[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]
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.
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.
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.
What:Glasss Presents the Final Speakeasy Series Season 3: Adam Selene, Abeasity Jones and MYTHirst When: Thursday, 06.20, 6:30 p.m. Where: Hooked On Colfax Why: This is the final edition of the Speak Easy Series not just Season 3 but overall. Each date has been a well-curated showcase of Denver’s underground experimental music underground with a reach covering a lot of that territory in a way few if any other events have in recent years. Tonight’s show includes some of the local scene’s hip-hop and production stars as named above.
What:SCAC with Kid Congo Powers & The Pink Monkey Birds When: Thursday, 06.20, 8 p.m. Where: Hi-Dive Why: Slim Cessna’s Auto Club is the long-running, legendary Americana post-punk band with a theatrical flair and costumes to enhance a strong visual presence on stage. Joining them tonight is Kid Congo Powers & The Pink Monkey Birds. Also favoring matching outfits in the vein of influential Chicano rock bands like Thee Midnighters, the group is fronted and lead by one of rock’s great songwriters and guitarists. Kid Congo Powers brought great finesse, inventiveness and a keen ear for melody and dynamics to groups like Gun Club, The Cramps and Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds.
What:Mystery Lights w/Future Punx and Slynger When: Thursday, 06.20, 7 p.m. Where: Globe Hall Why: Mystery Lights is an odd and fascinating mix of retro synth bands and proto-punk. Give its new record Too Much Tension! a listen. Like early Zen Guerilla but weirder. Future Punx is also on tour from Brooklyn with its synth funk punk akin to Les Savy Fav and The Epoxies but with more synth than the former and less pop punk than the latter. Its own 2019 album The World Is A Mess (which includes an almost brooding cover of “The World’s A Mess (It’s In My Kiss)” by X) sure does sound like some people from the future looking back on the Twentieth Century New Wave and punk era the way some indie rockers have looked back on Laurel Canyon, classic rock and 80s glam rock for inspiration and cherry picked sounds to assemble in idiosyncratic fashion.
What:Bloxx, Hembree and Warbly Jets When: Thursday, 06.20, 6:30 p.m. Where: Marquis Theater Why: Bloxx is a four piece from London whose sound makes one think its members evolved out of the music that defined its early youth and rediscovered 90s alternative rock and mulched it all in favor of a charmingly melodic, fuzzy emo-esque songwriting style reminiscent of newer bands like Culture Abuse. Kansas City’s Hembree rides that line between post-punk and synth pop well and its 2019 album House On Fire is filled with darkly luminous yet urgent dance songs.
Friday | June 21
What:Gasoline Lollipops., Dust Heart and Grayson County Burn Ban When: Friday, 06.21, 7 p.m. Where: Oriental Theater Why: Andy Thomas has been a fixture of Denver music for close to two decades as a member of bands like Ghost Buffalo, The Knew, Tin Horn Prayer, Only Thunder and, more recently, Lost Walks. Around a decade ago he started releasing music under his own name and as Andy Thomas Dust Heart and exploring different facets of his own songwriting. He is now releasing music as simply Dust Heart and tonight he releases his single “Plastic Walls” and “The Last Gap.” Thomas’ command of the musical vocabulary of Americana and punk has long been established. With the new material the songwriter delves further into something more akin to gritty power pop with charged guitar riffs and his always emotionally resonant vocal delivery. He’ll be performing the Punk Is Dad benefit tonight at the Oriental Theater with other like-minded local acts. Look for our interview with Thomas coming soon.
What:Nick Murphy fka Chet Faker w/Beacon When: Friday, 06.21, 7 p.m. Where: Ogden Theatre Why: Nick Murphy announced in 2016 that he would drop his long-running stage name of Chet Faker with the release of his next album, that being 2019’s Run Fast Sleep Naked. The Australian singer and songwriter’s mixture of R&B and downtempo electronic pop struck a chord in the first half decade of his career so far and his new album is the result of some wanderlust and making the music and putting together ideas as he went along. The album is a mixed bag but sometimes such material translates better live than as a loose concept album and you can see for yourself tonight as Murphy transforms the Ogden into a more intimate environment in which his songs can shine in the interpretation of the recorded music.
