Best Shows in Denver 12/05/19 – 12/09/19

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She Past Away performs at Marquis Theater on December 6, photo by Jonas Fransson

Thursday | December 5

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The Ocean Blue, photo courtesy Darin Back

What: The Ocean Blue
When: Thursday, 12.5, 7 p.m.
Where: Soiled Dove Underground
Why: Dream pop band and precursors of modern indie pop, The Ocean Blue, makes a stop in Denver in support of its new album Kings and Queens / Knaves and Thieves. Read our interview with singer/guitarist David Schelzel here.

What: Dog Basketball and Dry Ice album release
When: Thursday, 12.5, 7 p.m.
Where: Old Main Chapel CU 1600 Pleasant St. Boulder 80302
Why: Dual album release show from experimental pop band Dog Basketball and “psychedelic dream punk” band Dry Ice from Denver. A rarity to see any show at Old Main much less something this underground and experimental.

What: Morbid Angel w/Watain and Incantation
When: Thursday, 12.5, 7 p.m.
Where: Oriental Theater

Friday | December 6

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Altas circa 2019, photo by Tom Murphy

What: She Past Away w/Radio Scarlet and WitchHands
When: Friday, 12.6, 7 p.m.
Where: Marquis Theater
Why: She Past Away is the Turkish post-punk band from Bursa that began in 2006 and making them early adopters of the current darkwave movement. Its synth and bass-driven songs have a different quality than its Western European and American counterparts while sharing that dark, introspective quality that is clearly descended from the likes of D.A.F., Depeche Mode and Clan of Xymox with an aesthetic that isn’t so far removed from its punk roots. The group’s third and latest album 2019 Disko Anksiyete saw a dual release on Fabrika Records and Metropolis Record and with a US tour currently under way it’s proof that its music transcends barriers of language.

What: Altas with Tiffany Christopher
When: Friday, 12.6, 8 p.m.
Where: Denver Open Media
Why: Instrumental rock band Altas performs at Denver Open Media for a free show with Tiffany Christopher. Altas released the powerfully cinematic All I Ever Wanted Was in June 2019.

What: Josh Miller (MI), New Standards Men, Dean Berlinerblau and 50 Miles of Elbow Room
When: Friday, 12.6, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Glitter City

What: Elektric Animals w/The Hollow, Star Garbage, False Report
When: Friday, 12.6, 8 p.m.
Where: Lost Lake

Saturday | December 7

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May Erlewine, photo by Michael Poehlman

What: May Erlewine w/Dango Rose
When: Saturday, 12.7, 7 p.m.
Where: Tuft Theatre (Swallow Hill)
Why: May Erlewine is a prolific blues folk artist from Big Rapids, Michigan with fifteen albums under her belt since 2003 including 2019’s In the Night. Erlewine cut her teeth as a live performer, according to a piece on MTV.com, while hitch hiking across North America and performing on the streets. For In the Night Erlewine picked herself up from the state of despair that hit many people in the wake of the Trump presidency and use her music as way to address 45’s ignorant and hateful and destructive remarks and behaviors with thoughtful commentary and observations on life and the American culture she and many of us know to be much more authentic than the spewage from a pampered, narcissistic child of privilege. But expect that music to be delivered with Erlewine’s usual warmth, nuance and strength with her dynamic and elegant voice.

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Lettuce, photo Courtesy Casey Flanigan

What: Lettuce w/Antibalas and Chris Karns
When: Saturday, 12.7, 7 p.m.
Where: Fillmore Auditorium
Why: Lettuce is an experimental funk band that has crossed over into the realm of jam bands and EDM even though its music has ranged far afield of that for years including its 2019 album Elevate. The group freely borrows from styles and sounds to craft its signature synthesis of funk, Afrobeat, jazz and electronic pop.

