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
What:
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
What:
Radkey
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, 2021
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.

Best Shows in Denver 8/9/19 – 8/14/19

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Rolling Stones perform at Mile High Stadium on August 10. Photo by Dave Hogan.

Friday | August 9

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Jay Aston’s Gene Loves Jezebel, photo by Ian Collins

What: The Alarm, Modern English and Jay Aston’s Gene Loves Jezebel
When: Friday, 08.09, 7 p.m.
Where: Oriental Theater
Why: In the 1980s all three of these bands embodied the kind of highly melodic post-punk that articulated both the bleakness of an era and the hope that they and the rest of humanity would endure writing songs celebrating life and love and honoring the uncertainty, tentativeness and sometimes, yes, even gloominess that cast a pall over society with the impending threat of nuclear holocaust. Over thirty years hence we’re all in another period of doom hanging over the planet from, once again, the threat of nuclear war but also the collapse of our ecosystem and the rise of another wave of aggressive fascism throughout the world. Since these three bands have reconvened each has also been writing some of the best music of their careers and commenting on the times with songs that aren’t trying to capture past glory so much as writing music worthy of their legacy of not getting stuck in a rut. Modern English’s 2016 album Take Me to the Trees, Jay Aston’s Gene Loves Jezebel’s 2017 record Dance Underwater and The Alarm’s 2019 offering Sigma reflect not just the strength of the respective band’s original creative vision but also their growth as artists valid in the modern era.

What: The Yellow Rake 15 year anniversary night 1 w/Simulators, Moon Pussy, Charly Fasano, Brian Polk and Karl Christian Krumpholz
When: Friday, 08.09, 8 p.m.
Where: Mutiny Information Café
Why: The Yellow Rake is a Denver-based literary and culture magazine that is celebrating a remarkable fifteen years in existence with performances from local bands Simulators and Moon Pussy and writers and artists Charly Fasano, Karl Christian Krumpholz and Yellow Rake founder Brian Polk. The celebration will run two nights beginning tonight at Mutiny Information Café.

What: Martin Atkins DJ sets and spoken word
When: Friday, 08.09, 9 p.m.
Where: Tracks
Why: Martin Atkins who has been a major figure in post-punk and industrial music going back four decades (i.e. Nine Inch Nails, Killing Joke, Ministry, Public Image Limited) will do a DJ set tonight and perform some spoken word, possibly reading from his own body of work.

Saturday | August 10

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This Will Destroy You, photo by Veronika Reinert

What: This Will Destroy You w/Brin
When: Saturday, 08.10, 8 p.m.
Where: Oriental Theater
Why: This Will Destroy You is one of the better ambient post-rock bands. Mainly because its dynamics aren’t limited to the predictable builds and then inevitable catharsis like Sigur Ros without all the alien light and energy that imbues that band’s music. This Will Destroy You’s 2018 albums New Others Part One and Part Two finds the band further developing its textural elements giving its new set of soundscapes a depth of low end it didn’t lack but one that highlights the more ethereal melodies with a a evocative contrast in tone.

What: Rolling Stones: 2019 No Filter Tour
When: Friday, 08.10, 6:30 p.m.
Where: Mile High Stadium
Why: Anyone not know who the Rolling Stones are? Use your search engine and learn about the iconic rock and roll band that fused a gritty, heavily blues influenced rock music and evolved it in various and fascinating ways for years with lyrics that often indulged in unusual, offbeat subjects and really a broad spectrum of human experience making their songs long term engaging and influential. Keith Richards’ autobiography Life is one of a handful of essential books written by a musician.

What: GYES: Arc Sol, Mainland Break, Slugger
When: Friday, 08.10, 8 p.m.
Where: The People’s Building
Why: This edition of Get Your Ears Swoll brings to Northwest Aurora, Colorado experimental rock bands with a psychedelic loose edges.

What: The Yellow Rake 15th Anniversary Night 2: SPELLS, Black Dots, Muscle Beach and Joy Subtraction
When: Friday, 08.10, 8 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: The second night of The Yellow Rake’s celebration of fifteen years of existence takes place at the Hi-Dive with some of Denver’s best punk and post-hardcore bands.

What: Glasss Fest Day 1
When: Friday, 08.10, 12 p.m.
Where: Rhinoceropolis
Why: This two day event spanning roughly twelve hours each day brings together some of the most interesting of underground bands that often do not get much play at the clubs or more commercial venues. Which makes it an event worth attending to catch a slice of what you’re missing out on if you only go to venues that don’t book experimental music. Most of this stuff isn’t particularly challenging unless your idea of genius is mainstream pop music that is bland but has the veneer of quality or if you’re mainly only into one genre of music not represented. It’s an eclectic booking in a way that needs to happen in Denver and elsewhere more often. Schedule below. All times p.m. as if you needed to be told.

