By Augie Voss
While the pandemic still feels far from over, the availability of vaccines has allowed some semblances of normalcy to re-enter our lives. For music lovers like me, perhaps the most celebrated change came with artists around the world announcing US tours—here are a few of my favorite artists that visited the Front Range.
In September, Mdou Moctar stopped through Denver’s Globe Hall on the North American tour for their recent album Afrique Victim. The Nigerien singer and guitarist brings a modern twist to Tuareg music, backed by a full band, and the result was a night of non-stop dancing to dynamic riffs and soulful singing. To see Mdou Moctar perform is to witness virtuosity in its purest form—I can’t remember the last time I was so awestruck by a musician’s mastery of their craft. In Mdou’s case, it goes beyond his stunning dexterity on the guitar; the whole band flowed in perfect synergy. Mdou’s hands seemed to move effortlessly between chords and complex picking patterns, and his coy confidence—sneaking smiles and smirks at the audience—felt far from arrogant. On the contrary, he had a unique and captivating way of engaging the audience with his body language. My favorite moment from the evening was a ~8-minute rendition of title track “Afrique Victime,” full of lightning-fast fingerpicking and bouncy vocals.
New York-based experimental group Pure Adult opened the evening with a strident mixture of alt-rock instrumentals and harsh (but oddly endearing) lyricism. I’m used to seeing younger demographics at most shows, so it was a pleasant surprise to see a gaggle of folks my parents’ age moving toward the front—dancing with (and sometimes harder than) the early 20s mainstays of Denver’s music scene.
Check out Mdou Moctar’s recent short doc about the making of Afrique Victime: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pIbV2TvQqzs
Recently re-branded indie-folk duo Watchhouse (fka Mandolin Orange) took the stage at Red Rocks on a blustery night in early October. After the scheduled support The Tallest Man on Earth was held up due to international visa issues, they were joined by The Milk Carton Kids—who, sharing one microphone, kicked off the show with a rich neo-folk set equal parts cheery and sorrowful.
After changing monikers earlier this year, Watchhouse released two singles and an eponymous album to critical acclaim. Nonetheless, I wondered if we’d get the Mandolin Orange classics, and thankfully we did. Crooning harmonies and lush melodies filled the venue, bringing fresh life to older tunes and proving that—despite a name change—the music is as good as ever. Hearing “Wildfire,” one of my favorite songs since high school, from the very top of Red Rocks was an experience I won’t forget any time soon.
Just listening to UK production duo Jungle—in the shower, or on the way to work—is already a foolproof way to inject energy and good vibes into your day. So when they filled Denver’s Mission Ballroom, my hopes were already high. To my delight, they exceeded all expectations once live instruments, backup singers, and an expansive LED wall entered the picture. Shortly after they took the stage, there was a tangible shift in the room’s energy—as if the audience entered an ecstatic trance, eager to fall into the band’s infectious rhythms and driving vocals. The setlist found a balance between their 2021 album Loving In Stereo and the hit-packed 2018 For Ever—and, thank goodness, their 2014 “Busy Earnin'” made a much-anticipated appearance during the encore.
New York-born Caroline Polachek has released music under a myriad of monikers, most formatively as part of eccentric electro-pop outfit Chairlift during her years at UC Boulder in the mid-2000s. She has since collaborated with Beyonce, Solange, Charli XCX, and many others. When she released her highly anticipated debut album Pang (under the name Caroline Polachek) in 2019, the influence of her diverse discography and wide range of collaborators shone throughout the project.
Headlining the Bluebird Theater, she told the crowd, was an emotional and exciting experience—it was shows like these in Denver and Boulder that inspired her while first producing and performing with Chairlift. Parisian producer and singer Oklou opened the event with ethereal beats, live keys, and luscious vocals as powerful as they were soft. Caroline took the energy up a notch, incorporating spectacular stage design and vibrant, dynamic lighting that pierced through heavy fog and bolstered an already spirited performance.
Perhaps the best moment of the show was a cover of Massive Attack’s “Teardrop,” the first of Caroline’s two encore songs. Oklou joined Caroline center-stage on a rotating circular plate—standing back-to-back, they moved in sync, bodies and voices in glowing harmony.