Sleater-Kinney at The Ogden Theatre October 13, 2019: A Sustained Spark of Hope in Bleak Times

Sleater-Kinney at Ogden Theatre, October 13, 2019, photo by Tom Murphy

When Janet Weiss, longtime drummer of Sleater-Kinney, said she was leaving the band and partly due to creative differences on the band’s 2019 album The Center Won’t Hold, it came as a shock to most fans. I had seen Sleater-Kinney the first time in October 1998 at The Fox Theatre in Boulder and Weiss was a standout performer among impressive turns by Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker. Having then found out about the band through Brownstein’s insightful commentary on her influences in Roni Sarig’s book The Secret History of Rock I was not let down when I decided to see if it was possible to see Sleater-Kinney in Colorado. Picking up Call the Doctor and then most recent album Dig Me Out felt revelatory like this band was saying things that needed to be said at a time when not a lot of that was in the public discourse. I also saw Weiss perform in other bands over the years. In Quasi basically I was awestruck by her raw power and versatility and how her style seemed different in that band as well as when she was a drummer in Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks.

Sleater-Kinney at Ogden Theatre, October 13, 2019, photo by Tom Murphy

Before Sleater-Kinney split that first time I’d seen the bands four times and bring along noteworthy artists on the tours the way independent bands used to and sometimes still do. Bands like Ailer’s Set, The Gossip and The Quails. I was in retrospect impressed with how the band brought on Rainbow Sugar and The Pauline Heresy to open at The Fox as Rainbow Sugar became one of my bands at that time and so did Pauline Heresy when Yoon Park and Claudine Rousseau formed the post-punk band Sin Desires Marie with Germaine Baca of Rainbow Sugar. Going to see them always seemed inspirational and transformational. Their records seeming to be exactly what I wanted to hear when they came out. When Sleater-Kinney broke up in 2006 it felt like the beginning of the end of an era of music.

Sleater-Kinney at Ogden Theatre, October 13, 2019, photo by Tom Murphy

Then the reunion happened and following the release of No Cities to Love in 2015 it was obvious the trio was back into the swing of things and the band’s show at the Ogden Theatre with Lizzo as the opening act was fantastic. When Sleater-Kinney returned for Riot Fest in 2016 I felt I had seen a lot more music during the interim and braving an injury I decided to stick around to see them, though feeling for some reason I’d seen the band several times already and knew what they were about. I don’t know what I was expecting but it felt like the band was having fun and rediscovering their power even more as a live band and keeping the vibe casual but electric. It hit me as refreshing and as though somehow the band was tapped into some general mood a lot of people were in with culture and politics. It was a bracing reminder that this band still had something to offer someone like me who has seen and heard so much and didn’t even want to be at a festival given aforementioned injury. It’s easy to get jaded especially when you’re not feeling well. Yet Sleater-Kinney made it seem worth it even if only to catch the band’s set (I also saw Danny Brown, Vince Staples and Ween before going home, all also worthwhile).

Sleater-Kinney at Ogden Theatre, October 13, 2019, photo by Tom Murphy

So what would a post-Janet Weiss Sleater-Kinney look and sound like live? The album The Center Won’t Hold certainly showcased a band that was evolving in a direction that maybe many fans didn’t appreciate. But it also contained some of the band’s best songs to date and let us know that the band felt the need to do something different and not get stuck in a rut. Weiss has publicly said why she left the band and one can hardly blame her given her reasons. There’s no replacing someone like Janet Weiss whose unique and powerful style uplifts all of her projects. But for this tour Angie Boylan of Aye Nako and Freezing Cold stepped in and more than ably performed songs that would have to be challenging for most other drummers to play. So much so that it felt like Brownstein and Tucker were able to relax and project a sense of joy and solidarity. Katie Harkin and Toko Yasuda helped fill out the instrumentation especially on keyboards so bring that deeply atmospheric sensibility of The Center Won’t Hold.

