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.
What:The Legendary Pink Dots w/Orbit Service, The Drood, DJ Mudwulf and VJ Dizy Pixl When: Thursday, 10.31, 8:30 p.m. Where: Ophelia’s Electric Soap Box Why: The Legendary Pink Dots and its mystical, spectral, ambient psychedelia will turn 40 next August and is currently undertaking a tour celebrating the landmark date along with its new album, 2019’s Angel in the Detail. The new record contains elements of what has always made LPD great including entrancing atmospheres, singer Edward Ka-Spel’s poetic lyrics that articulate deep truths about the human condition and how it manifests in our lives and civilizations. It also comments on the perilous state of things in the world today and especially in “The Junkyard” and how the elites are trying to finish completing a world system that renders those of us not in that upper one percent of one percent as pieces of junk in world civilization. The surreal and beautifully disturbing music video is well worth a view. Also sharing the bill tonight is the likeminded Denver-based ambient psychedelic rock band Orbit Service which has been gracing local stages and well beyond since the mid-90s. The Drood, also from Denver, is like a dark psychedelic prog band with punk-intensity and a sense of theater and the ability to create exorcistic emotional experiences in song. DJ Mudwulf will set the mood with what is sure to be a great set for the holiday and VJ Dizy Pixl will set the visual mood as per her usual level of excellence.
What:Bethlehem Steel w/Gila Teen and guest When: Friday, 11.1, 9 p.m. Where: Lion’s Lair Why: Bethlehem Steel has been together since 2012 but started garnering national attention for its outstanding performances at the South By Southwest festival in 2016. At that time the group had out a couple of EPs but released its debut full length Party Naked Forever in 2017. Its thrilling collision of fuzzy pop and dynamic atmospheric rock has drawn comparisons to 90s noise pop acts like Weezer and contemporary artists like Courtney Barnett and Waxahatchee. But often enough the group’s expansive, imaginative songwriting and creative ambition has resulted in some music that pushes boundaries of the loud and quiet format that many bands have adopted of late so that its songs will remind some of the emotionally stirring music of older bands like Failure, Slint and Rainer Maria. It has that kind of fire and caustic sound as well as lyrics that delve deep into the darker regions of the psyche with a defiant spirit lighting the way. In September, Bethlehem Steel released its fantastic self-titled full-length for which it is touring in support. Also on the bill is Gila Teen, the experimental post-punk band that brilliantly mixes moody atmospheres with a splintery pop punk.
What:Yung Bae w/Birocratic and Jaguar Nights When: Friday, 11.1, 8 p.m. Where: Marquis Theater Why: Dallas Cotton started making music as Yung Bae while living in Portland, Oregon but his production-based future funk started garnering him wider audiences while still a student at Oregon State University. His sound straddles that sort of 70s soul and R&B-inspired sounds and the aesthetic of modern electronic pop music. So while he references classic music it comes off with a more modern sensibility and energy. It hearkens to a previous era and the unsullied excitement of that music but in a way that couldn’t really have been accomplished at the time in terms of how he sculpts sound and edits it together. In 2019 Yung Bae released his fifth album in as many years with Bae 5.
What:Dia De Muertos celebration: Altas, Plume Varia and Los Mocochetes When: Saturday, 11.2, 8 p.m. Where: Hi-Dive Why: Denver instrumental rock band Altas is doing its now annual Dia De Muertos show in which the members will dress in the appropriate regalia for the occasion making the show a true event rather than just another gig. The group’s sweeping, cinematic grandeur and fiery musical pyrotechnics and mastery of mood and atmosphere is worth witnessing alone but also on the bill is psychedelic rock band Los Mocochetes and downtempo dream pop band Plume Varia and its emotionally rich and haunted compositions.
What:The Locust w/Disposal Notice and Its Just Bugs When: Saturday, 11.2, 8 p.m. Where: Summit Music Hall Why: The Locust recently reconvened to bring its mutant, death metal inflected, noisy hardcore on a national tour. The group’s surreal imagery and costumes along with its equally bizarre lyrics has made it difficult to lump in with any convenient musical movement. Its Just Bugs (the apostrophe is left off) is an industrial punk hip-hop group from Colorado and just as impossible to pigeonhole.
