Best Shows in Denver 1/23/20 – 1/28/20

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Poppy performs at the Gothic Theatre on January 28, photo by Jesse Draxler

Thursday | January 23

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Portrayal of Guilt, photo by Tom Murphy

What: Portrayal of Guilt w/Street Sects, EUTH and Cau5er
When: Thursday, 1.23, 8 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: Portrayal of Guilt is a post-hardcore band from Austin that weaves together elements of grindcore and noise soundscaping to create an angular kind of screamo bristling with menace. Its rhythms are more widely dynamic than one might expect from the mix of sounds and influences with chords allowed to hang to establish a mood that crawls to catharsis. Street Sects, also from Austin, is an industrial noise outfit whose confrontational performances may feel hidden in the banks of fog in its performance zone but the band manages to turn that haze into a realm where the tension it builds to unpredictable moments of eruption. Cau5er is a Denver project that comes partly out of hardcore but is firmly in the worlds of noise and power electronics with an impassioned delivery that belies notions of noise artists all being knob twiddlers. Schedule for the evening below provided as this show is being conducted in cooperation with the show at Mutiny across the street from the Hi-Dive.

Euth 8:30
Cau5er 9:15
Street Sects 10pm
Portrayal of Guilt 11pm

What: Red Death (DC), Enforced (RVA), Chair of Torture and Wide Man
When: Thursday, 1.23, 8 p.m.
Where: Mutiny Information Café
Why: Washington DC’s Red Death is a modern crossover band whose synthesis of thrash and hardcore is reminiscent of a more aggro version of what Megadeth was doing earlier in its career. If that sounds appealing, Enforced from Richmond, Virginia and Chair of Torture from Denver are mining similar territory with the latter with more than a leg in grindcore. See schedule for the evening below as it is being done in conjunction with the show mentioned above at the Hi-Dive.

7:30-7:50 Chair of Torture
8:05-8:25 Wide Man
8:40-9:10 Red Death
9:25-9:55 Enforced

What: Yacht w/Mux Mool
When: Thursday, 1.23, 8 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge

Friday | January 24

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$addy circa 2018, photo by Tom Murphy

What: 666/69/420: Dance Night featuring $addy, Trisicloplox, Kid Mask, Platonic Belt, Blank Human
When: Friday, 1.24, 8 p.m.
Where: Rhinoceropolis
Why: This is a showcase for some of the most interesting artists in the Denver noise world who incorporate aspects of dance music and glitch into the mix.

What: Casey James Prestwood w/High Plains Honky, Coop & The Chicken Pluckers
When: Friday, 1.24, 8 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: A legitimately good country show with bands that write meaningful music instead of wallowing in country music tropes.

What: Ron Pope w/Caroline Spence
When: Friday, 1.24, 8 p.m.
Where: Bluebird Theater

What: Hate Minor, The Gurkhas and Plastic Rakes
When: Friday, 1.24, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Glitter City

What: R A R E B Y R D $ w/Calico Club and Ginger Perry
When: Friday, 1.24, 8 p.m.
Where: Lion’s Lair

What: Fatal Mistake IV Benefit: The Consequence, Tuck Knee, Videodrome, F.O.A.M., Direct Threat
When: Friday, 1.24, 8 p.m.
Where: Seventh Circle Music Collective

What: Deer Creek, Barstool Messiah and Never Kenezzard
When: Friday, 1.24, 9 p.m.
Where: Englewood Tavern

What: Necromantic (goth/darkwave DJ night)
When: Friday, 1.24, 9 p.m.
Where: Skylark Lounge

Saturday | January 25

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Old Sport circa 2018, photo by Tom Murphy

What: Use the Sun (Reunion), Old Sport and American Grandma
When: Saturday, 1.25, 7 p.m.
Where: Seventh Circle Music Collective
Why: Denver’s Use the Sun is reuniting for one night to bring forth its joyous mixture of melodic punk and surf rock. Also included is a lately relatively rare show from Old Sport who have been part of that resurgence of bands that were influenced by the better, mathier end of emo and post-hardcore. American Grandma is a slowcore band whose elegant and introspective guitar compositions blur the line between folk, ambient and dream pop.

