Cautious Clay brought a bit of a package tour for his performance at The Bluebird Theater no Friday, February 19, 2022. With the 2021 release of his debut full-length album Deadpan Love, Clay revealed a songwriter who has come into his own with a strong and coherent creative aesthetic that spans and transcends narrow genres and the show beginning to end broke with obvious expectations.
The opening act was Julius Rodriguez on keyboards with drummer Brian Richburg Jr and bassist Philip Norris. It was jazz in that moody yet lively mode that seemed to draw on the mid-to-late 60s NYC jazz vibe. The energy and fluidity of the ensemble felt like classic post-hard bop improv with modern sensibilities in the electronics so a blend of the classic with the accessibly avant-garde. A lot of jazz in the last 40 years is boringly academic in approach and feel but Rodriguez is not cut from that cloth, his blending of almost lounge jazz style, funk and pop was compelling and captivating the entire time his trio was on stage.
Cautious Clay took the stage with a calm and chill charisma and exuded an ease and level of comfort that also didn’t mask how happy he was to see so many people coming out to support this run of shows in Colorado where he had three dates including on in Aspen. Julius Rodriguez took the role of keyboardist, utility percussionist and second guitar. The band rounded out with a bassist, a lead guitarist and a drummer whose names I didn’t catch (sorry, guys) while Cautious Clay (Joshua Karpeh) performed on guitar, flute and saxophone as well as provided the softly yet strongly soulful vocals. Across nearly twenty songs, including the encore, the band showcased why Clay is rapidly gathering a strong fan base with many people seeming to know the words to pretty much every song.
Was the music we got to see hip-hop? Is it R&B? Is it a smooth kind of funk? Is it jazz? It’s all of that and presented in an immediately accessible way due to Clay’s charismatic and relatable energy with words that are capable of articulating challenging feelings and experiences with a rare poetic clarity without offering hackneyed premises. His stories and sentiments hit as real but manifested creatively into song. This wasn’t Clay’s first time in Denver and he related how he had played, perhaps even at the Bluebird Theater then, in 2019 and had had a good time then too and the crowd for this show was certainly enthusiastic. I had only heard the studio material prior to the show but Clay exceeded any expectations I could have had. You might have been excused for thinking he might have performed solo with tracks and maybe one other musician but this performance was proof of his ability to sync with other musicians for the kind of musical alchemy that presents as much stronger and more visceral and vibrant especially when the musicians click and Clay brought with him some people familiar with his material who swung well into the music together with a spontaneity that makes for a striking show. Also the singer’s intelligence and basic human compassion was obvious in his banter with the audience and among his bandmates which makes a subtle but important difference for any artist and how their personality connects with people as fellow humans. If Cautious Clay isn’t playing bigger rooms on his next tour it would be surprising as word gets out.
Tuesday | 02.08 What:Everything is Terrible KIDZ KLUB Tour When: 7 and 10 p.m. Where: Sie Film Center Why: Los Angeles-based video collage and and performance collective Everything Is Terrible! Brings its latest live show and presentation of some of the best of the worst video clips found at thrift stores, garage sales, odd ends of video websites and the like to Sie Film Center. This tour is called KIDZ KLUB so surely some of the most demented yet often earnest bits of trash Americana will make its way into the show perhaps themed after some of the surreal and you want to think are manufactured parody but aren’t passages of video made for children and for educational purposes. But who can say and with the costumes and other outright strangeness that comes with an EIT live show it’ll all be maximum weird in a time when normie culture insipidity is the norm and we need stuff this eccentric and inspired as a reminder that accidental creativity can be fun when recontextualized and presented with a spirit of fun and an odd sense of humor and irony.
Wednesday | 02.09 What:Action Bronson & Earl Sweatshirt w/The Alchemist and Boldy James When: 7 p.m. Where: Mission Ballroom Why: Earl Sweatshirt has been one of the most innovative hip-hop artists of recent years mixing a more traditional hip-hop beat making approach with utilizing ideas and sounds well outside the usual spectrum of that style of music making. Some of his albums at times sound more like a noise record than anything you hear much outside the most experimental of underground hip-hop projects. The Alchemist is also one of the cutting edge beat makers of today and his 2021 album with Armand Hammer pushed the art form to new vistas of soundscaping to bolster that duo’s own masterfully creative rapping and production. Action Bronson may not quite be in that league as an innovator but his forcefulness as a rapper and performer is unquestionable.
