Jonathan Kosakow

Review: Panic On The Rocks

Widespread Panic @ Red Rocks, June 25

Words: Jonathan Kosakow
Photos: Matthew Speck

I’ve recently wondered why Widespread Panic has failed to capture my attention. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, that I even faintly dislike about them. They are all talented musicians, from John Bell’s voice to Dave Schools’ pounding bass and now Jimmy Herring’s searing guitar chops. But until this past Saturday at Red Rocks – the second of a three-show run at the venue – it had been years since they reached out and grabbed me.

[All photos by Matthew Speck]

Set one started slow. With the exception of Rock and Hatfield, the first few tunes stayed short and lacked much energy. It wasn’t until the last three songs, Rebirtha, Blue Indian and Porch Song, that the sextet started to experiment with the space around them. Rebirtha went from southern funk to vivid explorations, and for the first time this night Herring found some melody in his guitar playing, as opposed to the firey up and down the neck style that hadn’t gotten very far. It was a perfect transition into Blue Indian, which bounced nicely towards a set-ending Porch Song.

Henry Parsons Died kicked set two off to a powerful start. Apparently all it took was some darkness to get these guys rolling. All Time Low grooved its way behind Schools and drummer Todd Nance, with Bell’s gravelly vocals leading the way. Herring took control on Down, with an all-out wail of a guitar solo in between quiet verses, but quickly gave it up to John Hermann’s piano solo, which was a groove all its own.

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Review: Ray LaMontagne @ Red Rocks

Ray LaMontagne @ Red Rocks, June 17

Words: Jonathan Kosakow
Photos: Matthew Speck

Nearly every concert at Morrison, CO’s Red Rocks Amphitheater finds the performer reaching for the right words to express his or her gratitude at playing such a spectacular venue. From their perch on Stage Rock, as they stare up at rows and rows of people framed by Ship Rock and Creation Rock – the two monoliths that stand together at an angle to form the perfect amphitheater, the perfect view, the perfect sound quality – each and every musician wants to say something unique. Somehow, though they are no less sincere than the person who came before them, it always ends up sounding the same.

[All photos by Matthew Speck]

Not that it matters – for those of us lucky enough to have Red Rocks as our backyard concert venue, we consider it a gift every time we climb the entrance ramp, find our favorite seat along the wooden benches, and watch the moon rise over Denver behind the stage. We understand the struggle to say the right words, it truly is not possible to express. It is beautiful. For Ray LaMontagne it was fairly simple, though: between each song, he’d lean in to his microphone and mumble six words: “Thank you very much. Thank you.”

Dressed in miner’s Sunday best, just as they were in the album art for the latest studio release God Willin’ and the Creek Don’t Rise, Ray LaMontagne and the Pariah Dogs stood in a semi-circle, facing the crowd but focused more on each other. LaMontagne stood on a small square of carpet to the left of his band members, and strummed his guitar and sang from just a little off center. In their 90-minute set, the song list was nothing to be surprised about: they played nearly all the songs you’d expect, sans You Are The Best Thing, and threw in a couple extras.

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Review: Cake @ Ogden Theater

Cake @ The Ogden Theater, June 14

Words: Jonathan Kosakow
Photos: Matthew Speck

A backyard smoke machine clouded the stage for Cake, who entered the room at The Ogden Theater Tuesday night following a stern pre-recorded warning against photography, and a comically long musical intro that may or may not have been borrowed from a mid-90s Saturday morning cartoon. They wasted no time before launching into the instrumental Arco Arena and the crowd pleasing Frank Sinatra, but even so early in the show it seemed that John McCrea and company were a little overtired.

[All photos by Matthew Speck]

The audience, though, didn’t really seem to notice. Since their first album way back in 1994, Cake has played the hidden hero to so many. In those years, they have put out only six studio albums – before this year’s Showroom of Compassion, the most recent was seven years ago and is easily their least popular. But the music never disappeared from the memories and cassette players of our generation. When it was announced that Cake would be playing two nights in Denver, a shout of excitement rang out so loud you may as well have thought they were putting Fraggle Rock back on the air, and the tickets for both shows sold out well in advance.

The spacious yet intimate, grungy Ogden Theater filled up quickly with a crowd heavily made up of the under-30 generation. It seems almost every Cake fan is similar in certain respects – quiet and sensible, but with a bit of a dark side. And this was proven as most fans quietly sang along to their old favorites of sex and pent-up anger, Italian Leather Sofa and How Do You Afford Your Rock ‘N’ Roll Lifestyle.

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Review: MMW @ Boulder Theater

Medeski, Martin & Wood @ Boulder Theater, March 4

Although it seems like it’s happening more and more, it certainly isn’t every day that a band turns 20. Maybe it’s that we’re getting old, or maybe our music taste is falling behind. Or, maybe (hopefully) the music we listen to has such longevity because the musicians themselves enjoy playing together so much that they couldn’t possibly leave it behind.

