Best Shows in Denver September 2021

Emerald Siam performs at Down in Denver Fest on Saturday, Sep 4, 2021 11 p.m. Photo by Tom Murphy From Dec 2019
Quits in October 2019, photo by Tom Murphy

Saturday – Monday | September 4-6
What: Down In Denver Fest
When: Labor Day Weekend
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: With the erosion of the national and local media especially in coverage of local music and culture as a parallel to increasing income inequality the curation of a local scene virtually everywhere in America has all but disappeared. Publications that once served as active legacy institutions that traditionally documented and preserved local culture in a robust way have either dissolved or transitioned to a digital marketing portal model with a subsequent narrowing of content and cultural mission. Music festivals often following a lifestyle branding concept in sync with the lifestyle model of much of digital media following the implosion of the blogosphere can feel like Philip K. Dick circa Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep was more of a prophet than we’d prefer to believe. The Down in Denver Fest organizers remember a time when the rich and broad diversity of Denver’s local scene was more honored and represented in local music festivals and older artists were not expected to retire but, rather, respected for their past and current efforts. While Denver and other cities are in disarray with the forces of drastic income inequality and subsequent gentrification local cultural history seems to pass into irrelevance like a social media feed more quickly than at any previous moment in human history, episodes without context, products to consume and discard. But this is antithetical to lived human experience and human life and our collective craving for connection not just to other people but our experiential, existential context that defines our lives for a certain period or our entire lives. Maybe Down In Denver Fest won’t provide this to everyone but the inspiration behind it is the understanding that local culture and the people who make it a living thing past and present are not just the atomized dots of a marketing galaxy but a continuum that can be and is accessible. So go expecting to see a broad slice of bands representing decades of Denver music history from bands from a variety of genres and styles to DJs from the Denver underground. Visit the event website for the line-up and schedule and to sample artists. Also listen to the Queen City Sounds Podcast featuring a handful of stories from the Denver scene from some of the people that were involved and have helped to make various corners of the city’s musical milieu.

Midwife in October 2019, photo by Tom Murphy

Monday | September 6
What: Midwife w/Sympathy Pain and Sketches
When: 8 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: Midwife is touring more broadly in support of her 2021 album Luminol, a soothing yet heart wrenching record mourning deep loss and fumbling for healing the caustic burns on your heart from the death of friends, the crumbling of the cultural infrastructure that gave one’s life more definition than it might have had and a nation and international community in disarray from grand forces of inequality and the rise of fascism and science denial with no seeming relief on the horizon. It isn’t a dire record but an honest one cast in gossamer guitar work and introspective, dreamlike vocals that tap into those dark places of the mind and not to say it’s all going to be okay but rather as a reminder that you’re not crazy and your feelings of despair, deep discontent and righteous anger are real and valid. Midwife is also performing at Trident Bookstore in Boulder on September 8 and The Coast in Fort Collins on September 12.

Thursday | September 9
What: Denver Meatpacking Company w/I’m A Boy, Wiff and Sleep Demons
When: 7 p.m./8 p.m.
Where: Lost Lake
Why: Denver Meatpacking Company pull liberally from 90s alternative rock for inspiration but its fuzzy guitar work is couched in solid pop hooks that prevent it from sounding like a throwback act. Which makes it a good pairing with I’m A Boy and its own power pop sensibilities and refreshingly unaffected love for bombastic and theatrical rock and roll.

Sunday | September 12
What: Denver Does Denver
When: 1-10 p.m.
Where: Green Valley Ranch Town Center Amphitheater 5060 Argonne St., Denver, CO 80249
Why: It has been 11 years since the last Denver Does Denver event happened when various musicians in the Denver scene covered music by peers and influences in local music at the Meadowlark Bar and its environs. This reboot of the event, once again curated by educator and member of experimental funk and world music phenoms Pink hawks, Yuzo Nieto, is taking place outdoors in Green Valley Ranch and features a typically fascinating set of musicians showcasing the creative wares of other bands and songwriters that otherwise wouldn’t normally be thus recognized for their impact.

Thursday | September 16
What: St. Vincent
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Mission Ballroom
Why: Annie Clark has been experimenting with concepts across her musical career and giving us not only a respectable body of work and consistently fascinating songwriting and inventive musicianship but a creative arc in which she’s willing to take risks. None more so than her 2021 album Daddy’s Home. It is clearly a well-arranged series of vignettes about life in New York City as told through the sonic lens of 70s pop and rock like an East Coast answer to Joni Mitchell’s fantastic and insightful 1970 album Ladies of the Canyon. The structure of the album feels like reading a short novel with a cinematic scope and revelations about character and concept reminiscent of the flow of Virgnia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. Every tour, certainly for her last three albums, has involved creative and entrancing production and even set design subverting the standard rock and pop paradigm so if you go expect some of that deep creativity for which Annie Clark and St. Vincent are rightfully known.

