November at Red Rocks Amphitheater is sometimes a gamble with the changing seasons, but I had no hesitation when given the opportunity to attend another 3 hour marathon concert from King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard’s North American Tour. When I went to their first Red Rocks show in early October many of the fans held these tickets since their 2020 tour that was canceled due to COVID. The November date was a surprise, as the final show was tacked onto their tour promising the same feel-good giz energy as the first marathon show at Red Rocks. My friend flew into Denver with some film cameras after hearing the news and we eagerly waited in the longest line I have seen at Red Rocks- undisturbed by the cold in my gizzard-themed crocodile onesie.
Note: I was encountered by multiple “die-hard” Gizzard male fans who had a lot to say about the difference between a crocodile and an alligator, proceeded to mansplain the symbology of King Gizzard and their Giz-verse related to the crocodile, all of which I am aware of. If you are a girl going to a Gizzard concert, avoid this conversation at all costs. But DO wear a crocodile onesie because it is warm and Giz fans are cultish so you’ll get creds. If anyone asks, say: “crocodiles are from Australia… just like them” and leave at once.
First and foremost, I will say that King Gizzard has an absurd amount of albums, with three albums released last month alone! and although I know many of their songs, I do not know all of their songs. But some people there did. When I was chatting in the photo pit with another photographer, she showed me the zoomed-in set list on her camera with the opening song entitled “Digital Black-” I was not sure what albums nor energies King Gizzard was bringing to the night. I was ready for everything reminiscent of their themes in their recent album: Ice, Death, Planets, Lungs, Mushrooms, and Lava- with an emphasis on lava.
A funky set from The Murlocs and the ethereal sounds of Leah Senior set the scene of deception for King Gizzard. We went down to the pit to prepare for the show to start. The band was as playful as ever, with Joey trying to banter amongst the crowd while the staff were tweaking Lucas’ guitar settings. After a few minutes everything was ready to go and (surprise, surprise) they started with “Digital Black” in Stu’s satanic cadence and blaring guitar riffs. Everyone instantly went into a frenzy despite being confined to the tiered seats (although some people above did mosh/fall onto our row!). Throughout the night, King Gizzard dedicated a third of their set to playing songs from their 2017 album Murder of the Universe and selected the vast majority of their marathon set to more metal-oriented songs that strayed from their dreamy synthesizer hits. This meant a lot of head banging and an entrance into the Rats’ Nest, arguably the hardest album that they played from. They drew from a variety of albums along the way including “Cutthroat Boogie” from their 2012 album 12 Bar Bruise, one of my favorite songs of the night that featured some amazing harmonica solos and fit comfortably among the Colorado landscape. King Gizzard continued their tasteful guitar thrashing from various albums including some favorites like “Hot Wax” and a jammed up version of “Her and I (Slow Jam 2)” and concluded with a more relaxed outro of “The Fourth Colour.’ The intermission offered a quiet countdown for fifteen minutes until their second set. A marathon indeed!
The second half of the show astonishingly kept up the same energy as the previous, jokingly playing the American National Anthem before jumping straight into “Head On/Pill” while lacing in “Hot Water” and teasing their recent release of “Hypertension” throughout their lengthened song. This was an especially impressive song for their ability to transition between three (basically four) songs in one, and definitely sent the message that they were not planning on slowing down. After about their 10 minute version of that song, they revisited the album I’m In Your Mind, Fuzz, a personal favorite of mine, while still sticking to a high energy set by playing “Am I In Heaven?” The transitions between songs were seamless, usually recognizable motifs across all their albums, causing the crowd to stir with anticipation. Stu returned to Infest the Rats’ Nest to keep the pace up as the wind started to blow up the slope of the amphitheater. It was truly an epic scene: a showdown between King Gizzard and the elements, and they prevailed with hair flying. After a few metal songs, they switched up the vibe to something more lighthearted with Ambrose howling into the mic during “Let Me Mend The Past.” Shortly after Leah Senior came on to do an amazing narration of “Alter Me III” and “Altered Beast IV” also from Murder of the Universe. Leah Senior brought the eerie cadence like the Ronald Dahl-esque introduction of “Dark Fantasy” by Kanye West. King Gizzard slowed down for the final song, “Float Along-Fill Your Lungs,” playing an ensemble of dreamy guitar chords clashing against each other. The ending was drawn out like the studio version, but I’d like to think it was also a moment of savoring the last moments of their long-awaited North American tour.
The stamina and chemistry of the band is something that is rare amongst jam bands, and King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard put everything out in that three hour marathon set. Even if many of the songs were not ones I was familiar with, the songs were sharp and fast- perfect for hypnotic dancing and head banging. Their interaction with the crowd made it even more of a special experience, after spending so much time apart from their American fans it felt more like a reunion. Although their tour is finally over, their music continues. I know I will be trying to play catch-up as they keep cranking out more and more albums this year, and for many years to come.
I’ve trekked to Chicago this week, and my big toe is sticking out of a hole in my sock. A man yells at me to buy his $10 poncho, but I just want a new sock. That’s okay, I’ve made it to my destination: Pitchfork Music Festival is the record-collecting younger sister to Lollapalooza, her fraternity-rushing older brother. A list on my phone holds the artist lineup, and it is filled with current critical successes along with legends of the past. Looking down, I see the ground swallow rain to spit mud back out. The grey Chicago skies tend to be sporadic. My weather app says the rain will soon clear, but these clouds will linger for a bit to hear some good music.
During a Porta Potty hiatus, the big rectangular urination-box begins to shake. SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE, a band that exists in all-caps on paper and in performance, trembles the park with apocalyptic music that would probably be called “just noise” by any self-respecting person. However, most of us Pitchfork attendees do not have much self-respect, so we pay to see a genre critics have coined “noise pop.” As if the villains in Arkham Asylum formed a band, each member plays their instruments with deranged force. Screeching guitars feel like standing within a 10-foot radius of an acid-dipped chainsaw. BEEHIVE could go from grimy indie rock verses to the loudest, most un-radio-able shoegazy explosions known to man. Each of them pushes their instruments across a lake of fire all the way into the territory of the damned. The glorious nuclear collision of sound hurts my eardrums and itches my brain, I walk away wondering if any of my brain cells jumped ship during that set.
