The guitar breaks on Tunnel’s “Lemonhead” are so effective at conveying a switching frame of mind it’s like an update on the loud-quiet-loud dynamic of early Bostonian alternative rock. The song’s chain of couplets seem to describe being in a place in your mind where nothing satisfies you and you’ve been, yes, soured on the motivations of other people and no matter how much you know this general feeling of nearly physical disdain for what should give you comfort and good will is an artifact of a disaffected mind you can’t intellectualize it away and won’t take such prescriptions from other people. The chorus in the last half of the song of “Love is fine/Love is boring” speaks to how this thing that’s supposed to be the culmination of your young life is more nuanced and not the solution to everything and then what? The narratives of our culture in the end prove inadequate for real life and you’re forced to figure out what works for you. The hard hitting and expressive drumming provided by Fugazi’s Brendan Canty pair well with Natasha Janfaza’s somehow both winsome, introspective and forceful vocals. The use of bass chords as well as those for guitar and the dreamlike synth melody in the context of a song that feels angsty and cathartic really gives this song some compelling contrasts that make this song a great closing track for the debut album Vanilla and ending the record on a note that demands you revisit the whole thing. Watch the video for “Lemonhead” on YouTube, follow Tunnel at the links below and explore Vanilla further on Bandcamp or Spotify.
Due to technical difficulties, it wasn’t possible to write up the first two dates of this show list in even remotely a timely manner. For now we present to you the rest of the week’s picks as we’re able to complete the writing.
Saturday | October 20, 2018
Who: MC 50 with Starcrawler and The Yawpers
When: Saturday, 10.20, 8 p.m.
Where: The Gothic Theatre
Why: Influential, even foundational, early punk band MC 5 is now on tour celebrating its fiftieth anniversary as MC 50 playing from the band’s respectable catalog that not only injected radical politics into rock music in an overt way but put an indelible stamp on the rawest version of the music post-1960s. The lineup for this tour will include original guitarist Wayne Kramer, former Soundgarden guitarist Kim Thayil, Fugazi drummer Brendan Canty, Faith No More bassist Billy Gould and Zen Guerilla frontman Marcus Durant.
Who: Dark Descent Records Ninth Anniversary
When: Saturday, 10.20, 6 p.m.
Why: Dark Descent Records celebrates nearly a decade of unleashing extreme metal from its headquarters in Colorado. For this edition of its annual showcase you can see Cianide, Krypts, Adversarial, Sempiternal Dusk, Spectral Voice and Blood Incantation
Who: Four Fists (P.O.S. + Astronautilus) w/Angel Davanport and Boss Eagle
When: Saturday, 10.20, 8 p.m.
Where: Marquis Theater
Why: After guesting on each other’s albums for years, P.O.S. and Astronautilus finally teamed up for a collaborative project yielding the album 6666. It’s what you might expect when two titans of alternative hip-hop that know each other’s work and processes well put their heads and hearts together. Poignant social commentary and, refreshingly, a perspective that points to ways that people might take on social injustice and the world’s ills that they can handle. All while giving us tautly composed and imaginative beats that sound like a sampling of all modern electronic music going back to the 8-bit video game aesthetic the 80s as perhaps an abstract display of how culture is a continuum that can’t be truly broken by even influential bad actors. And if you’re not into the heady content aspect, the debut album from Four Fists is a collection of bangers.
Who: Mothers w/Megabog and Down Time
When: Sunday, 10.21, 7 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: Kristine Leschper of Mothers and Erin Bergy of Megabog don’t fit in any easy, pat category as both have used elements of rock and folk in making their respective, boundary pushing pop music. Leschper and Bergy also both masterfully walk that line between accessibility, challenging their respective audiences and freely experimenting with sounds and song format.
Who: MAX w/Nina Nesbitt and EZI
When: Saturday, 10.20, 8 p.m.
