Best Shows in Denver August 2021

Princess Dewclaw (here performing at Wax Trax, April 2021) performs at The UMS on August 28

With live music coming back, we’ll see how robustly with the delta and other variants of the pandemic, we’re picking back up with listing some events that might be of interest to readers. Rather than a weekly show listing, this will be a monthly thing with highlights. If things pick up more in 2022 and 2023 maybe more events will be included once the pandemic ends but for now keeping things minimal.

King Crimson, photo by Dean Stocking

Monday | August 2, 2021
What: King Crimson w/The California Guitar Trio
When: 7 p.m. (6 p.m. doors)
Where: Fiddler’s Green
Why: Since the its 1968 inception, King Crimson has been an innovative rock band whose imaginative blend of avant-garde jazz, classical music, folk and emergent musical ideas and styles across decades has garnered more than a mere cult following. Its 1969 album In The Court of the Crimson King has remained a highly influential work on progressive/art rock to this day. Certainly King Crimson’s music has the feel of composed for an orchestra but there is also a spontaneous spark to the music that has kept its songs fresh well after the first wave of progressive rock ended in the early 80s. The dramatic arrangements, intense yet fluid dynamics and fine emotional nuance of the songwriting demonstrates the inner workings of a band that is not, as is presumed with any band associated with the concept of progressive rock, on technique for its own sake so much as on the impact of the music which superior technique can lend a broad musical palette. Legendary guitarist Robert Fripp is the group’s sole original member and in addition to King Crimson, Fripp has performed on albums by, among many others, David Bowie and Brian Eno. Also on this tour the line up with include bassist/Chapman Stick player Tony Levin. Since the early 80s, Levin has regularly brought his own brand of musical imagination to King Crimson having been introduced to Fripp through working with Peter Gabriel and who has also been a prolific studio and live musician whose work can be heard in work by Tom Waits, Buddy Rich, Pink Floyd, Lou Reed, Laurie Anderson as well as David Bowie. With the recent renewed interest in progressive rock seeing one of the pioneers in this incarnation with Fripp, Levin, Mel Collins, Pat Mastelotto, Gavin Harrison, Jakko Jakszyk and Jeremy Stacey is a fine chance to witness one of the movements great live bands. In the coming days we will publish our interview with Levin and link that here when it’s live.

Friday | August 6, 2021
NNAMDÏ w/Fresh Fruit!
When: 9 p.m. (8 p.m. doors)
Where: Globe Hall
Why: Nnamdi Ogbonnaya is a songwriter and multi-instrumentalist whose broadly eclectic songwriting and performance style has meant he is pretty much impossible to pigeonhole. One dub it the clumsily broad term indie rock but the execution is is often so unconventional and strange that it might be considered psychedelic and an amalgam of all of that with jazz and non-Western musical styles. But he manages to make it coherent and a product of his rich imagination that weaves together daydreams, surreal fantasies, social commentary and contemplation of the nature of human existence and his own place in it without really trying to impose answers to the questions he poses. Start anywhere with his catalog, it’s all wonderfully strange and accessible. Live, he performs with a paradoxical theatrical authenticity that can be off-putting for someone expecting their musicians to be not nearly as physically expressive. The band called NNAMDÏ is also opening for Sleater-Kinney and Wilco at Red Rocks the following Tuesday, August 10.

Saturday | August 7, 2021
What: Big Dopes w/Amazing Adventures and Luna Nunez
When: 9 p.m. (8 p.m. doors)
Where: Lost Lake
Why: Big Dopes’ 2019 album Crimes Against Gratitude was simply one of the most meaningful records out of the realm of indie rock and power pop that year. With tastefully fuzzy melodies the band’s poignant and touchingly poetic lyrics stripped bare the pretense that coats too much modern popular music. This is the band’s first live show since the beginning of the pandemic.