Saturday | June 22
What:Yeasayer w/Oh, Rose When: Saturday, 06.22, 7 p.m. Where: Gothic Theatre Why: Oh, Rose from Olympia, Washington has been making C86-esque pop songs for around half a decade and garnering some buzz for its emotionally warm and ebullient yet introspective songwriting. Fans of Shop Assistants and perhaps Black Tambourine will find much to like about Oh, Rose in general but especially it’s forthcoming album While My Father Sleeps due out on August 23, 2019 on Park The Van Records. The group is opening for Yeasayer whose genre bending sound makes psychedelic rock, non-Western rhythms and prog work well together by not bothering to recognize a boundary between all of that. The result is what might be considered “indie funk” but with a more imaginative live presentation of the music than those terms together might suggest.
What:TRVE DadFest When: Saturday, 06.22, 1 p.m. Where: Hi-Dive and Mutiny Information Café Why: TRVE Brewing and Dad Fest combined forces for this event to bring a day and night of stars of extreme, doom and experimental (and combinations thereof) metal from Denver and beyond. But as per usual for DadFest, there will music well outside that like ethereal soundscaper Midwife, Denver noise legends Page 27 and beat-driven noise auteur Data Rainbow. Our pick for the later heavy stuff if one must choose? BIG|BRAVE’s 2019 album A Gaze Among Them is a towering locomotive of driving beats that transcends narrow concepts of doom, noise and industrial. But, really, everything on the bill is worth your time—not something one can say about every festival, tastes differing. The event happens at two venues, schedule listed below.
Hi-Dive Schedule (upstairs and downstairs as indicated)
Up: Dreadnought 7:50-8:10
Down: Noctambulist 8:15-8:35
Up: In the Company of Serpents 8:40-9:00
Down: Vale 9:05-9:25
Up: Midwife 9:30-9:50
Down: Of Feather and Bone 9:55-10:15
Up: BIG|BRAVE 10:20-10:50
Up: Wake 11:05-11:25
Up: Vanum 11:40 – finis
Lost Relics 2:00-2:20
New Standards Men 2:35-2:55
Chair of Torture 3:10-3:30
A Light Among Many 3:45-4:05
Flesh Buzzard 5:55-6:05
Heathen Burial 6:20-6:40
Data Rainbow 6:55-7:05
Page 27 7:20-7:40
Sunday | June 23
What:A Vulture Wake w/Joy Subtraction and State Drugs When: Sunday, 06.23, 7 p.m. Where: Lost Lake Why: A Vulture Wake is a sort of melodic punk super group including Chad Price of ALL and Drag the River) and members of Lagwagon and Real McKenzies. But you won’t be getting some odd pop punk or melodic hardcore redo, it’s songwriting goes a bit beyond all of that with technical proficiency used with imaginative and evocative guitar riffs. Joy Subtraction doesn’t play much these days but its punk is borderline post-punk and its sharp take on social and political issues lacks is way more clever and insightful than that of at least two or three other bands. But not just any two or three other bands.
What:Howard Jones w/Men Without Hats and All Hail the Silence When: Sunday, 06.23, 5:30 p.m. Where: Hudson Gardens Why: Howard Jones is a pioneer of synth pop and one who learned to use difficult and temperamental equipment to compose some of the biggest hits of the 1980s like “Things Can Only Get Better,” “No One Is To Blame,” “What Is Love” and “Like to Get to Know You Well.” While for some these may be light pop songs Jones’ voice expressive and highly emotional deliver stood out even back then in the heyday of that music. As a live performer now Jones is surprisingly forceful and charismatic with an expertly crafted light show whose music seems prescient considering the direction synthwave and chillwave has developed.
