Well over a decade into his career as a fairly prominent musician, Kurt Vile remains someone who seems to have an uneasy relationship with the spotlight. And throughout his set at the Ogden Theatre in Denver on May 23, 2022 he demonstrated that reticence to court attention even though he was playing a venue much bigger than a small club while also providing ample examples of why his work has garnered more than a small cult following.
Denver psych Americana band Honey Blazer opened the show. Usually you can catch this band at clubs like Hi-Dive, Lost Lake or Globe Hall and the like. With artful guitar builds and laid back dynamics, Honey Blazer was able to turn what might otherwise be an elongated jam into energetic, sunny melodies with an expansive dynamic. Prior to this act Gann Matthews had been in and around the Denver scene often as a singer-songwriter but one whose talent was obvious if not as fully appreciated as he should have been but with this band he, Brad Grear and their bandmates looked pretty comfortable on the big stage and giving us songs that imagine a life beyond the rat race of late capitalism.
When Kurt Vile and The Violators got on stage their presentation was no more elaborate or theatrical than Honey Blazer. It was just shy of looking like a group of guys who got on stage for a big show in just their street clothes, unless of course it was their street clothes. And it didn’t seem like some faux humble pose either. To compound this impression Vile himself engaged with the crowd tentatively and completely unvarnished, unpracticed and without pretense. Like someone who almost feels embarrassed that they have to take up your time with their unpoetic thoughts. No grand statements and mostly Vile and company let the music speak for itself.
Maybe it was his usual deal but for those of us who had never seen Vile perform live prior to this show he skirted the line between self-deprecating and eccentric pretty well. The set included songs from across a broad range of his career going back at least as far as Smoke Ring For My Halo (2011) with “Peeping Tomboy” as well as “Overnite KV” off of God is Saying This to You… (2009) and offering cuts from newer records with “Check Baby” from Bottle It In (2018), “Pretty Pimpin” from b’lieve i’m goin’ down… (2015) and ample material from (watch my moves) (2022) and “Going on a Plane Today,” “Flyin (Like a Fast Train)” and “Mount Airy Hill (Way Gone).” But beginning to Vile and the Violators delivered a rich tapestry of guitar styles, uniquely constructed lyrics with relatable and insightful sentiments that get you to think about everyday life in ways maybe you hadn’t quite considered before. There is a freshness to the music that is easy to take for granted if you’ve heard any kind of indie rock playlist since the late 2000s but in the relatively compressed confines of this show in a 1,600 capacity venue and a set that brought together the various strands of Vile’s songwriting it hit as striking and Vile as an unlikely and gifted guitar hero with a knack for songwriting that is imbued with truly inventive wordplay. The humanity and sense of humor underlying songs about coming to terms with oneself and trying not to be in the world as someone making life harder for others and making social commentary in a way that seems so personal and interwoven into stories of daily existence its easy to look past it. It never seems preachy. But the guitar tones and song dynamics are also where the group shines combining texture, atmosphere, orchestrated rhythms and intricate, inventive melodies that come off very simple and spare yet un-obviously lush.
The music of course being outstanding it was Vile’s between song banter that made the show more endearing. Yes, we all saw the merch coming in and there was a cool t-shirt design and vinyl and other items for sale but people forget and maybe someone told Vile that he should remind the crowd there was stuff for sale and he seemed so reluctant to mention that because he was obviously aware that most people probably knew that and there was likely no need to stump for his own product. And as he was doing so it felt like we all knew he had to say it even if it felt for him a little awkward. Oftentimes on stage Vile would retreat from the mic to take a solo and his abundant hair regularly obscured his face all to make for an informal camouflage into the shadows of the performance, well aware that he is a member of a band and not a solo artist. At some point in the show flashing emergency vehicle lights paused in front of the venue, maybe from an ambulance picking someone up because of a medical issue, visible through the theater doors and Vile remarked, “Looks like a lot of cops out there” with a hint of concern. Near or at the end of the show Vile remarked that they’d been on the road for a month, five weeks “but it feels like a couple of years. It feels good. But this feels great.” Certainly for someone who is one of the great musicians and songwriters of his generation, Kurt Vile knows how to set aside any insufferable rock star persona and be real while not skimping on the power of the music itself.