Small Black, photo by Caroline Mathis

Tuesday | August 10, 2021
What: Small Black and Korine
When: 8 p.m. (7 p.m. doors)
Where: Marquis Theater
Why: As the modern roots of chillwave were congealing into a cohesive musical aesthetic, Small Black was there playing DIY spaces and small clubs in the late 2000s. Its visceral performances paired with transportingly gorgeous, freeflowing song dynamics gave the band an appeal that transcended any trend from early on. Its latest album Cheap Dreams finds the band using its fine tuned crafting of electronic pop songs to suss out, identify, feel fully and process feelings most of us have felt this past decade of needing to settle for a cheapened sense of our own life’s horizons as if those are the only options open to us. It can be a crushing realization and there is a bit of that in these songs too but also a sense of hope and resistance to this death before death if we can be bold enough to cast aside conventional wisdom and cultivate a deep sense of affection for ourselves and others as a bulwark to the narratives that get us to erode our own power. Korine is a great partner for this bill because its own flavor of dream pop evokes a similar sensibility but in a way that might appeal to fans of recent darkwave artists like Choir Boy and Lebanon Hanover. Its 2020 album The Night We Rise sounds beautifully like a musical postcard from 1985 synth pop via Russian post-punk and 2000s electronic artists like Robyn.

Tuesday | August 10
What: Sleater-Kinney and Wilco w/NNAMDÏ
When: (6 p.m. doors)
Where: Red Rocks
Why: Sleater-Kinney and Wilco are two of the most influential and most interesting bands that came out of the mid-90s, both having formed in 1994. S-K came up in the musical milieu of the Pacific Northwest in the context of K Records, Kill Rock Stars, Mr. Lady Records, Chainsaw Records, Riot Grrrl, the International Pop Underground festival, around artists like Unwound, Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, Wipers, Mecca Normal and all of that great ferment of ideas and music of that time. Its early albums dared to imagine a present and a future in which feminist ideas their critique of culture and society was the norm and not something to resist and grounded in lived experience expressed straight from the heart. Though the band has experimented and refined and expanded its sound the base line of compassion and honesty has kept the band from waxing into a more watered down version of itself. Its 2021 album Path of Wellness expands on the electronic textures and soundscapes that made The Center Won’t Hold (2019) so evocative. Wilco emerged out of Chicago, Illinois when alternative country band Uncle Tupelo split and Jeff Tweedy continued in a similar musical vein that he and the rest of the band have evolved in fascinating ways every since to the point that it would make as much sense to refer to Wilco as alternative county as it would to call Beck indie folk. Wilco’s big breakthrough creatively and commercially came with the release of its 2001 opus Yankee Hotel Foxtrot wherein its embrace of production and processed sounds as part of its core of songwriting resulted in a classic of modern pop music that rewards repeated listens some twenty years onward. Both Sleater-Kinney and Wilco have also managed to remain powerful live acts as well and getting to see modern experimental pop weirdo NNAMDÏ is just a bonus.

Oko Tygra at Boulder Theater in 2017, photo by Tom Murphy

What: Voight w/Oko Tygra and Chuch Fire
Where: HQ
Why: If you were to try to put together a bill of the three of the best, most representative bands of Denver’s darkwave/post-punk/dream pop scene, such as it is, you couldn’t do better than this. Voight’s intense, noisy, industrial-tinged shoegaze is always surprisingly gritty and moving. Oko Tygra’s refined emotional colorings and R&B inflected dream pop never fails to captivate. Church Fire somehow makes pointedly poetic socio-political commentary deeply emotional, personal and swirling with dreamy production and powerful dance rhythms.

Thursday | August 12, 2021
When: 8 p.m. (7 p.m. doors)
Where: Marquis Theater
Why: Radke is a garage rock trio of four brothers Isaiah, Solomon and Dee Radke from St. Joseph, Missouri. Slapping a genre tag on the band, though, doesn’t do it justice and these guys have been called proto-punk and psychedelic rock as well. But its hard hitting rock and roll the brothers Radke play with an undeniable conviction and flair that is undeniably effective.