Monday | June 24
What:Ginger Root w/Oko Tygra and Hi-Fi Gentry When: Monday, 06.24, 7 p.m. Where: Hudson Gardens Why: As Ginger Root, Cameron Lew has been making lush downtempo synth pop that sets itself very much apart with an attention to the low end. It gives his songs a sonic depth and flow that credibly gives a nod to 70s dance music and soul. Frankly, some filmmakers who are trying to nail that 70s and 80s vibe should hit up Lew to score and/or music supervise their projects because more than most people making music now who probably wasn’t alive at that time, he gets it and it’s not just having access to the vintage gear. But listen for yourself to his new singles “Weather” and “Slump” here.
What:Stevie Wonder When: Monday, 06.24, 7 p.m. Where: Red Rocks Why: Stevie Wonder needs no introduction as a legend of soul, funk, R&B and jazz. He’s performing at this Red Rocks show as a fundraiser for SeriesFest.
Tuesday | June 25
What:Death Cab for Cutie w/Mitski When: Tuesday, 06.25, 6:30 p.m. Where: Red Rocks Why: Mitski Miyawaki recently announced that after her fall live bookings she was taking a hiatus from the grinding, album-release-cycle-and-touring of the music industry that allows little time for cultivating one’s life and creativity separate from its considering for delivering up to an audience in a form they are expecting. Miyawaki has had a respectable career and body of work up to now including her 2018 album Be the Cowboy. The latter pushed her songwriting to new heights of creativity in telling stories, self-examination and soundscaping. And a deep level of emotional honesty. With an album as great Be the Cowboy where does a songwriter go without repeating oneself while under the gun to produce something more quickly than one’s brain is prepared to deliver? With any luck she’ll find the time away from the cultural realm that Hunter S. Thompson famously critiqued before it got as bad as it is now by writing: “The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good [people] die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.” Wherever Miyawaki lands we wish her good fortune and happiness while hoping she comes back with a new set of music that continues her legacy of great songs.
Death Cab for Cutie is a band that helped to define and shape what “indie rock” has meant, sounded like and looked like since at least the late 90s. Now that the group has been fairly commercially successful for several years at this point its songwriting may lack some of the urgency and poignancy of its earlier output at least the band has a few decent songs with every album since the turn of the decade.
Wednesday | June 26
What:Harry Tuft When: Wednesday, 06.26, 6 p.m. Where: Four Mile Historic Park – Shady Grove Why: Harry Tuft is the godfather of bluegrass and folk in Denver having run the Denver Folklore Center in the 60s through the 70s and as a founder of Swallow Hill. He seldomly performs but when he does his interpretations of other people’s songs and standards is always interesting and his originals worthy as well. As a champion of music for decades, Tuft ironically didn’t have many chances to play his own music until his 80s and he does so with emotional power and grace.
What:Die ANGEL, Xambuca, Equine, Ian Douglas Moore and J. Hamilton Isaacs When: Wednesday, 06.26, 8 p.m. Where: Thought//Forms Why: Die ANGEL is Ilpo Väisänen of noise/drone legends Pan Sonic and Dirk Dresselhaus of avant-guitar group Schneider TM. With Die ANGELthe duo explore the kind of noise, ambient, sound environment composition that is an experience in itself in flowing sounds, tones and rumbling low end. It is a physical as well as a psychological experience that will engulf the room at Thought//Forms. Xambuca is a San Francisco-based modular synth and production artist who will bring his own depth of sonic field to the proceedings. Denver’s Equine is Kevin Richards whose avant-garde guitar work has been part of the Mile High City’s underground for nearly two decades as a member of weirdo, jazz/noise post-hardcore band Motheater and blackened noise duo Epileptinomicon. J. Hamilton Isaacs is one of the local music world’s champions of modular synth music as well as a noteworthy artist in his own right producing entrancing (no pun intended for those in the know) synth/dance music that blurs the line between ambient and more academic synth experiments.
What:No Vacation w/Okey Dokey and Hello, Mountain When: Wednesday, 06.26, 7 p.m. Where: Larimer Lounge Why: No Vacation’s take on surf rock-inflected dream pop is truly elegant and transporting like they’re able to relax and let whatever is in them speak through their collective efforts. Of course a lot of practice and playing together was involved but the band makes it look effortless and easy.