Chicago’s noise pop band Dehd interestingly enough played the first show of its Spring tour in Denver at the Bluebird Theater. Perhaps not so unusual since, apparently, singer/bassist Emily Kempf has been spending a bit of time in New Mexico of late. But this show was very Chicago-centric with another Windy City trio on the bill with darkwave industrial group Pixel Grip. Stylistically it would take some effort to find bands further apart. But both represented distinctly different side of a city known for bands with eclectic influences.
Pixel Grip’s Rita Lukea took the stage alone at the beginning of the show with just a microphone and backing tracks for the first song. And that would have been compelling enough for a whole set such was Lukea’s commanding presence as a singer. But when Tyler Ommen and Jonathon Freund came on to take up places on synths and drums the sonic signature became more saturated and the rhythms deeper and with such a rich low end that it reminded those in the know of a techno show at a warehouse somewhere at which the people holding the event bring in real gear. Lukea’s vocals remained strong but there was also a completely unaffected vulnerability in her performance that was powerful on its own, that coupled with an utterly sincere way of engaging with the audience that helped to make the music immediately and constantly accessible.
You can have listened to every Dehd record and not be prepared for the sustained bursts of joy the band exudes on stage. Often lumped into loose categories like post-punk, garage rock and surf rock, Dehd is all of those things but its spirited performance somehow incorporates a healthy, self-deprecating Midwestern sense of humor with songs that are a direct line to heartfelt emotion transmitted with great sincerity and enthusiasm to the audience. The presentation of the music is that of self-aware bravado infused with a startling vulnerability that strikes in unexpected moments in almost every song. In that way Dehd came off like a party band that gave up the uninspired hedonistic lyrics for something with more depth and soul.
Much of the joking from stage came from Kempf who said she was a Virgo at one point (which it turns out isn’t simply a joke) and asked the crowd where they were on the astrological spectrum, getting some humorous responses. And almost as a non-sequitur Kempf asked “Where have all the cowboys gone” and maybe that Paula Cole hit got teased by the rest of the band. The synergy of what seemed like a loose performance but which really wasn’t was a fascinating display of contrasts.
Throughout the show one couldn’t help but be impressed with how Dehd could stretch way out with the melodies and then come back together in tight dynamics with both Kempf and singer/guitarist Jason Balla throwing themselves bodily into the performance singing from their core while Eric McGrady, no slouch on performing with his entire body either, seemed like a tranquil and steady presence standing up and playing his small set of drums. He made it look easy but the music demands creative and imaginative percussion. But the force of the performance didn’t just come from that visceral intensity, it came in the moments when the songs went atmospheric and introspective and the vocal performances weren’t simply fiery and earthy, they evoked complex emotions with a disarming simplicity. The vocals on “Disappear” and “Dream On” are some of the best of the band’s impressive catalog and the latter surely a standout on the group’s forthcoming full-length Blue Skies (due out May 27, 2022 on Fat Possum), from which more than a couple of songs in the set were taken though there was plenty from Flower of Devotion, Water and earlier releases. Ending the encore with “Desire” seemed like an exclamation point on a set of all high points. If Dehd is right now a bit of an indie cult band the exuberance of its live shows and how so many of its songs linger with you should propel it wider circles before too much longer.
What:Pink Turns Blue w/Radio Scarlet and DJ Katastrophy When: Thursday, 09.26, 8 p.m. Where: Herman’s Hideaway Why: Pink Turns Blue formed in Berlin in 1985. Its dark, moody atmospherics and driving bass lines meant its sound very much resonated with the post-punk of the day as it included synths in the mix and guitar chords that rang out and gave the songwriting an introspective quality. Fans of Chameleons and The Sound will probably much to like about Pink Turns Blue’s melancholic urgency and Mic Jogwer’s desperate yet resigned vocals. The group toured with Laibach in 1987 band recorded subsequent albums in Ljubljana, Slovenia smuggling in studio equipment from the West to do so. When the group moved to London in 1991 it lost some of its momentum and split in 1995. But since 2003 Pink Turns Blue has been active once again ahead of the revival and rebirth of darkwave that has been going on for the past decade. Also on the bill is Radio Scarlet, a Denver-based death rock band.
What:Animal / object, Arc Sol and Joohsup When: Thursday, 09.26, 9 p.m. Where: Rhinoceropolis Why: Animal / object is Denver’s premier avant-garde improvisational band utilizing unconventional instrumentation. Arc Sol is proof you can be influenced by progressive rock, psychdelia and Silver Jews and refreshingly sound like none of that while bearing their mark. Joohsup is a left field hip-hop noise duo.
