SHOW REVIEW: Primus In Boulder (Westword 5/16/2017)

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Primus Still Sucks, 30 Years Later
by Adam Perry for Westword, 5/16/2017

Stuck in a two-block line of people waiting to get into Primus’s sold-out show at the Fox Theatre, a guy in his mid-twenties told a friend incredulously, “My cousin said he’s never heard of Primus. He didn’t even know fucking ‘John the Fisherman!’”

Yes, some youngsters might not realize that 25 years ago – around the time the Fox Theatre opened – an eccentric Northern California band became an MTV staple and a household name thanks to the dark tale of Alowishus Devadander Abercrombie (long for Mud). Back then, the trio packed arenas and cracked the Billboard Top Ten. That would be like Animal Collective doing the same today.

Inside the Fox, three men wearing A Perfect Circle T-shirts discussed the dietary habits of each member of Tool. A customary “Primus sucks!” chant filled the theater, reminding me of when I was a 12-year-old Catholic-school boy wearing a “Primus Sucks” shirt and ridiculed by kids who genuinely thought Primus sucked. Last night, I felt anticipation and excitement seeing, for the first time, one of my favorite childhood bands take the stage. (Read the rest at Westword.com)

Casey Prestwood Keeps It Real (Westword 3/1/2017)

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Casey Prestwood Keeps It Real
by Adam Perry for Denver Westword 3/1/2017

Casey James Prestwood, veteran of Colorado country-rock band Drag the River and acclaimed Alabama emo group Hot Rod Circuit, is a country-music encyclopedia. Get him talking about legendary session musicians and he’ll spin a yarn the size of Texas. Discussing the earnest, emotional and sometimes downright depressing lyrics he sings over his backing band, the Burning Angels, however, doesn’t come so easily.

“I think I’ve kind of found a groove with when I should write and how I should write,” the Littleton resident says about his new album, Born Too Late, which drops in early March. “I lead a pretty happy life now. I’ve got a great wife and kids, and my band is awesome, so I kind of write when I’m down, because it feels like stuff’s more real. I pretty much keep it real in the songs story-wise, too. It’s almost always told from something that happened to me, so most of it is taken from earlier times, before I was settled down.”

For instance, “Jailbird,” from the new album, is about a family member who was incarcerated long-term and other references to Prestwood’s past, including somebody knocking his teeth out in Houston and spending time in jail himself.

“Sometimes you write a song because you’ve gotta get it out,” he explains.

On Prestwood’s first solo album, 2007’s The Hurtin’ Kind, he sang about being “passed out and kicked around” and “sleeping under the stars” — similar to the “blue, lonely and wasted” life he describes on Born Too Late, a crisp, lyrically deep and musically entrancing twelve-song trip through heartache and heavy drinking.

Prestwood’s most interesting recent travels include a month-long tour of Belgium, where, in true Johnny Cash style, the Burning Angels’ gigs included maximum-security prisons.

“About eighteen inmates came to see us, and they were, for lack of a better term, violent — serial killers and that sort of thing,” Prestwood says. “It was real clinical. They’re in the room with you, not shackled up or anything, and the guards didn’t have any weapons. They were real strange characters, but fascinating. We just did songs about prison and murder ballads.”

The bandmates — decked out as they almost always are in rhinestone suits made by the legendary Manuel Cuevas — played country gems about incarceration, such as “Folsom Prison Blues” and “Mama Tried.”

“The guy they call the Belgian Butcher, a big guy who was a schoolteacher and serial killer, he stood up while we were playing, and it kind of freaked me out,” Prestwood recalls. “He came up to me after and said, ‘Hey, man, great set. I really loved the tunes. Nobody really comes through here and does country music. But you guys don’t need to do “Folsom Prison” if you come back. Everybody who comes here plays that tune, no matter what kind of band they’re in. We’re sick of it.’

“I don’t think we’ve played it since,” Prestwood says of the song. “Maybe that’s the last time I’ll play it.”

Around the time the Burning Angels got together, in 2009, Prestwood — who has kept a side gig at Whole Foods for many years — thought maybe it was the last time he’d pursue a musical career. He says that bandmate Kevin Finn inspired him to keep going.

“Kevin was bugging me to get a band together, and I was kind of nestling in on my Whole Foods career, working up the ladder a little bit in that,” Prestwood says. “I’d cut my hair and was just, like, ‘Oh, man, I’m not gonna do band stuff like I used to when I was a kid.’ Really, if it weren’t for Kevin, I probably would’ve hung it up.”

Prestwood says it’s “wild” how many bandmembers have come and gone since the Burning Angels’ salad days, which are highlighted on a recent compilation disc called The Best of the Early Years. He calls Born Too Late “the most cohesive material I’ve written,” and bassist Jeffrey Martin seems equally pumped about the new record.

“Even though it was recorded in five cities, it all jells and sounds cohesive, like we did it as one session,” Martin says. “It features some of Casey’s best writing, and he’s really growing as a songwriter. The best is yet to come.”