What: Neil Haverstick
When: Saturday, 1.25, 7 p.m.
Where: Swallow Hill
Why: Neil Haverstick is Denver’s biggest proponent of microtonal guitar so much so that he wrote a book about it. His songs, though, come from an emotional place and his roots in blues and folk inform even though his style brings in a great deal of avant-garde thinking into the mix and makes it accessible.

What: Rhinoceropolis Benefit: Cian, Jason Sidney Sanford, Prison Glue, Born Dumb, Lanx Borealis, Birth, Swamps
When: Saturday, 1.25, 8 p.m.
Where: Rhinoceropolis

What: Hail Satan, Brew Ha!Ha! And Asalt
When: Saturday, 1.25, 9 p.m.
Where: 3 Kings Tavern

Sunday | January 26

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Lazarus Horse circa 2017, photo by Tom Murphy

What: Shibui Denver #9: The Vanilla Milkshakes, Lazarus Horse and Pythian Whispers
When: Sunday, 1.26, 7 p.m.
Where: Mutiny Information Cafe
Why: This latest edition of Shibui Denver will feature outsider pop punk band The Vanilla Milkshakes, the earnest, existential, angular indie rock of Lazarus Horse and Pythian Whispers’ psychedelic ambient soundscapes with visuals by Mark Mosher, electro-ambient artist and founder of Rocky Mountain Synth Meetup.

Tuesday | January 28

What: GosT w/Church Fire and Elay Arson
When: Tuesday, 1.28, 7 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: GosT blurs the line between metal and synthwave and definitely for fans of Perturbator. Church Fire blurs that line a little too but more in the tribal, pagan vein without hitting you over the head with the aesthetic and its industrial/dance pop hybrid is one of the most compelling things going on in Denver or anywhere.

What: Poppy w/VOWWS
When: Tuesday, 1.28, 7 p.m.
Where: Gothic Theatre
Why: Poppy’s genre-mashup is not for everyone. But the theatrical presentation of her mix and remix of extreme metal, kawaii pop and surreal psychedelic pop turns on a dime like something John Zorn might have thought of had Naked City come up in the 90s and 2000s and not in the realm of avant-garde jazz and grindcore. Currently touring in support of her new album I Disagree. VOWWS has managed to shed a lot of the previous associations in the last year with retro rockist tendencies. Its sound is more like a hard edged darkwave to post-punk what a band like True Widow is to metal and shoegaze.

What: Thrice w/mewithoutYou, Drug Church and Holy Fawn
When: Tuesday, 1.28, 5:30 p.m.
Where: Summit Music Hall

Best Shows in Denver 1/16/20 – 1/22/20

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Heilung performs January 17 at Ogden Theatre, photo by Ruben Terlouw

Thursday | January 16

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Muscle Beach, photo by Tom Murphy

What: Muscle Beach, Church Fire, Vexing and Grief Ritual
When: Thursday, 1.16, 8 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: With the exception of Church Fire whose own politically-charged, emotionally cathartic, noisy synth pop, this is basically a showcase for some of the best Denver bands who bridge the gap between experimental metal, hardcore and noise punk. Muscle Beach released its riveting new album Charms in 2019 and Vexing just let loose with its album Cradle.