What: Vio-Lence, Havok and Axeslasher
When: Saturday, 12.7, 7 p.m.
Where: Bluebird Theater

What: American Grandma presents SUPERDOG w/Midwife and Entrancer
When: Saturday, 12.7, 8 p.m.
Where: Rhinoceropolis

What: Saturnalia: Church Fire, Chess at Breakfast, Punk Rock Burlesque, Katalysk, Plasma Canvas
When: Saturday, 12.7, 6 p.m.
Where: Marquis Theater

What: Don Chicharron, Wolf van Elfmand, Dylan Earl, Tiger Saw and DJ Wax Dattie
When: Saturday, 12.7, 8 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive

What: Cattle Decapitation w/Atheist, Primitive Man and Vitriol
When: Saturday, 12.7, 5:30 p.m.
Where: Oriental Theater

What: M I N O R w/Quiet Warlock and Phil Beard
When: Saturday, 12.7, 8 p.m.
Where: Lost Lake

What: Sharone album release w/Something For Tomorrow, Asylum 9 and 21 Taras
When: Saturday, 12.7, 8 p.m.
Where: Globe Hall

What: The Slacks, The Crooked Rugs and Sliver
When: Saturday, 12.7, 8 p.m.
Where: Mutiny Information Café

Sunday | December 8

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Anamanaguchi, photo by Leia Jospe

What: Anamanaguchi w/Default Genders and Nullsleep
When: Sunday, 12.8, 7 p.m.
Where: Bluebird Theater
Why: Mix an anthemic J-pop band with an 8-bit glitchcore project and a progressive rock/jazz fusion band and task it to make dynamic and engrossing video game music with an uncommon sense of space, composition and emotional impact and you have Anamanaguchi. Particularly on its 2019 album [USA]. Seems gimmicky at first but the New York-based band doesn’t get stuck in the hyperactive songwriting that plagues a lot of “Nintendocore” acts or the dull focus on displays of technical prowess and knowledge of theory that is behind a lot of prog. Just well crafted, expansive pop songs that feel like endless possibilities and the positive ghosts of childhood reverie manifested in sound.

What: Surrender Signal, No Comma, Downward Sun and We Are Not a Glum Lot
When: Sunday, 12.8, 7 p.m.
Where: Globe Hall

Monday | December 9

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Alex Cameron, photo by Chris Rhodes

What: Alex Cameron w/Jackladder and Emily Panic
When: Monday, 12.9, 7 p.m.
Where: Bluebird Theater
Why: Alex Cameron’s 2019 album Miami Memory is like a set of vignettes about people in crisis. But the take is one of compassion and understanding without trying to underplay or make light of the struggles. At a time when a lot of synth pop is generic, Cameron’s eccentric and psychologically insightful take on songwriting is strikingly different with a knack for changing up the vibe, texture and tone of his songs throughout an album. Just watch the video for “Far From Born Again” for a bit about Cameron’s keen understanding of the human condition.

The Ocean Blue Returns With the Gorgeously Affecting Kings and Queens / Knaves and Thieves

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The Ocean Blue, photo by Darin Back

The Ocean Blue performs tonight, December 5, at Soiled Dove Underground. Hailing from Hershey, Pennsylvania, The Ocean Blue didn’t blow up into a household name when it first came to the attention of an international audience by the late 80s but like many bands of the era this has perhaps accounted for some of its enduring longevity. Its sound was a lushly melodic rock music that was fairly sophisticated by the time the fledgling band released its earliest singles in 1986, the year it formed. The members of the group had known each other since middle school and had learned to play together in that organic way a group of friends who more or less grew up together do with a natural chemistry that makes the songs most other people get to hear seem effortless and polished.

Looking back to the 80s from the perspective of today it can be a bit of a mystery to suss out where bands might have played and honed their craft outside of garages and bedrooms unless it was a punk band. The Ocean Blue didn’t play out much other than a birthday party and a school dance until the band got a manager who advised the group to play out and work on the live show. “At that point, we started playing small clubs and colleges in the mid-Atlantic area,” says guitarist and lead vocalist David Schelzel.

The young band also connected with older musicians who were coming to be known in the pre-alternative rock underground music world who enjoyed some degree of success on college radio, which was a far more important factor in the success of a band beyond the local scene up through the 2000s. Most significantly for The Ocean Blue in this regard was dream pop legends The Innocence Mission.