12:30 – DJ Zombie
3 – Grrrl
3:30 Kah Li
4 – Nothing is Everything
4:30 – MYTHirst
5 – Adam Selene
5:30 – Bios+a+ic
6 – Elle Green
6:30 – Sliver
7 – Bianca Mikahn
7:30 – Denizens of the Deep
8 – House N Complex
8:30 – Pearls & Perils
9 – Princess Dewclaw
9:30 – Abeasity Jones
10 – R A R E B Y R D $
10:30 – Catdog
11 – Techno Allah
11:30 – Savage Bass Goat

Sunday | August 11

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Umbras Animas, photo by Tom Murphy

What: Glasss Fest Day 2
When: Sunday, 08.11, 12 p.m.
Where: Rhinoceropolis
Why: See above for Glasss Fest.

1 – Sobremarcha/Hepster Pat DJ Sets
3 – Umbras Animus
4 – Galleries
4:30 Wngdu
5 – Disposal Notice
5:30 – Sumguy
6 – Bowshock
6:30 John Gross
7 – Venus305 / DCC
7:30 – Lady of Sorrows
8 – Pythian Whispers
8:30 – Dead Characters
9 – Soulless Maneater
9:30 Sadbug
10 – Joohsup
10:30 – $addy
11 – Hepster Pat DJ set

Tuesday | August 13

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Plume Varia, photo by Tom Murphy

What: Quits, Multicult (MD), Sliver and Equine
When: Tuesday, 08.13, 12 p.m.
Where: 3 Kings Tavern
Why: Basically a noise rock show except for Equine who is probably doing a noisy guitarscaping sort of set. And Sliver who are basically a grunge color-by-numbers act. At least when it comes to their Layne Staley wannabe singer/guitarist. But they’re pretty alright in spite of all of that. Multicult is a Baltimore-based noise rock band in the vein of Shellac and The Unsane. Quits is a Denver band with a similar aesthetic and one that doesn’t skimp on the raw emotional outbursts.

What: Pure Bathing Culture w/Plume Varia
When: Tuesday, 08.13, 7 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: Pure Bathing Culture started with Sarah Versprille and Daniel Hindman who are also members of experimental folk band Vetiver. PBC is more in the realm of dream pop but with a more organic base with vibrant and sparkling guitar work amid lush synths as well as Versprille’s warm vocals. The group’s 2019 album Night Pass is its first since being dropped from Partisan Records. And rather than a darker than usual album to reflect the process of the experience, Night Pass sounds like a band that kept going its previous creative trajectory of introspective, upbeat yet downtempo pop songs. Opening the show is Plume Varia who share a similar sensibility but whose sound palette is a little more dusky and with singer Cheri Cobbs’ vocals soulful and deeply evocative.

What: Matt Weston (Albany), Ryan Mcryhew and Ryan Seward
When: Tuesday, 08.13, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Rhinoceropolis
Why: This will be something of an experimental improvisational show including locals Ryan Mcryhew better known for his work as modular synth and beats composer Entrance and avant-garde percussionist Ryan Seward. Both will join Matt Weston whose own left field percussion and electronics has brought him into collaborative spheres with the likes of Roger Miller (of Mission of Burma), Jim O’Rourke, drone legend Kevin Drumm, free jazz saxophone player Charles Gayle and Jack Wright, another master sax improviser.

Wednesday | August 14

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Kamasi Washington, photo by Durimel

What: Herbie Hancock and Kamasi Washington
When: Wednesday, 08.14, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Mission Ballroom
Why: Herbie Hancock probably needs no introduction as one of the most important artists in modern jazz as a composer, pianist and band leader. He played in Miles Davis Quarter, he was a pioneer of jazz fusion and funk, he has composed soundtracks, he had a 1983 pop hit with “Rockit” which fused jazz and hip-hop. His accomplishments are, frankly, to massive to list. Also on this bill is Kamasi Washington whose own role as a master saxophonist (he’s played on records by Kendrick Lamar, Thundercat, St. Vincent and others, no big deal), composer, band leader and producer parallels Hancock’s own. As a live performer Washington orchestrates the show with a subtle mastery that feels relaxed and informal due to the songwriting and the years of work already put in but which feels like watching a grandmaster at work. So go early to catch Washington and stay for one of the few living legends of jazz demonstrate his own musical magic.