Sleater-Kinney at Ogden Theatre, October 13, 2019, photo by Tom Murphy

The set with the current touring lineup felt like a sustained spark of hope in a bleak time in America. Once again, to me, Sleater-Kinney was singing about the things people need to hear, about which many of us are thinking. They also brought to bear insight into the insecurities and psychological trauma that seems to be striking our lives with increasing regularity whether economically, our social lives, the death of friends whether you’re young or old through illness, murder or suicide. The songs on the new record also addressed issues of isolation, being able to look forward when world events seem so paralyzing with a sense that everything is broken and beyond our ability to repair or redeem. The songs don’t try to sugar coat or to say that everything will be okay. But it also isn’t a set of nihilistic songs as that mindset is its own form of despair obsession. The show felt like the band sharing with us a sense that we’re going to need each other in a real and vulnerable way if we have any hope of getting through this period without throwing up our hands and letting the fascists and their cronies take over the world and dictate what’s left of the future of the human race if their program prevails.

Sleater-Kinney at Ogden Theatre, October 13, 2019, photo by Tom Murphy

Set List:

The Center Won’t Hold
Hurry On Home
Price Tag
The Future Is Here
Reach Out
Bury Our Friends
What’s Mine Is Yours
One More Hour
Bad Dance
The Fox
Can I Go On
A New Wave
The Dog/The Body

Words and Guitar
Modern Girl

Encore 2:
Dig Me Out

Sleater-Kinney photo pass for Ogden Theatre, October 13, 2019. When a band makes special photo passes for their tour it definitely signals they care.

The Beautiful Heartbreak of Hancock and Washington at Mission Ballroom on August 14, 2019

Herbie Hancock and Kamasi Washington at Mission Ballroom, 8/14/2019, photo by Tom Murphy

The relatively new Mission Ballroom hosted two living titans of jazz on August 14, 2019 when Herbie Hancock headlined with Kamasi Washington opening. Hancock has been an innovator in the genre and an influence on plenty of other styles of music going back to at the 1960s as a genre-bending genius whose contribution to other people’s music and his own band leading has expanded what jazz can be and sound like and look like. Washington has long established himself as a choice player in modern R&B, hip-hop, jazz and funk in his own right including turns on the last two Kendrick Lamar albums. Hancock the piano wizard, and Washington a brilliant sax player. The room proved itself apt for letting both musicians and their players shine through impeccable sound, something that isn’t the case with a lot of rooms of comparable size.

Kamasi Washington and band at Mission Ballroom, August 14, 2019, photo by Tom Murphy

Washington’s band looked almost tranquil when it performed but if expressions speaks volumes and listening and trusting collective musical instincts is the telepathy of music this group took us through a soul stirring journey. Playing select songs from across Washington’s repertoire, the band’s flow of feeling and expression thereof through its creative chemistry demonstrated that this was a living music that invited you in for the experience of what went behind the writing of the songs beyond the clearly masterful arrangements that were open enough for collective orchestration. The raw power of the music was heartbreaking. You heard the sorrow, the pain, the struggle, the grace in the face of adversity and the urgency of wondering when things would finally be better in the world. Without many words excepting “Fists of Fury” and other pieces with lyrics the group conjured an elegantly yet passionately articulated sense of people hurting from a lifetime, generations, of oppression. The weight of it, of not being taken seriously as a human, not being valued for contributing to culture or society but being barred from doing so in so many ways. The disenfranchisement that cuts deep and affects your psyche. But Washington’s music also brought out the beauty of the underlying knowledge that things don’t have to remain this way if we have the will to cast it off even if that will take a daunting level of work and the willingness of people to change. The music offered no solutions, no solace while also not sitting deep in despair. It was a channeling of that soul crushing sadness into something that couldn’t help but affect you and bring you to tears.

Kamasi Washington and band at Mission Ballroom, August 14, 2019, photo by Tom Murphy

Herbie Hancock seemed to be in high spirits when his own group took the stage and performed music from a broad spectrum of his career including choice cuts from his 1973 landmark Head Hunters, 1974’s Thrust and 1978’s Sunlight with a trip back to 1964 and “Cantaloupe Island.” Hancock told us he’d played Boulder and Denver many times and had a certain affection for the now defunct Tulagi’s in Boulder. When Hancock asked the crowd, “Are you ready for some weird stuff?” the band ably delivered with a psychedelic funk festooned with a maximalist improv groove on the core of the established songs like “Actual Proof” and “Chameleon.” When the group went into “Cantaloupe Island” it got a modern flavor.

