Devendra Banhart Plays at Boulder Theater

Devendra Banhart at the Boulder Theater. Image courtesy of Lauren Hough.

Clad in the sleekest of all black getups down to the polished Prada oxfords, cleanly-pressed Devendra Banhart sashayed on stage and silently announced to that he indeed was a fancy man. The stage was set with a giant tapestry that displayed Devendra’s hand painted ginormous flowers that mirrored the floral design on the cover of Ma, his newest album.

Ma is multilingual and multicolored, splattered with primary colors and songs that salute Carole King and John Lennon. He released three singles as a prelude to the complete album, each one wildly fun and widely different- “Kantori Ongaku.” “Abre Las Manos,” and “Taking a Page.” With each coveted single release though, my understanding of Devendra’s vision grew- this wasn’t about a cohesive musical aesthetic but rather, a cohesive concept. This album is about those who teach us, who impart wisdom, who guide us the world, and it’s about those who bring us into this world. The album is Devendra’s journey into him becoming a Ma. It is his statement of paternity and maternity. Yet, I was hesitant to like Ma. I couldn’t understand this new role Devendra had chosen to play.

I saw Devendra and his band perform in Boulder with my friend Mimi- we stood front and center. The best way I can describe the experience for me was the feeling of being a preschooler. I imagined huge bugs crawling across the stage, and felt as if every audience member was sitting criss-cross applesauce in a semi circle, googly-eyed. Devendra talked cryptically almost, telling us long, extended, made-up stories about socks and concerts he performed fifty years ago. The kick drum was adorned with a huge smiley face, with the Om symbol for its eyes. The flowers on the tapestry seemed to grow- or I seemed to shrink- becoming more like a child.

He began the concert by performing “Is This Nice?”, a soft song loaded with lessons on how to love and cry and create. Give this song a listen for references to John Lennon’s “Beautiful Boy,” if nothing else. Devendra sang maybe 5 or 6 songs off of Ma before dragging a wooden stool and his acoustic guitar on stage and asking the audience what they’d like to hear. Some people ecstatically shouted their fave songs’ title, others widened their eyes and raised their hands waiting for teacher to call on them. I was in the second boat of people, and when called on, I requested Devendra play “Shame,” an old, silly song about boobs and playing in the sun. “Shame” is a song that encapsulated my former image of Devendra Banhart as an artist. It’s a song that makes you want to giggle and dance and let yourself be like your childhood self (the song does come off an EP called “I Feel Just Like a Child” after all). Devendra looked almost shocked at my request, it’s one of his oldest songs. He thanked me for asking to hear it, but said the band didn’t know how to play it. Admittedly I was sad. Unable to hear that song live! A minor heartbreak.

But thinking about it now, “Shame” didn’t fit into that concert. While I always thought of Devendra Banhart as having the fervent feel of a child, I had missed that he had changed. His music contained more teachings than before. It was less spastic. It felt put together and organized, in the way some parental figures do. Caterpillar has become a butterfly! Sprout has become a bean! Devendra has become a Ma!


You can read about Devendra Banhart, look at his tour dates, and access his music on his website, linked here.

Superstar boyband Brockhampton brings rising stars 100 gecs and slowthai to Denver

By Auguste Voss

DENVER—On a Monday night, the line to get into the brand-spankin’ new Mission Ballroom spanned the length of the 60,000 square-foot building, doubled back on itself twice, and wrapped around the front corner. Fans planning for a sweaty moshpit stood in shorts and t-shirts in crisp 30-degree air, huddling together for warmth. Once the doors opened, however, it was a matter of minutes before the whole line was inside and de-frosting.

Situated in Denver’s River North art district, the Mission Ballroom opened just months ago in August with a 4,000 person capacity and a concert calendar stacked with major national acts. 

The venue already operates like a well-oiled machine—several entrances allow for speedy security checks, and once inside the building, conscious efforts to streamline the guest experience are obvious. A muraled archway leads into a second chamber, facing an expansive bar with the usual over-priced beverage choices and the option of a branded cup for cheaper refills. After grabbing a drink, bathrooms are conveniently placed on either side of two hallways leading to the main space—which was packed by 7:30 for an 8 o’clock show. 

Unsurprising as the massive turnout for one of today’s most popular boy-bands was the demographic that showed up. Early 20-somethings abounded, but the crowd was dominated by teenagers and high-schoolers in trendy streetwear, tour merch, and borderline rave gear. Sprinkled in the crowd were older fans, too, but they stuck to the fringes as younger groups pushed up toward the pit. 