Friday | 10.01 What:Muscle Beach, Cheap Perfume and Mainland Break When: 8 p.m. Where: Hi-Dive Why: This is a now rare opportunity to see Denver post-hardcore band Muscle Beach. Fitting somewhere in between noise rock, the aforementioned subgenre of punk and extreme metal, Muscle Beach also somehow manages to create an inviting rather than forbidding energy. Cheap Perfume’s strident and thrilling feminist punk anthems challenge tropes of punk and social convention equally with great energy and sass. Mainland Break’s jangle-y power pop is absolutely for fans of Franz Ferdinand and Nick Lowe with a perfect balance of homespun storytelling and burning off everyday frustration with fuzz-tinged melodies.
Saturday | 10.02 What:Franksgiving 2021: Ralph Gean, Little Fyodor & Babushka Band and The Pollution, DJ Don Bess When: 9 p.m. Where: Lion’s Lair Why: The late Franklin Bell was a local character whose eccentric DJ nights were a hit with the local weirdo music cognoscenti. For several years he held an event called Franksgiving as a fundraiser for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation. With the relatively recent passing of Bell, his friend Little Fyodor has taken up the cause in Bell’s name and merch sales as well as proceeds from the evening will be donated to the aforementioned charity. If you show up you’ll get to see Denver rock and roll legend Ralph Gean, the über punk of Little Fyodor & Babushka Band (don’t go expecting another Ramones or Black Flag clone, this is weird, smart, eccentric stuff and as filled with attitude and as informed by existential anxiety as the best of the genre), the psychedelic punk of The Pollution and DJ Don Bess whose own bizarre choice of cuts for the evening will be decidedly different. Some of the city’s finest all on one bill and for a good cause.
Sunday | 10.03 What:Titwrench 2021: Nacha Mendez (Santa Fe), The Milk Blossoms, Machete Mouth, My Name is Harriett (Colorado Springs) and Sol Vida Worldwide When: 4-10 p.m. Where: City Park Pavilion 2001 Steele St, Why: The Titwrench Festival launched in 2009 as a means of shining a light on the creative efforts of marginalized groups beginning with the musical and art works of female identified folks and expanded to other groups including the 2SLBGTQIAP+ community at large and people of color and so on. While the curation has been thusly focused, the festival has always been all ages and inclusive and open to everyone to get to experience creative performances in a safe environment from people whose work isn’t always featured in the usual venues and rooms where you generally get to see live music. The current edition of the festival takes place on Sunday, October 3, 2021 from 4-10 p.m. at the Denver City Park Pavilion. The event will include educational workshops, dance parties, food from Maiz food truck (selling homemade Mexican cuisine) and a market featuring Witch Collective, a group of local artisans and herbalists. Also, this year Suzi Q. Smith will be the MC. Our recent podcast includes interviews with the event organizers (Sarah Slater, Michaela Perez and Katie Rothery) and members of all the performing artists including My Name is Harriet, Machete Mouth, Nacha Mendez, April (Axé) Charmane of Sol Vida Worldwide and Harmony Rose of The Milkblossoms which you can listen to on Bandcamp. For more information on the festival please visit titwrenchcollective.org.