Herbie Hancock and band at Mission Ballroom, August 14, 2019, photo by Tom Murphy

Lionel Loueke played like a space alien visiting to play in this band and laying down some of the most out guitar licks anyone is likely to on anyone’s tour now. Hancock told us something like how he’s played with the top ten drummers but that Vinnie Colaiuta was in the top echelon of even those players and he lived up to those words. James Genus held down the low end with an elegant flow of bass on loan from Saturday Night Live. But perhaps surprising was Terrence Martin playing not only keyboards but impressive sax chops to boot. Having produced the most recent two Kendrick Lamar albums we came to find out he’ll be working with Hancock soon on the pianists next record. The sheer joy of Hancock’s playing and his humor and chemistry with the band was riveting and vital.

Herbie Hancock at Mission Ballroom, August 14, 2019, photo by Tom Murphy

At the end of the set, following “Cantaloupe Island,” Hancock and company performed a bit of “Rockit” including his signature keytar, brought out earlier in the set, and for the closing jam Washington came out with members of his own band and it seemed like everyone was on the same page, sharing the same spirit and showcasing some of of the best of what has been produced in American culture over the last six decades and not a passing of the torch so much as an acknowledgment of one classic master for the talent of a relative newcomer and vice versa as people who have helped make our world seem more compassionate and not functionally drab.

Kamasi Washington and band at Mission Ballroom, August 14, 2019, photo by Tom Murphy
Kamasi Washington and band at Mission Ballroom, August 14, 2019, photo by Tom Murphy
Herbie Hancock at Mission Ballroom, August 14, 2019, photo by Tom Murphy

Mitski’s Farewell For Now Show at Red Rocks Was Theatrical, Witty and Self-Aware

Mitski at Red Rocks, June 25, 2019, photo by Tom Murphy

[This series will highlight some of the best shows that I (Tom Murphy) saw in 2019. My better camera proved to be broken when I checked it before leaving to Red Rocks and then getting caught in the traffic jam getting into the venue and not being able to get the proper credentials to be at the front of the stage and did the best I could between my back-up camera and my phone]

Mitski at Red Rocks, June 25, 2019, photo by Tom Murphy

When Mitski Miyawaki announced in spring 2019 that the next set of shows would be her last indefinitely. This lead many to believe she was quitting music or at least quitting live performance. But the songwriter later clarified her intention in needing to step away from performing live and the rat race of touring for five years that can’t help but have a deleterious effect on one’s psyche, one’s sense of place and one’s identity in the end by unmooring one from the meaningful contexts that ground one’s existence. One can hardly blame her for wanting to step away from that situation for however long it takes to feel like a normal human again and cultivate one’s creative instincts rather than channel that energy into getting on stage and delivering what’s expected.

Given where Mitski must have been when she worked on the tour performance for her opening slots with Death Cab For Cutie at larger venues than she would likely headline on her own it was telling the care put into making it a show for the big stage. Mitski is probably not a millionaire from her music and yet her using a stage set with a chair and a table as props for a highly theatrical performance was an interesting balance of concept executed to give people that know her music something extra while presenting to those that didn’t something they were likely not expecting from an opening act for a beloved, established older band whose emotional earnestness and 90s-esque, stripped down, raw performance style was the expected aesthetic. In moments her set-up was reminiscent of the spoken word shows from Spalding Gray.

Death Cab For Cutie at Red Rocks, June 25, 2019

Deathcab for Cutie put in a fine performance proving it had transitioned well from a band some of us saw at a small club that held less than a hundred people to popular indie elders statesmen playing Red Rocks and still making music with meaning and power evolved naturally from its roots. Mitski brought what felt like a stage production of her 2018 album Be the Cowboy with some highlights from previous records. She strutted about the stage, leapt about like a gymnast and seemed to orchestrate the music in the foreground with the band in the wings giving her movements their emotional context in sync with Mitski’s commanding vocals.

Mitski at Red Rocks, June 25, 2019, photo by Tom Murphy

Near the beginning of the show Miyawaki, in a display of acute self-awareness, said, “You may be asking yourself if this is the set. This is the set.” She knew plenty of people were not expecting something so “arty” based on other shows the songwriter had played in Denver at places like Larimer Lounge and The Bluebird Theater at which Mitski played guitar as well as sang. This was Mitski in a stylized outfit and using props while delivering her thought-provoking and psychologically insightful lyrics. Toward the end Miyawaki broke the fourth wall of the show again and addressed those in attendance who weren’t familiar with her work by wryly stating, “If we’re not your flavor, don’t worry [Death Cab For Cutie is] up next.”