L.A./ Chicago-based duo 100 gecs opened with a performance that seemed to draw mixed feelings from the crowd. Comprised of Laura Les and Dylan Brady, 100 gecs has created a refreshing if overstimulating tribute to the digital age through a fast-paced mashup of more genres than I can define. They’ve blown up in the past few months, but it was clear that many at the show hadn’t hopped on the gec-train – yet.

Their debut album 1000 gecs is a chaotic frenzy of death metal, chiptune, hip-hop, and explosive bass punches, initially striking the unexpecting ear as abrasive and overcomplex. But a close listen to  “Money Machine,” for example, reveals creative and endearing lyrics like opening line “you talk a lot of big game for someone with such a small truck.Sonically, the two have created an impressive, unique reimagination of digital music, weaving an almost tangible essence of internet sub-culture into their unrelenting barrage of angsty autotune and genre-bending production. 

Their live show, every bit as turbulent as their online presence, capitalized on the chaos woven into 1000 gecs. The duo jumped around to muddled backing tracks, bathed in green light, while the crowd tried to figure out what they were experiencing; many joined in the moshing, and a few who came expecting Brockhampton’s more straightforward pop-anthems appeared to be caught off guard.

The lighting switched from sickly green to intense red, and for those hesitant to get on board with 100 gecs, slowthai was more their speed. 

Born Tyron Frampton, the Northampton, UK rapper has recently risen to the headlines for masterful lyricism and bold political statements. After receiving a Mercury Prize nomination for his 2019 album Nothing Great About Britain, the 25-year-old wielded a model of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decapitated head during his performance at the September award ceremony.

Slowthai’s music is forceful, propulsive, and engaging, covering topics from drugs to politics to his childhood background in riding motocross. And his stage presence followed suit. Fuelled by raw, manic energy and probably a good bit of testosterone, he waved the mic around his crotch and jeered “sometimes in life people will talk shit to you. When they do, you say ‘get the fuck out of my face.’” 

Slowthai ripped his shirt off just a couple of songs into his set. Standing still, I could feel the floor shake below me as the whole room opened up into moshpits. 

He finished his set with a spirited rendition of “Doorman,” which chronicles a fling with a rich girl and uses allusions to addiction, the royal family, and a children’s show to blast Britain’s wealth disparity. 

After slowthai’s explosive set, the crowd had a chance to cool down before their beloved headliner, Brockhampton.

In the early 2010s, now-frontman Kevin Abstract posted on a Kanye West forum that he wanted to start a band. Over 30 people responded, leading to the inception of Alive Since Forever and the subsequent release of the ASF EP in 2013. Over the months that followed, ASF dissolved and reassembled—about one-third of its original size—as Brockhampton. Since their 2014 inception, Brockhampton has released six studio albums, toured the world, and amassed a cult following.

Today, the boyband is comprised of 13 members: Kevin Abstract, Matt Champion, Ciarán “Bearface” McDonald, Dom McLennon, Merlyn Wood, Ashlan Grey, Robert Ontenient, Russell “Joba” Boring, Jabari Manwa, Romil Hemnani, Jon Nunes, Kiko Merley, and Henock “HK” Sileshi.

Each member contributes something unique to the collective, from vocals to production to visual media direction, and the result is a boyband like no other. Their music addresses difficult topics like mental health and sexuality in plain language, often drawing from band members’ personal experiences, leading to music that advocates for acceptance and self-love in a frequently disparaging society. 

The Mission Ballroom on Monday was a perfect testament to the spectacle of Brockhampton. Three massive, mirror-paneled crosses towered above the stage and LED panels lit the room from behind the bandmates. 

Kevin Abstract, left, and Merlyn Wood, right.

Abstract hit the stage first, opening with his verse on track “ST. PERCY” from most recent album GINGER. The groups other five vocalists, Bearface, Dom McLennon, Merlyn Wood, Joba, and Matt Champion joined Abstract and the crowd went crazy. 

Everyone who was hesitant to get down with 100 gecs and slowthai hit the mosh pits in full force when the group jumped into “ZIPPER,” a dynamic, quintessential Brochhampton anthem with opening lyrics “Pretty sure I’m maniacal, but what do I know?” Later in the track, Wood belted: “shoutout to south-central San Marcos, I got addicted to soft shell tacos.”

