Live Show Review: Puscifer at Mission Ballroom 7/6/22

Puscifer at Mission Ballroom 7/6/22, photo by Tom Murphy

Puscifer’s most recent tour felt like more than a bit of rock and roll theater performance art. From the press photos of the band dressed up like parallel dimension Watchmen futuristic noir superheros replicated for the live show to Maynard James Keenan performing in character in more than one role to the stage sets and interludes between songs it was a full production from its early public announcements and intentional and conceptual aesthetics and execution. Chances are much of this was planned all along when Existential Reckoning was planned for the roll out in 2020 before the pandemic put all the brakes on anyone doing any shows much less a full fledged tour on every logistical level. It’s easy to imagine Maynard and the rest of the band having these ideas ready but this live show had the energy of pent-up exuberance let loose so that while not rough around the edges, there was an intensity that felt real and not an act in spite of the performance art aspect of the show.

Puscifer at Mission Ballroom 7/6/22, photo by Tom Murphy

Of course the show included what seemed like the whole Existential Reckoning album in its entirety and set up as a concept performance with Keenan and Carina Round on the ground level of the stage and on an upper area for various songs and for the final sequences of the show. It all felt like a futuristic rock and new wave glam rock fusion with sly social commentary. For most of the show the band forbade people in the audience from taking photos and such as perhaps an attempt to keep the focus on the show and its content and, well, the reason we all showed up to see the art rock glory of the band giving an exuberant performance informed by humor and intelligence. But what stood out most in some ways were the regular interludes in which the music took a pause and the video screens were filled with the image of Keenan as a mutant hybrid parody of Max Headroom and a conspiracy theorist TV show host and unleashing some of the most cartoonish and ridiculous examples of the kind of rhetoric you might expect and done so with a surreal glee that was the perfect break from the rest of the show. And yes, the concert in general had a level of stagecraft and content one doesn’t often see outside of a Nine Inch Nails or Radiohead gig so Puscifer in delivering arguably the best record of its career thus far did so with a riveting live show and the mix of humor and bombast you’d hope to experience.

Puscifer at Mission Ballroom 7/6/22, photo by Tom Murphy
Puscifer at Mission Ballroom 7/6/22, photo by Tom Murphy
Puscifer at Mission Ballroom 7/6/22, photo by Tom Murphy

Courtney Barnett’s “Here And There” Festival Comes to The Mission Ballroom on September 3, 2022

Courtney Barnett, photo by Mia Mala McDonald

Courtney Barnett’s “Here And There” Festival makes a stop in Denver at the Mission Ballroom on September 3 with a unique lineup that for the Denver date in addition to Barnett includes Japanese Breakfast, Arooj Aftab and Bodouine.

The concept for the event was born of Barnett’s love of curation. As the owner of Milk! Records for the past decade Barnett has championed and released music by artists from her home town of Melbourne, Australia as well as US artists like Sleater-Kinney, Chastity Belt, Hand Habits and others.

Over the course of the tour from August through September, lineups will include all of the following artists: Alvvays, Arooj Aftab, Bartees Strange, Bedouine, Caroline Rose, Chicano Batman, Courtney Barnett, Ethel Cain, Faye Webster, Fred Armisen, Hana Vu, Indigo De Souza, Japanese Breakfast, Julia Jacklin, Leith Ross, Lido Pimienta, Lucy Dacus, Quinn Christopherson, Sleater Kinney, Snail Mail, The Beths, Waxahatchee and Wet Leg.

Barnett quickly went from a beloved and critically acclaimed indie artist known for her masterful use of the English language and powerful and imaginative guitar work and songwriting when her early EPs released 2012-2013 to widely celebrated singer-songwriter of no small cachet by the time of the 2015 release of her debut full length album Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit. With each record Barnett has distinguished herself as a songwriter able to expose her vulnerabilities and anxieties in a way that conveys a solidarity with other people and their own struggles.

Sharing the bill is Japanese Breakfast, the band lead by Michelle Zauner whose own trajectory as an artist parallels that of Barnett going from playing all the small clubs on the same circuits a little under a decade ago and delivering emotionally arresting pop songs that aren’t short on musicianly artistry. In 2021 she released her memoir Crying in H Mart to great acclaim in its poignant and loving depiction of her life coming up with a Korean mom, coming into playing music and the passing of her mother from pancreatic cancer in 2014. Her own pop music has as much in common with art rock in its creative ambition and songwriting with her songs easily fitting into the categories of dream pop, shoegaze, psychedelia, indie rock and R&B.

Arooj Aftab is the US-based Pakistani singer and songwriter who is the first person of Pakistani origin to be awarded a Grammy for Best Global Music Performance for her song “Mohabbat.” Her style is a hybrid of experimental folk, jazz and more traditional Pakistani music with elements of her 2021 album Vulture Prince reminiscent of Qawwali, the devotional music of Sufism. But her orchestral arrangements and powerfully tranquil yet emotionally rich vocal delivery defies easy categorization.