The air surrounding the Parquet Courts fans smells like American Spirits and rain-soaked hair. These New York art punks enter with “Application/Apparatus,” mischievous and soaked in muted color like a gum-covered NYC pole. Bassist Sean Yeason’s head nods in time with the bassline; once the building instrumentals release tension, he starts shaking his hair back and forth like a wet dog. The crowd seems mild at first, but as the band begins to play “Almost Had to Start A Fight,” the audience mirrors the energy on stage by pushing others into the “chaos dimension.” I see many IPA-dipped mustaches snarl with anger as they get pushed around. Of course, this just made us push each other more.
Keyboardist Andrew Bird mentions twice that High Fidelity was filmed in Chicago – on brand for a music enthusiast with such a beautiful mullet and clear circular glasses double the diameter of his eyes. Andrew Savage’s voice sounds as if The Clash’s Joe Strummer is singing through an obtuse traffic cone – his attitude sprinkles far and wide. At the end of the show, the same angry mustached men give in to the joy, joining the muddy push-party for “Stoned and starving,” a delight to hear live. Perhaps the lyrics were especially true for the 7 o’clock crowd.
Jason Spaceman of Spiritualized makes the list of musicians that make you think ‘how did they make it out of the 90’s alive?’ But he’s here behind his tinted sunglasses, he walks up to the stage with aloof coolness. Sitting down in his chair – one he would not get up from the entire performance – he opens the songbook on his stand. ‘Hey Jane’ begins the set, the almost 10-minute song continues like a run-on sentence that even an English teacher would enjoy. He flips his songbook mid-song while his bandmates spaz on their guitar pedals. “Shine a Light” indulges in the early 90’s work of Spiritualized, but the echoing sound is like floating in space without any fuel: invigorating at first, but by the end, I am ready to escape from the icy, reverberating slammer I am trapped in – it doesn’t sound as good live. Speaking of floating in space, it is worth noting that J. Spaceman did not perform a song from the landmark album Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space. It’s nice to evade another 90’s nostalgia tour, but his most quality work rests in that pill-bottle album. The show went in a far more blues-rock direction, and some variety was needed by the end. However, ventures into out-of-tune, guitar pedal chaos serve as fine palate cleansers for us to return to bittersweet moments like “Here it Comes (The Road).”
The National’s black and gray aesthetic paired with increasingly lukewarm album covers previously made me doubt the odds of an entertaining live show. I enter an audience filled with tortured artist types; these INFP’s wait to absorb the baritone bombs of emotion that will soon be handed to them by vocalist, Matt Berginer. Camera work allows for a black and white show on the big screen to serve as the perfect peripheral for Berginer’s theatrics. Colorful sonic and visual ignitions can be seen around the band of veterans when their songs reach a zenith. In “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness,” Aaron Dessner’s guitar weeps behind Berginer’s revelations that seem to have been spawned by a poetry inducing mid-life crisis. Dessner puts down his guitar to play a rainy day’s piano on “Light years.” The dynamic between the two is similar to rain that is sharpened by the thunder: Berginer’s poetry is propelled by Dessner’s instrumentals of equal magnitude. Because of this, The National’s set lives up to its headlining standards. I am walking out of the park with thousands of other satisfied people. That hole in my sock is much bigger than it was when the day began, and I board the train with a liberated big toe that dances around in my shoe.
I get up for Day two of Pitchfork. 55 years ago today, The Monterey International Music festival had a lineup consisting of Jimi Hendrix, Simon and Garfunkel, Janis Joplin, and too many more legends to name. I eat breakfast and wonder if any of the names at Pitchfork Music Festival will hold the same weight in half a century.
Looking around the Yuele audience is its own wonder; I see earrings made out of vats of blood, cached carts, and cat hair: I trust the show is going to impress. Coming from some Artificial Intelligence server behind the stage, Yuele’s robo-person presence is amplified by her cyborg-eye contacts that scan the audience. The thunderous, slow-hitting bass in songs like “Poison Arrow” rattles my brain and makes my nose twingly. Like a cyborg watching the human world wither away, Yuele dances around – safe from any apocalypse in her realm of dark synths.
While Yuele sings as a cold world is taken over by HAL 9000, Magdalena Bay embraces a video game-like world. They throw an 80’s themed party set one hundred years in the future. Vocalist Mica Tennenbaum bounces around on a cloud during “Secrets (Your Fire).” She throws an actual clock into the way wind before saying she “was thinking about how there’s no true end to anything.” Similar existential comments are treated with a cartoonish attitude and a smile, I feel at ease at this retro-futuristic stage.
It is now 7 pm, and after I eat some incredible fried noodles, I can see that anticipation is high for Japanese Breakfast. Michele Zauner’s Blondie-like group of tuxed men come out and pick up their instruments, ready to flash sharp smiles that make the crowd roar. She walks out in gold light, singing the triumphant “Paprika,” a poodle on her shirt and a mallet in her hand. During that explosive chorus, she beats a giant, flowery gong; a rush of sound and serotonin incites smiles across the audience. Zauner once said that this song is about “reveling in the beauty of music,” and that is exactly what we did.
“Be Sweet” and “Road Head” flex the unique abilities of Zauner to extend her voice by seemingly flexing her whole body. It was one of the best vocal performances I’ve heard live. Although Zauner spotted an unfortunate amount of people passed out during this show, she always immediately stops her songs to call for a medic. The care she holds for her fans strengthens comradery in the park.
In the middle of Kokomo, IN, Jeff Tweedy walks out to join Zauner’s twee-inspired vocals with his grainy voice. Calling him her “favorite songwriter of all time,” they duet an anthem that embodies the Chicago coffee shop ethos: “Jesus Etc.” It sounds like the sum of conspiring forces of musical talent. Bookending the set with “Diving Woman,” we smiled in adoration as the best performance of the weekend came to a close.
Making my way to the Low set, I walk over to the blue stage – which has turned into a black hole of indulgence. Low remains the quintessential band of the slowcore universe, doing numbers on its listeners by stripping their songs back so bare that they nearly embody emotion. However, on their recent albums, they have held onto that raw emotion while creating massive atmospheres, as opposed to their earlier depressed ballads. Their Pitchfork set almost entirely consisted of songs from their new album: HEY WHAT. Alan Sparhawk shoots out seizing electricity with his guitar, and “White Horses’” glitchy sensibilities leads the married couple of Sparhawk and Mimi Parker into a chilling duet over their respective styles. In fact, I haven’t heard a drummer’s vocals sound as great as Parker’s in a long time. “Disappearing” builds up as a massive Tower of Babel: usually when a song builds and releases tension, a large amount of noise and energy are let out in catharsis. But Low literally slows down as they build, messing with the audience’s sense of time to create a slow-motion toppling of sound. If I had an analog watch, I’d imagine the minute hand would be stuck in place, since Low are fond of shoveling time into a coal-fired boiler to create some otherworldly energy with it. However, my phone clock says that it is 8:25, which means it is time to go to see one of the most compelling artists of the last ten years: Mitski.
