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:I Heart Monkey Mania: Mr. Pacman, Robot Peanut Butter & The Shooting Stars, Cyclo-Sonic and Moon Pussy, visuals by Chris Bagley When: Thursday, 07.26, 8 p.m. Where: Syntax Physic Opera Why: Mr. Pacman is not a band that should be dismissed as mere gimmick. Yes, the band dresses up like characters from a cosplay of some weird, ancient Japanese video game. But it’s live drums, keytar, electronic drums and other instrumentation with, indeed, fairly silly songs but performed with a disorienting intensity and earnestness. At times it’s fun but moderately scary. Which is what any good band should be at least once in a while. Mr. Pacman is that pretty much every time. Robot Peanut Butter & The Shooting Stars is a more out downtempo band and Cyclo-Sonic includes former members of Denver punk legends The Rok Tots, Choosey Mothers and The Frantix. Chris Bagley, one of the filmmakers of the 2008 documentary Wesley Willis’ Joyrides, will provide visuals and make it even more of a trip.
Who:Glasss Presents: The Speakeasy Series Season 2 Finale w/Brother Saturn, Equine, VAHCO, MYTHirst, Bowshock When: Thursday, 07.26, 7 p.m. Where: Hooked On Colfax Why: This is the final show of the second season of Glasss Records’ The Speakeasy Series. It’ll be more of an ambient show with Brother Saturn’s soothing and abstract guitar and synth collages, Equine’s avant-guitar drone and beats, VAHCO’s beat-driven soul,. MYTHirst’s bright soundscapes and ukulele and whatever it is one might call Bowshock’s mixture of influences from space rock, reggae and improvisational composition.
Who:Har Mar Superstar sings Sam Cooke When: Thursday, 07.26, 7 p.m. Where: The Bluebird Theater Why: Har Mar Superstar cleaned up but good for this series of shows in which he dresses up in a suit and tie (which may or may not come off before the set is over in the weather Denver has been experiencing as of late). Sean Tillman (Har Mar Superstar) and his band will perform several of Sam Cooke’s classic R&B hits and maybe even some deep cuts. Seeing as Har Mar’s usual schtick is singing R&B and soul and making a spectacle of himself but pulling off the singing like he was born to it, this is not a huge leap for the performer. And at this time, the socially conscious end of Cooke’s music seems more relevant than ever.
Friday | July 27, 2018
Who:Red Baraat When: Friday, 07.27, 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. Where: Clyfford Still Museum Why: Red Baraat’s syncretic pop spans South Asian musical styles, Western funk, Afrobeat and Caribbean pop to create something that’s celebratory, immediately accessible and deep. The sprawling band is playing this free concert at Clyfford Still Museum in central Denver in the wake of the release of its latest record, 2018’s Sound The People. With its cultural scope and implicit message of human unity, Red Baraat’s music is an international call of all people to come together to resist the rising wave of aggressive authoritarianism plaguing the world today. Beyond the heady messaging, Red Baraat is a reminder that sprawling, seemingly improvisational compositions needn’t be the pure realm of jam bands and that it is a component of popular musical styles across the world.
Who:SUPER PARTY Day 1: Presented by Remixed Gifts and Hot Sauce the Dog
When: Friday, 07.27,7 p.m.
Where: Remixed Gifts 70 S. Broadway
Why: This parallel event to the UMS amidst the dense and varied offerings there is out on by the boutique Remixed Gifts and the Denver culture-centered comic ‘zine Hot Sauce the Dog written and drawn by the gifted singer-songwriter Rachael Pollard whose new band DEN |V|OTHER will kick off the event at 7 p.m. followed by Joe Sampson at 8 and R A R E B Y R D $ at 9. Simply some of the best people from Denver you can see at any time. The event runs two days picking up again on Saturday at 2:15 p.m. with Bonnie Weimer.
Who:Larians, Real Gongs, Jumanjuhad When: Friday, 07.27, 8:30 p.m. Where: Denver Bicycle Café Beer Hall Why: Larians is Male Blonding frontman Noah Simons’ IDM/experimental electronic project and Real Gongs is that of Male Blonding guitarist Bryce Navin. If the UMS is too much or not of interest for whatever reason or if you have some time Friday night, highly recommended. Who: Denver Broncos UK, Echo Beds, Simulators and Shadows Tranquil When: Friday, 07.27, 9 p.m. Where: Syntax Physic Opera Why: Denver Broncos UK is sort of a post-punk side project of Slim Cessna’s Auto Club so a good fit with math-y post punk duo Simulators (think like Shellac but stripped down to even more of the bare essentials) and Echo Beds whose forthcoming album Buried Language (due out August 18 on The Flenser) pushes their harsh organic-industrial soundscape further than previous boundaries.