What: Cursive w/Cloud Nothings and Criteria
When: Thursday, 1.16, 7 p.m.
Where: Bluebird Theater

What: Cereza w/Indica Cinema and Dog Basketball
When: Thursday, 1.16, 7 p.m.
Where: Globe Hall

What: Chromadrift w/Felix Fast4ward, MYTHirst and Furbie Cakes
When: Thursday, 1.16, 8 p.m.
Where: Lion’s Lair

What: Eli N-H & L Heron
When: Thursday, 1.16, 9 p.m.
Where: Rhinoceropolis

What: Necromantic (Goth, post-punk, darkwave, industrial DJ night)
When: Thursday, 1.16, 9 p.m.
Where: Shag Lounge

Friday | January 17

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The Still Tide, photo by Jay Wescott

What: Heilung
When: Friday, 1.17, 7 p.m.
Where: Ogden Theatre
Why: Many bands in the past two or three decades claim to hearken back in their music to early northern European culture. Heilung took the concept a step or two further by basing their music on texts and runes from the Germanic people of the Viking era and longer ago infused with pan-ancient world cultures. The band members look like members of a Scandinavian mystery cult with elaborate outfits, some wearing horned head gear, performing with recreations of traditional instruments from various ancient cultures, guttural vocals reminiscent of Tuvan throat singing. It is a spectacle that is a ritualistic performance of music and poetry designed to transport you to the mindset of earlier humanity getting in touch with its subconscious mind communally.

What: The Still Tide Between Skies album release, Down Time and Heavy Diamond Ring
When: Friday, 1.17, 7 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: The Still Tide has been making waves in Denver and beyond for several years at this point with its poignantly expressive dream pop soundscapes. Its sounds are expansive yet are imbued with an intimate sensibility as though Anna Morsett is singing from the past toward the future. It takes you out of a mundane mindset and transports you to a realm where you can feel all the pressures, angst and demands of everyday life but it seems in context of a bigger picture hidden from your thinking most of the time. At least that’s the vibe of the band’s new record Between Skies. The lush and well-balanced soundscapes crafted by Morsett, Jake Miller, Joe Richmond and Nate Meese render incredibly accessible an album of meaningful songs about personal struggle and striving to make sense of the seemingly endless run of reverses and confusing experiences with your heart intact.

What: Caustic Soda EP release w/Sinister Pig and Princess Dewclaw
When: Friday, 1.17, 7 p.m.
Where: Seventh Circle Music Collective
Why: Caustic Soda is a noise punk band from Boulder whose new EP Stud Count will be available at this show. As the title suggests it’s a pointed critique of the all the destructive and regressive ideas that have seemed to issue forth prominently in the wake of Donald Trump announcing his candidacy for president: the misogyny, the bizarre anti-science right, open racism—all the stuff nascent fascism spews into the world.

What: The Amphibious Man, Apollo Shortwave and Pelvis Presley (EP release)
When: Friday, 1.17, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Glitter City

What: Kiltro w/Oxeye Daisy and Julian Brier
When: Friday, 1.17, 8 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge

What: On the One: DJ Johnra (John Eggert) and DJ Mike Moses
When: Friday, 1.17, 9 p.m.
Where: The Squire Lounge

Saturday | January 18

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Lazarus Horse, photo by Andy Denson

What: Lazarus Horse Oh, The Guilt album release w/Disinherited and Dead Characters
When: Saturday, 1.18, 8 p.m.
Where: Mutiny Information Café
Why: Eddie Durkin was once a member of the promising and powerful experimental guitar pop band Sparkler Bombs but for various reasons had to take a break from playing in bands and playing shows. But his time away allowed him to incubate and hone his talent further and his latest project Lazarus Horse has been performing now and then with a set of songs that are rough enough around the edges to be fresh and interesting but refined in the execution of dynamics to not be confused for an off-the-cuff band still not in possession of a sense of intentionality. The group’s new album Oh, The Guilt will be an earworm for fans of Codeine, Red House Painters, Versus and Slint. The songs have a simple construction but because of that they are capable of a great emotional range as the layers of sound interact with a fluidity that the sometimes splintery tones might suggest otherwise. The vulnerability on display is disarming, honest and inviting. Given the arc of the songs it’s part eulogy for a time in Denver Durkin experienced while playing DIY spaces in the late 2000s and early 2010s and a map for navigating the new reality in the Mile High City and America in general, one that seems to have put so much up in the air with no sense of confidence in social stability. It’s a record showing bravery and self-awareness in the face of massive uncertainty and possible civilizational collapse.