Mitski’s songs are dipped in the liquids of a gunky puddle of feelings that we often drench our favorite pair of shoes in. When my emotions feel invalid and overwhelming, I run to Mitski to take cover. Now, I am running to Mitski in real life, trying not to miss the beginning of her set. A middle-aged man walks up through the crowd to his wife “damn teenagers kept taking videos of me walking through the crowd.”
I see a teardrop fall from someone’s face into the midnight sea of Doc Martins below us when Mitski comes out. The choreography serves as a high-quality music video for every single song. She stabs herself with an air knife three times as she makes confessions at “3 am” in “Francis Forever.” Audience hearts wave a white flag at Mitski when they sing these lyrics in unison. The catharsis does not just come from singing her noisy indie rock songs. Mitski’s drives us to the eighties with “Nobody,” a song that surely would have been a New Wave classic 40 years ago. She dances around and plays a very believable game of tug-of-war with an invisible opponent. Her melodrama thrives under green lights, as her loss of innocence is allotted its own physical outlet.
Nobody expresses emotional frustration like Mitski. When I was a kid, creepy sounds in my old house would set me off. Crying, I’d run to my parents’ room to tell them that there was a ghost. I’d receive the same response “that’s just the house making noises.” I don’t blame them, I’m sure the pipes and vents were making sounds. But if 7-year-old me knew who Mitski was, I would have listened to her music in that scenario. When I feel small, Mitski makes me feel seen. I look around the crowd to see thousands of other people that Mitski has the same effect on. Somebody understands the gunk, and it is nice to see that person standing on a stage in front of us.
The last day of Pitchfork has come, and I am in an Earl Sweatshirt crowd with hundreds of other people that get their vitamin D from the light on a computer screen. You know the performance is going to be good when the DJ – Black Noi$e – has an Aphex Twin hat on. Audience conversations go as expected before Earl makes his entrance: people speak of Earl Sweatshirt’s Myspace lore and make fun of the security man who has cut off the sleeves of his extra-small work shirt to show muscles. As Black Noi$e toys with the crowd, the rain starts pouring, and our feet sink deep into the mud. Grimy weather warrants grimy sounds: “Riot!” comes on. Messy but triumphant in its chaos, the song feels like a Basquiat painting – the perfect walkout song for Earl.
Earl’s banter with the crowd is filled with layers of irony. “You’re all going to jail, I don’t know any songs,” he says. A crowd member yells in response “Play EAST.” Earl says “Okay” and laughs. He plays the 1700 sea shanty beat on “East” and the crowd screamed. A youtube comment on this goofy song once said “this song is like getting ready for a sneeze and nothing happens,” Earl’s beats are beyond comprehension and we embrace the brain-scratching disarray.
After an hour of Earl telling the crowd he “doesn’t know what we’re talking about, I don’t know any songs,” Earl begins to play Meek Mill’s most known song: “Dreams and Nightmares”. Earl is saying every word over the recording, building to the breaking point that this song is known for. The crowd is getting excited for the climax, the piano tempo speeds up and Meek’s voice is gaining more energy… oh, Earl just turned it off and walked off stage. I can’t think of a better way for such an offbeat artist to end his show.
While I saw kids chief entire joints by themselves at Earl Sweatshirt’s show, The Roots’ audience happily pass around the pleasure. This foreshadows a sense of community that the 90’s jazz-rap legends capitalize on as soon as they appear. Questlove’s drumming serves as the heart of the group, pumping out essential nutrients for the rest of the group to bounce off of with their instruments. Backing musicians are all pieces of a complete organism; most of these people have played The Late Night Show and know how to rev the engine of an energetic show. And the Brain of this project, Black Thought, is unmatched in charisma. He taps into the “summertime Chi” love that can be felt under the night sky.
This cohesive show doesn’t hold a second lacking in instrumentals. Even during Black Thought’s profound between-song talk, the playing of a trumpet or piano in the background creates an environment for those words to be heeded Gil Scott-Heron style. Songs blend into each other like oil paint soaked in medium, and the backing band can all spontaneously catch onto a new dance or tempo as they please. Black Thought raps nonstop through the horizon of world-class jazz behind him. It’s like he physically can’t stop. Guitarist, Captain Kirk Douglass, showers in spotlight with Pianist Ray Angry as they reach final form. Near the end, the group slides into the 90’s smasher “You Got Me,” cooling down the auditory fire that has been set in the vicinity. It is one of those shows where you know that they walked off the stage and laughed about how damn well they did. If they gave me the pleasure, I would buy this live album in a second.
I walk out of Union Park, the line for the train spans two blocks and bottlenecks at the stairs. I go into my notes app and cross a good deal of names off of my list of artists that I want to see live. The Parquet Courts keyboardist has convinced me to watch High Fidelity for the fourth time. I catch a vision of Jack Black’s character asking a question like “top five concerts you’ve ever seen,” and I can confirm that this weekend has added a lot more contenders for my answer.
Anywhere he goes, Ray Angry is probably the most skilled pianist in any direction for many, many miles. However, at Pitchfork Music Festival, he is surrounded by some of the most talented instrumentalists in the current musical canon— no, he’s still probably the best pianist here. He has album credits with artists such as Mick Jagger, Solange, Elvis Costello, Mobb Deep, and many more. This modern renaissance man walks in with a sharp green jacket on; under his large tan hat rests a calm brain that will soon shoot neurons to his fingers, they will play notes and impress tens of thousands of attendees for The Roots’ headlining performance.
They call him Mr. Goldfinger for a reason.
Jack: So let’s go back to the beginning, tell me about your early days playing piano at Howard University and your introduction to jazz.
Ray Angry: So basically when I was at university they wouldn’t allow me to study jazz. So, I had a double major in classical jazz starting with your young jazz legends, and also reading, but the interesting thing about me being at Howard is I got to connect with all the great Jazz musicians that were coming in. You know how young kids come to festivals go backstage? the artists who want to talk to artists. So I was doing that with all the jazz artists, like me and my friend Chris Dave. He’s like one of the best drummers in the world, he’s amazing. And he and I used to walk from our university to Blue’s Alley to see Wynton Marsalis. It really ignited my interest in jazz, you know, Branford, Kenny Kirkland, so these guys were my heroes. Those guys really got me into playing jazz, and then I was doing gospel music and R&B. Then, I dropped out of school and toured with this R&B group called The Chi, who were traveling around the world, and then I went back to school. So at Howard, I was really interested in music, period. So not just Jazz, I was also into classical and all these different styles. I figured if I can play all these different types of music, I’ll always be good. I think it’s best to think outside the box, and I came to New York, and that’s been the case since.