Monday | 10.04 What:The Shivas w/Rootbeer Richie & The Reveille and Honey Blazer When: 7 p.m. Where: Hi-Dive Why: Since forming in 2006, Portland, Oregon’s The Shivas has developed a sound that incorporates elements of 60s psychedelic garage rock and pop but out of step with obvious trends. Its idiosyncratic songwriting style has always seemed to have more in common with the 90s indie pop and its emphasis on raw expressiveness and tapping into classic sounds and aesthetics as a vehicle for expressing timeless themes and universal human emotions with an intensity and artistry that feels vital and of the moment and not trying to recreate a previous era of music and culture. The band started making a name for itself in the American underground in the late 2000s but its breakthrough to a wider audience might be traced in the wake of the release of its 2013 album Whiteout! On the respected and influential label K Records. Heavy touring every year and a string of solid albums garnered the band a bit of a cult following when, in 2020, The Shivas, like many touring entities, had to effectively stop operations. The foursome had already written its next album and had to put plans on hold for any kind of release until the following year. During the first part of the pandemic and a de facto blackout of live shows happening, three fourths of the band worked with the unhouse population of Portland through a non-profit and took time to rethink and rework how the band would operate going into the future. In early 2021 the group released its latest album Feels So Good // Feels So Bad through Tender Loving Empire, a record that evokes the sense of urgency and uncertainty that all of us felt during the bleakest times of the 2020-2021 pandemic but which many of us poignantly felt prior to that global, and ongoing, health crisis. It is both a cathartic and comforting listen. Check out our interview with The Shivas on Bandcamp.
Monday | 10.04 What:Indigo De Souza w/The Slaps When: 7 p.m. Where: Globe Hall Why: North Carolina-based singer and songwriter Indigo De Souza recently released her latest album Any Shape You Take on Saddle Creek in August 2021. Though its neo-soul and pop sound is somewhat stylistically different from her fantastic 2018 debut album I Love My Mom with its introspective, guitar pop songs it goes further into an approach of radical vulnerability in plumbing the depths of emotional trauma, self-doubt and the use of creativity as a path out of the darkest places of the mind. The gentle touch of the songs have an unconventional power through honoring wounded feelings with a compassionate honesty that informs the songwriting in general.
Tuesday | 10.05 What: Arlo Parks w/Michelle When: 7 p.m. Where: Globe Hall Why: Arlo Parks’ debut album Collapsed in Sunbeams was one of the more anticipated releases of the past year. Her early EPs showcased a unique and soulful voice from an artist with a deft and easy wordplay that gave an added dimension to her jazz-inflected downtempo pop songwriting. Her performance video for Seattle’s KEXP recorded during the pandemic verified Parks’ self-possession as a performer capable of commanding attention within the coolly dynamic flow of the music.
Friday | 10.08 What: Japanese Breakfast w/Luna Li When: 8 p.m. Where: Ogden Theatre Why: With every album Michelle Zauner of Japanese Breakfast has seemed to take on powerful emotional challenges as almost an engine for her creativity. Psychopomp was written while her mother went through treatment for cancer, Soft Sounds From Another Planet was written in the wake of her mother’s death and seemed like a personalized science fiction story as an attempt to make a meaning of events for anyone listening in to her heartfelt sentiments and poetic exploration of inner space channeled into expansive and inventive art rock. Her latest album, Jubilee, is a departure from those first two records in being more overtly pop in the sense that writing a pop song with resonance and poignancy is a challenge and a way to remain focused on something that distills joy for at least a few moments of time with observations that express essential truths. The record has much in common with the great indie pop bands of the 90s and 2000s and how that music was ambitious and experimental in utilizing sounds and song dynamics that were out of step with what was popular but which has gone on to age well. 2021 has been a bit of a banner year for Zauner as it also marks the release of her powerful memoir Crying in H Mart. If you’re lucky enough to have an H Mart in or around your city and, perchance, have spent time in one the book has a special, tactile, cultural resonance that is difficult to fully appreciate without experiencing that gloriously pan-Asian market for yourself.