If Mitski is taking time off to learn to be human again on her own terms away from the rigors and demands of the road and being something of a public figure, reconnecting with the foundations of her own creative spirit, at least she left off, for now, with some shows hinting at the possible future and the best record of her career and one of the most incisive examinations of identity and the American psyche through a deeply personal lens in recent memory. I, for one, am looking forward to her return to making creatively ambitious pop music.

Myrkur Channels the Ancestors at Decibel Tour

Myrkur at The Gothic Theatre, February 26, 2018. Photo by Tom Murphy.

This edition of the Decibel Tour seemed to focus on bands whose aesthetic and roots are linked with a re-embrace of native cultures and a pre-Christian, even pre-Neolithic, spirituality.

Enslaved at The Gothic Theatre, February 26, 2018. Photo by Tom Murphy.

Headliner Enslaved may have been making melodic death metal for going on three decades but its songs have often taken an approach to its lyrics that attempt to reconcile oneself with the culture of its Nordic ancestry, harmony with the natural world and ethical treatment of other humans. Its music sounds like the stuff of Norse sagas.

Wolves in the Throne Room at The Gothic Theatre, February 26, 2018. Photo by Tom Murphy.

Wolves in the Throne Room’s own music and presentation as a fireside ritual aims to put the musicians and those at the show into a state of mind of a culture and spirituality in which we all recognize the interconnectedness of things and to embrace that vitality collectively. Not from any part of Scandinavia, Wolves in the Throne Room’s connection to an environment is the Pacific Northwest inspired perhaps by Native American traditions but in a way that doesn’t try to co-opt those ideas so much as envision a parallel but resonant relationship between human culture and the natural world.

Myrkur at The Gothic Theatre, February 26, 2018. Photo by Tom Murphy.

Myrkur’s own majestic soundscapes and air of ancient mystery ritual fit in well with the bill. And like the other artists the sense of otherworldly energy didn’t prevent a relatable human dimension to her performance. Strumming heavy-yet-ethereal guitar riffs and vocalizing with a uplifting, powerful, enveloping melodies, Myrkur came across like a legendary warrior poet of old. At the end of her set, though, Amalie Bruun, aka Myrkur, brought forth a hand drum that she used to accompany some traditional Danish folk music from centuries past and accompanied by nothing else but the drum and her voice, she was able to project the same kind of energy as she had with her band as if she was channeling the ancestors. It could have come across as a gimmick but Bruun’s natural gravitas carried the moment and made for an exceptional moment that night.

Myrkur at The Gothic Theatre, February 26, 2018. Photo by Tom Murphy.

John Maus’ Psychic Exorcism on the Screen Memories Tour

John Maus at The Marquis Theater, January 19, 2018. Photo by Tom Murphy

Screen Memories, John Maus’ 2017 album, is titled as a reference to distorted memories from childhood and how so many of our memories now and our sense of time are distorted and even mediated through the screens of our everyday lives. That Maus tends to compose his songs through the ecclesiastical modes of medieval music as explored again by late 70s and early 80s synth pop pioneers like OMD, Human League and Gary Numan would seem to give his own music a quality of being of a time while also being outside it.

In contrast to the aforementioned heady intellectual concepts, Maus’ live show brought those sounds to life in a seething, visceral, powerfully emotional way. Known for this kind of performance, Maus seems to tell us that maybe we do live with mediated experience at this time but that it needn’t rule our lives and that the emotions we feel and the connections with have with others directly or through own recognition of what it must be like to witness and experience the atrocities of the world don’t have to be some abstract concept we can dismiss because we can so often just understand it as another part of the entertainment landscape, especially the way much of news is framed and presented. Maus’ highly charged performance, as though bodily wracked with the harrowing realities of the subjects of his songs, both broke the purely entertainment level of the show by being too intense and raw to truly see as a concert as well as the conceit that entertainment needs to just be art and can’t aspire to strike deeper than simple aesthetic stimulation.