J: If you could talk to early Ray Angry, what would you tell him? What critiques would you give his music and what advice would you give him?
RA: You know, I’d tell him, man, practice hard, stay focused, and know the ins and outs of the business. Because I think the thing that people miss is that when you get out of school you have to work in business. You’re not just going to be playing music, you got to feed your family, you got to work, and pay rent. So for me, I would just try to make sure that my younger self knew everything about the music business. Every aspect, contracts, how to copyright your music. I think collaboration is so important too. Working with other people, asking questions, not being afraid to ask questions, and not being afraid to ask for help.
J: You released your jazz album, One about four years ago, and after some time to reflect on it, how do you feel looking back on it?
RA: You know, I’m really happy with the recording. People often send me messages about a particular song from my album. And then Amy Schumer put it in Life and Beth. You know, for me, it’s an honor. And also, I’m excited to record my new album, because the first album is Jazz. The next one is solo piano, and it’s classical music. It’s classical music, soul, hip-hop, experimental, all these different styles of music, and it’s just the piano. I’m excited about it. And for me, being diverse and not being known for just one thing is what I’m about. I’m really about connecting folks from all walks of life, it’s been a pleasure, I love recording and the music I’m recording is just an example of where I’m at in my life at the time. I hope that anything I’ve gone through and experienced can make someone’s day brighter.
J: You said that your music is a reflection of where you are in your life, and so what’s bringing you to do a solo piano album in Three?
RA: I’ve actually never released a solo piano album, so for me, because I’m into so many different styles of music, each album represents all the colors in my mind, So the first album was like jazz, the next one is going to be classical. The one after that is going to is going to be different, maybe a funk kind of thing. So I think recording a solo piano album is something I had to do. Especially for the memory of my parents that passed away and my two brothers that passed away this year. So I’ve suffered a lot of loss, for me solo piano is something that is deep in my heart. My parents got me into music, so it’s really a dedication to my family.
J: So why’d you skip two and call it three?
RA: It’s a great conversation piece. Everyone’s like where’s two? Everyone’s gonna be looking for two and go buy One or Three. Why not just do something different?
J: In ancient Greek, Telos means to reach fulfillment or an end goal of an object. Do you think that you can push an instrument to the point of fulfillment?
RA: I would say, when I look to some of the great pianists and all the great artists. Absolutely, I mean, to me, music comes from the ether or somewhere in space, you know it comes from outside of us. And I think connecting with music on a spiritual level gives you satisfaction because your ego is pushed out of the way. So once your ego is out, this is only my opinion, you’re able to really connect with God, the universe can become a channel and really as far as I can see someone and you’re like once you do that, you experience something new and can be blown away. For me. I think it’s possible to do that, but the ego has to be out of the way first.
J: I’ve never heard anybody explain that transcendence so well. So, how’s it been touring with the roots almost 30 years after they do their debut? And is there a different mentality than there was back in the days of Undun in 2011 when you were touring with them?
RA: I think everything forced everyone to think outside the box and also to really redefine your purpose, and for me, working with the roots since 2008 has been life changing. It’s been really great because I’ve been I’ve had the blessing to be on The Tonight Show. Working with Jimmy Fallon working with The Tonight Show crew has been amazing, working Steve green. And having done a record Elvis Costello. That was because of our relationship with the roots and this has been really great. To be able to connect with the world.
J: So what have you been up to these last few years after finishing One?
RA: I’ve been working on a symphony for The Lexington Symphony Orchestra for the past year, I’ve been studying orchestration, composition and writing my personal sort that premieres November 19. I’ve done the music for Life and Beth with my writing partner Timo Elliston. It’ll be on Netflix later this year. I started my own record label called Mr. Goldfinger Music. I’ve been doing Producer Mondays, so I’ve been busy creating lots.
J: You’ve been credited on some incredible albums recently. I’m curious on your opinion on the music scene right now, is it as fruitful and filled with talent as it was in the 90’s?
RA: I think music is always evolving. There’s always gonna be someone better and there’s always gonna be a new way of looking at music, and I think it’s cool that technology is advancing now. I think it’s better because you know, who would’ve thought that you could be on your computer and someone else can be at home on their computer, and you can make a whole album. So I would say it’s getting better. And you know, technology is really connecting us more and more. In terms of music there’s always going to be growth, things are going to be listened to and be reinterpreted. Styles of music mixing together to create a new sound, so I’m excited. Next year, we’re making an authentic style rather than following a safe sound. So, I’m really excited.
“What happened to that chubby little kid, who smiled so much and loved the beach boys?”
Car Seat Headrest songwriter Will Toledo screams this on stage with his post-pubescent voice cracks fragmenting through the crowd.
“What happened is I killed that fucker and I took his name, and I got new glasses”
The audience collectively belts this “Destroyed by Hippie Powers” line as if it is one of the universal truths of the online age. And to this group of people, it may as well be.
So what the hell happened to the music kids? I’d imagine twenty-five years ago, the Car Seat Headrest fanbase’s past-adjacents would have been scoffing at hair-metal during a Pavement concert, or wearing a dirty pair of jeans at a Yo La Tengo show. The internet happened, Bandcamp happened, and the ability to record music in a shitty car on a shitty computer happened.
Now we go to a real-life self-loathing echo chamber and scream for Will Toledo: he has tights on with comically small jorts over them. He has a mask on with digital LED lights that blink every few seconds. His angst remains at the level of Paul Dano in Little Miss Sunshine. I will defend him with dusty buttons on my keyboard in online spaces until the day I die.
This band knows how to put on a show for the sweaty cesspool of incredible fans they have built over the last decade. Car Seat Headrest entered their green lighting on stage to look at an artist’s palette of hair colors in the crowd. We dance, we dance to lyrics like “Sex-havers, stop being so mean” and “The other night I cried while thinking of having sex with you.” It’s not a surprise that my uncle hates his band.