Friday | September 27
What:Cellista’s Transfigurations w/Sean Renner When: Friday, 09.27, 8 p.m. Where: Mercury Café Why: Mulimedia artist Cellista recently released an album called Transfigurations with a companion book, A Listener’s Guide to Cellista’s Transfigurations, that gives the ambitious work some context. The album explores those moments in life and in one’s personal and maybe creative development when you are struck and forced to consider the moment and evolve taking in that transformational input. With the processed samples of authoritarian voices speaking to that effect is both chilling and a reminder of those times when we could have stepped in to take a different path but haven’t yet. The album seems arranged as piece of politically-charged, avant-garde literature with an elegantly composed soundtrack that deconstructs and re-synthesizes classical music, pop, hip-hop and sound design. For the live performances of Transfigurations Cellista will incorporate dance, film, music and literature for an experience like little else going on this week or any other in Denver.
What:Babymetal w/Avatar When: Friday, 09.27, 7 p.m. Where: Ogden Theatre Why: Babymetal is a Japanese “kawaii metal” band whose relentless death metal is overlaid with J-pop-esque vocals and melodies. And the stage shows just like something out of a big time production of a Japanese pop band on one of the massive Saturday marathon variety shows, choreographed dance moves and matching outfits. Gimmicky, to be sure, but weird enough to be enjoyable.
What:Dodie w/Adam Melchor When: Friday, 09.27, 7 p.m. Where: Gothic Theatre Why: Dodie Clark is an English singer-songwriter whose spare melodies and breathy vocals give the space for her sharply observant and poetic lyrics to develop and create vivid images in your mind of a situation and feeling, a real slice of the experience of that moment. Her 2019 album Human expands the sonic palette some while also imbuing Clark’s voice with more clarity and impact.
What:Adrian Belew w/Saul Zonana When: Friday, 09.27, 7 p.m. Where: Boulder Theater Why: Adrian Belew is the brilliant and inventive guitarist whose solo albums are worth exploring for this imaginative songwriting. But some may remember him for his time playing in King Crimson, as a live member of Talking Heads, in Tin Machine with David Bowie or even on William Shatner’s 2004 album Has Been.
What:Bellhoss tour kickoff w/Short Shorts, Mainland Break and Claire Heywood When: Friday, 09.27, 8 p.m. Where: Lost Lake Why: Bellhoss is taking off for a tour of the American West and launching that with this show including some of Denver’s most interesting indie rock bands in Short Shorts and Mainland Break. Bellhoss’ Becky Hostetler nails the anxiety and hope of modern life on her tender and earnest pop songs.
Saturday | September 28
What:John Densmore When: Saturday, 09.28, 2 p.m. Where: Boulder Book Store Why: Doors drummer John Densmore will be signing copies of his 2010 book Doors Unhinged.
What:Mike Watt & The Missingmen w/Slim Cessna When: Saturday, 09.28, 9 p.m. Where: Lion’s Lair Why: Mike Watt is indeed the bassist singer who was a part of Minutemen and fIREHOSE and who has been playing bass in the Stooges of late. This trio includes Tom Watson who was a member of jangle-y post-punk band Slovenly and Raul Morales who also plays with Watt in Mike Watt and the Secondmen. This project combines Watson’s textured, melodic guitar style with Watt’s angular, jazz-inflected, wiry and urgent rhythms. Watt being one of the most animated and talented bass players in all of punk and rock and a sharp social critic is always worth checking out. He’s still jamming econo and the band’s tours and booking are still well within the realm of DIY in the old school and modern sense.
What:Sway Wild w/Megan Rose Ellsworth When: Saturday, 09.28, 7 p.m. Where: The Walnut Room Why: What saves Sway Wild from being the kind of “Indie” radio darling band that is the stuff of too many would-be tastemaker playlists crafted by those with fairly conventional and safe taste in music is not just Mandy Fer’s warm vocals and her and Dave McGraw’s dynamic songwriting. It’s that making up its charming melodies and playful performances is imaginative and creative instrumentation that displays their technical prowess as players channeled into zesty, tightly crafted pop songs. Currently the trio, which includes Thom Lord, is on tour in support of its self-titled, full-length debut.
Sunday | September 29
What: Shibui Denver #6: Total Trash and Rowboat When: Sunday, 09.29, 7 p.m. Where: Mutiny Information Café Why: This latest edition of Shibui Denver showcases Total Trash and Rowboat. The former is a psychedelic noise pop group whose members have played with the likes of Fingers of the Sun, Fissure Mystic, Quantum Creep, Lil Slugger, The Pseudo Dates and other bands that mean little if you’ve not been paying attention to the Denver underground of the past ten years. But it also means some of the more creative musical talents in the realm of local rock music have come together to make something different from what they’ve done before. Rowboat combines literary yet deeply emotional and heartfelt lyrics with haunting atmospheres and melodies in songs that plumb the depths of human existence and the things that give meaning to our lives.