Left to right: Kevin Abstract, Joba, Matt Champion, Bearface, and Dom McLennon.

Mosh pits steadily continued, pausing only for “SUGAR.” The song is a cathartic, bittersweet ode to the love, late-night shenanigans, and drug-induced highs that populated the band’s younger years; it felt fitting, then, that the vibe of the room shifted from hip-hop show to high school dance as the crowd slowed down, swayed back and forth, and shouted along to the lyrics. 

The crew closed with “No Halo,” and the end of the show was like coming out of a daze—one I didn’t particularly want to leave behind.

The Brockhampton boys have undeniably infectious energy. Their achievements over the past six years, from the popularity of each studio album to their notoriety for insane live shows, have enabled the rapid growth of a fanbase that knows to bring high expectations. They certainly didn’t disappoint.

 

Photography by Auguste Voss // iPhone.

Bedroom-pop heartthrob ROLE MODEL brings “Far From Perfect” tour to Denver

By Auguste Voss

DENVER —Just blocks from Coors Field in downtown Denver, the Marquis Theater is a low-key hotspot for local gigs and up-and-coming national acts. Tucker Pillsbury, aka ROLE MODEL, stopped by in November on his inaugural “Far From Perfect” tour.

Oxeye Daisy by Auguste Voss

The night began with Denver grunge-pop outfit Oxeye Daisy. Flamboyant, brightly-colored animal print attire added to an already energetic stage presence. While many garage-rock groups might find their sound muddled at a smaller venue like the Marquis, Oxeye Daisy’s music felt crisp and refreshing in a wonderful, grungy sort of way.

Nineteen-year-old songwriter Mills. was next, gracing the stage with a solo set. His voice, smooth as butter, sounded like a bouncier Lewis Capaldi. A wide-brimmed hat was the cherry-on-top of an outfit seemingly catered to his stop in the southwest. Mills. has created a space for himself in the oversaturated bedroom pop realm, working with ‘Surf Trap’ artist Felly on recent single “Water.” Already ahead of the game at nineteen, Mills. demonstrated a passion for music that seemed to tell the audience “this is just the beginning.”

Mills. by Auguste Voss

After plenty of hype from the opening acts, ROLE MODEL burst onstage with a grin that had the whole room cheering even before the music started. The epitome of the teenage heartthrob, ROLE MODEL swept perfectly-disheveled hair away from his eyes as he scanned the room. 

ROLE MODEL by Auguste Voss

At first glance, ROLE MODEL feels like an unexciting archetype—another cigarette-smoking wannabe popstar with skinny jeans and edgy tattoos. But Pillsbury weaves a persona that tells us that he knows exactly what he’s doing, and his music is honest and raw.

His “Far From Perfect” tagline feels like an authentic testament to growing up in Gen Z, and recent songs like “minimal” and “notice me” are anthems of teenage angst and relationship troubles.

ROLE MODEL dances in the crowd. Photo by Auguste Voss

I was impressed that the 22-year old bedroom-pop icon, still testing the waters of national touring, brought along a live band—and it made his show fantastic. Even when he slowed down for a sappy, well-received cover of Hannah Montana’s “The Climb,” his energy was infectious. He bounced back and forth across the stage, wandered into the crowd, and never stood still for more than a few seconds. 

After “thank you for coming,” the band dipped offstage for a moment before returning in full swing for a lively encore. ROLE MODEL closed the night with “girl in new york,” a smooth, catchy ballad of romantic dissonance.

ROLE MODEL by Auguste Voss

ROLE MODEL’s stop in Denver was a dreamy, well-polished sneak-peek of what will undoubtedly be an ongoing rise into the mainstream.

CONCERT REVIEW: Wilco at The Mission Ballroom in Denver

Wilco won’t let you down. Over the course of twenty-five years and eleven albums, they’ve established a fervent fanbase. Their live performances have a solid reputation; they’re known to play at least two-hour sets at every show, and they always include some fan favorites along with the songs from whatever album they’re promoting. In fact, they even have a spot on their website to enter song requests for different shows.

Jeff Tweedy. Photo credit: Mimi Norton

When I saw them on Nov. 19, frontman Jeff Tweedy announced that it had been twenty-five years and two days, to be exact, since their first show. When he said this, I was applauding just like everyone else, but I found myself regretting that it was only my first time seeing them. I went to the show on my own, and the two hours I spent alone in the front of the crowd were some of the most stunning and exciting in recent memory. I hope I’ll see them again and again.