John Maus at The Marquis Theater, January 19, 2018. Photo by Tom Murphy

As Maus’s show progressed and he allowed himself to manifest the spirit of the music more fully it was an example of the Theatre of Cruelty in that Maus didn’t spare himself emotionally and seemed willing to break into his own subconscious to deliver something more primal than a conventional pop song. Maus is often credited with being a pioneer of hypnagogic pop and it’s easy to see why as the songs, especially later in the set, felt like a waking dream in which emotions and thoughts that maybe one doesn’t often let fly in public flowed freely—a psychic cleansing too rare in live music.

Opening act LKDLX, photo by Tom Murphy
John Maus at The Marquis Theater, January 19, 2018. Photo by Tom Murphy

Atmosphere’s Colorado Tour in December Proof the Duo Still Values Its Underground Roots and Connection

Atmosphere at The Ogden Theater, 12/10/17. Photo by Tom Murphy

December 10, 2017. It wasn’t a particularly cold, late fall night when the line to get into the Atmosphere show at the Ogden ran two blocks. The previous time the hip-hop duo played in Colorado it was probably headlining at Red Rocks or a similarly large venue. At the end of the line an unpre-possessing guy who came up to say hello to people. He was dressed like everyone else but he had an artist’s badge on and at first a number of people in line didn’t really knew who he was because he sure didn’t say, “Hey, it’s me, Sean Daley, Slug, you’re coming to see me tonight.” He just talked to people and said thank you for coming to the show and took as many pictures and shook as many hands as he could until he had to leave to go get ready for the performance. Not many artists do this sort of thing but maybe more should.

Atmosphere at The Ogden Theater, 12/10/17. Photo by Tom Murphy

Later, throughout the powerful and playful performance, song by song, Slug and Ant laid out a sensibiliy in the music that goes beyond the whole “we’re just like you” presentation. More than a poetic stream-of-consciousness diary entry set to beats aesthetic. More than the “we’re only here because of you” gratitude platitude. It was we’re here with our people who identify with our expressed flaws, potentially problematic feelings at different times of our lives because that level of reality and coming to terms with our entire selves is more important and relatable than a manufactured, finely curated image. There is some of that because it’s a show, after all, and not some hyper real documentary that wouldn’t really be interesting to see on stage. But from demonstrating a very human care for fans as people earlier before the show to the beautiful, short-Colorado-tour-specific merch (see below for the t-shirt), Atmosphere let us know they mean it.

Atmosphere at The Ogden Theater, 12/10/17. Photo by Tom Murphy

Even though Atmosphere is kind of big time hip-hop act these days, it spent many years incubating in the underground either as Atmosphere or in previous projects where grassroots connection with fans is all you have. Good thing to know Ant and Slug remembered what it felt like to have that connection even if you can’t talk to literally everyone after a show and some of the boring merch some bands peddle with just their name and maybe a merely okay design. It’s the details and touches that aren’t so obvious that distinguishes Atmosphere from some of their peers. With an extensive set list that spanned much of the group’s career, Atmosphere didn’t skimp on on the fans in that regard either.

Atmosphere set list for The Ogden Theater, 12/10/17. Photo by Tom Murphy

Atmosphere Colorado tour shirt 2018 [front]
Atmosphere Colorado tour shirt 2018 [back]

Every Country’s Sons: Mogwai at Ogden Theatre, 11/28/17

Mogwai at Ogden Theatre on November 28, 2017. Photo by Tom Murphy.

The stage set looked a bit like something out of Later…with Jools Holland, the long-running music show on BBC2. Like Mogwai was bringing a bit of the UK with them wherever they were touring but also a heightened visual presentation of the music without depending on the lighting of any particular venue.

Mogwai at Ogden Theatre on November 28, 2017. Photo by Tom Murphy.

