When Janet Weiss, longtime drummer of Sleater-Kinney, said she was leaving the band and partly due to creative differences on the band’s 2019 album The Center Won’t Hold, it came as a shock to most fans. I had seen Sleater-Kinney the first time in October 1998 at The Fox Theatre in Boulder and Weiss was a standout performer among impressive turns by Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker. Having then found out about the band through Brownstein’s insightful commentary on her influences in Roni Sarig’s book The Secret History of Rock I was not let down when I decided to see if it was possible to see Sleater-Kinney in Colorado. Picking up Call the Doctor and then most recent album Dig Me Out felt revelatory like this band was saying things that needed to be said at a time when not a lot of that was in the public discourse. I also saw Weiss perform in other bands over the years. In Quasi basically I was awestruck by her raw power and versatility and how her style seemed different in that band as well as when she was a drummer in Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks.
Before Sleater-Kinney split that first time I’d seen the bands four times and bring along noteworthy artists on the tours the way independent bands used to and sometimes still do. Bands like Ailer’s Set, The Gossip and The Quails. I was in retrospect impressed with how the band brought on Rainbow Sugar and The Pauline Heresy to open at The Fox as Rainbow Sugar became one of my bands at that time and so did Pauline Heresy when Yoon Park and Claudine Rousseau formed the post-punk band Sin Desires Marie with Germaine Baca of Rainbow Sugar. Going to see them always seemed inspirational and transformational. Their records seeming to be exactly what I wanted to hear when they came out. When Sleater-Kinney broke up in 2006 it felt like the beginning of the end of an era of music.
Then the reunion happened and following the release of No Cities to Love in 2015 it was obvious the trio was back into the swing of things and the band’s show at the Ogden Theatre with Lizzo as the opening act was fantastic. When Sleater-Kinney returned for Riot Fest in 2016 I felt I had seen a lot more music during the interim and braving an injury I decided to stick around to see them, though feeling for some reason I’d seen the band several times already and knew what they were about. I don’t know what I was expecting but it felt like the band was having fun and rediscovering their power even more as a live band and keeping the vibe casual but electric. It hit me as refreshing and as though somehow the band was tapped into some general mood a lot of people were in with culture and politics. It was a bracing reminder that this band still had something to offer someone like me who has seen and heard so much and didn’t even want to be at a festival given aforementioned injury. It’s easy to get jaded especially when you’re not feeling well. Yet Sleater-Kinney made it seem worth it even if only to catch the band’s set (I also saw Danny Brown, Vince Staples and Ween before going home, all also worthwhile).
So what would a post-Janet Weiss Sleater-Kinney look and sound like live? The album The Center Won’t Hold certainly showcased a band that was evolving in a direction that maybe many fans didn’t appreciate. But it also contained some of the band’s best songs to date and let us know that the band felt the need to do something different and not get stuck in a rut. Weiss has publicly said why she left the band and one can hardly blame her given her reasons. There’s no replacing someone like Janet Weiss whose unique and powerful style uplifts all of her projects. But for this tour Angie Boylan of Aye Nako and Freezing Cold stepped in and more than ably performed songs that would have to be challenging for most other drummers to play. So much so that it felt like Brownstein and Tucker were able to relax and project a sense of joy and solidarity. Katie Harkin and Toko Yasuda helped fill out the instrumentation especially on keyboards so bring that deeply atmospheric sensibility of The Center Won’t Hold.
The set with the current touring lineup felt like a sustained spark of hope in a bleak time in America. Once again, to me, Sleater-Kinney was singing about the things people need to hear, about which many of us are thinking. They also brought to bear insight into the insecurities and psychological trauma that seems to be striking our lives with increasing regularity whether economically, our social lives, the death of friends whether you’re young or old through illness, murder or suicide. The songs on the new record also addressed issues of isolation, being able to look forward when world events seem so paralyzing with a sense that everything is broken and beyond our ability to repair or redeem. The songs don’t try to sugar coat or to say that everything will be okay. But it also isn’t a set of nihilistic songs as that mindset is its own form of despair obsession. The show felt like the band sharing with us a sense that we’re going to need each other in a real and vulnerable way if we have any hope of getting through this period without throwing up our hands and letting the fascists and their cronies take over the world and dictate what’s left of the future of the human race if their program prevails.
The Center Won’t Hold
Hurry On Home
The Future Is Here
Bury Our Friends
What’s Mine Is Yours
One More Hour
Can I Go On
A New Wave
The Dog/The Body
Who:Starjammer featuring Kuf Knotz When: Thursday, 04.25, 4 p.m. – ? Where: 3 Kings Tavern Why: Starjammer, the avant-garde dub reggae one-man/device band, will be playing two sets tonight in phases like a rocket launch. The Launch Pad Prep runs from 4-7 and the Late Night Lift Off starts at 9 and runs until the musical equivalent of escape velocity is reached. Or at least until you have to leave whether you want to or not.