Murder By Death Haunts the Stanley Hotel Again (Westword 1/17/2017)

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photo by Brandon Marshall

Murder By Death And Its Devoted Fans Again Haunt the Stanley Hotel
by Adam Perry for Denver Westword 1/17/2017

Walk the grounds of the Stanley Hotel before one of Murder by Death’s annual winter shows. A ghostly stillness will chill your bones. Frigid winds will greet you, along with a buzz of anticipation from the gothic-Americana band’s fans, who come from all over the world to see the group at the reputedly haunted hotel that inspired Stephen King’s novel, The Shining.

“We’re definitely doing this again next year,” said frontman Adam Turla, dressed in a vintage black tuxedo, early in his band’s two-hour Friday-night kickoff of a three-night run. Coincidentally, it was not only Friday the thirteenth, but also a full moon. The spooky Estes Park setting — with most in attendance dolled up in formal attire to re-create the iconic ballroom photo from Stanley Kubrick’s film version of The Shining — could not have been more perfect for Murder by Death’s fourth-annual Stanley stint, when wandering the infamous old hotel in search of spirits, whether alcoholic or non-corporeal, is as much a thrill as the music.

Turla said that Murder by Death, which in 2014 became the first rock band ever to play the Stanley, rehearsed 52 songs for this year’s performances. Friday’s, which was very loud and often brought a punk-rock intensity to the group’s grim, poetic Americana, was full of deep cuts. The 26-song set featured the live debut of “Oh, To Be an Animal,” from 2012’s Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon. The quintet’s fiercely loyal fans sang along, word for word, with a few dusted-off fifteen-year-old obscurities that Turla said the bandmembers had had to relearn to perform.

As in past years at the act’s Stanley shows, it was more of a glass-raising, fist-pumping sing-a-long than a dance party. But that didn’t take away from the energy, which peaked with the jam-packed crowd screaming along to the line “Raise another pint,” from the song “Brother,” and, of course, “Spirits are restless/Can’t you hear them yell?” from “The Curse of Elkhart.”

Murder by Death fans had fancy — and, for some, frightening — fun at the Stanley once again.

Turla, saluting the lack of snow that made the journey to Estes Park easier than in some previous years, told the audience, “We didn’t know if anyone would drive all the way up here [the first year]. This is literally the most fun thing we do every year. I love it up here, and it’s a dangerous proposition every year.”

After the set, Turla and the rest of the band hung out with fans in the Stanley’s whiskey bar, past 2 a.m. The singer, whose thick voice and black attire make him seem like a smaller Johnny Cash on stage, said that the band has no plans to record an eighth album in the near future and that, in fact, he’s busy working toward opening a restaurant in Kentucky with his wife.

As for Murder by Death’s exceptional fans, who raised an astonishing $278,486 on Kickstarter for the group’s latest album, 2015’s Big Dark Love, and who travel — from the Stanley, to a cave in Kentucky, to a Wild West film set in California — to see the group perform, Turla was succinct in his praise.

“They’re amazing people,” he said, holding a book an admirer had just given him at the bar. “Some of them can drink a little too much, but they’re amazing people, and we couldn’t be more grateful.”

Absolute Vinyl’s 8th Anniversary (Westword 12/21/2016)

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Absolute Vinyl – A Rare Record Collector’s Paradise
by Adam Perry for Denver Westword 12/21/2016

Finding dusty record shops that cater to artsy geeks has never been so hard in Boulder, where the city’s eccentric charm has been diluted by a sky-high cost of living and an influx of techies from the coasts. Absolute Vinyl is one of the last spots where the college town’s once notorious weirdness still lingers.

Owners Doug and Annie Gaddy, a husband-wife duo, will celebrate the shop’s eighth anniversary and the sale of its 80,000th record next month. Absolute Vinyl carries new albums from labels big and small, and has the most diverse selection of high-quality vintage vinyl of any shop along the Front Range.

Annie, who began loving music as a child piano prodigy, is “really good at taking really nerdy, geeky guys with no social skills around women and putting them at ease,” says her husband. “We give incredible customer service before, during and after the sale.”

The couple moved to Colorado in 1997. Doug Gaddy, who’s originally from North Carolina, says they founded Absolute Vinyl when it became clear that Boulder was “shedding record stores” and that opening a shop would be a good business investment. The couple launched the store in January 2009 at the north end of Broadway; it has since relocated to a spot at Arapahoe and 55th Street.

“I learned from Andy [Schneidkraut, owner of legendary Boulder shop Albums on the Hill] that at its peak, Boulder had sixteen record stores,” Gaddy says. “I was trying to do a shop that was different from every other, and trying to move away from the jamgrass, the legacy of the hippies and that kind of stuff, trying to do something that was really different. I carry ambient and electronic music. I carry classical. I know a lot about jazz.”