Friday – Saturday | 10.08 and 10.09 What: Convulse Records 3 Year Anniversary When: 5:30 p.m. Where: Aztlan Theater Why: Hardcore label Convulse Records celebrates its three year anniversary with a two day festival at the historic Aztlan Theater where many a punk and underground music show took place in the decades leading up to the 21st century. The scheduled performers include Goon, Spine, Militarie Gun, Ingrown, Raw Breed, Discreet, The Consequence, Spy, Urban Sprawl, Faim, Entry, Big Laugh, Video Prick, Punitive Damage, Gel, Scowl, Closed In, Sweat, Cyst, Battlesex, Public Opinion, Direct Threat, MSPaint, Drill Sergeant, Yambag, Rash, Candy Apple, L.I.B., Blood Loss, Reality Complex and Asbestos. See set times below and keep in mind that with all festivals set times can be a little loose around the edges.
Saturday | 10.09 What:Grief Ritual album release w/Church Fire, Lost Relics and Dulled Arrows When: 7 p.m. Where: Hi-Dive Why: Grief Ritual celebrates the release of its debut album The Gallows Laugh. The band’s blend of post-hardcore and extreme metal is threaded through with surprisingly uplifting melodies as contrasted with distorted vocals and fluidly heavy riffs. Also on the bill are sludge metal greats Lost Relics whose own 2021 album Now We’re Even dropped in April. Dulled Arrows is a bit of a departure from the heavy with its blend of math rock and Americana. Even more of a departure for this show is Church Fire and its revolutionary industrial dance synth pop.
Saturday | 10.09 What:Nation of Language w/Oko Tygra When: 8 p.m. Where: Lost Lake Why: For its new album, A Way Forward due out on November 5, 2021 on PIAS, Nation of Language reached back to the roots of its sound to early pioneers of electronic pop and rock like Kraftwerk, Popol Vuh, Suicide and OMD. It also has the transformative sense of wonder mixed with nostalgia heard in the music of Tor Lundvall in the 90s as released on the 2019 compilation A Strangeness In Motion. So called minimal synth from the early 2010s was very much part of the emergent modern darkwave movement and Nation of Language has refined those sounds and impulses in a way that should also appeal to fans of Perfume Genius and Future Islands. Opening the show is the great, soulful dream pop band Oko Tygra who though clearly inspired in part by Cocteau Twins also bring an R&B sensibility to its lush and affecting guitar rock.
Saturday | 10.09 What: Supersuckers w/Reno Divorce and Luke Schmaltz When: 7 p.m. Where: Oriental Theater Why: Supersuckers were part of that whole mess of the Seattle music scene explosion of the early 90s and benefited from that association but somehow survived the fallout of that collapse to become a beloved underground touring act for some 30 years now. Reno Divorce may be a roots punk band but its stories of everyday struggle hit deep and its spirited performances help drive that content home. Luke Schmaltz was and is the frontman for long running Denver punk legends King Rat and he brings a literary flair to his punk songwriting though for this show he’s going solo.
Monday | 10.11 What:cleopatrick w/Zig Mentality and Ready The Prince When: 7 p.m. Where: Bluebird Theater Why: cleopatrick’s 2021 debut album BUMMER seethes with irresistible intensity. Like a hop-hop album written by guys who make music that sounds like they had to listen to Soundgarden and Sleaford Mods through blown out speakers growing up. The vocal cadence has that kind of flow and the burning, distorted, pulsing guitar work is almost like a sample in the way it is employed in the mix of sounds.
Friday | 10.15 What:Cellista PARIAH tour w/Zero Collective (LA) and Herpes Hideaway When: 7 p.m. Where: Mutiny Information Café Why: Cellista returns with her latest album PARIAH which is a fairytale concept album of a sort. But it’s a fairytale about confronting injustice by daring to speak the truth even though rejection by one’s community is often inevitable with a long and uncertain road to vindication for refusing to accept the official version of events. In live performance Freya Cellista aims to break down the barrier of performer and audience with a collective experience of the music. The combination of classical music, pop and opera makes the type of creative work one often has to go to a fancy theater or art gallery to see accessible in a smaller setting like Mutiny.