What: Punk Against Trump: Cheap Perfume, Allout Helter, Over Time, Filthy Hearts, Altar Girls (debut)
When: Saturday, 1.18, 7 p.m.
Where: Marquis Theater
Why: Maybe in the years ahead Trump and everything he willfully and unintentionally encouraged among the forces of cultural and political reaction will be in the rearview and great punk bands won’t have to have fundraiser for groups that are keeping essential services and a compassionate mission alive but for now Punk Against Trump remains a proud tradition in Denver.

What: Bleakheart w/Many Blessings, Its Just Bugs and Human Tide
When: Saturday, 1.18, 9 p.m.
Where: Tooey’s Off Colfax

What: LUCY, H Lite, French Kettle Station and Horse Girl
When: Saturday, 1.18, 8 p.m.
Where: Rhinoceropolis

What: Your Smith w/Chelsea Jade
When: Saturday, 1.18, 8 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge

What: Ladies Night (band) and Lifers
When: Saturday, 1.18, 9 p.m.
Where: The Squire Lounge

Sunday | January 19

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Drune, photo courtesy the artists

What: Drune (album release), New Standards Men and Simulators
When: Sunday, 1.19, 7 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: Drune’s debut album SEER is three extended tracks with Roman numerals as the title. Doing so almost invites you to have no preconceptions about what you might be in for with the listening even if you’ve heard the band is a doom band or “heavy.” And it is but there is an elegance to Drune’s composition that has as much in common with bands like Black Mountain who push the aesthetic into unconventional sonic territory as it does with any doom band. James Cook’s soaring vocals and the modulated rhythms syncing with guitar riffs that are as textural and moody as brutal. It’s a sonically expansive record that rewards your attention. Drune doesn’t drone on the same idea ad infinitum, its evolution through a song suggests a narrative structure that pulls you in for the long haul.

Tuesday | January 21

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GZA, photo courtesy GZA management

What: GZA 25th Anniversary of Liquid Swords w/Righteous Revolution (feat. 1-natVson-1), D-Stylz & High Key (Affliction Music), DJ Notch, Killah Priest
When: Tuesday, 1.21, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Summit Music Hall
Why: GZA’s 1995 album Liquid Swords is of course a classic of 90s hip-hop fusing a more traditional genre aesthetic with genre-bending innovations in the use of atmospheric elements in the production to give the whole record an otherworldly quality worthy of its transcendental lyrics. While it might be difficult to prove this record sounds like one of the primary influences on late-90s alternative hip-hop like artists on the Anticon, Mush and Rhymesayers imprints and on experimental electronic music and bands as unusual and adventurous as Black Moth Super Rainbow and CocoRosie. Whatever its exact impact and legacy, Liquid Swords gets into your head and still manages to surprise with the sheer creativity in its use of sound and GZA’s masterful wordplay like a thinking person’s futuristic crime drama manga.

Best Shows in Denver 1/9/20 – 1/15/20

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Oryx performs at Hi-Dive on January 9, 2020, photo by Alvino Salcedo

Thursday | January 9

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The Milk Blossoms, photo by Tom Murphy

What: Oryx, Cthonic Deity and Zygrot
When: Thursday, 1.9, 8 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: In the realm of Denver extreme metal it would be hard to find a more solid line-up this month than this. Oryx is perhaps rightfully considered a doom band but its wall of noise is a shifting, mind-altering experience that creatively uses drones and riffs to comment on the world in a way the reflects and exorcises the sense of despair at the way our economic and political system normalizes the ways in which our lives are eroded through the environment, the fake prosperity figures that hide the poverty and desperation that permeates much of society in America and elsewhere and a cultural climate that favors a cultural identity anchored to the fortunes of the world’s oligarchs. And yet it’s not a bummer, there are hopes and dreams in its grinding and harrowing aesthetic. Cthonic Deity released one of the most promising fusions of death metal and hardcore with 2019’s Reassembled in Pain. Zygrot is a crusty grindcore quartet that releases its self-titled debut in September 2019.