Friday | 02.11 What:Church Fire, Spyderland, Glass Human and Partyteeth When: 9 p.m. Where: The Squire Lounge Why: Church Fire has spent the better part of the past decade honing its vital fusion of darkwave, political punk and electronic dance music and today remains a forceful live act that should probably be known outside of Denver but for now you can still catch them at small stages mostly in and around Denver and the eastern slope of Colorado. Spyderland brings some songwriting heft to its eclectic and inventive pop songs combining Marie Litton’s experience in bands like Clever Elsie, Ghost Buffalo and Lil’ Thunder with Drew McClellan’s knack for hybridizing genres and production methods to make for music that has tactile presence while inviting its listeners to dream beyond one’s immediate limitations.
Saturday | 02.12 What:Down In Denver Fest Presents: Emerald Siam w/Zealot and Gila Teen When: 10 p.m. Where: Broadway Roxy Why: This is a fundraising event for the 2022 edition of Down In Denver Fest. Last year some local underground music luminaries put together a festival pretty much last minute with a focus on local artists in a way other festivals were not. It featured all the bands playing this event as well as groups from a broad spectrum of time having put into the local scene and genres. At a time when local culture is neglected and otherwise treated as fodder for digital marketing platforms rather than cultivated and curated in a manner outside that technocratic way of thinking an event like Down In Denver Fest is necessary. So for this night you get the brooding and triumphant psychedelia of Emerald Siam, Zealot’s playfully thought-provoking pop and Gila Teen’s emo-enriched post-punk noise rock.
Friday | 02.11 What:Satellite Pilot, King Ropes, Flora de la Luna Where: Lion’s Lair Why: Bozeman, Montana’s King Ropes are a bit like the Dead Milkmen of lo-fi psych Americana whose 2021 album Way Out West straddles the line between the early, on-the-verge-of-collapsing charm of early Mercury Rev and the irreverent humor and oddly respectable musical chops of Dead Milkmen.
Saturday | 02.12 What:The Backseat Lovers When: 7 p.m. Where: Ogden Theatre Why: The Backseat Lovers from Provo, Utah strike that delicate balance between folk pop, hazy, late afternoon psychedelic rock and Americana. It’s a blend that might not work or sound like too much music in the larger indie world. But there’s enough grit in the band’s music and an earnestness in its performances to set it apart from other bands in a similar spectrum of style. Its dynamics and balance of force and delicacy allows its songs to go from hushed, contemplative moods to heightened emotional flares of intensity with a rare grace. The band is set to go back into the studio to record its next album so this would be a good time to catch it in high form performing its earlier music and maybe catch some of the new material before these guys put it through the studio process.
Saturday | 02.12 What:Bluebook, American Culture and Alison Lorenzen When: 8 p.m. Where: Hi-Dive Why: Bluebook has had an interesting arc of musical evolution since its inception in the 2000s and lately its experimental, baroque pop has emerged as theatrical and dramatic with Julie Davis striking a commanding and focused figure with a band that creates a mysterious atmosphere. So with punk-infused indie pop band American Culture on the bill seems like an odd pairing but one fitting since American Culture frontman Chris Adolf is a bit of a musical rebel whose own vision places a premium on authenticity and not fitting in with expectation. Its 2021 album For My Animals on the respected Happy Happy Birthday To Me Records imprint is possibly Adolf’s most fully realized album to date with expert players to help manifest meaningful and powerful pop music in an era of entirely too much blandness.
Saturday | 02.12 What:The Siren Project w/The Midnight Marionettes and Katastrophy When: 7 p.m. Where: Globe Hall Why: The Siren Project is one of the longest running bands in the Denver post-punk and Gothic-industrial underground with roots in the 90s, influenced by both alternative rock, European folk music and downtempo electronic music. Charismatic frontwoman Malgorzata Wacht and longtime keyboard player Alex Seminara weave a beguiling and unique style of thrillingly dramatic and lush dark pop with a strong strain of romanticism and self-affirmation.