Even though I’d read a lot about Wilco’s live shows previously, their performance at the Mission Ballroom blew all of my expectations away. After a decade of rotating through various members, their current lineup has been consistent since 2007’s Sky Blue Sky. Each member was highlighted various times during the show, and most of them had incredible solos throughout the set.

Jeff Tweedy. Photo credit: Mimi Norton

In addition to the most iconic member of the band, Jeff Tweedy, I was especially excited to see guitarist Nels Cline and drummer Glen Kotche. Cline was named “a true guitar polymath” by Rolling Stone magazine on their list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists, and it watching his iconic solo from “Impossible Germany” was a highlight of the show. Kotche was also named to Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Greatest Drummers, as they named him “a Jim Keltner-John Cage hybrid” for his talent and originality. Around the half-way point of the show, Kotche was dripping in sweat as his drumming drove one song after the next. Although Tweedy, Cline, and Kotche usually get most of the attention, each member put so much energy into the performance; it seemed like they were having just as good of a time as the audience.

Nels Cline. Photo credit: Mimi Norton

Most of the songs they played in Denver came either from their latest album, Ode to Joy, or 2004’s A Ghost is Born. Beyond those two albums, they threw in plenty of crowd favorites, such as “War on War,” “Hummingbird,” “Random Name Generator,” “Forget the Flowers,” and of course, “California Stars.”

Wilco’s sound and lyrics speak to various emotions around living, loving and so much more. As evidenced by the increasing size of venues they play on each subsequent tour, they manage to keep attracting more fans because of their consistently impressive shows and versatile music. They care so deeply about their craft, and it shows. For me, Wilco will always reign supreme.

Concert Review: Twin Peaks with Post Animal and Ohmme

Cadien and Clay of Twin Peaks go at the guitar back-to-back. Photo by Jane M. Harris.

On the brisk and clear night of Saturday, November 2nd Chicago indie rock took Colorado by storm. Twin Peaks headlined Englewood’s The Gothic Theatre, supported by Post Animal and Ohmme. All three groups hail from Chicago, a city well-known for some of the nation’s best early blues and jazz, as well as its current thriving and exciting alternative scene. There is no doubt that the groups that took the stage in Englewood this November are following in the footsteps of the Chicago greats.

Macie Stewart of Ohmme. Photo by Jane M. Harris.

Ohmme, composed of the power duo Macie Stewart and Sima Cunningham and supported on the drums by NNAMDÏ, took the stage first, with an attentive crowd waiting to hear some fresh sounds. They jumped right in with heavy, purposeful guitar riffs and alternating harmonies that were left hanging in the air above the audience long after their songs had ended. Ohmme’s music and onstage energy showcased an interesting juxtaposition between relaxation and erraticism. The tracks “Fingerprints” and “Water” left the crowd especially mesmerized with their unique and earnest pockets of a cappella harmonies book-ended by intense guitar strumming. The orange and blue lights bouncing off the walls of The Gothic Theatre only aided in amplifying the surrealist quality of Ohmme’s music. They made my Saturday night feel like a dream.

Dalton and Jake of Post Animal. Photo by Jane M. Harris.

Next up was Post Animal, and while they set the stage for their set, Clay Frankel of Twin Peaks performed an impassioned reading of an excerpt from Milton’s Paradise Lost to the excited and anxious crowd. It was an interesting artistic decision, but one I could get behind. With the opening chord of Post Animal’s popular track “Ralphie” the audience has no choice but to lose it a little bit—the energy exuded from the band was contagious. With Dalton Allison on bass, Javi Reyes and Matt Williams on guitar, Jake Hirshland on guitar and keys, Wesley Toledo on drums, and all members singing, the band looked more like a brotherhood than just a group. During the fan favorite “Dirtpicker” they were assisted by Twin Peak’s Cadien Lake James’ guitar playing, catalyzing some intense moshing from the audience. Throughout their set Post Animal mixed neo-psychedelic sounds with heavy guitars and lulling vocals, tremendously succeeding in exciting and entertaining the audience.

After an impatient set break that I spent anxious to get back into the photo pit, the members of Twin Peaks sauntered on stage, beers in hand and smiles radiating. Twin Peaks is the collaborative effort of Clay Frankel and Cadien Lake James on vocals and guitar, Jack Dolan on vocals and bass, Colin Croom on vocals, keys, and guitar (oh my!), and Connor Brodner on drums. Their large following in the indie and alternative rock community was clearly visible in the excitement and energy in the audience at The Gothic Theatre—I saw multiple fans scramble to put their new “Twin Peaks 2019 North American Tour” t-shirts on over their outfits right before the set.