What:Twin Peaks w/Post Animal and Ohmme When: Saturday, 11.2, 8 p.m. Where: Gothic Theatre Why: Twin Peaks from Chicago weathered the mid-2010s blowout of garage rock and neo-psychedelic rock that was making the underground rock scene of a certain stripe become fairly stale and performatively exciting. What helped was that Twin Peaks was writing good songs and hasn’t stayed stuck in the same sound for its entire career thus far. Its 2019 album Lookout Low sounds like an odd and interesting hybrid of power pop and the weirdo punk of The Fall at its most Lou Reed-inspired, mix in some unusual flourishes of 70s rock with nods to Peter Frampton and Thin Lizzy. All while delivering spirited and sometimes gloriously ragged performances which are much needed at a time when a sanitary quality has permeated too much modern music.
What:Vivan Girls w/Down Time, Short Shorts and Backseat Vinyl — CANCELLED When: Sunday, 11.3, 7 p.m. Where: Marquis Theater Why: Vivian Girls caused a stir in the indie underground of the 2000s and 2010s with their lo-fi, noisy pop songs. The group’s ability to mix buoyant dynamics with dark, brooding moods and sounds was a fascinating contrast. The band split in 2014 with members going on to perform in La Sera, The Babies and Upset (all still going concerns). But in summer 2019 the group announced it was reforming with a new record, Memory, on the way and released in September.
What:TR/ST w/SRSQ and DJ Slave 1 When: Sunday, 11.3, 7 p.m. Where: Summit Music Hall Why: TR/ST came to prominence as the new darkwave movement was coming together with a sound that seemed to come out of the then renewed interest in vintage synths, that cold, bright, moody sound of Goth-y 80s synth pop and its cousin chillwave. But Robert Alfons’ vibrant, soulful voice and imaginative soundsccaping are the key ingredients that elevated this project above many of its contemporaries. In 2019 TR/ST released The Destroyer (Part 1 and 2), a more experimental and ambient, ethereal set of songs than his previous offerings and a clear product of reassessing directions and ideas to produce something different. SRSQ (pronounced Seer Ess Que as in the lettes for the latter two) is Kennedy Ashlyn the charismatic singer formerly of brilliant dream pop band Them Are Us Too. Her 2018 album Unreality is a moody and emotionally harrowing and cathartic downtempo album that seems to have absorbed the darkness and pain of the underground world in the wake of the Ghost Ship fire and given it a voice that exorcises some of that energy.
What:Keytar Fest IV: The Jinjas, R A R E B Y R D $ and Claudzilla When: Sunday, 11.3, 4 p.m. Where: Glitter City Why: Just like the title of the event suggests, this is a mini festival featuring all projects that incorporate keytars as an essential part of the songwriting and this includes weirdo synth punk Claudzilla and experimental hip-hop/IDM-inflected trio R A R E B Y R D $.
What:Danny Brown w/Ashnikko and Zeeloperz When: Sunday, 11.3, 7 p.m. Where: Cervantes’ Masterpiece Ballroom Why: Ever since the larger world outside of Detroit started cluing into Danny Brown’s genius following the release of 2010’s The Hybrid, the rapper has garnered a large cult following for his eccentric yet sharply cogent and thoughtful yet raw lyrics and production that incorporates a wide range of sounds that one hadn’t often heard in hip-hop outside of the underground and alternative circles of the 90s and early 2000s. Brown picked up where that left off and pushed things further particularly on his 2016 album Atrocity Exhibition which borrowed its title from a science fiction novel by J.G. Ballard and whose beats sounded almost like a new hybrid of industrial and rap that reflected the atmospherics as much as the textures and rhythms. With his new album, 2019’s uknowhatimsayin¿ Brown follows a similar sonic path but brings together more organic, almost found sounds with processed layers of atmosphere. Intact is his gift for surreal imagery and wordplay that gets under your skin.