Drawing liberally from the band’s excellent new record, Every Country’s Sun, Mogwai opened the show with the rich and roiling low end and scintillating, weather system-esque build of the title track. From there and for the rest of the set, Mogwai demonstrated how it’s not quite like some other instrumental rock bands or post-rock acts. If you give yourself some time with the records it hits you. Live, the effect is even more pronounced. It’s never just variations on a theme or jamming out. Mogwai has a vibe if not a one trick pony sound. The song titles suggest there is emotional content that goes beyond merely attempting to be epic. There is humor, terror, apprehension, anxiety, joy, tranquility, contemplative airs and heady dives into layers of sound both introspective and fiery. Mogwai’s dynamism is kinetic—it is of the body. But it is also working on the levels of the heart and the imagination without having to speak or sing a word. Sure, there have been lyrics and vocals in various Mogwai’s songs over the years but on Every Country’s Sun the more pop moments with words work as elements of the music itself, another sound working in synch with the others.

Opening act, dark synth phenom Xander Harris at Ogden Theatre, November 28, 2017. Photo by Tom Murphy.

Because Mogwai’s music is all but beyond language it’s ability to communicate effectively is not dependent on linguistics. And yet its enigmatic titles employ a clever use of the English language to add a sense of suggestive mystery and multiple meanings. With “I’m Jim Morrison I’m Dead,” the surrealistic title conveys a dry, irreverent sense of humor but one that draws on Morrison’s own personal mythology as being connected with Native American spirituality and communicating poetic and cosmic truths past the barriers of time, space and culture. When band edged into the song there was a sense of being swept into a melancholic realm where despair sublimates off into the haze of spent emotions.

And yet there was something a bit different with this Mogwai show. Apparently drummer Martin Bulloch was suffering from health issues and filling in on the tour was Cat Myers of Honeyblood. And Myers proved more than adequate to the task, providing the power and nuance that Bulloch masterfully brings to Mogwai’s records and live performances.

Mogwai at Ogden Theatre on November 28, 2017. Photo by Tom Murphy.

The show would have ended with “Old Poisons” but we were treated to the full rendition of an early Mogwai track, “Mogwai Fear Satan,” proving the Scottish quintet (including touring multi-instrumentalist Alex Mackay) was crafting evocative soundscapes of delicate intricacy and raw power from the beginning.

Mogwai at Ogden Theatre on November 28, 2017. Photo by Tom Murphy.

Set List
Every Country’s Sun
Friend of the Night
Party in the Dark
Crossing the Road Material
Rano Pano
Killing All the Flies
I’m Jim Morrison I’m Dead
Battered at a Scramble
Don’t Believe the Fife
Hunted by a Freak
Auto Rock
Old Poisons

Mogwai Fear Satan

Mogwai at Ogden Theatre on November 28, 2017. Photo by Tom Murphy.
Mogwai at Ogden Theatre on November 28, 2017. Photo by Tom Murphy.

The Strong but Gentle Sound Catharsis of Slowdive at The Ogden Theatre, 11/1/17

Slowdive at The Ogden Theatre, November 1, 2017. Photo by Tom Murphy


When Slowdive announced in January 2014 that it would perform at Primavera Sound Festival in Barcelona of course speculation began about a new album. But the band wisely promised nothing it couldn’t deliver. The tour in various corners of the world including North America re-established Slowdive as one of the premier bands of ethereal guitar rock and one whose aesthetic and sound ideas reflected its interests in ambient and electronic music. But Slowdive’s appeal beyond the transporting sounds has been the deep emotional sweep and sense of intimacy within its songwriting. How can one not be struck by the peeks into the revelatory private moments and dreams exposed by songs like “Sing,” “Albatross,” and “Blue Skied An’ Clear”? What might have surprised long time fans that never got to see the group before it split in the mid-1990s was how forceful its emotionally-saturated sound could be.

Slowdive at The Ogden Theatre, November 1, 2017. Photo by Tom Murphy

When Slowdive released its self-titled album in 2017 it was a relief to learn the band didn’t try to replicate the vibe or the feel of any of its previous records. Among other efforts, when Slowdive split in the mid-90s Rachel Goswell, Neil Halstead and Ian McCutcheon (no longer in Slowdive) went on to do Mojave 3, Christian Savill to Monster Movie and other projects and Simon Scott to Televise, Lowgold and The Sight Below. Halstead also had/has a noteworthy solo career. Somewhere in those experiences, it seems as though the current members of Slowdive refined their songwriting skills, absorbed ideas and sounds that weren’t around or as developed over twenty years ago. Whatever the roots of the new Slowdive songs, they are a fine successor to the heartbreaking dream pop of Just For a Day, the hypnotic brooding and intensity of Souvlaki, the abstract soundscapes, dub sculpting and mind-altering minimalism of Pygmalion. There is a warmth, a comfort, a soothing capacity from a place of mature psychological development. It is the kind of record only people past their thirties could have written all too aware of the poisonously soporific quality of nostalgia that hits most of us in our mid-thirties as middle age comes hurtling down with its own challenges and fears and the temptation to tune out anything new can be irresistible. The self-titled Slowdive album achieves a timelessness in bypassing the existential terror and a reminder to keep dreaming and find enjoyment in life while not ignoring the fact that life’s challenges and struggles are not unique to a certain time in your life even if their faces and qualities change.