Who:Bowshock and El Tigr3 When: Thursday, 04.25, 6:30 p.m. Where: Hooked On Colfax Why: This week’s Speakeasy Series presented by Glasss Records includes Bowshock, the experimental improv psych jazz reggae band.
Who:The Yawpers release of Human Question w/In the Whale and Fast Eddie When: Friday, 04.26, 8 p.m. Where: Gothic Theatre Why: The Yawpers have been writing solid, rough around the edges, southern fried punk rock and roll for years. While earlier releases honestly cataloged singer Nate Cook’s headlong dive into desperation and self-destruction, Human Question, with the image of an immolating figure walking out of the fields into the forest on the cover, is more introspective and taking into consideration a subject as the title suggests—what is the purpose and significance of living in the world as a creature fully capable of being self-aware, reflective and capable of extremes of behavior and of consciously choosing a path other than the most immediate and obvious. The record is a collection of rockers but, especially with the single “Carry Me,” The Yawpers prove that they are capable of more than rocking and that even at the root of that is a raw and nuanced cauldron of emotion and now more an ability to write from a place beyond primal urges with a finely tuned discernment as articulated with fiery displays of musical and poetic catharsis.
Who:Superorganism w/Simpson When: Friday, 04.26, 8 p.m. Where: Gothic Theatre Why: Originating in London, Superorganism is an international, multi-ethnic indie pop band whose members met through various internet channels and mutual friends. Its sound might be described as electronic music pitched to sound like something made using unorthodox, highly tactile instruments. In some ways the group’s 2018 self-titled debut is reminiscent of Kala-period M.I.A. with its fusion of styles and sounds and strong visual element to its performances.
What:PRF BBQ Day 1 When: Friday, 04.26, 8 p.m. Where: Black Sky Brewery Why: This is a three day music festival featuring some of the better Denver underground bands. On this night you can catch Dead Characters, New Standards Men, Modern Goon and Clutch Plague.
Who:Lotus When: Friday, 04.26, 8 p.m. Where: Summit Music Hall Why: Certainly Lotus’ fan base is largely comprised of those with a love of all things jam band. And Lotus’ free flowing groove and sprawling improvisations fit in that pocket as well. But there’s something more experimental to the band’s music slightly beneath the surface. Its 2018 album Frames Per Second showcases this well with unusual jazz structures and dynamics, moody bass lines, vocal processing, playful and colorful synth work. Like the inevitable musical offspring of Steely Dan and Jean-Michel Jarre, Lotus sounds like a band with chops playing fairly straightforward yet intricate grooves but there is a layer of subversiveness to keep it interesting beyond technical flourishes.
What:Lotus w/Ghostland Observatory, Jade Cicada and Magic Beans When: Saturday, 04.27, 5 p.m. Where: Red Rocks Why: If Lotus wasn’t responsible for this line-up directly, someone somewhere put together a great bill of bands who share a similar sensibility in adventurous electronic music suited to a large stage format. What:DMX w/DJ Chonz When: Saturday, 04.27, 7 p.m. Where: Summit Music Hall
What:Weird Touch When: Saturday, 04.27, 9 p.m. Where: Syntax Physic Opera Why: It’s one of many hip DJ nights probably more focused on indie releases than average that we’re fortunate to have in Denver.
What:The North Ensemble When: Saturday, 04.27, 7:30 p.m. Where: Trident Why: An avant-garde improvisational show in the back room/outdoors area in the back of Trident. Boulder likes to act like it’s weird but stuff like this is the rare occasion when it is in a productive way.
What:PRF BBQ Day 2 When: Saturday, 04.27, 4:30 p.m. Where: The Bakery Why: Simulators will rip your face off with their angular noise rock and when Moon Pussy finishes the process with its cybernetic psychedelic post-punk you will be glad you went unless you’re into safe, boring music. The other bands are probably worth it too. Schedule below.
Who:La Dispute w/Gouge Away and Slow Mass When: Sunday, 04.28, 6:30 p.m. Where: Summit Music Hall Why: Maybe it’s because Jordan Dreyer was a writer before ever making music. Maybe it’s because La Dispute’s take on post-hardcore and emo isn’t tied to the usual sounds and progressions. Sure you can hear bits of the influence of At The Drive-In and Refused but on another level the band’s music sounds like a heavier Bright Eyes or even Slint—that sense of desolation and desperation. Also on this bill/tour are two other bands within the realm of punk that are a bit different yet share some of the same sensibilities with Gouge Away, a band that combines an atmospheric heaviness with eruptive energy and an unexpectedly forceful frontperson in Christina Michelle. Slow Mass is one of the better bands out there that has fused emotionally taut math rock with fluid post-hardcore.
What:Shibui Denver #2 – Victoria Lundy and Blank Human When: Sunday, 04.28, 7 p.m. Where: Mutiny Information Café Why: Denver avant-garde veteran Victoria Lundy may play some of her classical material on Theremin or some of her spookier faire with the same as well as synth. Blank Human is a drone/ambient project from Dan Coleman also of Luxury Hearse.