Oblio Duo in 2006, Steven Lee Lawson on right, photo by Tom Murphy

Thursday | August 19, 2021
What: Steven Lee Lawson with The Dark Wolf Rises Band album release w/Doo Crowder and Disinherited
When: 8 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: Steven Lee Lawson recently released his 2021 self-titled album on Snappy Little Numbers. Lawson played music for years in Denver and elsewhere and his thoughtful lyrics and poetic commentary on human existence with a particular knack for giving form to frustrations, despair, joy, affection and excitement have always made his work noteworthy. But Lawson took seemingly several years off playing music because it can be an unrewarding grind in so many ways with not nearly enough rewards for innovators and those with something unique and interesting to say. Whether in art rock band Zubabi, Americana groups Oblio Duo and Los Dos and the New American Ramblers or even Ross Etherton and the Chariots of Judah, Lawson really brought some passion and creativity to his bands. The self-titled album is an extension and evolution of the songwriter’s prior work and one in which he seems to illuminate and clarify aspects of American culture the past several years that have seemed confusing or tangled. If you go to this show you also get to see Doo Crowder who is like a modern day Harry Nilsson.

Tuesday | August 24, 2021CANCELLED
What: The Residents
When: 8 p.m. (7 p.m. doors)
Where: Bluebird Theater
Why: The Residents are a legendary multimedia and avant-garde band whose membership is largely unknown since they started recording and performing under that name in the early 70s. The group’s music and history is storied and fairly well documented for those curious but lest the designation of avant-garde tuns anyone off, The Residents’ music has almost ways been pretty accessible and an experiment with the format of popular music and the experiments coming in with specific sounds used and the content of the music—the lyrics, the visual style, the presentation, the experience of what’s been created. The band has been on the forefront of multimedia performances, set and costume design, video releases, what one might even deem early alternate reality games involving a concept that informed an album and even blurring the line between it all. The Residents’ cover songs by artists like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, James Brown, Elvis Presley and numerous others as well as unusual takes on traditional folk songs are something that simply must be heard to fully appreciate how strangely brilliant the interpretations. In recent years the band has been touring more widely and it appears that this tour is in support of the 2020 album Metal, Meat & Bone – The Songs of Dyin’ Dog.

Gila Teen at Lion’s Lair in 2019, photo by Tom Murphy

Saturday and Sunday | August 28 and 29
What: Glasss Records Stage at the UMS
When: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Where: Mutiny Information Café
Why: The Underground Music Showcase is a sprawling affair and returns in 2021. There may be many fine performances to catch but the best bet to find acts that aren’t playing a bunch of clubs because they are just that underground and likely not to see at many DIY spaces since there aren’t many of those anymore is to spend some time at Mutiny Information Café throughout the day and evening on Saturday and Sunday, August 28 and 20 for the Glasss Records Stage. Not all of the artists are on the local independent imprint but all fit in with the label’s cultivation of various sides of the local experimental music scene. So you can catch the heartfelt post-punk emo of Gila Teen, Princess Dewclaw’s gritty industrial, feminist punk, Blackcell’s maximalist minimal industrial synth noise, R A R E B Y R D $’s soul wrenching/soothing ambient hip-hop, the colorful and imaginative glitchore of Morlox and Kid Mask, the noisy, psychedelic hip-hop of Joohs Up, Shocker Mom’s tender and daydreamy soundscapes, Gort Vs. Goom’s weirdo prog-punk-art rock and numerous other artists. Can’t go wrong no matter when you check in. Pluse it’s at Mutiny so you can get something to drink that isn’t alcoholic and pick up a book you’re not expecting to find, a fine selection of comics, find a record not everyone has on their shelves and maybe even play pinball. The choice pick of the entire festival. Tentative (because day of show things always seem to change) schedule included below.