Colin of Twin Peaks. Photo by Jane M. Harris.

With their current tour Twin Peaks are celebrating the release of their latest album, Lookout Low, featuring “Dance Through It,” “Better Than Stoned,” and “Unfamiliar Sun.” Their new music highlights new horn and keys arrangements while recalling the well-loved garage rock-tendencies of their earlier work. At the Englewood show the new tracks were received with excitement and enthusiasm from the audience, but the older tracks were truly beloved. When Twin Peaks launched into their older hit “Wanted You” the crowd took to impassioned moshing under the pink, red, and blue lights that spilled from the venue ceiling to the floor. After the set and the encore everyone screamed for more.

From left: Twin Peak’s Cadien, Clay, and Jack. Photo by Jane M. Harris.

Watching the way Twin Peaks performs their music— with fervor and determination—and how they interact with their openers and audience, it is clearly visible that music, for them, is a labor of love. Though it was a cold fall night, everyone in the theater was an endearing kind of sweaty from all the singing and dancing. All three acts of the night put everything they had out onto the stage. I left the concert feeling warm and euphoric, excited to blast Twin Peaks, Post Animal, and Ohmme in the car the whole drive home.


Twin Peaks recently released a new single, “Our World.” Post Animal also released a new single, “Safe or Not: Extended Mix.” After listening to those, be sure to check out the collaborative effort of members of Twin Peaks and Post Animal: Column.

Upcoming tour dates for Twin Peaks can be found here.

Concert Review: Gus Dapperton w/ Spencer.

Spencer., photo by Auguste Voss

DENVER – Bedroom-pop sensation Gus Dapperton made a stop at the Gothic Theater earlier this month, accompanied by Spencer., and blew us away with soaring, emphatic vocals and dancing so spicy that it should have been a fire hazard.

Starting the night off with groovy neo-soul and hip-hop-infused jamming, up-and-coming R&B artist Spencer. had our hips swaying in no time. Spencer. hails from Rochester, New York and – at only 19 – is far beyond his years. His rich, deep voice takes center stage in much of his music, and – paired with lively guitar riffs and nifty basslines – Spencer. cooks up a delicious lo-fi aesthetic that feels intentional without trying too hard. As the band jammed and Spencer. sang from behind pink, retro shields, I couldn’t help but dance along.

Gus Dapperton, photo by Auguste Voss

After a set break that felt like forever (as they always do), Gus Dapperton sauntered onstage with a big grin and his own pair of tinted sunglasses. Donning his trademark baggy pants and a (presumably thrifted) sweater, he wasted no time, jumping right into “Verdigris” – the first on his most recent album Where Polly People Go to Read. 

Gus Dapperton, steadily picking up steam since the success of his 2017 single “I’m Only Snacking” and its endearing music video, has created an eccentric and captivating character. His music provides an intimate and emotional catharsis, with raw, seductive melodies and bouncy synth grooves that practically make you get up and dance along.

Gus Dapperton, photo by Auguste Voss

He kept the room dancing all night, occasionally pausing his songs to give the crowd an ear-to-ear smile, playfully tease his guitarist Yendawg, and chat with the audience in a sly, puckish tone that was the cherry on top of an already masterful persona. 

Where Polly People Go to Read is a chronological, revolving account of love and heartbreak, and the intensity was evident onstage as Dapperton belted out ballads like “My Favorite Fish” and “Coax & Botany.” 

Gus Dapperton, photo by Auguste Voss

Dapperton’s performance was a perfect mix of the raw, heartwrenching bellows characteristic of his most recent album and the goofy, endearing antics that populate his music videos.

His performance was engaging, energetic, and chaotic in the most satisfying of ways, leaving the audience clapping for more – and myself with sore calves from so much dancing.

The Lumineers’s III is an X/X

by Annie Knight

The Sparks family from left to right: (Front row) Junior, Jimmy, and Bonnie (Jimmy’s Wife). (Back row) Gloria’s husband, Gloria, Donna, and Donna’s husband.