Monday | November 4
What:GRÜN WASSER w/Natural Violence, French Kettle Station and Night Shift DJs When: Monday, 11.4, 9 p.m. Where: Rhinoceropolis Why: GRÜN WASSER is a Chicago-based electro-pop/industrial whose pulsing rhythms and dreamlike moods sound like endless nights wandering a menacing urban landscape and commenting on the culture of the nightlife. That is if the group’s new album Not OK with Things (Holodeck Records) is any indication. There is an almost claustrophobic quality to its densely atmospheric beats contrasted with Keely Dowd’s lightly echoing, ethereal vocals. French Kettle Station has been through more permutations of his sound than many artists bother to explore but of late he’s been developing a sound that’s still rooted slightly in 1980s No Wave disco and modern glitch dance pop but also influenced by 1980s adult contemporary music and its unexpectedly newly influential use and voicing of drums and vintage synths in a way that in any other contexts would be utterly wack but takes on an almost spiritual cast in certain underground electronic artists including that side of what FKS has been up to in the past year or two. His latest album, Over X Millenia takes those ideas and injects them with non-western rhythmic ideas and a New Age music aesthetic for something new yet strangely familiar. Its closest cousin that comes readily to mind is Brian Eno and David Byrne’s 1981 classic My Life in the Bush of Ghosts.
Tuesday | November 5
What:HTRK w/Midwife, Echo Beds, Human Tide When: Tuesday, 11.5, 8 p.m. Where: Rhinoceropolis Why: Since 2003 HTRK, originally from Australia, has been making music inspired by the brooding, otherworldly atmosphere of the films of David Lynch. Though the name of the band is pronounced “Hate Rock” it’s not so much rock except in the experimental sense as much as downtempo and ambient soundscaping. In 2010 founding musician Sean Stewart passed away leaving Nigel Yang and Jonnine Standish to carry on and as a duo HTRK has released a handful of some of the most fascinating music mixing electric music with an electronic aesthetic being made today. The group’s latest album is Venus in Leo with its exquisitely subtle dynamics and cinematic approach to its composition and sound design with lingering, impressionistic guitar riffs drifting around Standish’s hushed and soulful vocals.
What:Kikagaku Moyo w/Minamu Deutsch When: Tuesday, 11.5, 7 p.m. Where: Gothic Theatre Why: Kikagaku Moyo from Japan is a true synthesis of 70s Krautrock, classic Japanese psychedelic rock and more traditional Japanese folk. Currently the group is touring with the like-minded Tokyo band Minami Deutsch. The group’s urgent rhythms, mesmerizing drones and hypnotic dynamics sound like what it is to travel through Tokyo and its subtle but odd mixture of old world and high tech metropolis side by side in all of the city’s giant districts. On the group’s new EP, Can’t Get There that dynamic often takes you to a place of anxiety and then release as it draws you into its irresistible groove.
What:Jeffrey Lewis & The Voltage w/Adam Baumeister When: Tuesday, 11.5, 7 p.m. Where: Hi-Dive Why: A rare chance to see eccentric, genius freak folk and comic artist legend Jeffrey Lewis and his band along with local star of experimental folk and psychedelia, Adam Baumeister, head of Meep Records and former member of Navy Girls and Bad Weather California.
What:Negative Approach w/Blood Loss and Tuck Knee When: Wednesday, 11.6, 7 p.m. Where: Lost Lake Why: Negative Approach from Detroit was one of the bands out of that early wave of American hardcore than seemed particularly seething and intense and fronted by John Brannon who went on to noisy psychedelic blues band Laughing Hyenas and Easy Action. Easily one of the greatest frontmen of rock music because he seems to actually be losing his mind swept up in the moment.
What:Weird Wednesday: FangFuck, Zealot and Bolonium When: Wednesday, 11.6, 9 p.m. Where: Bowman’s Vinyl & Lounge Why: Weird Wednesday includes left field indie rock local supergroup Zealot and Bolonium a band inspired by Devo and which comes off like an odd combination of band, cheesy game show and Troma film.
What:Kurt Vile and the Violators w/Dinosaur Jr When: Wednesday, 11.6, 7 p.m. Where: The Mission Ballroom Why: Dinosaur Jr is the missing link between gritty classic rock like Neil Young, hardcore and 90s alternative rock and more influential on modern music than is often obvious. The mixture of sheer volume with tunefulness reconciled eras of music in a way that is often taken for granted and which bands like Nirvana and other massively commercial successful bands took to topple the music industry marketing machine and culture. Apparently modern folk/psychedelic artist Kurt Vile has felt this influence and thus has Dinosaur on this tour and for its part, the members of Dinosaur Jr have continued to release music, some of the best of its career in the past decade.
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