it’s still a small festival, so it’s a lot of work. We have so many people willing to help, which has been a real blessing.”

Austin Psych Fest is no doubt the model, or at least the inspiration, for Synesthesia, but with the rise of modern psych-rock it was a matter of time before Denver played host to such an exciting lineup of psych bands.

“If you look at other cities – Seattle, L.A. – everyone’s got their own Psych Fest, which is really cool,” Hubner says. “You can see the infiltration of psych music more so now, even in pop music. I think it’s a growing scene and more and more people want to be a part of it.”

A (Pearl Street) Mile in My Shoes


Lining up on 14th Street in downtown Boulder last night, hundreds of kids—from infants in Ergobaby carriers to sporty toddlers and svelte middle-schoolers—waited for pro runner Jennifer Simpson to fire the starting gun and kick off the 18th-annual Pearl Street Mile.

The kids’ race, which gave way to the novice men’s and women’s mile and then the professional sprinters, was actually just a half mile. But, this being Boulder, it was easy to see that a good portion of even the grade-school age participants could out-run me in a mile-long race. Maybe even a couple of the kindergarteners.

Although I ride a bike nearly every day of the year—rain, snow or shine—and am an avid adventure cyclist who completed the annual 400-mile Ride the Rockies earlier this summer, running is a grind for me. Maybe it’s my lack of running shoes, or my comically disastrous gait, or my inconsistent breathing (surely linked to countless bouts of the croup as a child), or just my lack of interest in running unless something is chasing me. Point is, it’s ugly.

Yesterday, however, I decided to suck it up and act like a true Boulderite. Even with the news that this summer’s Ironman Boulder resulted in the death of a man who completed the 2.4 mile swim and 112-mike bike ride but apparently pushed himself too hard in the marathon portion, which he reportedly did not complete.

That the man finished as much of the Ironman as he did would be impressive in many American towns. Lightweight endurance athlete—and Pittsburgh native—I am, I figured biking Poorman’s Pass on my lunchbreak, running—if that’s what you call what I do—the Pearl Street Mile with about 500 other participants and then taking a bath was as close to an Ironman as I’ll get.

After watching the kids, whose false starts as Simpson held the starting gun aloft cracked me up, I lined up with a couple hundred other locals and got going north on 14th Street around 6:30pm. From my first steps it felt not so good; like the two Bolder Boulder 10k’s I’ve completed, I alternated between jogging, running and looking like a person who might pass out at any moment.

My goal had been to finish in under eight and a half minutes, which would have been a personal one-mile record. When my right side started hurting halfway through, my goal was just to finish. At one point, I said aloud, “I am so bad at this.”

I had to laugh as we headed east on Pearl Street and then wheeled around to Spruce Street, thinking to myself, “Why is only about two blocks of the Pearl Street Mile on Pearl Street?”

As we made our way back to 14th Street I saw the big Pearl Street Mile clock ticking down. Surprisingly, if I picked up my pace I’d finish under eight minutes, well ahead of my pathetic record one-mile pace. After running—yes, really running—across the finish line at the 07:54 mark, I had another participant take my photo, feeling slightly like a Boulderite. I’d finished in 136th place, out of 257 runners in the Open Wave. All that was missing, to top off the experience, was a bottle of kombucha and a trip—maybe the whole 30 miles on foot, at a sprint—to see the String Cheese Incident at Red Rocks.

Then, after listening to some speed metal on my iPod and eating a totally unhealthy candy bar, I biked home feeling only like a guy who’d just barely run a mile.

Nathaniel Rateliff & The War On Drugs Treat Boulder to a Mid-Summer Classic (Westword 8/10/2015)

The War On Drugs at the Fox Theatre, 8/7/2015 (photo by Adam Perry)
The War On Drugs at the Fox Theatre, 8/7/2015 (photo by Adam Perry)

At Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats’ free concert Friday night on The Hill in Boulder, amid the annual Triple-A radio-industry conference and a general welcoming of University of Colorado students, Albums On the Hill owner Andy Schneidkraut argued that calling Rateliff’s incredible, game-changing performance on The Tonight Show two days earlier “like hitting a home run in your first major-league at bat” would be off base.