Bedouine aka Azniv Korkejian is a Syrian-American musician who grew up with both mainstream music via MTV and traditional Armenian and Arabic music. Her third album Waysides (2021) is a masterful evocation of loss, isolation, yearning and introspective insight cast in the sounds of Laurel Canyon era folk.

Catch this showcase of some of the most talented and interesting songwriters of today at the Mission Ballroom on Saturday, September 3, 2022, doors 4 p.m., show 5 p.m., 16+, advance tickets $52.00-$124.95, days of show $55.00-$124.95.

Live Show Review: Spoon at Mission Ballroom 5/24/22

Alex Fischel and Britt Daniel of Spoon at Mission Ballroom 5/24/22, photo by Tom Murphy

Nearly 30 years into its career, Spoon could be one of those bands that is doing fan service with a live show. But fortunately most bands of its era haven’t exactly done that and its show at the Mission Ballroom in Denver seemed both a celebration of being able to do live shows again, for now, and still proving itself touring for Lucifer on the Sofa, a rock and roll follow up to the luminously moody Hot Thoughts.

Geese at Mission Ballroom 5/24/22, photo by Tom Murphy

When Geese opened the show it seemed as though more than a few people found it to be a bit of a head scratcher. The performance was somehow both focused and shambolic, driven by a jazz quintet’s dynamic precision and a jam band’s free flowing aesthetic, part punk, part prog. Almost always within the same song. Vocalist Cameron Winter strode about the stage like wandering around, bemused, relating unusual stories with a free association improv flair. Pretty much the whole set was comprised of tracks from the group’s extraordinary 2021 debut album Projector but seeing this presentation of the music added another dimension to Geese’s widely expressive aesthetic. The energy felt like seeing some friends rehearse for their big stage debut for mutual acquaintances with no pressure and the freedom of that and seeming to be unmindful and not overly conscious of playing to a crowd mostly there to see a band with a fairly lengthy legacy. If you’re going to the UMS in 2022 this band will perform on some stage and likely in a smaller venue setting.

Geese at Mission Ballroom 5/24/22, photo by Tom Murphy
Jim Eno and Britt Daniel of Spoon at Mission Ballroom 5/24/22, photo by Tom Murphy

Spoon has probably played thousands of shows across three decades and in a wide variety of settings. The last time this writer saw Spoon was somehow in the fall of 2002 at Tulagi’s in Boulder during the touring cycle for Kill the Moonlight. The group then was impressive enough in a small club with songs that seemed so sophisticated and well crafted for a band playing a venue that often then featured music much more raw and noisy. Fast forward some twenty years and Spoon seems to have injected its current performance style and songwriting with some raw edge without losing its elegantly arranged songwriting. You could tell that everyone seemed happy with not just being there but with the crowd response. Britt Daniels regularly interacted with people in the front row directly and with people further back from the stage by making eye contact and acknowledging people who were giving back the energy Spoon was putting forth. Bassist Ben Trokan looked genuinely in awe of what the band was doing collectively and the mutual emotional dynamic between the crowd and the performers. He looked a little like a young Scott Baio with a wardrobe choice seeming to come right out of an 80s movie. It made for an interesting aesthetic like we were seeing a band that had some consciousness of how they were dressed but let the rock theater of the musical performance speak loudest.

Ben Trokan of Spoon at Mission Ballroom 5/24/22, photo by Tom Murphy

And we were certainly treated to selections from a wide swath of Spoon’s career with a slight emphasis on the new record at roughly a third of the set of twenty-one songs (including the encore). “My Mathematical Mind” was a standout of the night with its reworking into a song that expanded into epic proportions giving the musicians some space to stretch the song out without spilling over into gross self-indulgence. For a band with such tight songwriting and sensibilities that always seem to put exactly the right touches on songs so as to not waste a moment in the listening it was a welcome change into a different side of Spoon’s collective musicianship and one that allowed for variations in arrangements and to go off the established map of the original song to that degree. The whole set seemed like hit after hit even when it was lesser known songs. Something about the forcefulness of the show like an inner emotional momentum was pushing the band into giving it an extra push into cutting loose around the edges while coming back together in perfect sync. It all proved why Spoon has maintained more than a simple cult following and with its new batch of songs, some of the best and most immediately appealing of its long career maybe it’ll garner a new generation of fans.

Gerardo Larios of Spoon at Mission Ballroom 5/24/22, photo by Tom Murphy

Spoon Set List for the Mission Ballroom 5/24/22

  1. Held
  2. Small Stakes
  3. Don’t You Evah
  4. Do You
  5. The Beast and Dragon, Adored
  6. The Hardest Cut
  7. Satellite
  8. The Underdog
  9. My Babe
  10. I Summon You
  11. Lucifer on the Sofa
  12. Don’t Make Me A Target
  13. My Mathematical Mind
  14. Inside Out
  15. I Turn My Camera On
  16. Got Nuffin
  17. Wild
  18. The Way We Get By
  19. The Fitted Shirt
  20. Black Like Me
  21. Rent I Pay
Britt Daniel of Spoon at Mission Ballroom 5/24/22, photo by Tom Murphy
Britt Daniel and Ben Trokan of Spoon at Mission Ballroom 5/24/22, photo by Tom Murphy