[All photos by Matthew Speck]

For Medeski, Martin & Wood at least, it is most definitely the latter, and it’s no fluke they’re still around. Since 1991, MMW has been putting out disc after solid disc of exciting music that has ranged from the avant-garde of Tonic and The Dropper to the experimental electricity of Combustication, collaborations with musical legends like John Scofield and Marshall Allen, and even a kids’ album. And, they continue to maintain their relevancy even today: their track Hey He Hi Ho was chosen for the upcoming release JAZZ: The Smithsonian Anthology, due out March 29. So, in honor of this 20th anniversary, the trio has taken to the road for a ten-date tour through the month of March.

After spending some time in the Rocky Mountains with shows in Beaver Creek and Aspen, MMW came out for a show just outside those mountains in Boulder, the hometown of bassist Chris Wood. The story is this: the band is taking requests ahead of time, and devising their opening sets based on what the fans want to hear. The second set of each night will honor an old MMW tradition: the shack party, entirely improvised. Even more than usual, there was an added sense of excitement to the pre-show jitters.

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Review: Trey Anastasio @ Ogden Theater

Trey Anastasio @ Ogden Theater, March 1

It’s no secret that Colorado fans felt a little left out when Phish’s East Coast tour dates were released. The Mountain State, though saturated with diehards, was too geographically removed to make extending the tour this way financially – or physically – feasible. So, when Trey Anastasio or any of the boys come to town, we scramble for tickets.

[All photos by Matthew Speck]

This tour, Trey Anastasio and Classic TAB’s Denver shows were no different. Many fans unfortunately found that neither Craigslist nor holding a finger in the air would get them into the show, and the already intimate Ogden Theater brought fans closer together than ever before as we packed in to every corner, vying for a little room to let our arms swing. But when Trey made his way on stage and picked up his acoustic guitar, space was no longer an issue.

To begin, it didn’t seem like the solo acoustic set would bring more than expected – some crowd favorites, some sing-alongs and some sweet ballads. The opening lyrics of Farmhouse welcomed us to the room before the funk of Wolfman’s Brother helped us settle in, and When the Circus Comes captured some added attention. It was beautiful and fun, though not surprisingly fantastic. But then Big Red started taking requests. On Timber, the crowd harmonized the call-and-response chorus. Theme from the Bottom was played in a higher key than normal, with a capo on the third fret, which added some interesting changes to the melody. The closing lyrics of “from the bottom, from the top” were again helped along by crowd harmonies.

READ ON for more on TAB’s return to Denver…

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Review: moe. @ Ogden Theater

moe. @ Ogden Theater, Denver CO – February 5th

Words: Jonathan Kosakow
Images: Jason Woodside

I’ve always wondered why moe., of all the bands in the jam scene, has never caught hold of a larger mainstream audience. Their songs are easy on the ears, and the group’s sing-along choruses are nearly always high energy. But Saturday’s show at Denver’s Ogden Theater finally gave me my answer. At times we were spoonfed slow, low-energy ambience, at others we were caught in the middle of an old-fashioned cafeteria food fight. By the end of the night, it was hard to tell which way was up.

[All photos by Jason Woodside]

It was about 9:30 by the time the band took the stage. Following a spicy set of pre-show music that included everything from Van Halen’s Hot for Teacher to Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean, the first notes of live music we heard were those first lingering tones of Mexico. It was absolutely the way to start it off, an old favorite to remind us why we came. Al Schnier’s noodling guitar was helped along by Chuck Garvey’s, and the two worked off each other’s riffs until they settled into a steady groove for Day Dreaming.

Set One: Mexico > Day Dreaming, Blue Jeans Pizza, Good Trip, Opium > 32 Things*
Set Two : Haze > Dr. Graffenberg, One Life, Billy Goat > Understand, Kyle’s Song > Moth
Encore: Mar-DeMa, Spine Of A Dog

* – w/ Allie Kral of Cornmeal on Fiddle

[Setlist via PT moe.]

Soon though, somewhere between the high notes of Rob Derhak’s vocal on Blue Jeans Pizza and the joke-along “Don’t Die’s” of Good Trip, something started to fade. Perhaps the band, at the end of a tour and about to take a quick stint in Japan, was a bit road-weary, but it definitely showed in the general lack of collective energy throughout the room.