Friday | 10.15 What:The Final Sound (Brooklyn) w/eHpH and Weathered Statues When: 8 p.m. Where: HQ Why: New York’s The Final Sound brings its moody post-punk flavored dream pop to Denver in the wake of the release of its 2021 album Automata Theory. Fans of The Chamleons and Pink Turns blue will appreciate what The Final Sound have to offer. Weathered Statues is a post-punk band from Denver with a touch of punk brashness that gives the music an expansive momentum and pop flavoring. EhpH is one of Denver’s most interesting EBM/industrial bands even though its latest album, 2020’s Infrared, revealed a bit more than a passing gift for making brooding and deeply atmospheric post-punk.
Friday | 10.15 What:Valley Maker w/Patrick Dethlefs When: 8 p.m. Where: Globe Hall Why: Austin Crane was already writing thoughtful, delicately textured folk style songs on the 2010 self-titled debut Valley Maker album. But with the 2021 release of When The Day Leaves it’s like you’re getting to see those modest though sophisticated creative beginnings attain a full bloom with subtle layers of dynamics interlocking and resolving around rhythm of the poetic imagery of the lyrics. It’s a mastery of songcraft in this loose realm of songwriting that one hears in the work of Sam Beam where storytelling, elegant turns of phrase and delicacy of feeling work together with a nuanced evocation of life’s poignant moments strike you with power of gentle epiphany.
Saturday | 10.16 What: 100 Gecs When: 8 p.m. Where: Ogden Theatre Why: 100 Gecs is, loosely and perhaps imprecisely speaking, an experimental pop duo from St. Louis whose sound combines noise, trap, industrial pop, EDM and video game music. The auto-tuned vocals and hyperkinetic yet chill production is the kind of thing that will alienate and outrage more conventionally-minded tastes which is why it’s interesting in the first place in flouting outdated notions of good taste. It is unabashedly its own thing which is why the group has garnered a cult following not just for the music but its non-gendered presentation as performers. If you thought people hated Riff Raff, this is weirder with stage personae that really do push the envelope in a creative way and thus culturally significant for that as well as pushing into hybrid musical territories in making something new and undeniably accessible and interesting if you’re open to the unfamiliar.
Monday | 10.18 What:Erykah Badu When: 7 p.m. Where: Mission Ballroom Why: Erykah Badu is one of the pioneers of psychedelic neo-soul whose emotionally vibrant and deep songs have rightfully caught the attention of a wide audience since the late 90s after the release of her 1997 debut album Baduizm. Her gift for jazz idiom and poetry in the context of hip-hop and soul is second to none and her commanding live performances are always moving and worth witnessing.
Monday | 10.18 What:Cradle of Filth w/3TEETH and Once Human When: 7 p.m. Where: Ogden Theatre Why: Cradle of Filth is currently touring and performing its 1998 album Cruelty and the Beast in its entirety. The concept album centered around the story of the 16th/17th century Hungarian countess Elizabeth Báthory. So go expecting the band’s usual theatrical, extreme metal bombast with some older fan favorites and perhaps some cuts from the group’s forthcoming album Existence is Futile.
Thursday | 10.21 What:Juliet Mission, Jacket of Spiders, Amalgam Effect When: 7 p.m. Where: HQ Why: Juliet Mission is a trio that includes former and current members of classic Denver alternative rock band Sympathy F. Juliet Mission has less jazz elements than the latter and its music is more in vein with the great, gloomy, dark vibe of old Denver. Jacket of Spiders includes former members of Twice Wilted and Tarmints doing a more shoegaze-y and post-punk thing.