It’s also no wonder that this generation of kids would take solace in the musing of a man that sings about his hatred of social interaction, being sober, and being high. On the internet, we read anonymous people who type about their agony with Reddit ink. This tolerance – even open-armed acceptance – of self-loathing rightfully makes its way into the music of a skinny teenager with glasses and lots of time on his hands: Will Toledo. Soon after, his music makes its way onto thousands of other kids’ computers, many of whom also have a dislike for their bodies and a dislike for conversations with strangers. Now, these listeners are here at the Ogden Theater: It’s a community of online folk that are finally offline, and it’s a beautiful sight.
Andrew Katz beats on his drums, he came prepared with a white tee shirt that says “MASK” and an 80’s style white headband on. The fan-favorite “Fill in the Blank” riles the crowd up with its fast, angular guitar; a large majority of the audience yells every line. The heavy baseline in “It’s Only Sex” keeps the crowd dancing as Toledo moves his body around like a stick-figure Elvis that cannot bend his joints. His voice carries as much raw emotion as it did back in 2011 when he was recording demos in his car. Guitarist Ethan Ives threw in some wild licks to propel the angst of Toledo not just to the back of the theater – but even our nomad friends in the rocky mountains fifty miles away felt the presence of some sort of sonic virginity.
By the time the dance-demanding song “Bodys” came on, the audience turned into a wave pool, up and down and up and down. It’s a song I’ve always wanted to see live; with a subject of moving our bodies around so we can “forget that we forgot how to talk,” even the shyest people’s shells cracked, allowing them to dance and fling their limbs around. After this, sentimentality was at a high during the prized “Sober to Death.” A slower variation of this work of art made for a moment of singing along that is difficult to forget. Guitarist, Ethan Ives, even performed the noisy “It’s my Child (I’ll do what I like)” from his side project Toy Bastard, and the audience ate up the curly-haired, suburban resentment.
The band closed off with the monster 11-minute opus “Beach life-in-death,” an emotional experience for anyone who has connected with the vulnerable lyrics. The encore was an extended version of “Deadlines” – Toledo takes the time to thank and introduce his spotlit bandmates during an extended guitar solo; It was clear to see that these four are best friends. The slacker ethos of 90’s indie rock remains, but Will Toledo sings emotional lyrics like he is reading from a non-refundable receipt that lists all the stuff we wish we could return after puberty. Even at 29 years old – far past his teenage Bandcamp days – Toledo is theatrical and still in his performing prime.
Car Seat Headrest’s music is what sitting in your car to waste time during a party is like. Car Seat Headrest’s music is what being at a lunch table with absolutely nothing to add to the conversation is like. Essentially, Car Seat Headrest’s music feels like being as far away from the present as possible. However, looking around at this concert, it was clear to see that the audience members were present in the moment, enjoying themselves. The equation makes sense now:
Pessimistic people + pessimistic music = propelling a group of hormone-filled introverts to enjoy a moment.
I remember being at home during the Fall 2020 quarantine period and discovering The Flaming Lips’ Pitchfork documentary of their 1999 album The Soft Bulletin. I did not know them outside of some of their classic songs like “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 1” and “She Don’t Use Jelly,” that were conceptually and aesthetically different from this album- this was something special. I hung onto every song on the album for dear life, as its messages of grief and existential dread felt particularly salient during the pandemic. Now that COVID’s presence seems more of a backdrop to “normal” life, I have moved through the Flaming Lips discography to compliment the laughter and joy that has flowed back into my day. The Flaming Lips concert, even with an emotionally varied setlist, captured the loving relationship between the band and their fans- we all celebrated life and celebrated music.
It has been a long time since I have been to a concert alone in Denver, but it seemed fitting as I alone traveled through the stages of grieving with The Soft Bulletin as my guide. I entered while the opener, Particle Kid, started their set. The lead singer, Micah, trotted around stage with a long black cape and cried out with a Kurt Cobain-ish rasp. I couldn’t help but imagine myself being at a reincarnated Nirvana concert until I heard the psychedelic synthesizers and reverb in the guitars drill into hypnotic freestyles that would last for several minutes. The most intriguing part of the set felt more like a performance art piece, something like a “Happening” piece in the 50’s where the last song turned into another long jam after people backstage tossed confetti over Micah’s head in celebration of his birthday while he continued to scream “LIFE- LIFE…” I thought I was witnessing a manifestation of a quarter-life crisis as the drums and guitar patterns started to deteriorate into amorphic static. Micah crawled around the stage continuing to repeat this word for several minutes, playing with the tone and frequency of his voice behind the blaring instruments. The crowd also moved through waves of discomfort and awe watching the performance. It seemed like his mic eventually got cut off, and the band did a short sign off before getting off stage. The opener got me more excited as Particle Kid was clearly a group of performers that revered the interactive nature of The Flaming Lips’ concerts.
After standing around for some time, the lead singer of TFL, Wayne Coyne, walked around the stage getting all the props and goodies for the fans prepared for the show. Finally, the whole band came onstage in the dark, while Wayne stepped in the spotlight with a large robotic red bird. He opened the show by talking about how in previous tours they used to have a different bird that Wayne would pretend to fly around the stage in tandem with the bird noises from “My Cosmic Autumn Rebellion.” Unfortunately, long story short, the original bird broke but now they have this new bird that ACTUALLY flies. Wayne started the set by throwing the bird up to the sky and grabbing a spotlight to cast a magical beam up while the bird fluttered around before landing in front of the mic. Everyone was singing along, even if they did not know the “bird song” (like myself) from the brilliantly animated lyrics on the fluorescent panel of lights.
It was not uncommon for Wayne to stop singing through the set and encourage everyone to scream and dance for the sake of spreading love for each other and for having live shows again. “This could be the last concert ever, for all we know,” Wayne said once, “so we might as well make it the best fucking concert ever!” And that it was. After the first song, the tech crew came onstage with a leaf blower and started to fill a clear plastic ball with air, while Wayne stepped inside the orb. This would be his temporary home, he would rock back and forth and roll around while singing in his perfect, inhuman voice. I was not expecting him to sound exactly like his recorded songs because of age and production edits, but it was so uncanny seeing him and hearing him the same as I would imagine.
The first time he stepped out of his clear ball was to move to a different inflatable structure: the infamous pink robot. Standing at about 20 feet tall, this massive giant danced with air to “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 1” with Wayne playing hide-and-seek under its legs. The whole concert seemed like a return to childhood; we were encouraged to move freely and inspire each other to be fully immersed in the music. A few songs later another massive inflatable structure, a rainbow, arched over most of the large stage with Wayne in his ball singing underneath. Streams of confetti would fly out from the stage or from Wayne’s confetti cannons. Halfway through, the whole band played happy birthday to Particle Kids, Micah, and Wayne praised the band for their passionate opening set. Throughout the show, Wayne exuded the most positive energy both through his singing and his actions. In the jam section of “Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell,” Wayne picked up a spotlight attached to a cord and lassoed it manically around, inciting the audience into a dance frenzy. A few songs later, a medical team had to go into the audience and Wayne stopped the show to make sure everyone was safe.