The UMS Virtual Festival Livestreams From the Hi-Dive on July 25, 2020

The Milk Blossoms at UMS 2019, photo by Tom Murphy

As with all things live music the annual The Underground Music Showcase (UMS to most) can’t happen in the usual manner but the organizers put together a lineup for a virtual music festival, variety show and retro telethon. Partnering with Colorado Music Relief Fund which supports Colorado musicians and music industry professionals affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, the event with run on Saturday, July 25, 2020 from 7 p.m. through 10 p.m. Mountain Time. There will be prize giveaways and party supplies delivered to viewers and while not quite the sprawling marathon of music, local and otherwise, it promises to provide some humor and good times with hosts comedians Christie Buchele and Nathan Lund. The event will broadcast from the Hi-Dive a venue that has been associated with the festival for most its run thus far.

This year’s lineup (in alphabetical order) includes:
Down Time
Float Like a Buffalo
Lily Fangz
Los Mocochetes
Nathaniel Rateliff
The Milk Blossoms
The Still Tide
Turvy Organ
Wave Decay
Wes Watkins

With additional music provided by DealzMakesBeats.

For more information including where to catch the livestream, please visit And you can donate to Colorado Music Relief Fund at

“Caterpillar Motion” by Sudo Williams is One Piece of his Futuristic Concept Album That Stimulates Multiple Parts of Your Brain

Sudo Williams, photo courtesy the artist

Sudo Williams gets “Caterpillar Motion” off the ground with an insistent and irresistible flow of words and imagery weaving in references to mythology and daydreaming. The background melody as almost a rhythmic counterpoint to the cadence of the lyrics is an ascending series of ethereal tones and synth drone accents giving the song a dynamic contrast of mood and texture. The song is part of the album Me, You & Them which takes place in the year 3005 in a town named Port Ambedo where music doesn’t exist and life is experienced visually. Except for the latter there is no real night and day, just eternal starlight and the appearance of an Aurora Borealis to mark the day as the citizens of the town are active at night. The main character of the songs is a figure named B( )R (pronounced “Bear”) who has an eidetic memory and a form of synesthesia between sound and color. In giving the songs a dual property working together so well as described above, Sudo Williams in this song and others is helping us to think in ways that by drawing us into songs that stimulate our various cognitive capacities in numerous ways with poetic lyrics that tie it all together into a cohesive whole. You can listen to the single and the rest of the album on Soundcloud and follow Sudo Williams at the links below.

Queen City Sounds’ Picks for UMS 2019

Tessa Violet performs at the UMS on Sunday, July 28, 5:45 p.m.

The UMS is back for its 2019 edition running from July 26 through July 28 in the Baker Neighborhood in Denver, Colorado. The festival is unarguably the easiest way to take in the largest representative slice of the local underground music scene with the emphasis on indie rock and some choice representation from the city’s worlds of metal, hip-hop, electronic music and punk. Some years you might even run across more than a couple of the city’s rich experimental/avant-garde, darkwave and noise scenes but not so much this year aside from the Glasss Records showcase Sunday afternoon from 12-5 p.m. which is a well-curated sampling of Denver music’s weird side.

What follows is a guide to my picks for ten of the most interesting acts not from Denver performing at the festival. There will be no local band guide because I already write up enough about local bands throughout most of the year and you can see many of them the rest of the year and I encourage you to visit the UMS website and sample any and all of the bands that look interesting and see them because there are hundred. If you’re from out of town and coming to the UMS, refer back to any of the Best Shows lists I’ve done up to now. Other sites have provided their guides so you can consult those if you’re looking for specific recommendations. For tickets please visit the UMS website and thanks for reading.

Who: Black Mountain
When: Friday, July 26, 8:30-10 p.m.
Where: Showcase Stage
Why: This Canadian, heavy psychedelic rock band combines 70s psychedelic prog, stoner rock and all the excess and transporting soundscaping that implies. The group released its new album Destroyer in 2019, the first with ex-Sleepy Sun member Rachel Fannan and Adam Bulgasem from Soft Kill. Synth player Jeremy Schmidt has a side project called Sinoia Caves which did the darkly beautiful and unsettling soundtrack to the experimental science fiction horror film Beyond the Black Rainbow.