What:PRF BBQ Day 3 When: Sunday, 04.28, 4 p.m. Where: The Bakery Why: Final evening of PRF BBQ including a performance from glam/psych post-punk stars Teacup Gorilla.
400 – 430 – Flowlines
445 – 515 – 50 Miles of Elbow Room
530 – 600 – Little Beards
615 – 645 – Falsetto Boy
745 -815 – Church Van
830 – 900 – Teacup Gorilla
915 – 945 – Purple Honey
1000 – The Gary
Who:Beach Fossils w/George Clanton When: Monday, 04.29, 7 p.m. Where: Oriental Theater Why: Beach Fossils is from Brooklyn but capture a more West Coast breeziness in its melancholic surf pop confections. Unlike artists mining similar territory, Beach Fossils’ songwriting in its emotional colorings. That Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell contributed to the group’s 2017 album Somersault gives the direction Beach Fossils have been going some cachet by lending some of her low key yet evocatively powerful vocals to the record. George Clanton brings his lush, IDM-esque, deeply atmospheric electronic pop along for this leg of the tour as well.
Tuesday | April 30
Who:Bayonne and Palm Daze When: Tuesday, 04.30, 7 p.m. Where: Lost Lake Why: Roger Sellers as Bayonne uses minimalist layers of texture-as-percussion and simple melodies to craft atmospheric pop that recalls late 2000s chillwave and its capacity to seemingly dispel anxiety and angst. His latest record, 2019’s Drastic Measures, should be on anyone’s short list for summer listening and to save for the winter months when it seems like warmer times are a distant memory.
What:Sage Francis & B. Dolan: Epic Beard Men and Vockah Redu and Wheelchair Sports Camp When: Tuesday, 04.30, 7 p.m. Where: Cervantes’ Other Side Why: Sage Francis and B. Dolan, two giants alternative hip-hop and superb lyricists, are touring in their collaborative alternate personas Epic Beard Men. The masterful phrasing won’t be in short supply tonight with Denver’s Wheelchair Sports Camp and its jazz and beats rooted offerings.
Who:Interpol w/Car Seat Headrest, Japanese Breakfast and Sunflower Bean When: Wednesday, 05.01, 5:30 p.m. Where: Red Rocks Why: Interpol could just tour on the strength of its fan base and pick some weird music industry management openers (and maybe that is part of this booking) but instead the post-punk stars are having three of the best indie rock bands opening the show. Between Car Seat Headrest’s lo-fi, emotionally raw math rock, Sunflower Bean’s driving, brooding post-punk and Japanese Breakfast’s highly imaginative and powerful guitar rock soundscaping the opening sets alone are worth the price of admission but then you get to see Interpol whose back catalog has held up better than that of many of its peers from the late 90s and early 2000s.
What:Lil Pump w/Lil Skies When: Wednesday, 05.01, 6 p.m. Where: Fillmore Auditorium Why: Lil Pump turned 18 last August so expecting wisdom and thoughtfulness even on his 2019 album Haverd Dropout might be a bit much. He’s got a long way to go before his mumble trap is in the same league as Migos or his raps and performance in the same realm as Vince Staples or anyone in the A$AP crew or Odd Future. But it’s obvious he’s borrowed a lot from all of them. Nevertheless, Lil Pump is likeable enough despite his deficits and as he grows as an artist and as a human hopefully he’ll grow in more interesting and original directions so that the implicit faith that collaborators like Kanye West, Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz put in his sophomore album. It’s clear Pump is a weirdo so with any luck he’ll embrace that side of himself and give us a third album on which he truly lets his freak flag fly.
What:Weird Wednesday: Orbiting Olympia, Elk Minister, Tears to Light When: Wednesday, 05.01, 9 p.m. Where: 3 Kings Tavern Why: Weird Wednesday this month features Orbiting Olympia which is a grand alchemy of Eve Orenstein’s opera training and Sean Faling’s mastery of synthesizers both analog and otherwise. Elk Minister is a multi-instrumentalist, self-styled mystic and songwriter who has been sitting on his material for years. His visual presentation on his social media accounts look like he’s come back from some junkyard holy site with the appropriate twenty-third century raiment.
What:Lizzo w/Tayla Parx When: Wednesday, 05.01, 7 p.m. Where: Ogden Theatre Why: The show is sold out but if you can get in you can catch rising hip-hop/pop star Lizzo before she starts playing much larger venues (like her October date in Denver at the Fillmore) from now on. Her 2019 album Cuz I Love You has the kind of frisson that sounds, at times and certainly the “Juice” single, like something that might have come out of a late 70s-period Studio 54 playlist. Except not dated. And across the record Lizzo shows off her chops as a vocalist of great emotional power and a songwriter with a keen ear for dynamics. Fans of Prince are well-advised to give Lizzo’s new album a deep listen because it’s worth it.