Slowdive at The Ogden Theatre, November 1, 2017. Photo by Tom Murphy

The show at The Ogden Theatre on November 1, 2017 itself was a reflection of a band that seems to enjoy playing its music for a larger and likely more appreciative crowd. Many of its new fans grew up with the kind of electronic music and aesthetic that informed Pygmalion, the record that lost the band its record deal with Creation but one that was more forward thinking than the records of many of its contemporaries. That said, most of the shoegaze bands that have reunited over the past decade to release new albums have done so without wasting our time with subpar comeback albums. And in putting on shows that more than live up to the legends of times past. Perhaps even surpassing them. When the early strains of “Golden Hair” the Syd Barrett cover, those of us that only ever heard the recorded version on reissues and compilations had no idea what we were in for and as the sounds swirled up and up in volume and density it was a sonic, cyclone of ethereal fire that transformed from a deeply haunting, overwhelming experience into a heightened sense of catharsis of melancholy. In short, though drawing on another artists material, it was the embodiment of Slowdive’s project as a band—the feelings may hit hard, hurt so thoroughly and stick with you but you can make it through intact if you allow yourself to experience them in their fullest extent.

Slowdive at The Ogden Theatre, November 1, 2017. Photo by Tom Murphy

Set List
Crazy For You
Star Roving
Catch the Breeze
Don’t Know Why
Blue Skied An’ Clear
When the Sun Hits
Sugar For the Pill
Golden Hair
No Longer Making Time
40 Days

Slowdive at The Ogden Theatre, November 1, 2017. Photo by Tom Murphy
Slowdive at The Ogden Theatre, November 1, 2017. Photo by Tom Murphy
Slowdive at The Ogden Theatre, November 1, 2017. Photo by Tom Murphy

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard’s Mind-Altering Groove at The Ogden

King Gizzard
King Gizzard at the Ogden Theatre, October 4, 2017. Photo by Tom Murphy

The presentation of the live show from King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard matched the ambition that the group brought to bear in 2017. The latter refers to the band’s having released four noteworthy albums with a fifth which will supposedly drop before 2017 is over. Even if it’s not looking good at the time of this writing that that will happen, any band releasing four albums of worthwhile material that isn’t basically all the same is impressive enough.

King Gizzard
King Gizzard at the Ogden Theatre, October 4, 2017. Photo by Tom Murphy

The Denver show on October 4, 2017 at the Ogden Theatre happened before the November release of Polygondwanaland and the set list drew on the albums I’m In Your Mind Fuzz (2014), Nonagon Infinity (2016), Flying Microtonal Banana (2017) and Murder the Universe (2017). This suggesting the band hasn’t yet incorporated much of the material from Sketches of Brunswick East (2017) or the aforementioned Polygondwanaland as yet for the live show. Given the rich visuals and theatrical presentation of the music and all the logistics involved in producing and releasing that much music in a single year, King Gizzard has plenty of time to tour on its new albums and to make the kind of concerts that will make the experience of that music with creative integrity.

What we did get to see in Denver, though, was a show from a band whose music has been stamped with various genre designation from garage rock, to metal, to psychedelic rock to progressive rock. All fit. In that way, one has to compare King Gizzard with modern groups like The Black Angels and one of the progenitors of its sort of mélange of styles in Hawkwind. Those two bands draw easiest comparisons because like those, King Gizzard’s vibe is one of manifesting a culture and community and mindset that goes beyond the band. Hawkwind’s links to folk music and the tribal spirit thereof and aiming for something more cosmic and otherworldly in its songwriting is something one finds in King Gizzard’s songs that seem to be about other dimensions and utopian futures and parallel cultures. Who, after all, calls a song “Horology”? Flying Microtonal Banana overtly tapped into non-western music not just tonally but in terms of its compound rhythmic structure which both Hawkwind has long done and which The Black Angels weave into their own music so deftly it can be tricky to figure out how their sometimes simple melodies can be so hypnotic and mind-altering.