Monday | 02.14 What:The Wombats w/Clubhouse When: 7 p.m. Where: Ogden Theatre Why: UK indie band The Wombats like many bands began work on their new album in 2019 and had to piece together the songwriting and recording as best they could from 2020 through 2021 due to the ongoing global pandemic. But Fix Yourself, Not the World was finally released in January 2022 and it’s the sort of cinematic pop with a literary flair we’ve come to expect from the band. The lead single “Method to The Madness” builds into a glorious torrent of sound like a manifestation of our collective frustrations unleashed. And the album appears to be a struggling against and an acceptance of the things we can’t change but learn to work around or take into account in our attempts to move forward through life.
Wednesday | 02.16 What: Public Opinion, Destiny Bond, No Roses and The Clue When: 7 p.m., $10 Where: Mutiny Information Cafe Why: Local hardcore show. Destiny Bond has a bit of D-beat flavor.
Thursday | 02.17 What:Abandons, New Standards Men and Hoverfly When: 9 p.m. Where: Lion’s Lair Why: If heavy instrumental music is something you’re into Abandons has been making some of the more dynamic and moody variety thereof for a few years or so. More post-rock than doom and extreme metal but there’s a plenty of that in the mix too. Fortunately for this show you also get to see those instrumental heavy music experimental tricksters New Standards Men whose twin albums I Was a Spaceship and Spain’s First Astronaut answer the question not enough people were asking in wondering where art rock bands into Zappa, Isis, Amphetamine Reptile noise rock, post-hardcore, John Zorn and ambient music were hiding.
Thursday | 02.17 What:Screwtape, MSPAINT, Cyst and CFX Project When: 7 p.m. Where: Seventh Circle Music Collective Why: MSPAINT from Hattiesberg, MS sound for all the world like a noisy post-punk band that came out of a brilliant blend of hardcore, Protomartyr-esque art punk and Sleaford Mods attitude. One wonders also if they were into mclusky or Future of the Left at some point in their creative trajectory. You also get to see one of Denver’s top five punk bands in Screwtape who always put on a ferociously energetic show.
Thursday – Saturday | 02.17 – 02.19 What: Cautious Clay w/Ivy Sole and Julius Rodriguez When: 8 p.m. Where: Belly-Up (02.17) and Bluebird Theater (02.18–02.19) Why: Cautious Clay’s wide emotional range as a vocalist and his introspectively and poignantly observed lyrics coupled with the eclectic beats and instrumentation of his songs is instantly captivating. Through a series of EPs over the past few years as well as his 2021 album Deadpan Love, Clay has revealed himself to be one of the most creatively vibrant artists in recent years whose music spans beyond R&B and hip-hop as the jazz influences in his music synergize well with ambient and psychedelic pop undertones. Catch Clay during his run through Colorado at the Belly-Up in Aspen and The Bluebird Theater in Denver (dates and links above).
Saturday | 02.19 What: Machine Girl w/Evic Shen and Polly Urethane When: 8 p.m. Where: Hi-Dive Why: Machine Girl is pretty much impossible to pigeonhole with any simple genre designation. Fans of digital hardcore, breakcore/glitchcore, industrial in the more modern mode will definitely find something to like about its surreal and colorful production and refreshingly coherent songwriting for a world of music that makes a virtue of the musical equivalent of radical jump cuts in tempo and tenor. People into Ho99o9, Atari Teenage Riot, Ghösh, 100 gecs and their ilk should at least give this band a listen. It’s like the next generation or two out from whatever it was HEALTH did in the 2000s and witch house from the same era. Yet it has some stylistic resonances with all of that. Rumor has it that at a Machine Girl show at a DIY venue people danced so hard part of the floor caved in so Machine Girl goes hard. If a legit horror movie could be made up of memes and rapid cycling anime footage it would sound like the duo’s 2020 album U-Void Synthesizer. Denver’s own dream pop/industrial project Polly Urethane is clearly a good fit for the bill.
Sunday | 02.20 What: Naked Giants w/Enumclaw When: 7 p.m. Where: Larimer Lounge Why: Naked Giants are a lively and playful rock band whose roots in grunge and psychedelic rock are obvious without preventing the trio to lay out some nice surprises where they go way beyond expectations they set for themselves at the show. Enumclaw shares a similar irreverent spirit and effusive punk energy but their guitar work has more in common with The Smiths and The Cure than Nirvana or Mudhoney or even Jay Reatard. Their combination of authenticity and eccentricity as a live band is proving to be uncommonly compelling.