Sunday | 10.24 What:Kal Marks w/Moon Pussy and Tender Object When: 7 p.m. Where: Hi-Dive Why: Kal Marks from Boston has been making some of the most scorchingly abrasive yet accessible noise rock this side of Big Black for over a decade all while mixing in haunting atmospherics and irreverent storytelling. The title of the group’s 2019 EP Let The Shit House Burn Down about summed up widespread frustration with the direction of American society and government. Did this band woodshed songwriting while listening only to releases on Amphetamine Reptile, Touch and Go and Siltbreeze before putting out any releases? Probably not but thankfully they sound like that was part of the creative process to shield musical instincts from the temptation to aim for appealing to tastes dullened by having become used to music that sounds tame and having gone through focus group meetings before being marketed as exciting when it’s anything but. Moon Pussy from Denver are a similar type of band with its own eruptive dynamics and emotional intensity coupled with scorching soundscapes.
Tuesday | 10.26 What:Lords of Acid w/Aesthetic Perfection, Praga Khan and MXMS When: 6:30 p.m. Where: Oriental Theater Why: Lords of Acid is the Belgian industrial dance band whose overtly sexually themed songs are a hedonistic celebration of life and a repudiation of puritanical sensibilities and a-human hypocrisy. But even if that’s not completely your thing the songs are fun especially in the live setting when you don’t always know what frontman Praga Khan will get up to on stage all in the spirit of a good time. MXMS is the excellent dream pop/downtempo group from Los Angeles whose lush, sultry sound is reminiscent of MIA by way of Crystal Castles and Goldfrapp.
Wednesday | 10.27 What:Snotty Nose Rez Kids w/Lex Leosis When: 8:30 p.m. Where: Hi-Dive Why: Snotty Nose Red Kids is a Canadian First Nations hip-hop duo whose production seems as dark as it is playful. Their songs suss out the corners of depression and alienation with sharp couplets that flow with a jagged yet sinuous flow. Currently the group is touring for its fourth full length album Life After.
Thursday | 10.28 What:Mr. Atomic w/Trash and Gila Teen When: 7 p.m. Where: Globe Hall Why: Denver’s Gila Teen is what happens when punk and emo kids discover post-punk and manage not to go Goth yet embrace that emotional intensity as a vehicle for making honest art. Mr. Atomic from Fort Collins could be dismissed as yet another 2010s/2020s band that really hopped back on that retro 90s alternative rock revival bandwagon. But its energetic shows and strong songwriting makes such considerations irrelevant because if you band can bring it live that’s all that matters in making it something to recommend.
Saturday | 10.30 What: Tokyo Police Club w/Pkew Pkew Pkew https://www.bluebirdtheater.net/events/detail/405233 When: 8 p.m. Where: Bluebird Theater Why: Tokyo Police Club got going in 2005 and benefited directly from the peak years of the music blog phenomenon from roughly 2006-2016. The band hit the sweet spot of a mix of influences that sounded like 90s indie rock like Cursive and Modest Mouse and the then still strong post-punk revival. What set the band apart from a steady stream of cookie cutter indie rock was its strong songwriting and thoughtful, insightful lyrics. This was perhaps best embodied in its first half decade by the 2010 album Champ which the 10th anniversary edition of which TPC announced at the end of 2020 and released in 2021. Opening the show are fellow Canadians Pkew Pkew Pkew and their brand of anthemic pop punk.
Saturday | 10.30 What:itchy-O Hallowmass w/J.G. Thirlwell When: 8 p.m. Where: Summit Music Hall Why: itchy-O is the experimental, maximalist electronics and rhythm mobile orchestra that has graced Denver, Colorado and worldwide stages for over around a decade. It’s performance art as much as music though both can be enjoyed independently, which is why itchy-O is still interesting and not an inspired gimmick, as the collective has evolved all aspects of its show and recordings from launch. It’s a bombastic and unforgettable spectacle everyone should get to see. Opening the show is legendary producer and influential industrial artist J.G. Thirlwell whose project Foetus helped to pioneer and develop the industrial and noise genres at the beginning of the 1980s. He has been involved in other people’s records for decades including a fascinating collaboration with Zola Jesus for her 2013 remix album Versions.