Where: The Bluebird Theater
Why: Max Schneider, aka MAX, has had a career in film, television and modeling but along the way he also established himself as an up-and-coming soul pop vocalist. Nina Nesbitt is a Scottish singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist who got a big break opening for Ed Sheeran on the European leg of his 2012 tour. In 2018 Nesbitt is set to release her sophomore album and there’s a good chance that you’ll get to see some of that material live for this tour. If you show up early you can catch EZI, aka Esther Zyskind who has roots in the singer-songwriter realm but these days, makes lush, moody, synth-driven pop songs.
Who: Blerd #2
When: Saturday, 10.20, 8 p.m.
Where: Mutiny Information Café
Why: This event says how Afro Punk is never coming to Denver and it, thus, shines a light on the most interesting and forward-thinking Denver artists of color. Tonight’s showcase includes two of the mightiest Denver musical acts with the otherworldly tones and transcendent hip-hop of R A R E B Y R D $ and The Maybe Sos, an experimental hip-hop duo comprised of notable Denver poets and musicians Bianca Mikahn and Jenee Elise Donelson. Also on the bill are Toluwa and Obi.
Sunday | October 21, 2018
Who: UK Subs w/Agent Orange, Guttermouth and No Takers
When: Sunday, 10.21, 7 p.m.
Where: The Oriental Theater
Why: UK Subs were one of the bands out of the early English punk milieu that incorporated aspects of the pub rock scene of the same era in the mid-to-late 70s. Beginning with its 1979 album, Another Kind of Blues, the group has released a record beginning with every letter of the English alphabet including 2016’s Ziezo. The Subs have also remained a vital live act since the 70s and haven’t exactly toned down the politics edge, decidedly working class left, of their body of work even when they have written songs about going concerns of youth and everyday life. Also headlining this bill is California surf punk band Agent Orange. Like most of the southern California punk bands that emerged from Orange County in the late 70s and early 80s, Agent Orange had that aggressive intensity that was key to hardcore but also an instinct for melody that gave its songwriting an accessibility that may in some ways have helped give birth to pop punk. Agent Orange didn’t really get stuck in a specific punk niche perhaps one aspect of why the band, like the Subs, has endured and evolved.
Who: Mom Jeans w/Just Friends, Awakebutstillinbed and Old Sport
When: Sunday, 10.21, 6 p.m.
Where: The Marquis Theater
Why: Mom Jeans from Berkeley, California has been making some waves in underground music with its irreverent yet earnest songs. Over the past several years a blend of math rock, emo and pop punk has re-emerged in America as various musicians have drawn on the music of their younger years for inspiration and combined it with an interest in various musical styles that maybe they didn’t get to see firsthand when it was originally active. And then, of course, making it their own and using it as a vehicle for writing about similar frustrations and struggles but with a broader palette of sounds and cultural references. The group’s 2018 album Puppy Love is not short on meaningful songs with surreally humorous titles like “Jon Bong Jovi” and “You Can’t Eat Cats Kevin.” Also on the bill is like-minded Denver band Old Sport.
Monday | October 22, 2018
Who: Pond w/Sur Ellz
When: Monday, 10.22, 8:30 p.m.
Where: Globe Hall
Why: Pond isn’t a Tame Impala side project even though the group has shared members and the latter has taken on ex-members of the former as part of Kevin Parker’s live lineup. Tame Impala went in a more overtly experimental electronic dimension with its excellent 2015 album Currents. Pond’s more prolific career has taken interesting turns and it’s 2017 album The Weather was also much more electronic but very well within the realm of a psychedelic aesthetic. One might compare it to when Super Furry Animals went more off its own deep end than usual but rather than soul wending into dream pop.
Who: A Perfect Circle w/Tricky and Night Club
When: Monday, 10.22, 6 p.m.