Monday | 02.21 What: The Weather Station w/Helena Deland https://globehall.com/event/the-weather-station-helena-deland-presented-by-kgnu When: 7 p.m. Where: Globe Hall Why: Tamara Lindeman of The Weather Station has the rare gift of being able to project an ethereal thoughtfulness and fragile elegance and emotional strength at once. The group’s 2021 album Ignorance brings forth a full range of sounds and orchestrated emotions for one of the most satisfying listens of any album that we at Queen City Sounds basically slept on last year. Catch The Weather Station ahead of the March 4 release of its new album How Is It That I Should Look at the Stars.
Thursday | 02.24 What: Still Woozy w/Wallice https://www.missionballroom.com/event/405967-mission-ballroom-denver-tickets When: 7 p.m. Where: Mission Ballroom Why: Still Woozy is part of a big wave of bedroom pop of the past decade but like the better artists out of that world he has some musical chops with a background in classical guitar and formal educaton in electronic music that aren’t so obvious and fortunately get focused in songwriting. After spending a few years in the math rock band Feed Me Jack, Sven Gamsky departed in 2016 to start making music under the moniker Still Woozy. Making a virtue of what might be seen as a limited format, the music out of Still Woozy has a simple charm informed by a subtle sophistication in the songwriting. In 2021 he released his debut album If This Isn’t Nice, I Don’t Know What Is. Opening the show is Wallice whose own roots in jazz training have been channeled into finely crafted and poignant pop songs. Her single “Punching Bag” garnered her early attention as a poetically succinct summation of a friendship gone awry and how our digital footprints can complicate life when we’d really rather just part ways with someone. The track appeared on her 2021 EP Off the Rails which included songs that showcased Wallice’s growth as a songwriter beyond the style of contemporary indie pop. “Michael” really nails how all the tired narratives a young woman or really anyone else has had to suffer from a certain kind of male is just unwelcome. Some things never change but thanks to Wallice all the same for articulating this so well and Philip Stilwell for giving the song visual form.
Friday and Saturday | 02.25 and 02.26 What: Godspeed You! Black Emperor When: 8 p.m. (02.25) and 7:30 p.m. (02.26) Where: Gothic Theatre (02.25) and Boulder Theater (02.26) Why: Godspeed You! Black Emperor are pioneers of post-rock but also a band whose left anarchist politics are part of its operating as a group and its music therefore is orchestrated and organic while sounding as planned as a classical piece of music. But the group does not skimp on evoking feelings and pairs the emotional content of its songs with the visual representation thereof often as projections on the stage as a stirring visual component. Godspeed’s 2021 album G_d’s Pee at State’s End! reintroduced a strong component of musique concrète to help ground and reinforce its more than usual tumultuous, brash and direct compositions.
Saturday | 02.26 What:Blood Incantation When: 7 p.m. Where: Gothic Theatre Why: Experimental death metal band Blood Incantation will perform its 2022 ambient album Timewave Zero in its entirety and then engage in some improv for this show. Will there be any of the death metal its more conventionally-minded fans might crave? Who can say but the guys in the band are into enough unusual and experimental music that likely the ambient album will be worth a listen. Heck, if Wolves in the Throne Room could put out Celestite at the peak of their popularity, Blood Incantation can drop something like Timewave Zero at one of the peaks of its own renown.
Saturday | 02.26 What:Dinosaur Jr w/Pink Mountaintops When: 7 p.m. Where: Ogden Theatre Why: Dinosaur Jr influenced more music than is generally taken into account and clearly an inspiration to the entire shoegaze movement of the 90s, all of alternative rock and even current psychedelic guitar bands from the more indie variety to those heavier. J. Mascis honed in on the tender feelings and angst people often shuffle aside trying to get through life and gave voice and dignity to feelings that many people would otherwise find shameful. Along the way Dinosaur Jr also managed to never release an album that wasn’t always surprisingly well crafted with imaginative guitar rock in a seemingly endless knack for reinventing the language of the instrument in the context of tasty hooks and evocative storytelling. And as a live band always intense yet seeming to tap into a daydreamy quality.
Saturday | 02.26 What:Denial Of Life w/Implied Risk, Moral Law and Ukko’s Hammer When: 10 p.m. Where: HQ Why: Tacoma, Washington’s Denial of Life brings its thrash punk stylings to HQ for a late night set with local hardcore bands of similar spirit including the D-beat super group Ukko’s Hammer.
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