When Wesley Shultz and Jeremiah Friates set out to write The Lumineers’ latest album III, they knew it wasn’t going to be conventional. Because of the serious subject matter Shultz (lead singer) and Fraites (drummer) choose to write about, alcoholism and its familial consequences, Shultz thought “it felt unfair to just name names,” he said in an interview with KFOG. “It felt more appropriate to me to tell a story around this. If you tell the truth within a story, I think it has a ripple effect.” Thus, the cinematic musical experience that is III was born.

On September 13, III was released in its entirety, but the group had been releasing portions of the album since May in three chapters containing three songs each, each song accompanied by a video. All of the videos were then compiled into the short film III directed by Kevin Phillips, which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival in early September. The album follows the fictional Sparks family through three generations beginning with the matriarch Gloria, followed by her grandson Junior, and ending with his father Jimmy. Each chapter focuses on how addiction and alcoholism follows the family across time, and its adverse effects.

III has brought about innovations for the group including their first short film to debut in a film festival, an uncharacteristically moodier sound in comparison to jaunty, boot stepping toons off their first two albums The Lumineers and Cleopatra, and a new relationship between music and film. The distinct music and video styles of each chapter characterize the members of the Sparks family and compare and contrast their individual relationship to substance abuse amidst these evolutionary changes for the folk rock band.

The videos for III are set in a run down, yellow house against an overcast sky. The color of the house and the name of the family, the Sparks, become ironic when compared with the somber content of III. The familial name brings to mind lost sparks, or potential, that was never actualized because of their dependency on alcohol.

The first member of the Sparks family we meet is Gloria (Anna Cordell), in “Chapter I: Gloria Sparks.” The songs of this chapter are characterized by lilting piano tunes like the soft, scales in “Donna,” and percussion heavy songs like “Gloria.” The bold percussion of “Gloria” distinctly mark Gloria as the matriarch of the family and the catalyst for the alcoholism we see affect future Sparks.

While the lyrics detailing Gloria’s descent into alcoholism are somber, the music backing these lyrics, major chord heavy that is generally connotated with positivity in mainstream music, provide an interesting juxtaposition. “Gloria” is perhaps the song off III that sounds most similar to The Lumineers’s earlier work. The fast paced, positive sounding music, however, has been traded as a whole on this album for darker, rawer lyrics. This results in a more touching, emotional album, certainly not something their earlier work lacked entirely, but an aspect more prevalent in III. 

Perhaps the darkness has come from the band choosing to source their most recent work from personal suffering. The inspiration for the album has, in part, come from drummer Jeremiah Fraites’s older brother’s death in 2001 from a heroin overdose at age 19. Fraites’s brother, Joshua, was also a close friend of Shultz.

Editing is also used in chapter I to separate Gloria from the Sparks family members that are to follow. The songs off of “I,” especially “Gloria” are cut quickly and rhythmically, meaning the shots are cut to the beat of the song. This is most noticeable in key moments of the video highlighting Gloria’s alcoholism like when she unscrews the vodka bottle at the beginning of the video and when the same bottle is seen bouncing between the logs behind the Sparks’ house after she discards it empty. “I” is also heavily reliant on close ups. Some of the most haunting are again from “Gloria” when she throws a vodka bottle at her husband, and the tense close ups between Gloria and a stranger in a bar in “Life in the City.”

Close up of Gloria in “Gloria.”

This sound and filming style is intensely contrasted with “Chapter II: Junior Sparks.” Junior’s (Charlie Tahan) songs have a languid feel to them and use almost exclusively guitar. The omission of other instruments, especially piano, are interesting when considering Junior’s role as the only Sparks that rejects the legacy of substance abuse. The Lumineers choose to highlight this through the omission of the piano that was characteristic of “I” and Gloria herself who we see play piano in “Donna.”

The filming style of chapter “II” also contrasts that of the previous chapter. It’s full of long takes of Junior smoking cigarettes on the porch, and long shots, the most dramatic of which is Junior burning the piano in front of the Sparks’ family home. The piano bonfire becomes Junior’s most overt rebellion against his family legacy. He burns a symbol of Gloria and  replaces her vodka bottle with a match. The is showcased in parallel shots of Gloria throwing a vodka bottle at her husband in “Gloria,” and Junior throwing a match in “Left for Denver.” The alcoholism Junior could have inherited instead becomes replaced with rage.

Gloria throwing her vodka bottle in “Gloria.”
Junior throwing his match in “Left for Denver.”

Junior captivating the focus “II” is a striking choice since Jimmy Sparks (Nick Stahal) comes after Gloria generationally. However, placing Junior’s chapter between Gloria and Jimmy’s, is reflective of Junior being compressed by the inevitability of his family’s habits, until he rejects them.