Their jams, though note-tight, dragged a little too long, and the foot-shuffling slowed throughout the audience. Soon, though, the familiar drone of Opium sunk into our brains and swallowed us whole. The slow, powerful train that is this song gained speed steadily until it found its (in)sanity in the bright lights of Derhak’s bellowing chorus. The outro of Opium saw the introduction of Cornmeal’s Allie Kral who joined the band for 32 Things, ending the set with a three-way guitar-guitar-fiddle duel that was powerful enough to leave Schnier with both jaw and hands dropped nearly to the floor in stupefaction. “Leave it to Allie” was the word throughout the room during setbreak. READ ON for more on moe. in Denver…

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Review: Big Boi Takes Denver

Big Boi @ Ogden Theater, January 28th

Words: Jonathan Kosakow
Images: Matthew Speck

Denver doesn’t get much of the good, large scale, live hip-hop.  Out in these here mountains, the more likely acts are the bluegrass, the jam and the indie rockers making a quick mid-country stop on their way to one of the distant coastlines. So when the calendar showed a single weekend that would feature Big Boi on Friday and Raekwon on Saturday, the kids jumped. The Ogden Theater was the site of Friday’s main event and outside the venue, on Colfax Avenue, a diverse crowd of mostly white people were milling around – hipsters, hippies and snowboarders – trying to scrounge some extra tickets. But this was a hot item, and not many were to be found.

[All photos by Matthew Speck]

At 9PM sharp, the evening got a jumpstart from the Denver-local group The Foodchain. Surprisingly for an opening act, the octet managed to hold some of the crowd’s attention as they tore through beats and got the audience participating in a bit of old-fashioned call and response. Playing middle-child for the evening were Eligh and Scarub of the Living Legends, whose 45-minute set showcased not only two ultimately humble performers, but also some serious talent.  Likely, few in attendance were familiar with Living Legends, but that didn’t seem to matter: just about everyone was enthralled.

A quick break in the entertainment was provided by some white dude in red pants who screamed too loudly into a microphone and threw free, useless swag at the crowd as he all-but-subtly promoted the sponsors of the evening. I am currently enjoying four coozies, two bottle openers, a t-shirt, a golf towel and a pair of pretty solid plastic sunglasses as I write this. At this point, my pockets weighed down by all these amazing Spyder products that I’m sure will last me for years to come, I was ready for the main event. But, I was surprisingly not restless, thanks to the booze provided by Tommyknocker Brewery. With Cutmaster Swiff on the turntables, accompanied by fellow MC Blackowned C Bone, Big Boi gave us some musical gifts to go along with the physical ones bestowed upon us by companies like Icelantic and Optic Nerve.

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Review: Jeff Tweedy @ Boulder Theater

Jeff Tweedy @ Boulder Theater, January 8

For Jeff Tweedy, the success of a solo performance depends on his audience. He wants to create a moment: during quiet songs he wants silence and during upbeat songs, he’s happy if you sing along. Meanwhile, on stage alongside him are six acoustic guitars and five speakers pointing directly at him. You may think one of two things: 1.) Jeff Tweedy is an asshole, or 2.) Jeff Tweedy loves music, knows music, and cares so much about how he sounds that he wants every note, ever moment, to be perfect. These would be the logical guesses, and it’s nearly impossible to tell which of them, if either, is the right answer.

In honor of the Boulder Theater’s 75th Anniversary, Tweedy played to two sold-out crowds, mostly seated, of college students and young professionals, many in flannel shirts and jeans but a few in dreadlocks and flowing skirts. On the second of these nights some of the most memorable moments came between songs as he joked sarcastically, criticizing the audience from the previous night – “they were horrible people.” For much of the night, at his request, each song was followed by a chorus of boo’s from his adoring fans, who loved him perhaps more, even after he publicly denied them autographs, “Are you the one who wanted me to sign the book for you last night? I won’t sign it for you tonight, either.”

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Review: Mike Gordon @ Fox Theatre

Mike Gordon Band @ Fox Theatre, November 13

There were lots of cold fingers in the air on Saturday as the first truly cold day of the year hit Boulder, the same day Mike Gordon brought his tour in support of Moss to the famously sunny and dry state of Colorado (ironically, moss usually grows best in shady, damp areas). Coloradans are pretty relaxed and don’t worry too much about being late to a show, but there was a line down the street before the doors opened for this one, and the floor was packed with crunchy, bearded people wearing beanie caps well before 9PM.

Fittingly, Cactus opened the first set with Can’t Stand Still, the catchy first track on the new album. Mike breathed a sigh of relief after this one, commenting on his love for The Fox Theater, and perhaps Boulder in general, as he gave us his first installment of what would be the theme for the night. “I’ve got one hand in my pocket, and the other one up for a high five.”

From there, it was the Party Time track Only A Dream, and the Bill Monroe/Peter Rowan tune Walls of Time, and Mike walked that bass line like a dog while guitarist Scott Murawski tinkered around on some country licks. Tom Cleary’s tune I Sure Miss My Mind jumped right on that energy. The hammy lyrics were, if nothing else, enjoyable, and the back and forth soloing between Cleary on the keys and Murawski’s guitar paved the way for the intricacies of Andelman’s Yard. Another round of high fives was passed, and then came Down To The Nightclub, on which Cleary again took the spotlight – removing his shoe and using it to replace his left hand. Murawski took lead vocals on Emotional Railroad, the Max Creek original, whose drawn out jam segued into Traveled Too Far.

READ ON for more thoughts on the MGB at the Fox…

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