Where: Red Rocks
Why: On the surface this is an odd pairing of bands. A Perfect Circle is one of the projects of Maynard James Keenan of Tool and for earlier records, it was a hard rock and even metal band. For it’s 2018 album Eat the Elephant the group has transformed fully into an atmospheric pop band. The sound is so different yet not seemingly forced or brimming with try hard musical gestures it’s like it’s a new identity for the group achieved after years of development. Night Club is a darkwave rock band comprised of Emily Kavanaugh and former Warlock Pinchers and Foreskin 500 guitarist Mark Brooks. Though mostly known for his work in film and television these days (for example he wrote for and directed episodes of Metalocalypse), with Kavanaugh in Night Club Brooks has been part of a band that sounds like it mulched 90s EBM and Future Pop with the inspired industrial sleaze of Lords of Acid and My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult and made something that could make a virtue of the cheese factor of all that music without having to express the worst excesses. Night Club is more akin to modern Gary Numan than wack industrial rock and that makes all the difference. And Tricky is on the bill. As in former member of Massive Attack and downtempo pioneer with a respectable trip-hop career playing Red Rocks perhaps for the first time in decades.
Tuesday | October 23, 2018
Who: Windhand w/Satan’s Satyrs
When: Tuesday, 10.23, 7 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: Richmond, Virginia’s Windhand has for nearly a decade refined its fluid doom soundscaping like a pagan metal Bardo Pond. The group recorded its 2018 album Eternal Return with Jack Endino, the architect of the so-called Seattle sound of the late 80s and early 90s. With Endino’s assistance, Windhand cast its gritty grandeur in sharper focus than ever before with the intricacies in tone and texture not essentially buried and blurred together in the mix as part of an unintentional aesthetic choice because that’s how doom is “supposed” to sound. Dorthia Cottrell’s vocals have also never sounded better, coming through the fogbank of sounds like a beacon in the night.
Who: 88Rising: 88 Degrees & Rising Tour
When: Tuesday, 10.23, 6 p.m.
Where: Fillmore Auditorium
Why: 88rising is a media company that is bringing some of its star artists on this tour showcasing its efforts as a management and marketing company, record label and video production service. Nothing too new there. But most of its artists are Asian pop, trap, hip-hop and R&B projects. For this tour you’ll get to see Rich Brian, Joji, Higher Brothers, Keith Ape, KOHH, NIKI and AUGUST 08.
Wednesday | October 24, 2018
Who: Joan Baez
When: Wednesday, 10.24, 7 p.m.
Where: The Paramount Theatre
Why: Joan Baez has been an important figure in American popular music since the early 60s when she helped to popularize folk music to an increasingly commercial and widespread audience. She was an early advocate of Bob Dylan and helped to bring his own talent to national audience as well. Baez famously used her platform and her music to raise awareness of human rights and environmental issues, a course she has followed throughout her career up to and including “Nasty Man,” a protest song she wrote against Donald Trump in 2017. It was a viral hit and it was her first published and released piece of original material in over two decades. Baez followed this with her first studio album in nearly a decade with 2018’s Whistle Down the Wind, an album in which she puts her superb interpretations on the songs of other writers including an interesting choice with Anohni’s “Another World.” Currently Baez is on what is being cited as her final formal tour, dubbed “Fare Thee Well Tour.” If this is Baez’s last hurrah, it’s quite a capstone on the career of an artist possessed of a powerful voice and an uncommon sense of compassion and duty to her fellow creatures on planet earth.
Dead Meadow is currently touring in support of its new record, The Nothing They Need. When the band began in 1998, its members had come up through the vibrant punk and hardcore scene in Washington, DC and had even played in bands in that vein but by the late 90s, playing that kind of music had lost some of its appeal and the initial trio of guitarist/singer Jason Simon, bassist Steve Kille and former drummer Mark Laughlin (Juan Londono now drums in the band) were looking to sounds that had long gone out of style but which held a newfound fascination for the musicians.