Live Show Review: IDLES and Automatic at Mission Ballroom 4/19/22

IDLES at Mission Ballroom 4/20/22, photo by Tom Murphy

Somewhere between when IDLES last played Denver at Larimer Lounge on October 1, 2018 and 2022, the Bristol-based rock band turned from small cult band to much wider international following going from a room that supposedly has a capacity of 250 to Mission Ballroom at 3,950. Who can say what happened. Maybe more people got on board when Ultra Mono came out during the peak months of the pandemic and Crawler in the fall of 2021. Its appeal has certainly been much broader than might have been suspected four years ago. The group resists easy and obvious genre tags like punk and post-punk much less post-hardcore but the spirited performance, the explicit anti-fascist bent of the lyrics and the attitude of this show even on such a big stage sure made it feel like IDLES came out of the punk or at least UK pub rick lineage.

Automatic at Mission Ballroom 4/20/22., photo by Tom Murphy

Automatic from Los Angeles opened the show with its minimalist aesthetic. No guitars but bass, synths and drums with all three members performing vocals with Izzy Glaudini (synths) doing most of the leads, Halle Saxon (bass) doing many of the backing vocals and Lola Dompé (drums, daughter of Kevin Haskins of Bauhaus fame) putting in lead vocals at various points in the set. Musically it was reminiscent of minimalists like Young Marble Giants with a touch of Stereolab and Delta 5. They seemed like a retro-futurist pop band with a visual style that resonated with a 1990s vision of a band from 2049. In some ways the music recalled the unconventional rhythms and otherworldliness of Suburban Lawns or LiLiPuT and the mix of organic sounds with the more electronic was well-integrated and imaginative. The new Automatic album Excess releases on June 24.

Automatic at Mission Ballroom 4/20/22., photo by Tom Murphy

Automatic at Mission Ballroom 4/20/22., photo by Tom Murphy
IDLES at Mission Ballroom 4/20/22, photo by Tom Murphy

With the forcefulness and aggression inherent in its live energy IDLES could both alienate and inspire people. What made the band appealing to so many people early on was its stridently political yet humanistic and populist lyrics tempered with an embrace of sensitivity and openness singing of deep psychic pain with a raw and refreshing honesty and authenticity. The music felt like a way to redeem aspects of UK “lads” culture by cutting out the misogyny and, well, working class manifestation of racism and xenophobia while preserving the energy that is exciting to music aimed at that demographic. Because it was so authentic and real and spoke in direct language, the group couldn’t help but expand its audience with people who realized those old and outmoded ways didn’t belong to their core identity. At the aforementioned show in Denver, IDLES utterly erased the barrier between attendee and performer with lead singer Joe Talbot spending most of the time off stage and among the people who showed up with an infectious energy that swept you up in the the momentum the band built throughout the show.

IDLES at Mission Ballroom 4/20/22, photo by Tom Murphy

This performance expanded on the raw charisma and power of the smaller show and translated it all to the much bigger stage. Was it punk? Sure, but more like an AC/DC show minus the wack lyrics and lines about wanting to cut your cake with their knife. Mark Bowen wore a dress and cut back on what might have been seen as the hypermasculinity of the performance if the sensitive and thoughtful songs about personal struggle, pain and loss could be missed in the sheer, visceral excitement of the show. Never once did anyone in IDLES seem to complain about the altitude, they just poured themselves completely into the show. Lee Kiernan often seemed to be dangled and whipped about by powers beyond his control and toward the end of the set Bowen went out into the audience and sang. Kiernan stepped down off the stage and played among the people and Talbot too went out into the crowd—things that you don’t often see at a place like Mission Ballroom.

IDLES at Mission Ballroom 4/20/22, photo by Tom Murphy

All of the antics were certainly worth going to the show alone but it’s the songs of IDLES that were most riveting. Beginning the show with the appropriately titled “Colossus” and on into a roughly nineteen song set that included the tender yet intense “Mother,” the nihilistic yet transformative “Crawl!,” the surreal yet poignant “A Hymn” and closing with “Rottweiler” IDLES were on fire. One thing that seemed perhaps not so obvious but striking is that with a show like this with songs such as these IDLES is putting into practice a way for people to question their angst, their masculine identity and their aggressive impulses and channel that energy in ways that are more compassionate and humane rather than pretend its not there which is as creative a project as any overt musical goals. Before “Rottweiler” Talbot informed us that “There’s one thing we don’t love and that’s fascism and this is an anti-fascist song by an anti-fascist band.” Ending on that note of unity but showing where one of the lines is with acceptable behavior and worldview IDLES didn’t preach so much as make an easy statement of solidarity with the human condition and how fascism erases those conversations between people.

IDLES at Mission Ballroom 4/20/22, photo by Tom Murphy
IDLES at Mission Ballroom 4/20/22, photo by Tom Murphy