Friday | September 17
What: Herbie Hancock
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Ellie Caulkins Opera House
Why: Herbie Hancock and his stunningly brilliant keyboard and synth work alongside his mindblowingly talented collaborators put on one of the greatest live shows going regardless of genre. His roots in some of the jazz legends of the 60s and 70s are impressive enough but his albums under his own name often reveal a passion and genius for composition that he channels into accessible and engrossing songs and performances that remain relevant and powerful.

Friday and Saturday | September 17-18
What: Westword Music Showcase
When: See schedule per day at http://www.westwordshowcase.com
Where: Rino Arts District and Mission Ballroom
Why: The Westword Music Showcase returns with an expanded presentation in the Rino Arts District northwest of downtown Denver including performances at the Mission Ballroom for headlining acts like Young The Giant, Kaytranada, Thundercat, Matoma, Hippo Campus and Duke Dumont with a bevy of local acts nominated by experts in the local scene tapped for their knowledge by the long running alternative weekly paper.

Monday | September 20
What: Mannequin Pussy w/Angel Du$t and Pinkshift
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Bluebird Theater
Why: Philadelphia’s Mannequin Pussy has long commented on sexism and its effect on identity and how those issues dovetail into the colonist mentality and the most deleterious and sometimes subtle corrosive effects of capitalism. But doing so in a way that seems as tender and sensitive as it is ferocious, cast in noise rock and melodic punk. In 2021 Mannequin Pussy released its gloriously caustic EP Perfect.

Monday and Tuesday | September 20 and 21
What: Mdou Moctar
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Globe Hall
Why: Mahamadou Souleymane is a Tuareg songwriter from Niger who is known to the musical world at large as Mdou Moctar with a growing international following despite the lyrics to his songs being in Tamasheq. His intricate guitar work and sincere performance style renders what might seem exotic to some Americans immediately relatable. Moctar’s fusion of blues and rock with West African musical styles and sounds come off both familiar and arrestingly fresh. In 2021 he released the album Afrique Victime through Matador, his first for an imprint other than specialist label Sahel Sounds. An intense and engaging performer, Moctar’s gracious and self-effacing demeanor doesn’t quite prepare you for the emotionally charged journey of the show but makes it one you want to take.

Tuesday | September 21
What:
Twin Tribes and Wingtips w/Plague Garden
When: 7 p.m.
Where: The Oriental Theater
Why: A great pairing of the Brownsville, Texas lo-fi post-punk band Twin Tribes and Chicago’s darkwave pop sensations Wingtips. The former released a beautifully curated remix album in 2021 called Altars including remixes from Turkish post-punk legends She Past Away, Dave Parley of Prayers, Wingtips and Bootblacks. Wingtips’ new record Cutting Room Floor is a gorgeously composed set of expansive and bright yet hazily moody and reflective pop songs subverting the tropes of sounds and aesthetics borrowed from 80s era synth pop by many modern artists and seemingly as influenced by the likes of Thompson Twins and Howard Jones as Depeche Mode and Fad Gadget. Opening the show is Plague Garden whose 2021 album Requiem of Souls is a great expansion on their brooding and atmospheric blend of industrial and post-punk into more pop territory including an excellent cover of Tanita Tikaram’s 1988 hit single “Twisting in My Sobriety” that highlights the song’s then unfashionable level of self-examination.

Torres, photo by Shervin Lainez

Tuesday | September 21
What: Torres w/Ariana and The Rose
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: Torres has from early in her career blended a more electronic pop aesthetic with a raw and gritty folk-inflected songwriting style and dynamically emotional vocals. Her 2021 album Thirstier is brimming with high contrast sounds that give the songs a forcefulness that was always there in her music but made unmistakable this time around.

Wednesday | September 22
What: Waltzer w/Vision Video, Voight, Lord Friday the 13th
When: 8 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: Waltzer is Sophie Sputnik who fronted punk band Killmama for more than a few years. But her music theater background seems to have been yearning for greater expression if the debut Waltzer album Time Traveler is any indication and the bizarre music video for “Destroyer” which is like a humorous horror movies as a backdrop to soulful, R&B pop. Maybe Sputnik got to listening to a lot of Erykah Badu, Harry Nilsson and Todd Rundgren but she makes that lush, almost orchestral sound seem spare as well. Athens, Georgia-based post-punk/pop band Vision Video is an interesting contrast with its 2021 album Inked in Red reminiscent of 80s jangle pop, XTC and Pink Turns Blue. Voight is a Denver-based band that collides together noise rock, industrial/techno beats, emotionally-charged vocals and caustic shoegaze-y soundscapes.