After the band finished playing some of their classic songs like “Do You Realize??” and “She Don’t Use Jelly,” They finished their set with my favorite song: “Feeling Yourself Disintegrate.” I screamed in surprise because it is such a sad song- there was no way, I thought, that they would play that! But it is also one of the most beautiful songs ever. Wayne played “Waitin’ For a Superman” earlier in the show, another song from The Soft Bulletin, prefacing that it was a sad song but we would all create a supportive environment. No such warning was given for this song, but I think it was because he knew we would be ready. I felt the love from the people around me and from the band as they blended their guitars with surreal ease. In a lot of ways, the only verse from “Feeling Yourself Disintegrate” encapsulated the message from the show: “Love in our life is just too valuable/ Oh, to feel for even a second without it/ But life without death is just impossible/Oh, to realize something is ending within us.” Wayne and the rest of TFL underscored throughout the show, especially in the wake of COVID, that our bodies are impermanent, but love is infinite; “if you give someone love you will receive it thirty fold back,” Wayne preached between the song. The band went off briefly and then played four more songs for their encore, ending with “All We Have Is Now” and the classic hit from The Soft Bulletin “Race for the Prize,” again, highlighting their message of love and human mortality. The show was a cathartic experience for me as well as insightful. With prosaic musings similar to that of Dead & Company’s Bob Weir, Wayne opened up with personal stories and feelings that made me feel like I knew him a little better.
I hope that The Flaming Lips return to Denver sometime in the future, but Wayne left the set with a big question mark over the prospect of another tour. Whatever happens, we both left knowing that this show touched the lives of so many fans. I walked out of the venue with exceeded expectations and a long drive ahead.
The phrase “the fog is coming” has been everywhere over the last few weeks. Comment sections are riddled with this warning, I’ve even seen a post-it note with the warning in our supposedly-safe school library. But I saw the fog. It came at 9:03 PM MST on March 30, 2022 at 39.776374, -104.969329, aka the Mission Ballroom in Denver. This glorious haze swept over the audience resulting in dead silence. Darkness and silence. I’ve seen what the fog consists of, the lights shone revealing the silhouettes of the legendary Dream Pop duo Beach House.
The title track and intro of Once Twice Melody launched the concert with plainsong-like chimes; its hypnotizing instruments progress with Victoria Legrand’s voice. Legrand’s delivery has a similar effect to German artist Nico. Her vocals feel ancient, like she is telling some great prophecy carried by an atmosphere of lush synths and strings. Manipulation of the band’s shadows multiplied the allure, I did not see a single facial feature the whole night. Seeing Legrand raise her shadow of a hand at the peak of a song would cause the crowd to levitate in awe.
Soon the synths of “Lazuli” and “Through Me” would climb up and down on a dream-dimension y-axis. Legrand stands tall and mythical with her curly hair draped in the fog. Alex Scalley played his soothing guitar and James Barone hit his drums with gentle precision. Hexagonal lights twist and turn around through the mist, and I heard someone say “look at the lights on the ceiling.” For a moment, these geometric lights had us inside of the Bloom album cover.
Beach House’s sound is so sensory-oriented that the visuals of this show were crucial. Before the show, The band sent out a memo to every one of their ticket holders:
NO FLASH PHOTOGRAPHY whatsoever will be allowed. Additionally, any other distracting activities will not be tolerated.
This created a tunnel vision effect; I could only see the band and whatever synesthetic spotlight they occupied. Everything else was pitch black, it was impossible not to be hypnotized by that stage. The audience may as well have melted when the gut-wrenching first notes of “Silver Soul” came on. All of the lights turned white; it makes sense because this is a white-feeling song, right? Most Beach House songs have a specific color; they’ve explored this with the indulgent red sink-hole that is their 2015 album, Depression Cherry. The background lights matched each song and its sonic hue. A Starry Night-esque lilac background twinkled for the spellbinding “Myth.” A machine gun of red lights fired around with the drum machines of “Pink Funeral.” At the chorus, the aforementioned hexagonal lights turn pink and pan across the room in slow-motion as Legrand so gracefully pleads, “don’t let me go.”
“I’m a woman of few words” Legrand says to a crowd of hypnotized happy neanderthals. I can look around and see the simple thought behind many faces: Music make me feel good. Sure, we were all swaying parallel to the repetitive soundwaves of “Lemon Glow,” but to look around was to see a collective submerged state. Legrand looks down at her audience – or loyal followers – “This place feels like a spaceship, where should we go.” We follow and cheer, drooling. Beach House brain rot has never felt so good.
Our spaceship traveled through the Asgardian bliss of “PPP,” and soon, zero-gravity tears would float around during “Space Song”. As we continued somewhere between two galaxies, a Death Star shot out its dreamy rays from above. A disco ball the diameter of Chewbacca’s left nut is the first off-stage light I’ve seen in this theater. Once the show exited orbit, the crowd did not stop cheering until the band came back on for an encore with “Over and Over.” The audience exited the building like a stream of satisfied water molecules as Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” played over the speakers.
Guided meditation wouldn’t make me feel as serene as I did after the Beach House show. Is it dramatic to say I feel baptized? As a Jew, I don’t know what baptism feels like; I took to the Catholicism subreddit to understand the experience. To quote [deleted] account, “I felt peaceful and confident. I felt content and joyful.” Exactly. Immersion into the band’s cathartic fog has left me feeling like a toad in a zen garden. I tried to go through this whole article without typing the Beach House review buzzwords: dreamy, heavenly, ethereal –this word I promised myself I’d avoid. But shit, the shoe fits.
When I saw the 80 minute length and massive name of the new Big Thief album, my cynicism got the best of me. A quick, near-empty black and white sketch on the cover further confuses the assuming asshole in my head: big album needs big artwork, right? I saw that large-scale magazines were ALREADY giving this album extremely high reviews before it was released to the public. I texted my friend, curious as to what could possibly be so interesting about this massive record. She responded with a quote that would define the next month: “hey man, let those pasty basement fairies do their thing.”
Lead singer Adrienne Lenker starts the album with an arbitrary statement “Ok?”