What: Billy the Poet, The Maykit and Chella and The Charm
When: Thursday, 1.9, 7 p.m.
Where: Lost Lake

What: The Milk Blossoms w/Turvy Organ and Midwife
When: Thursday, 1.9, 7 p.m.
Where: Globe Hall

Friday | January 10

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Don Chicharrón, photo by Spencer Higbee

What: Don Chicharrón, Roka Hueka, TúLips, DJ Charlie Continental, Dos Luces Brewery, benefit show for Casa de Paz & Metro Denver Sanctuary
When: Friday, 1.10, 8 p.m.
Where: 3 Kings Tavern
Why: As indicated above this is a benefit show for Casa de Paz & Metro Denver Sanctuary, organizations aiding the local immigrant populations. It features some of the the city’s best Latin music-inflected acts. Also for this show Don Chicharrón is releasing its new 7” “Valle b/w En La Gruta Del Rey De La Montaña” through Snappy Little Numbers the proceeds from the sales of which will benefit the same organizations.

What: Space in Time, The Honey Blazer Band and Star Garbage
When: Friday, 1.10, 8 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive

What: Empty Caskets, Piss Poor, Moon Phase, Cagemates
When: Friday, 1.10, 7 p.m.
Where: Seventh Circle Music Collective

What: Daikaiju w/Lost Relics, Stone Deaf and Messiahvore
When: Friday, 1.10, 7 p.m.
Where: Tennyson’s Tap
Why: Daikaiju is a flame wielding, Kabuki/La Lucha Libre-looking, acrobatic, surf rock/punk spectacle of the highest order.

Saturday | January 11

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I’m A Boy, photo by Tom Murphy

What: Origami Angel, Short Fictions, Flora De Luna and Obtuse
When: Saturday, 1.11, 7 p.m.
Where: Seventh Circle Music Collective
Why: Origami Angel is a band from the Washington, D.C. area that is mining a similar sonic territory as bands in the past half decade or more going beyond the neo-pop punk into a hybrid of math-y emo and indie pop. So a bit retro but at least not yet another band thinking it is discovering Laurel Canyon all over again and with earnest, heartfelt performances. Obtuse is a like-minded band from Denver whose 2019 album Who’s Askin’ is a gloriously raw and incisive examination of one’s insecurities as a normal reaction to a society and economic system seemingly designed to make everyone feel like an inadequate failure. Their songs are an acknowledgment of those anxieties and an attempt to not be completely sunk by them.

What: New Ben Franklins and I’m a Boy 7” split release
When: Saturday, 1.11, 10 p.m.
Where: The Skylark Lounge
Why: Long running alt-country/American band New Ben Franklins and power pop sensations I’m A Boy are releasing their split 7” tonight at The Skylark.

What: Daikaiju w/TripLip and Today’s Paramount
When: Saturday, 1.11, 8 p.m.
Where: The Squire Lounge

What: Dressy Bessy w/Pout House, Television Generation
When: Saturday, 1.11, 7 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive

What: To Be Astronauts w/Too Many Humans, Decatur and Star Garbage
When: Saturday, 1.11, 8 p.m.
Where: Lost Lake

Sunday | January 12

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The Vanilla Milkshakes with Frank Registrato on drums circa 2015, photo by Tom Murphy