Front 242 in April 2018, photo by Tom Murphy

Wednesday | September 22
What: Front 242 w/Consolidated, Blackcell and DJ N810
When: 7 p.m.
Where: The Oriental Theater
Why: Front 242 is one of the pioneers of the EBM wing of industrial music of the 80s with its stark visual style akin to a stylized Futurist aesthetic. Claiming to be apolitical and even amoral, Front 242’s pulsing, atmospheric dance music nevertheless takes aim at corrupt religious and political figures without an explicitly verbalized critique, rather choosing to present them as absurd and cartoonish. By contrast the overtly political industrial band Consolidated is part of this tour and from its album titles, to its music and confrontational performance style the group from San Francisco leaves no doubt about its leftist politics and activist cultural orientation while also injecting very pointed commentary with humor that also manages not to distract from the message. Denver’s long-running noise/industrial/EBM duo Blackcell opens the show with its own richly imagined and immersive soundscapes.

Wild Pink, photo by Mitchell Wojcik

Wednesday | September 22
What:
Ratboys X Wild Pink w/Bellhoss
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Globe Hall
Why: Earlier in 2021 Wild Pink released A Billion Little Lights, a pop album of lush orchestration and sage and sharply observed comments on one’s changing perspectives and priorities as one ages into adulthood physically and psychologically and the subsequent realization that the sureties of now will sometimes seem like the follies and cringe-worthy moments of the future. While songwriter John Ross wrote the album from the perspective of a single human life the themes seem to resonate strongly with society overall in the past decade and coming to terms with blind spots, injustice, inequality and chronically bad habits that have a fallout for oneself and others.

Saturday | September 25
What:
Lost Relics and Never Kenezzard
When: 9:30 p.m.
Where: Tooey’s Off Colfax
Why: Two giants of Denver sludge metal, Lost Relics and Never Kenezzard both demonstrate how heavy, doomy metal can be dynamic and even expansively psychedelic while hitting hard. Expect a new Lost Relics EP soon and Never Kenezzard’s follow-up to the excellent 2016 album Never Say…

Monday | September 27
What: Esmé Patterson
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Globe Hall
Why: The beginning of the global pandemic in March 2020 landed just in time to thwart plans for Esmé Patterson and her band to tour in support of her then new album There Will Come Soft Rains. The new record showcased Patterson’s ear for subtle emotional dynamics in songwriting and for expressing the complexity of one’s feelings in an uncluttered way. The spare melodies of the new batch of songs also demonstrate an attention to space in the songs perhaps as a symbolic way of honoring the need to such in one’s life in order to make sense of what can feel overwhelming. Not a pandemic record but sure seems like one that addresses little things in life we often ignore in our rush to push through everything when we need to and never really taking the time to feel what we need to in order to maintain a healthy state of mind.

Judas Priest in November 2014, photo by Tom Murphy

Wednesday | September 29
What:
Judas Priest w/Sabaton
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Mission Ballroom
Why: Perpetually underrated yet highly influential, Judas Priest is one of the pioneering bands of heavy metal that still occasionally tours and is still a powerful live act due in no small part to singer Rob Halford’s expressive and operatic vocals. With hits like “Breaking The Law” and “Living After Midnight” from its 1980 album British Steel, Judas Priest started to break into the mainstream with subsequent regular rotation on MTV. Getting to see Judas Priest at a theater like the Mission Ballroom with its excellent sound and seating layout is likely to be the most enjoyable environment to take in the band’s broad range of moods and highly charged dynamics.

Cadence Weapon in June 2012, photo by Tom Murphy

Thursday | September 30
What: Fat Tony and Cadence Weapon
When: 8 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: Fat Tony and Cadence Weapon are rappers from Houston and Edmonton, Canada respectively but who both draw on an electric palette of sounds and influences and their use of imaginative beats and production have set them apart from many peers from early on in their respective careers. Their individual blends of classic rapping with free associating sounds and textures in the beat with an ear for songwriting and impassioned delivery make this one of the hip-hop shows to see this year in Denver. Fat Tony is touring following the 2020 release of his album Exotica and Cadence Weapon with his 2021 album Parallel World.

Author: simianthinker

Editor, primary content provider for this blog. Former contributor to Westword and The Onion.