Gaddy honed the craft of selling records while attending collectors’ shows in Washington, D.C., and New York in the late 1980s. Selling to “extremely picky Korean and Japanese buyers” influenced his store’s intricate and trustworthy grading system for used vinyl, he says. Absolute Vinyl is the only shop in the area that cleans and grades every used album it sells.

“No other shop is going to take the time to do that,” Gaddy says. “They don’t see the economic benefit. We get refugees who’ve been burned at other stores.” He says they become avid Absolute Vinyl customers because of the store’s generous warranty on records and vintage stereo equipment, which makes shopping virtually risk-free.

Basil Emmanuel, whom Gaddy calls his “MVP” employee, is known for greeting every customer with his signature salutation: “Welcome home.” But the Boulder native and his co-workers provide more than just a comfortable shopping experience; they also bring a wealth of knowledge to their work.

Absolute Vinyl has deep ties to the University of Colorado Boulder’s Radio 1190, where many of the staff work as DJs, giving them an edge on the record-store competition.

“They know so much about music and how it’s recorded and produced, as well as which current bands are worth noticing. I learn from them all the time,” says Gaddy, who has a weekly show on 1190 called Vinyl Obscurities.

Gaddy frequents Boulder house concerts hosted by up-and-coming indie label First Base Tapes, run by CU Boulder students and alums, many of whom have worked at Absolute Vinyl. He says he’s fueled by his interactions with the young musicians; they say the admiration is mutual.

“Doug is a staple in the Boulder music community,” observes 25-year-old Liam Comer. “He supports local musicians both by selling their music out of Absolute Vinyl and by building relationships with [them] and attending shows.” The store also recruits local artists to co-host album-release parties and concerts featuring Front Range musicians and touring acts.

Caden Marchese, a store clerk and Radio 1190 DJ, adds that “Doug also keeps vinyl alive in Boulder by doing stereo equipment right.”

Unlike Boulder’s two other iconic record shops, Albums on the Hill and Bart’s Record Shop, Absolute Vinyl has made its mark selling high-end new and vintage turntables, receivers and speakers.

“Vintage gear is an incredible value if it works and has been given a technical clean,” Gaddy notes.

Emmanuel has set up turntable-equipped stereos for at least 2,000 people in Boulder, including local celebrity pro cyclist Taylor Phinney.

“If I was going to buy used stereo equipment in Colorado and I was looking for it based on our sort of quality standards,” Emmanuel says, “the only place I would go is Absolute Vinyl — or Dr. Dan [Vintage Audio Repair] in Littleton — because I’d know what I’m getting.”

When it comes to record shopping, Gaddy laments, “there used to be a competency, but it’s getting diluted in Boulder. I don’t know who’s moving in, and I’m not sure who’s moving out, but the number of people who are fluent in walking into a record store and feeling at home and milling their way around — it seems like there are fewer people who are really good at that.”

Emmanuel says some of that homogenization of taste might have to do with the shocking sticker price of new vinyl, which can cost as much as four or five decent used records: “I think it’s throwing people off. They go, ‘Oh, my God — $32.99 for that new record? Well, if I can only buy one, I’ll just buy the one I want.’ And if they come in and you have it, they get it. If you don’t have it, they don’t look at anything else, and they just walk out. They don’t say, ‘Well, what do you have that would be just as good?’ or ‘Let me broaden my horizons.’ A lot of people come in only for a certain genre.”

“There are people who are looking for Neil Young’s Harvest who are happy to look for it on eBay and order it,” he continues. “But there are other people who want to go to the shop without knowing whether we have it and be excited if they find it, but not mind if we don’t have it because they found something else and are just as excited about that.” Gaddy agrees, adding that over the years, he’s seen a shift in the spectrum of what music customers want to buy, and he fears that customers have lost their willingness to check out new albums. He calls record buyers who go shopping just for the hunt — the experience of flipping through stacks of used vinyl to find curiosities and surprise treasures — an “endangered species.”

When it comes to musical taste, he says, “the palate is getting narrower. We don’t sell as much of the esoteric stuff as we used to.”

His commitment to rare records — even when unprofitable — is an inspiration to young record collectors.

“Doug isn’t only one of the most well-versed individuals in Boulder’s music community,” 21-year-old First Base Tapes associate Kenneth Prior says. “He’s a really important figure for a lot of us to look up to, one of the most genuine people I know.”

INTERVIEW: Grass (Denver Westword 11/4/16)

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“Boulder Band Grass Is Young But Not Green”
by Adam Perry for Denver Wesword, 11/4/2016

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.”

Read the rest of this feature at Westword.com 

REVIEW: Riot Fest 2016 Denver (Denver Westword 9/5/2016)

The Misfits and their "fucking cool" pumpkins at Riot Fest 2016 in Denver.
The Misfits at Riot Fest 2016 Denver (photo by Jeffrey Perry)

REVIEW: Riot Fest 2016 Denver
by Adam Perry for Denver Westword 9/5/2016

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 to Release New Album (Westword 6/1/2016)

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Beth Preston to Release Little Mirrors
by Adam Perry for Westword 6/1/2016

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.