The intro, “Change” is a hug. A hopeful one. Maybe change isn’t a bad thing? Maybe it’s beautiful, “like the leaves, like a butterfly.” Things change and death comes. Lenker is okay with this. Maybe I am too. Shit, I am already feeling sentimental. What are you doing to me, Big Thief?
Pulling me into a warm hug surrounded by sparkly fireflies and roaming deer, Big thief also offers acceptance to a presence much more dense than mine: time. The ever-present man in a double-breasted pinstripe suit holds his pocket watch; he points at it, showing that time is constantly taking its toll on us. Big thief looks back at him – looks back at time passing – with open arms of acceptance, bringing us comfort in simplicity throughout Dragon. It can be difficult to approach heavy topics with humor, but Lenker’s lyrics read like a wise, 200-year-old being with a goofy approach to the meaninglessness of life.
As the satisfying jaw-harp bounces on “Spud Infinity,” Lenker bounces back and forth from mature topics to mundane objects, comparing our stressful skinmobiles to a simple potato Knish. Her ease doing this through the whole album is a testament to Lenker’s fluid yet sharp songwriting.
“When I say celestial I mean extra-terrestrial I mean accepting the alien you’ve rejected in your own heart When I say heart I mean finish The last one there is a potato knish Baking too long in the sun of spud infinity When I say infinity I mean right now Kiss the one you are right now Kiss your body up and down other than your elbows”
The larger-scope, magic-infused topics near the start of the album – time, celestial bodies, death – are ambitious, but it is vital to the record that they are paired with smaller-scope, intimate affairs. After all, the celestial bodies Lenker sings of would be meaningless without the little animals that flail around beneath them.
“Certainty” could turn a cold, dark heart into grandma’s warm pie. It is one of the loveliest proclamations of feelings for another I have ever heard (“For you, I am a child, believing you lay beside me sleeping on a plane In the future”). Lenker’s country twang intensifies on this song; it is scattered throughout the album, warm and tasty like a tenderly crafted treat. This sound makes the weirdness and nostalgia on Dragon even more intimate in songs with personal stories like “Red Moon” and “Blue Lightning.” Big Thief has completely ignored how uncool country music is right now. With bro-country folks like Florida Georgia Line and Blake Shelton infesting the radios at our local grocery stores, people on first dates everywhere can commonly be heard saying: “I like every genre but country” when asked what music they’re into. It is easy to forget how satisfying a little twang can wiggle into one’s ears; past alt-country folks like Jason Molina of Songs: Ohia and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billie made brilliant art out of their rural self-loathing, and Big Thief is carrying on the torch for country’s salvation.
Dragon is a big, slow-cooked stew of many flavors: the base folk stylings are the braised beef, spiced with savory introspection. The indie-rock turn that the band takes in the middle of the tracklist with “Little Things” is a flowing broth of 90’s influenced, swirly walls of sound. The fairytale-like curiosity that characterizes Dragon is sprinkled in here, especially on “Blurred View,” Big Thief’s otherworldly take on trip-hop. “I am the water rise/the waterfall/filling up your eyes when you give me the call/I run for you/run for you.” It is as if Lenker reads a prophecy; her critical moment in her own fantasy, not much different from Frodo’s mythical clash with The Eye of Sauron in The Lord of the Rings.
Eight years ago In the band’s debut album Masterpiece, an appalled Lenker proclaimed that wherever she was “smelled like piss and beer.” Dragon New Warm Mountain smells like earthy campfires and potions, and whatever elves and fairies smell like. If Dragon New Warm Mountain is a place we can picture, the latter half of the album consists of the folk tales that take place on the green spring grass here. Lenker zooms in on the beauty of real things: a laughing fox on “Promise is a Pendulum” and maple cherry leaves falling on “12,000 Lines”. Small ballads like “No Reason” give a gentle tap on the shoulder with warm, life affirming lines.
“Come together for a moment Look around and dissolve Like a feeling, like a flash Like a fallin’ eyelash on your sweater Threading future through the past”
Lenker wears her influences on her sleeve as songs become quieter – it is easy to hear Elliott Smith here; the moments of fresh craftsmanship give a delightful spin to her sound. Drilling drum machines come out of nowhere on “Wake Me Up to Drive.” Little pokes in the instrumentation loosen my brain in a knotted spot, untying the tangle of stress. Big Thief in all their hopeful magic dismantle the accepted constructs of country-leaning indie-folk. Usually this genre consists of a man who has been defeated by something, with tears in his beer, and a 35 minute tracklist. In contrast, Big Thief conjures a reassuring, romantic outlook on the wonders around them. Flutes fly up and down like the sparrow outside and Lenker’s soft voice is comforting, of the same family as the death-defying, benevolent deer that shows up every now and then.
After a very short 80 minutes, the final track, Blue Lightning, comes to an end. A band member says “what should we do now?” It’s almost like I forgot that these are normal people with normal lives. That is the effect Dragon has, for a moment it feels like they are channeling some kind of fairytale enchantment. But Big Thief is just a band, and this is just a collection of songs. The cover is just a sketch of animals at a campfire. Even with the unstoppable forces of time and death, we still get up and bake our potatoes and dance with our fingers and make campfires. Dragon points out the magic of the mundane; Aren’t we just a bunch of stupid animals trying to find some kind of happiness?
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.
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.
I was eating Burger King in an empty Lowe’s parking lot as dusk fell. Earlier that day I had received an email from a close friend. The SoCC had a press pass to see The War On Drugs that very night at the Mission Ballroom. I responded to the email expressing my interest, but I didn’t think I had any chance at the tickets, given that I wasn’t a SoCC reporter. Because I felt that my chances of getting that press pass were slim, I decided I would spend the evening with my sister. Mid-burger, I get an email back from my SoCC liaison: I got the press pass! I wolfed the rest of the meal and set my course for the Mission Ballroom.
The energy in the ballroom was palpable. Hipsters young and old were forced to pack themselves into the cavernous hall. The hype was real, but the band came on stage with little fanfare. Front man Adam Granduciel, dressed in his usual button down and jeans, walked on stage balancing several beverages in his arms as the crowd erupted into applause. After Granduciel was armed with his Fender Stratocaster, the band launched right into “Old Skin” off of 2021’s I Don’t Live Here Anymore, their latest release and the subject of their current tour. As Granduciel strummed, he was joined by synthesizer player Robbie Bennett, playing a soft organ over Granduciel’s delicate chords. The crowd swayed and sang along to the melancholy, aching first verse. Granduciel and Bennett built a massive wall of texture, bringing the energy to its boiling point till drummer Charlie Hall brought in his thundering back beat, launching the song into its anthemic finale.