This theme continues with the music distinguishing “Chapter III: Jimmy Sparks.” The songs of “III,” especially “Jimmy Sparks,” use predominantly minor chords, a sound that is associated with negative emotions in popular music. The choice to make this the sound of Jimmy suggests the antagonistic role he plays in his son’s life because of his alcohol abuse, leading to parties at their house and even a physical fight in “Leader of the Landslide.” The languid guitar of “My Cell,” similar to that of “Leader of the Landslide” from “II,” connect Jimmy with his son as an influencer. Jimmy’s sound is also, however, reminiscent of Gloria because of the piano that makes a re-appearance in “III.” Thus, Jimmy becomes a link in the chain that passes on alcoholism to future generations in the Sparks family.

The filming style of “III” is also reminiscent of previous chapters in the album and short film. Extreme close ups in “My Cell” of Jimmy’s girlfriend and the debt collector echo the editing style in the videos about Gloria. Long shots of Jimmy smoking a cigarette in “Jimmy Sparks” recall the filming style of the videos about his son. Jimmy then becomes a mixture between the past and present generations of his family and a representation of alcoholism at its worst.

Close ups of the debt collector in “My Cell.”

The Lumineers forge a new relationship between cinema and music in III. In cinema, music is traditionally used to influence the audience’s emotions in response to the visuals on the screen. However, in this case, the relationship is reversed and the visuals are supporting the music. III challenges the viewer to pay close attention to the lyrics and how the visuals provide clues to deeper meaning. This creates a more intense emotional experience and a highly effective way to translate the themes that The Lumineers want us to glean from their album.

Parallel scenes of one family member carrying another out of the deceptively positive colored yellow house let us know that across sound and generation family members can’t resist taking care of one another, even if it isn’t in their best interest. However, this incessant need to care for others that will not care for themselves because of their disease, can lead to loneliness and the rage that characters like Junior feel. Like the lyrics of “My Cell” that close to shots of each Sparks family member alone in the frame, the substance abusers and the ones that love them can tragically end up in this cycle “all alone, all alone, all alone, all alone.”


Listen to the album & watch the videos here.

CONCERT REVIEW: Noname at the Ogden Theatre 3/6

In his long printed cardigan and sweats, Noname’s opener Elton Aura emanated a calm confidence that set the tone for a night of powerful lyricism. He knew exactly how to excite the young audience as he lit a joint on stage and passed it down (to be immediately intercepted by the stage security) after taking a few puffs himself. Elton concluded his set how he began it, having us repeat after him “Elton! How it do!” and then exited the stage to loud cheers. The audience hummed with energy as we began the wait for the person who had brought us all to the Ogden Theatre this Wednesday night.

As Noname’s band slowly set up their instruments I was struck with how vulnerable they were in that moment. Only feet of distance between us at the front of the crowd and the band members shuffling equipment around the stage, the lights were too bright and the room too quiet to create the invisible barrier of power that usually separates an audience and the performers.

The crowd screamed as the band finally began to play, slipping easily behind their instruments. The lights lowered and the neon sign that emblazoned the back wall lit up pink to read “ROOM 25” (the name of Noname’s new album.) Noname then entered rapping,

Maybe this the album you listen to in your car when you driving home late at night / Really questioning every god, religion, Kanye, bitches

The crowd jumped around singing along. Waiting for the line we all knew was coming and then screaming it in unison with her as she reached it:

“YOU REALLY THOUGHT A BITCH COULDN’T RAP, HUH?”

Noname calmly danced across the stage as she rapped in a loose white dress with a black flower print, black leggings, and red converse. Her long curls were stretched and tucked behind her ears, showing off her round youthful face. She seemed much younger than her 27 years. When she finished “Self” she greeted the cheering audience with smiles and warmth. She made her way through a set of hit after hit from both Room 25 and her 2016 mixtape Telefone. Everyone in the house danced and struggled to keep up with her quick voice. The night was punctuated by a few moments of quickly-relieved tension. Frustrated with a perceived lack of enthusiasm, Noname halted the show early on to teach the audience how to show that we appreciated her performance.

“If I spit a bar that you think is especially hot, give me an “ooooh.”

 

She started to rap again, her first line was met by a loud “ooooh” from the audience.

She stopped again.

“No, that was nothing,” she said, “that line was nothing. Let’s try again.”