Saturday | July 28, 2018
Who:SUPER PARTY Day 2: Presented by Remixed Gifts and Hot Sauce the Dog When: Saturday, 07.28, 2 p.m. Where: Remixed Gifts 70 S. Broadway Why: Day 2 of SUPER PARTY, a free event amidst the UMS. The following is today’s schedule: 2 – Bonnie Weimer, 3 – Jen Korte, 3:45 Ted Thacker of The Red Tack, 4:30 Andy Thomas solo, 5:30 Kissing Party, 6:30 Teacup Gorilla
Who:Car Seat Headrest w/Naked Giants When: Saturday, 07.28, 8 p.m. Where:The Gothic Theatre Why: Will Toledo of Car Seat Headrest is one of the most prolific and interesting songwriters of his generation. Having put out nine albums independently before signing to Matador in 2015, Toledo clearly didn’t need a label but the distribution and marketing arm of one helped to get his music to a wider audience. The new Car Seat Headrest album, 2018’s Twin Fantasy (Face to Face), is brimming with what has made the band impossible to dismiss with lazy genre designations. Vocals that sometimes soar with an upsweep of deeply felt emotion, sometimes speak quietly about the concerns of the moment that flood your mind and won’t let go. Lo-fi guitar composition in the vein of maybe a Pavement or Sebadoh but informed more by underground rock of the 2000s like Jay Reatard’s more sublimely ethereal moments and more modern lo-fi stars like No Age, Times New Viking and artists from the Siltbreeze imprint. Beyond just the sonics, though, the new record is an exploration of the concerns, anxieties and self-image of a young person in an era when destructive, and self-destructive messages, have been repackaged and made to seem like a viable option. Car Seat Headrest’s new album is a compassionte and vibrant rejection of much of that as well as a suggestion of a path of discovery/rediscovery of what’s truly important in one’s life.
Tuesday | July 31, 2018
Who:Weezer and the Pixies w/Sleigh Bells When: Tuesday, 07.31, 5 p.m. Where: Fiddler’s Green Why: Weezer got to be in on the tail end of the legitimate wave of alternative rock in the early 90s. Its 1994 self-titled album, “The Blue Album,” yielded a couple of hits with “Buddy Holly” and “Undone – The Sweater Song.” The crunchy melodies and quiet-loud dynamics pioneered by groups like Mission of Burma and Pixies, who had then recently split, continued the tradition of nerdy punk rockers making music that took that spirit of punk to different places. Weezer could have been another fuzzy, alternative rock/pop punk band with that kind of sunny Southern California flavor. But Weezer’s songs, even when it’s indulging in some fun-loving goofiness, had at its core an impulse to resist being pigeonholed or musically fitting into a specific trend.
After its first record, singer Rivers Cuomo wanted to change gears dramatically and nearly made a science fiction-themed concept album but what came out instead is what could be argued is the band’s most artistically interesting record to date, 1996’s Pinkerton and its darkly conflicted lyrics. Cuomo has since all but disavowed the album as a reminder of a painful time. And to Weezer’s credit, the group has not spent its time as a band trying to recapture past glory. Its most recent full-length album, 2017’s Pacific Daydream, reflects not only Cuomo’s personal alienation but the anomy of our time when many people feel a disconnect with the lives they might want, however modest the aspiration, and the reality we face with diminished expectations. A melancholy set of songs? Maybe not obviously so but despite the title, a song like “Beach Boys” sounds like something that, psychologically speaking, was written in a vast room lit only by small windows on a cloudy day reminiscing about what once brought one joy. Like a less dire but no less impactful musical version of William Friedkin’s depiction of life in the City of Angels.
That Weezer is co-headlining with Pixies seems fitting. Both bands find themselves perhaps having to reinvent themselves for the current era even as their back catalog speaks for itself. Pixies are obviously the influential alternative rock band from Boston, darlings of college radio in the late 80s and early 90s and breaking up with its legacy intact. The band’s humor, unhinged energy, idiosyncratic songwriting filled with seething emotion, delicacy of feeling, have kept its music fresh decades onward. Like any band worth its salt, Pixies also produced new music post 2003 reunion once its internal dynamics leveled out. The group’s first album with former touring, now permanent, bassist Paz Lenchantin, 2016’s Head Carrier, isn’t generally as immediately cathartic and as vital as the group’s 80s and 90s output, it proved Pixies can still write material worth a listen and highlights the band’s ability to clue in to unusual sounds and rhythm and texture ideas that other established artists often don’t.