As they tuned and traded instruments after their first song, people around me talked to each other, predicting what would come next. Someone said “It’s gonna be ‘Pain.’” I hoped that this guy was right; 2017’s “Pain” was something of a pandemic anthem for me. As I waited with bated breath, Granduciel strapped on a beautiful Fender Jazzmaster and began to pick the somber arpeggio that begins “Pain.” The crowd positively burst into shouts of appreciation Apparently, I wasn’t the only fan of the song. The song reflects on how we experience loss and anxiety in conjunction with our own personal growth, or lack thereof. Saxophonist/keyboardist Jon Natchez played a haunting bass motif on his baritone saxophone, ensnaring the audience in the song’s innate gloom.
To use Granduciel’s lyrics, The War On Drugs exists “in the space between the beauty and the pain.” Though TWOD lyrics ponder the inherent pain and loneliness of the human condition and try to work through various traumas, the band crafts lush instrumentals that can move one to tears with both their tremendous beauty and their agonizing sadness. With their seven members, the band is up to this monumental task. Granduciel is flanked by some of the finest musicians on the scene. On his right, there is guitarist/keyboardist Anthony LaMarca, who adds a great deal of texture with his acoustic guitar. Then there’s bassist David Hartley, a no-frills rhythm player holding down the low end of the band’s infamous jams. Keyboardist/vocalist Eliza Hardy Jones stands on the risers above Granduciel, adding unique textures to the band’s vocal arrangements. In case you haven’t been counting, that’s three keyboardists on stage at the same time. This is how The War On Drugs achieve their infamous wall of sound.
The band fed off the crowd energy. Granduciel bantered with the crowd all night long. He praised the tenacity of the Denver audience, applauding their willingness to put up with the freezing temperatures to see the show. Halfway through the set, an audience member shouted “Play ‘Born in Time!’” Granduciel responded enthusiastically, and the band launched into the impromptu Bob Dylan cover. As the show drew to a close, Granduciel addressed the audience. He said “We’re only going to do three or four more songs. We’re not gonna do that bullshit where we walk off” to great applause. It’s this down-to-earth charm that cements both Granduciel and The War On Drugs as one of the great indie acts of our time. For anyone interested in seeing the band, they will be playing Red Rocks on September 19, 2022.
Watch their performance in Denver of their recent album’s title track song below!
Check out what some of our DJs and writers consider their favorite albums of 2021.
Whole Lotta Red, Playboi Carti
(Although it came out in 2020, it’s been considered a 2021 album since it came out at the very end of 2020). This album made me respect Playboi Carti as an artist. The experimentation on this album, both vocally and production-wise, is like no other hip-hop project of the past year. On Whole Lotta Red, Carti does everything outside of the box. While maintaining his simple, often repetitive lyrics that have made him such a polarizing artist, he pushes the boundaries of hip-hop even further by introducing distorted production and chaotic, punk-inspired vocals. This album is unpredictable in a good way. At one moment he could be screaming over a WAKEUPFILTHY beat while in the next song we see Carti hinting at his Die Lit/Self-Titled era with much mellower vocals over Pi’erre Bourne’s iconic production. The influence of this work of art is already being seen, with WAKEUPFILTHY producing more and more songs and similar vocal experimentation emerging in the underground Hip-Hop world (see Turban by Yeat). This album was very divisive when it came out (understandably), a common trend in albums that subvert expectations and break barriers. This album may not appeal to you on the first, or even second listen, but give it some time and you’ll understand why this album is going to be so important for hip-hop in the years to come. -Oliviero Zanalda
Home Video, Lucy Dacus
In Home Video, Lucy Dacus artfully talks about the parts of youth that only make sense in retrospection. An intimate and honest look at young and naive love, coming to terms with her sexuality and grappling with religious beliefs weave the songs together. A combination of the usual ballads that Dacus writes and a new look at some poppier songs with background vocals from her boygenius bandmates Phoebe Bridgers and Julien Baker creates the perfect album. – Margalit Goldberg
It Won’t Always Be Like This, Inhaler
Talk about a smashing debut! Inhaler, a four-piece indie rock group based in Dublin, came out with their first record in July, 2021 after a series of singles and EPs scattered over the course of the last couple years (some oldies and goodies of which are on their new album). Inhaler succeeds in proving their emotional and technical range on this album, drifting back and forth between grittier, higher-energy alt. rock tracks and slower, melodic, passionate ballads, all with strong guitars and punchy hooks. The titular song, “It Won’t Always Be Like This,” as trite as it may sound, provides a lot of hope for those stuck in old routines and patterns as of late, wishing to move onto something fresh and new, making this the perfect album to ring in 2022 with! – Jane Harris
Inside Every Fig is a Dead Wasp, Lunar Vacation
Lunar Vacation fully delivered after their 4-year hiatus, with some of their most layered and beautiful production. They’ve stayed true to the indie rock genre but just mastered their sound. Each song keeps you on your toes and it’s a lovely 30 minute listen. -Sadie Fleig
Sometimes I Might Be Introvert, Little Simz
This album felt like listening to a coming of age story, with every song sounding like an epic outro that made me savor the album from beginning to end. Sometimes I Might Be Introvert was a big departure from minimalist rap common in her 2019 album GREY area, now sprinkling musical motifs and whimsical interludes throughout- creating a fairytale-land of Simz making. The instrumentals drew from the African diaspora, with Afro-Caribbean heavy beats and West African inspired chorus’ behind her grimey bars, which speaks to Simz’ British-Nigerian background and tied into the album’s theme of contemplating her current identity. The lyrics were introspective and poignant and made the album an emotional and spiritual experience to listen to. I have been listening to it on repeat! Honorable Mention: Call Me If You Get Lost- Tyler the Creator – Emily Faulks
Any Shape You Take, Indigo De Souza
I haven’t stopped listening to this album. De Souza’s sophomore album experiments with synth pop while still having just as much crunch as her 2018 album I Love my Mom. New sounds, new energies, and a really good listen -Tim Smith
Ok Orchestra, AJR
OKO is a pandemic anthem! It conveys so many raw emotions with alternative sounds. I would highly recommend it- everyone can relate to some of these lyrics! – Tess Rittenberg
Sidetrack My Engine, Nora Brown
Short listen – Appalachian folk songs as haunting as the hills they come from that have never been mixed this well. -Connor Rogers