“We got excited watching old Jimi Hendrix videos all the time,” says Simon. “We lived with Corey [Shane] who played on Feathers and the three of us would sit around watching Black Sabbath videos, Led Zeppelin videos and Hendrix videos and it was like, ‘Let’s get back and do something like this.’ That’s why we picked up our instruments in the first place. When I was thirteen I wanted to play like Jimmy Page and sound like Black Sabbath. It was just trying to do something different. Actually, it’s funny a lot of those [DC post-hardcore] bands helped us out and in particular Fugazi helped us out a lot just because they were as excited as anyone to hear something different coming out of DC. Now there’s a psych rock scene but back then we were playing a punk rock show or a metal show and either way we didn’t quite fit in. We’ve seen a scene grow up since then that has fit Dead Meadow a little better.”
Dead Meadow’s 2000 self-titled debut, in fact, was released on Fugazi bassist Joe Lally’s Tolotta Records imprint as did the sophomore record, 2001’s Howls from the Hills. But in those early days, there wasn’t a new psychedelic rock scene, per se. Dead Meadow toured and found like-minded musicians who were embracing music from the 60s and 70s on the West Coast like The Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Warlocks. After signing with Matador before the release of 2003’s Shivering King And Others the group played shows with labelmates Bardo Pond. But the mixture of psychedelia and heavy music around the turn of the century was largely the purview of “stoner rock.” While Dead Meadow had similar roots in 60s psychedelic rock and Black Sabbath, it was never really a metal band.
“In the beginning we really enjoyed it because we wanted to do the punkest thing possible,” comments Simon. “Which was like, ‘Okay, cool, we’re opening for Fugazi, man? We’re going to do a ten minute guitar solo.’ And the punk kids were like ‘What is this?’ Which I thought was awesome. Some of the punk kids weren’t into it. Is this metal? It was something against the grain at the time which was something we all dug doing.”
Twenty years since Dead Meadow’s inception, the music world has caught up a bit with its fuzzy, hypnotic, heavy, bluesy, psychedelic rock songs. Yet the band’s specific aesthetic and sensibility transcends the specific wizards, demons and occult tropes of stoner rock and psychedelic doom. The song and album titles, the artwork and the textures and structures of the songs suggest a familiarity with the language of mythology and mysticism as well as that of the literature of the weird and a recreation of the feelings flowing forth from such readings.
“I like a lot of different symbolism and drawing from different roads of symbolism and making it your own,” says Simon. “I’ve always been a fan of the weird tale whether it’s Clark Ashton Smith or H.P. Lovecraft and stuff like that using all this vivid, far out imagery. Or Hindu mythology and its painting these crazy pictures the mind is almost stretching to even envision. In our move away from what was going on in the late 90s we wanted to do something more far out in that sense that expands the imagination.”
Specific references can be found sprinkled throughout Dead Meadow’s discography from Lord Dunsany in “Beyond the Fields We Know,” obvious nods to Lovecraft and perhaps an oblique hint of the occult novels of J.K. Huysmans. Blending all of that with natural imagery has given Dead Meadow both a mysterious and intimate quality.
“I like to stick things in there for the heads to pick up on,” says Simon regarding the literary allusions. “I find [nature] more inspiring. I guess that’s the symbolic nature of how the natural world relates to the inner world as well. I don’t do that intentionally, it just feels right or just cool.”
The Nothing They Need seems a step away from the evoking the imagery of weird literature while remaining songs about personal struggles, existential musings and a non-topical social commentary. The title of the album stems from a double meaning in its origins and conceptualization.
“It’s something Steve orignally said,” says Simon. “He also works in quality control in TV shows for digital content. He’s great at catching audio issues and so forth. He was talking about how there’s an insane stream of content coming out these days. Meaningless show after show. What is all this stuff? Who’s watching it? He said, ‘It’s giving people the nothing they need.’ So it’s a commentary on our times in that way. I also found it true in the opposite sense in that what people need is a step away from this crazy amount of distraction. We’re being bombarded by information all the time. Anyhthing to get your head out of it and get your piece of stillness, the grand nothing.”
“With these times and how crazy things are, I don’t think we’d try to write something overtly political but I feel like how those things can’t help but slip in,” continues Simon. “Not just how crazy it is but how to live and deal with how crazy it is and still be a creative, productive individual and feel some sense of hope.”