What: Total 80s Live with Bow Wow Wow w/When in Rome and The Vanilla Milkshakes
When: Sunday, 1.12, 8 p.m.
Where: The Oriental Theater
Why: Bow Wow Wow is an English New Wave band assembled by then Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren in 1980 when he convinced members of Adam Ant’s band to form a new group that was fronted by 13-year-old Annabella Lwin who McLaren had heard singing along to the radio at her laundromat job. The other singer of the band in the beginning was George O’Dowd who left the group early and became famous as Boy George of Culture Club and as a solo artist. Bow Wow Wow somehow managed to break into the mainstream with hit songs like “C·30 C·60 C·90 Go!” and a lively cover of The Strangeloves’ 1965 recording of “I Want Candy.” This current version of the band will not include Lwin who hasn’t been in this iteration of Bow Wow Wow since 2013, now performing as Annabella Lwin of the original Bow Wow Wow.” So while it won’t be the original line-up except for bassist Leigh Gorman, you can hear those hits as well as When in Rome whose 1987/1988 single “The Promise” has been a staple of 80s synth pop playlists for decades. The Vanilla Milkshakes are a pop punk band with attitude and an offbeat sense of humor that will probably make the nostalgia seekers wonder how they got on the bill but end up liking a lot of the songs in spite of themselves.

Wednesday | January 15

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e-scapes, photo by Tom Murphy

What: Weird Wednesday: Yao Guai, Lady of Sorrows and e-scapes
When: Wednesday, 1.15, 9 p.m.
Where: Bowman’s Vinyl and Lounge
Why: Weird Wednesday this month includes ambient prog project Yao Guai, emotionally expressive darkwave solo act Lady of Sorrows and experimental synth pop composer e-scapes.

What: Miró Quarter
When: Wednesday, 1.15, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Newman Center (Denver University)

What: Ceasefire, Disowned, Barking Mad, Pontius Pilate and ASALT
When: Wednesday, 1.15, 7 p.m.
Where: Seventh Circle Music Collective

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

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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
Jumpers
Reach Out
Bury Our Friends
RUINS
What’s Mine Is Yours
Ironclad
One More Hour
Bad Dance
The Fox
LOVE
Can I Go On
A New Wave
Animal
The Dog/The Body
Entertain

Encore:
Broken
Oh!
Words and Guitar
Modern Girl

Encore 2:
Dig Me Out

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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.

Best Shows in Denver 01/03/20 – 01/07/20

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Eyebeams It Means Trouble cover. Eyebeams performs at Rhinoceropolis on January 4, 2020

Friday | January 3

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R A R E B Y R D $, photo by Tom Murphy

What: Day of Jubilee: R A R E B Y R D $
When: Friday, 1.3, 6 p.m.
Where: The People’s Building
Why: Day of Jubilee is a First Friday event at The People’s Building in Aurora, Colorado. Tonight’s proceedings include live music at 7 p.m. with R A R E B Y R D $. R A R E B Y R D $ is a hip-hop group from Denver. Its two MCs, Key~Lady and KoKoLa, combine swagger and soul, inspiration and heartbreak into an alchemical musical experience. Their beats bring together gangsta rap’s mastery of bass sculpting, exploratory synth experiments and hazy, hypnotic drones with organic, Afro-Cuban rhythms. R A R E B Y R D $ ranges widely in the subject matter of its lyrics from the playfully earthy to the emotionally deep and transcendent but always with the spirit of inviting you into that private world with a welcoming emotional intimacy rare in a live performance.

What: Joshua Trinidad Trio (Joshua Trinidad, Joe Wirtz and Gordon Koch)
When: Friday, 1.3, 5:30 p.m.
Where: Spangalang Brewery
Why: Joshua Trinidad and his trio typically blast mind-altering free jazz with spirited play and great musical chemistry stirring the emotions to elevated levels.