Chicano Batman_Josue Rivas_2017
Chicano Batman circa 2017, photo by Josue Rivas

Who: Chicano Batman
When: Saturday, July 27, 5-6 p.m.
Where: Showcase Stage
Why: Chicano Batman embodies a true synthesis of 60s Chicano rock, Tropicália and psychedelia. Like those 60s bands, this Los Angeles-based quartet performs in matching outfits to provide that level of rock theater and it’s songs a fantastic blend of rock and roll and melancholic atmospheres.

Who: Drama
When: Saturday, July 27, 6:20-7 p.m.
Where: Showcase Stage
Why: A blend of R&B and synthwave, Drama’s songs and videos reflect the multicultural side of American culture and breaking stereotypes of what people look like that make lush, melodic electronic pop music and how that’s presented to the world.

Who: Empress Of
When: Sunday. July 28, 7-7:45 p.m.
Where: Showcase Stage
Why: Lorely Rodriguez took this project name from a tarot card reading and her synth pop/experimental R&B is bilingual with vocals that traverse registers with finesse. Imagine something like a combination of Cocteau Twins (who Rodriguez cites as an influence) and Toni Braxton and you’re in the right territory.

Gardens & Villa circa 2011, photo by Tom Murphy

Who: Gardens & Villa
When: Friday, July 26, 5:20-6 p.m.
Where: Showcase Stage
Why: This band from Santa Barbara, California is probably lumped in with the whole synth pop thing but it’s a way stranger and more experimental band in the vocals and in its songwriting having more in common with Big Black Delta, Fad Gadget and TR/ST than the chillwave that was in vogue when the band started in 2008. Its songs tend to be darker and more willing to indulge sharper edged dynamics than groups going for maximum soft tunefulness.

Who: Leikeli47
When: Friday, July 26, 8:30-10 p.m.
Where: Odyssey Stage
Why: Leikeli47 performs with some kind of head covering and otherwise conceals her true identity like a hip-hop super hero. Her unusual style of music is heavy on swagger and accented beats. At times her songs sound like she listened to a lot of Suicide, Death Grips, M.I.A. as well as dub. But it also means she doesn’t really sound much like anyone else and capable of surprising you.

Who: Tessa Violet
When: Sunday, July 28, 5:45-6:30 p.m.
Where: Showcase Stage
Why: Tessa Violet’s breezy, sonically rich synth pop is so accessible it’s almost easy to forget what a sharp wit is behind the songwriting. After all she has a song called “I Like (the idea of) You.” But it’s not all reverence and her songwriting style itself is fairly broad and endearingly frank in the realm of pop music and her videos colorful and imaginative.

Tuxedo, photo by Andi Elloway

Who: Tuxedo
When: Sunday, July 28, 8:15-9:45 p.m.
Where: Showcase Stage
Why: Mayer Hawthorne made a respectable career for himself in the 2000s for his retro soul style and big stage persona. Teaming up with Jake One he’s part of Tuxedo, a funk and electro R&B band that was ahead of the current trend of all of that, which Hawthorne was already presaging when a lot of people dismissed him as something of an eccentric despite his undeniable cool.

Who: Y La Bamba – photo on website
When: Sunday, July 28, 6:20-7 p.m.
Where: Knockout Stage
Why: Luz Elena Mendoza found a unique place as a songwriter in Portland, Oregon who is making a kind of folk-rooted pop. Her music and outlook comes out of the Mexican folk tradition inspired in part from a young age by mariachis. Her songs use her heritage to explore personal as well as collective struggles with an elegance and creativity that reconciles the dark side of life with hope and joy informed by grace and patience for the process.

Who: Yves Tumor
When: Saturday, July 27, 7:20-8 p.m.
Where: Showcase Stage
Why: Yves Tumor cites Throbbing Gristle as an influence for its hypnotic qualities. And Yves Tumor’s music is not short on ambient noise, confrontational sounds and political consciousness within the context of fairly accessible electronic pop music. For my ears and tastes, the most interesting and boundaries pushing act not from Denver playing the festival and a must see if you’re there on Saturday.