“We met the Innocence Mission when we did a radio station benefit record, and I became fast friends with Don and Karen,” says Schelzel. “They were a bit older and way ahead of us musically, but they were super kind and became great encouragers and friends as we both started to get a wider audience and later on, record deals. They are kindred spirits for sure. Music in the late 80s locally was dominated by hair metal and blues bands, along with peppy pop stuff. We stood out, and thus didn’t get lost in a big city or scene. We found a bit of a circuit at clubs and colleges that supported original, local music, in nearby cities, like Lancaster, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC.”

Undoubtedly The Innocence Mission helped to mentor The Ocean Blue in the ways of the music industry including dealing with labels and publishing. Fortunately the group had a team of people including a manager, a good lawyer and a music publisher by the time it signed, in 1988, a three record deal with respected independent label Sire for the release of its 1989 debut, self-titled full length. At the time of signing the band was still in high school but were savvy enough to know what label they might like to be a part of as Sire had released important records by Ramones, Talking Heads, Ministry, Pretenders, Wild Swans, The Cult and Echo & The Bunnymen. The latter is a group that the first The Ocean Blue album gets compared to the most.

“Sire was always where we wanted to be,” says Schelzel. “So many bands we loved were on that label. I realize now how extraordinary it was to get signed to Sire, let alone as teenagers and to a long term deal that allowed us to develop. As for how, we were lucky to have a good manager, that knew how to get our music to the right people, get people out to see our shows, and drum up a buzz. And of course the key to any signing is that there is music and something as a band that people are drawn to, and from a label’s perspective, that will do well.”

The band evolved rapidly and its subsequent albums for Sire, 1991’s Cerulean and 1993’s Beneath the Rhythm & Sound, broke from the obvious influences and aligned more with the kind of music that was on the ascent at the time and seemed to vibe well with some of the “Madchester” bands like The Charlatans UK, C86 groups like Felt and Sarah Records outfits like The Field Mice and The Sundays. That style of dream pop grounded in classic songwriting that has interestingly enough exerted a great deal of influence on contemporary bands trying to mine for ideas and sounds that haven’t been shoved down their throats by ubiquitous commercial popularity.

By the mid-90s, The Ocean Blue suffered from the usual corporate mergers of the day and the conservative trend of record labels after scrambling to capitalize on the alternative rock wave of the early part of the decade. But the band persevered and by 1999 self-released its then new album Davy Jones Locker. By the 2010s The Ocean Blue was back to being more active than it had been in many years (at least as far as anyone outside the band and its immediate associates might know) with its first new album in over a decade, Ultramarine, out in 2013 on Korda Records followed by Waterworks in 2014 and 2019’s strikingly gorgeous Kings and Queens / Knaves and Thieves. It’s bright tones and transporting melodies in high form, The Ocean Blue has never sounded better. Like certain bands from its original era the group has retained a good deal of its original artist as well as having an appeal to a younger audience for whom the group might have a bit of cult cachet, Schelzel also says the band didn’t know it had fans in South America until the past ten years.

“I think what has kept us together and doing what we do is our love for music and each other,” offers Schelzel regarding the band’s having stayed together. “I am always making music, and I love the guys I make music with. There were things that were much easier when we were on major labels and had a team of people handling management, promotion, production, touring, etc. But there has been something very refreshing about doing things as an independent artist. Things are way less complicated and the focus is almost entirely on making music. We try to maximize the aspects of what we do that are pleasant and rewarding, and minimize those things that are unpleasant and draining. It is the satisfaction of making music. Personally, I think it’s part of who I am and what I find meaningful and joyful in life. I don’t say that lightly. Life is hard and dark and full of a lot of pain. Music is a hugely important counterweight to all that.”

The title of the new album suggests political commentary but for The Ocean Blue the lyrics have always been more observations about human nature and personal reflection. “I see that line and that song, and maybe the whole record, as more of a musing on the human condition, particularly questions of existence, meaning, relationships with each other, the world, etc. and love,” says Schelzel. “I think the human problems of the modern world are pretty much the same as they were 100 years ago.”