King Gizzard
King Gizzard at the Ogden Theatre, October 4, 2017. Photo by Tom Murphy

The band’s visuals traversed the various musical worlds that King Gizzard traversed throughout the show. The organic, the abstract, the meta-media sense of being on a TV screen writ large on the sort of big screen on which many of us saw films in school—creating a sense of a shared moment of mutual education borne of being put into a mindset outside of everyday life. Maybe that’s a stretch but that’s what psychedelic music, at its best, accomplishes, challenging your existing worldview by inviting you on a journey beyond your known boundaries of experience. In the case of King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard, though, that journey was not jarring so much as welcoming enticing while not shorting you on heady moments of intense emotions along its iridescent grooves.

King Gizzard
King Gizzard at the Ogden Theatre, October 4, 2017. Photo by Tom Murphy
King Gizzard
King Gizzard at the Ogden Theatre, October 4, 2017. Photo by Tom Murphy


Wolves in the Throne Room in 2017 Making the Stage a Campfire Ritual

Wolves in the Throne Room 4
Wolves in the Throne Room at The Black Sheep, October 2, 2017. Photo by Tom Murphy

Wolves in the Throne Room dispensed with the usual stage lighting at The Black Sheep. The Olympia, Washington-based black metal band retired from the standard touring circuit several years back partly because the environment didn’t suit the music or the experience the band wanted out of playing live shows for itself and for fans of the earthy, transcendent beauty of its music. This time out the band was touring in support of Thrice Woven, its first full-length album not tied to a previous release since 2011. Some of us would have loved to have seen a live performance of 2014’s all-synth Celestite, the companion to 2011’s Celestial Lineage, but that will probably never happen.

Wolves in the Throne Room 2
Wolves in the Throne Room at The Black Sheep, October 2, 2017. Photo by Tom Murphy

At any rate, Thrice Woven is the first album following the trilogy of Two Hunters, Black Cascade and Celestial Lineage and the album, and the live show, felt like a band that had to pare back and reinvent itself using the parts it had lying around in the wake of what some critics might have called career suicide when the band announced its last lengthy tour in 2011. There’s something majestic and accessible about Wolves in the Throne Room that reached a wider audience than many of its peers—the kind of accessibility that was propelling the group to wider audiences including people who otherwise had little interest in metal or heavy music in general. The material for Thrice Woven is probably too long format for people conditioned by the brevity of pop music to find fully engaging but for this tour, Wolves in the Throne Room created a stage set like a pagan holy place with structures and patterned design work to enhance the sense of the intimate yet otherworldly with the illumination provided by lights imitating the orange of campfires and braziers burning the incense to clear the space of unwanted influences. In the background, a blue stage light cutting through oranges, reds and purples and reds like stark moonlight penetrating the haze that made the figures on stage indistinct. The latter effect seemed to hint that the band wanted the identities of the players to matter less than the music and the experience itself—a shared ritual to dissolve, for an hour or two anyway, the demands and destructive culture of the modern world.

Wolves in the Throne Room 1
Wolves in the Throne Room at The Black Sheep, October 2, 2017. Photo by Tom Murphy

Something about the relentless, sometimes abrasive, flood of sounds from stage was indisputably uplifting and cathartic. Like a cleansing of the mind through the tribal sounds and a sense of having participated in an experience crafted to express a mystical experience. With songs with titles like “The Old Ones Are With Us,” “Mother Owl, Father Ocean,” and “Fires Roar in the Palace of the Moon” it seems apparent that a certain meaning, not merely an aesthetic, was being conveyed suggesting a reminder of our ancient roots as a species that unite us, a connection that holds potential for a positive future. There wasn’t much stage banter but that would have just broken the spell and WITTR tends to be good at not ruining the moment.

Wolves in the Throne Room 3
Wolves in the Throne Room at The Black Sheep, October 2, 2017. Photo by Tom Murphy