What: Jacket of Spiders, Terminals, Lux Hearse, Denizens of the Deep
When: Friday, 1.3, 9 p.m.
Where: Tennyson’s Tap

Saturday | January 4

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Church Fire (pictured: Shannon Webber), photo by Tom Murphy

What: Eyebeams album release w/96 Ponies, Vampire Squids From Hell and Slugger
When: Saturday, 1.4, 9 p.m.
Where: Rhinoceropolis
Why: Eyebeams is releasing its second album It Means Trouble. The bright, languid psychedelia of the record ranges far from what we’ve come to expect from that loose genre of the past decade. It’s as though lead vocalist/guitarist Suzi Allegra absorbed all the influences that have manifested in recent music but long before when she was growing up and used it as a launching point into emotional outer space. The songs seem to explore issues of anxiety, fears, existential frustrations, feeling perpetually dreaming and wishing rather than doing and ending on a note of learning to calm the mind as a place from which to figure out what you really feel, what you really want and maybe how to actually get there.

What: Bands Against the Ban: Church Fire, Married a Dead Man, Hate Minor and Rebel Girl Productions
When: Saturday, 1.4, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Oriental Theater
Why: Since members of the Senate are trying to have Roe Vs. Wade revisited with aims of overturning legal abortion in a country not actually founded by the Christian version of the Taliban, it will be necessary for people to voice their desire not to live in Medieval Europe again. And this show featuring some of Denver’s most interesting bands is a benefit in the struggle against the forces of reaction. This event is a benefit for Planned Parenthood Votes Colorado and was organized by Megan Kelley of darkwave band Married a Dead Man and David Pereira of noise rockers Hate Minor. Local experimental dance/darkwave band Church Fire will headline and embody a spirit of resistance with its own music and burlesque troupe Rebel Girl Productions will bring its own performance unique in that realm of expression as well.

What: Redivider album release w/Coastal Wives, Corsicana, False Report
When: Saturday, 1.4, 8:30 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge

What: Helleborus w/Amdusias, Belhor and Throne
When: Saturday, 1.4, 7 p.m.
Where: Globe Hall

What: Dovekins reunion w/River Arkansas and Shenandoah Davis
When: Saturday, 1.4, 7 p.m.
Where: Mercury Café

Sunday | January 5

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Sliver, photo by Tom Murphy

What: Caustic Soda, Feeling Old (WA), Broken Lawn Chairs and Sliver
When: Sunday, 1.5, 7 p.m.
Where: Seventh Circle Music Collective
Why: Sliver’s Chris Mercer wanted to revisit his folk punk roots “not shit like Andrew Jackson Jihad, Pat the Bunny or Camper Van Beethoven, the good shit like Days N’ Daze.” Fortunately his bandmates convinced him that playing with Boulder-based noise punk band Caustic Soda, folk-inflected indie rock punks Feeling Old from Seattle and Broken Lawn Chairs, an actual folk punk band, from Castle Rock. Sliver fortunately won’t torture us with Mercer’s idea of what “real” folk punk sounds like and might actually be enjoyable this time too.

Monday | January 6

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Equine, photo by Tom Murphy

What: lovelesslust w/Equine and Gila Teen
When: Monday, 1.6, 7 p.m.
Where: Lion’s Lair
Why: loveless lust is a mix of synth pop and industrial and thus a good fit with two bands from Denver that don’t fit neatly into any musical milieu either. Gila Teen is the hybrid sad boy post-punk/emo band we all need in the world right now.

What: The King Khan & BBQ Show w/Colfax Speed Queen
When: Monday, 1.6, 8 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge.

Tuesday | January 7

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King Khan, photo by Miron Zownir

What: The King Khan & BBQ Show w/Colfax Speed Queen
When: Tuesday, 1.7, 8 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: King Khan has been making psychedelic garage rock and evolving the art form since before it became hip again and again in the 2000s from back when he was a member of The Spaceshits in Kukamongas in the late 90s. With The King Khan & BBQ Show he and fellow Spaceshit Mark Sultan blended doo wop and garage punk and were in the same circles of likeminded acts Black Lips. Khan has also been involved in King Khan & The Shrines, but the BBQ show is like some late 60s psychedelic soul revue updated for the modern era. Denver-based Colfax Speed Queen will be a great pairing with its own electrifying live show of noisy psychedelic punk.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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]

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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.

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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.

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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.