Who:Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks w/Soccer Mommy When: Tuesday, 07.31, 7 p.m. Where: The Gothic Theatre Why: Stephen Malkmus is obviously the singer and one of the guitarists in lo-fi slacker psyche legends Pavement. But his songs under his own name and with The Jicks are as worthy as anything he did with Pavement. Free to explore unusual melodies, self-indulge a wide range of guitar styles and fusing noise, jangle rock, improvisational instincts, 70s rock, psychedelia and prog, Stephen Malkmus with the Jicks is capable of coming up with refreshingly unusual songs even if they all have the stamp of eccentricity and imagination that Malkmus has brought to all his projects. The group’s 2018 record Sparkle Hard reflects Malkmus examination of the modern world and his place in it as a white man, and father, in his fifties who is still engaged in doing the thing he’s best at—writing unusual rock music—when the world seems to be falling apart and changing at a rapid pace. In typical fashion, Malkmus has a worthwhile and interesting take on all of it.
Opener for this tour, Soccer Mommy, is an interesting pairing because Sophie Allison’s songs have a layered and emotionally rich, compositional style with a sound collage quality that isn’t at first obvious. Her 2018 debut studio album Clean is a solid 10-song collection of sophisticated pop. Unlike many young songwriters, Allison, now 21, doesn’t sound like she’s tapping into a particular era of the 90s or the 2000s except for maybe Mitski and Japanese Breakfast. But, really, those are exceptionally respectable touchstones. What is also noteworthy is Allison’s range of dynamics, command of what, in a film score, might be called sound design, materfully orchestrating textural and atmospheric elements to augment her storytelling. With a debut so strong, one can only hope we’ve not yet seen Allison at her peak.
Who:ModPods w/R A R E B Y R D $ When: Tuesday, 07.31, 7 p.m. Where: Mutiny Information Café Why: ModPods from Los Angeles with its mixture of electronic post-punk and dance music sounds more like some kind of band from Baltimore in the 2000s or the kind of band that would have played The Smell in its heyday with an eclectic spirit not trapped in adherence to a stylistic subgenre. Either way its beat-driven songs have an edge and an 8-bit melodic fringe on its minimal synth melodies. Fronted by Myriad Slits, the trio, including Mindee Jorgensen and Daniel Guzman who switch up instruments regularly so that the musical duties never really become rote, is like an intentionally lo-fi synth pop/dance band.
Also on this bill is R A R E B Y R D $, the hip-hop trio that keeps pushing boundaries, including its own, in terms of beatmaking and Key Lady’s and KoKo La’s alchemical vocal interplay. The way some guitarists create interesting shapes for chords, the members of this group creates interesting synergy of sounds between vocals, beats and Michael Blomquist’s organic percussion. It’s a deeply emotional experience that you share with the band. It’s like alternative hip-hop if made by people who take great joy in seeing exactly what you can do with a synthesizer and a sampler to make something entrancing and meaningful. Hypnagogic post-disco, endorphin releasing, gangsta dub.
Wednesday | August 1, 2018
Who:Shocker Mom, Spargob and R A R E B Y R D $ When: Wednesday, 08.1, 8-11 p.m. Where: Fort Greene Why: It’s a free show and you get to see some of Denver’s best producers of electronic music in the underground. For R A R E B Y R D $, see above. Shocker Mom is Robin Walker who to the big wide world outside of Colorado is not known at all. But for those that have been able to witness her talents as a solo artist, member of lo-fi pop phenoms Cougarpants or one half of the hip-hop duo Nighttimeschoolbus, Walker is a singular talent. As Shocker Mom, Walker taps into her broad musical experience to produce tracks that blur the line between hip-hop, trap, IDM, ambient, dubtechno and indie pop. Aleeya Wilson is perhaps most well-known for her avant-garde guitar/noise project Death In Space. But now the Girls Rock Denver alumn is writing music as Spargob, her production project so expect something refreshingly weird and imaginative.
Who: Weird Wednesday: Universal Devils, Limber Wolf, The Far Stairs facebook.com/events/509245982828786
When: Wednesday, 08.1, 9 p.m.
Where: 3 Kings Tavern
Why: This edition of Weird Wednesday, Claudia Woodman’s monthly at 3 Kings Tavern, will include Rick Layton’s solo experimental metal project Universal Devils. Layton is a talented multi-instrumentalist who spent several years as the drummer for weirdo punk band Little Fyodor & Babushka Band. The Far Stairs is fronted by former Hindershot keyboard player Jesse Livingston. Imagine a manic New Wave/New Romantics/power pop band influenced by They Might Be Giants. But not just good, but great.