“No,” Schneidkraut insisted. “It was more like hitting a grand slam in the World Series on the first pitch of your first major-league at bat.”

Dancing across a big outdoor stage on College Avenue before Galactic and The War On Drugs played at the Fox Theatre, Denver’s Rateliff looked just as he did during his powerful Tonight Show take on the foot-stomping new single, “S.O.B.”: passionate, poignant and marvelously soulful, like a gruffer Sam Cooke singing redemption songs of love and alcoholism with a revival-style country edge and big, Van Morrison-esque arrangements.

Everyone in the Night Sweats – a tight, uplifting outfit helping make Rateliff’s recent shift to momentous soul and R&B successful – was having a contagious blast onstage. Bassist Joseph Pope rocked back and forth to the rhythm of each song; the two-man horn section clapped and bopped relentlessly; and Rateliff, who plays lead guitar along with excelling as a lead singer somewhere between Ron “Pigpen” McKernan and Otis Redding, took every opportunity to bond with his growing audience.

Chilling outside the Fox before Rateliff’s set, Charlie Hall — drummer for Philadelphia’s dreamily psychedelic rock group The War On Drugs — said he hadn’t seen Rateliff’sTonight Show performance, but Hall marveled when told of fellow Philly great Questlove’s gushing social-media reaction and new Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon’s instant (and vocal) Rateliff fandom.

Not unlike Rateliff, The War On Drugs — whose 2014 guitar-rock soundscape Lost in the Dream became an international sensation —also took about a decade to find a natural niche and deservedly gain some major mainstream spotlight.

Following a set of New Orleans-tinged funk from jamband-scene staple Galactic, The War On Drugs treated an excited Fox crowd to a soaring set of favorites. Led by vastly underrated guitarist Adam Granduciel, whose vocals are not unlike Bob Dylan’s circa Blonde On Blonde, regularly featuring words that seem italicized, The War On Drugs utilized Hall’s thick, deceptively simple near-motorik foundation to repeatedly bring Granduciel’s solos to ecstatic peaks.

Those peaks found the Boulder crowd hooting as if they were watching Trey Anastasio bring a Phish jam to a boil at Red Rocks, but Granduciel — using far less technology than usual because the War On Drugs’ regular equipment was already en route to the band’s upcoming European tour — actually soloed with a creative hard-rock abandon with calculated eruptions much more like Frank Zappa, David Gilmour and even Dean Ween (ala “Exactly Where I’m At”).

Mostly using a Jaguar and a Les Paul, Granduciel (long hair constantly covering his face) repeatedly received loud affection Friday for transforming upbeat, “Boys of Summer”-style ‘80s rock (that a few times sounded so Springsteen-like I expected Demi Moore to leap onstage) from verses and choruses of focused, refined energy into huge, guitar-driven bursts of Rock with a capital R. Each of his roof-raising solos were unique and captivating, usually begun with one of his signature energized hollers into the microphone; the true, song-based rock ‘n’ roll maintaining Granduciel’s energy somehow made the explosive guitar adventures more palpably interesting and riveting than those of most jambands, who ostensibly base their careers on taking solos to such heights.

The War On Drugs also got slow and tastefully trippy at the Fox with tunes like “Suffering,” which slowly devolved into psychedelic hypnosis reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s “Us and Them.” But the highlight of the evening, other than witnessing Nathaniel Rateliff’s humble-yet-triumphant return home from making waves in New York, was watching Charlie Hall meticulously, fluidly provide the building blocks for Granduciel to utter long, East Coast-poetic verses that’d fit right into “Thunder Road” before driving the audience wild with other-worldly guitar freakouts.

While Hall has the upright, blissful technique of Ringo blasting razor-sharp beats on “Paperback Writer,” he also makes the passionate, shape-shifting drummer faces Lars Ulrich made famous in the video for “One.”

The Triple A Conference always brings uniquely vital established national acts to Boulder, where they show hungry upstarts how the mixture of technique, taste and zeal of musicians like Granduciel and Hall — not to mention Colorado’s own Rateliff — can carry a band from obscurity to success.

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.