She went back into the song, now seemingly satisfied with the crowd’s responses and continued with the concert with a smile on her face.

There was no lack of enthusiasm when we heard the opening bars of “Diddy Bop.” This song was my favorite part of the concert. That’s not a very revolutionary thing to say—it is her most popular song by far. But for good reason! Besides the catchy beat, the lyrics are beautifully sweet and nostalgic—a love letter to the Chicago of her youth. The crowd of majority high school and college students couldn’t relate to growing up listening to B2K, wearing FUBU, and hitting the diddy bop but it didn’t matter. The song creates a warm feeling of happy wistfulness and reminds me of my childhood despite my memories being so far away from that of Noname’s. I love that Noname doesn’t shy away from the specifics of her experience in an attempt to make her song more relatable. The essence of her song, of being young and being intent on taking advantage of the fleeting chance to be irresponsible, resonated with all of us.

Noname kept her performance short and sweet, exiting the stage after less than an hour. The band packed up their instruments and walked off stage, but the lights stayed down and the audience stayed in place, eyes glued to the stage expectantly. Then, Noname returned to the stage and gave us one last song, sans music. Her roots in slam poetry were especially evident with just her words filling the room. That final encore left the audience reminded of the poetry that exists in hip-hop, especially in Noname’s music.

On April 5th Noname is releasing “Song 32”, a follow up to her track “Song 31” and she is currently finishing her international Room 25 tour.

Photos by Kenneth Hamblin III

CONCERT REVIEW: Still Woozy 1/31

Still Woozy started as a solo project by Sven Gamsky, who is based out of Oakland, California. Since then, he’s produced songs with a few other artists and has begun to play with other musicians during his sets.

Outside of Larimer Lounge, people stood in line, cold and excited. A woman held a sign, begging everyone for an extra ticket. A man came out of his car, chatted with her for a while, and then headed inside.

“I think that was Sven,” a man behind us said. “That was totally Sven.”

We all realized he was right. For the rest of the night, Sven and the other artists he was playing with maintained the personal, friendly demeanor that was evident from the moment Sven stopped to talk to people waiting in line.

Larimer Lounge is cozy and personable. We were close to the stage and pushed up against strangers. Sweaty and excited, a friend of mine came running down from the bathroom.

“I met Sven in the bathroom! We hugged!” he said. I found myself smiling. I’d never been to a concert with that many run-ins with the main act.

Dreamer Boy, based out of Nashville, Tennessee, opened for Still Woozy. Zach Taylor and his guitarist Bobby Knepper make up the duo. They introduced themselves–being from Tennessee made integral to their identities early on.

They played some of their biggest hits first: “Orange Girl,” “Lavender,” and “Falling for the Wrong One.” During those first few songs, everyone in the audience seemed to be enjoying their set and the chill, vibey tone of the songs they were playing. At the point when the songs shifted and became more autotune heavy, the audience seemed to become less enthused by Dreamer Boy and their set, which started to feel dragged on. The audience also seemed to be tired of Zach’s frequent breaks between songs to yell a call and response, Tennessee-influenced “Yee-Haw!” at the audience.

When Dreamer Boy’s set ended, there was a pause for a few minutes as the stage was prepared for Still Woozy. When the lights dimmed and the band came on, the audience cheered and pushed up against the stage. They played “Lucy” first and then went through their entire repertoire of songs. They also played two new songs and did a few covers. Throughout their set, they seemed to be in constant communication with the audience. They paid attention to the different chants the audience started and walked down into the crowd to dance with and hug their fans multiple times. At the end of their set, their attempt to thank everyone who had attended was interrupted by the loud chanting of “encore!” that came from the audience. Considering that Still Woozy is still a relatively new band, they only have about 6 released songs. They acknowledged this, laughing and telling the audience, “We don’t have any songs left!”, but they offered to replay some if the audience was interested and then asked which songs we’d like to hear again. They ended up replaying “Goodie Bag,” their biggest hit.

When the show was over and the lights came up, Sven and his bassist spent up to an hour walking around the venue and speaking to the fans that were still there. They thanked every person for coming and supporting their work by signing T-shirts, giving out hugs and taking pictures. When I headed out, they acknowledged that I was leaving and gave me a hug goodbye too. I really enjoyed this personal relationship they cultivate with every person that comes to their shows. I found the way they carry themselves to be very evocative of the vibe of their music. Just like his songs, Sven and the people he plays with are fun, laidback and incredibly welcoming to listeners.