What:Periphery w/Veil of Maya and Covet When: Tuesday, 10.01, 6 p.m. Where: Summit Music Hall Why: Progressive metal band Periphery sounds more like a post-hardcore band than simply metal. And probably because the attack of its songs is fairly angular and driving in a way that sounds more like it comes out of a similar place of primal energy. Although there’s plenty of precision and technical prowess on display in its songs with many songs in drop C on the six-string, the group’s songs often sound like they’re about to fly off the rails. Sometimes bands with those types of sounds and dynamics take themselves way too seriously but Periphery’s 2019 album is called Periphery IV: Hail Stan. There is a song called “Chvrch Bvrner” and references to the supernatural and animals. So someone in the band, probably everyone involved, has a healthy sense of humor and an ability to see its music in a way that evolves organically than the sort of pure logic level that is often assumed with the genre.
What:Plague Vendor w/No Parents and The Ghoulies When: Tuesday, 10.01, 8 p.m. Where: Summit Music Hall Why: Plague Vendor came off as a fairly straightforward melodic punk band early on. But at this point, and particularly on its new album By Night, the band from Whittier, California has evolved its sound into something more akin to glammy post-punk without sacrificing its fiery energy.
What:An Evening With Paula Cole When: Tuesday, 10.01, 7 p.m. Where: Buffalo Rose Why: Paula Cole made her popular music bonafides as an act on Peter Gabriel’s Secret World Live tour from 1993-1994. Her musical background includes having studied jazz singing at Berklee College of Music and in her dusky, soulful vocals you hear that training put to good use. In 1996 her second album This Fire yielded the hit single “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?” and like anything popular it got played ad infinitum making it easy to dismiss Cole like any other pop act put forth by the music industry as it tried to find hitmakers in the collapse of the alternative music explosion of the early 90s. But Cole, turns out, has always been a strikingly powerful performer and her performances for the final Lilith Fair tour in 1998 undoubtedly won her fans who had written her off previously. Currently Cole is performing a string of intimate shows in support of her 2019 record Revolution.
What:Ghosts of Glaciers album release w/In the Company of Serpents and Echo Beds When: Tuesday, 10.01, 8 p.m. Where: Hi-Dive Why: Denver-based progressive metal/post-rock trio Ghosts of Glaciers returns with its new album The Greatest Burden released through Translation Loss Records. More than even previous releases, the group conceives of this arc of songs in cosmological time from the primordial oceans that spawned life (the opening track titled “Primordial Waters” through the inevitability of the decay and collapse of the eons long cycle of life and the fall into the chaos that will once again spawn new worlds and universes. The music charts that path with slow, dynamic arcs that dive into furious, churning progressions and sublime, swimming melodies. To celebrate the release of this new record the band will share the stage with local doom juggernauts In the Company of Serpents who have some of the most compelling and powerful art in the local scene and industrial post-punk legends Echo Beds.
What:The Waterboys When: Tuesday, 10.01, 7 p.m. Where: Gothic Theatre Why: The Waterboys came out of Edinburgh, Scotland with a blend of Celtic folk and post-punk and made inroads into the world of 80s “college rock.” While not as dark and overtly political as an arguably like-minded band like New Model Army, The Waterboys extolled the virtues of a universal mysticism based in nature and how that connects everyone. Fans of The Hothouse Flowers and The Alarm will definitely find much to like about The Waterboys who are now touring in support of their 2019 album Where the Action Is.
What:Prissy Whip, Moon Pussy, New Standards Men When: Tuesday, 10.01, 8 p.m. Where: Rhinoceropolis Why: Prissy Whip is an eruptive industrial noise rock band with the emphasis on noise and breakneck dynamics. Who to compare them to other than maybe Melt Banana? New Standards Men is the kind of weirdo experimental metal band you get when the people in the band are into way more music than what you might think listening to what they’re doing. Probably into Naked City as much as the Locust and Neurosis. Moon Pussy combines gnarly song dynamics with a thorny tunefulness that is impossible to ignore making it one of the most interesting bands out of Denver right now.
What:Wheelchair Sports Camp w/Dry Ice and Rocket Dust When: Wednesday, 10.02, 7 p.m. Where: Lost Lake Why: Wheelchair Sports Camp is a brilliant combination of jazz chops in the live end of the music and experimental beatmaking and playful, conscious wordplay on the production and MC end. And a powerful and compelling live band to boot. This is the group’s launch show for its upcoming tour.
What:Loving When: Wednesday, 10.02, 7 p.m. Where: Hi-Dive Why: Victoria, British Columbia’s Loving turns the sort of introspective, light psychedelic pop sound on a different angle because its music really does sound like the band is going to take you on a trip to some otherworld realm of elegance where time and space are interactive concepts driven by your imagination so better brush up on your creative skills before sitting down to one of the band’s trippy folk records.