Sunday, July 8, 2012

Westword Music Showcase 2012

Two weeks ago I won a pair of passes to attend the Westword Music Showcase, courtesy of the fine folks at Ultra5280. Westword advertised that there were over 150 local bands and I saw the tiniest fraction of them, but I had a friend pointing me in the right direction to start the day.

My day started with The Don'ts and Be Carefuls at Club Vinyl at the recommendation of my new friend Nigel. He tells me that he's friends with the band, but I don't think he'd recommend them if they were crap.

They had a ton of energy and a great 4-piece loud pop sound - guitar, bass, synth & drums. I might have missed a song or two, but I'm already hoping to catch them during the Underground Music Showcase next weekend (July 19-22). I'm listening to their song "The Still Favorites" as I write this and wish I had a stand-up desk so I could dance and write at the same time.

It was one of the hottest days of the summer in Denver, and everyone was walking around in shorts, t-shirts and sandals, trying to beat the heat in any way possible. I took off my shirt and twirled it around when walking between venues to try & dry it out. We were smart, though, and parked in the $5 structure near the Denver Art Museum and packed a cooler with our own food & a few bottles of water.

After seeing the Dont's and Be Carefuls we beat feet over to the Curious Theatre to see Ian Cooke. He plays cello and sings but has a full band with him. I used to work with the guitarist Ian O a few years back and he constantly invites me to his shows on Facebook and I haven't made it out to see him until now, and I'm so glad I did.

They played a couple of covers (Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now" and ABBA's "I'm A Marionette") and I just really enjoyed the music. You can imagine that it's not really loud with the cello, but the guitar, bass & drums get things rocking pretty well. Great songs and great presentation with all of the band members interacting with each other. Talked with my friend Ian O after the show & was reminded how great of a guy he is. He highly recommended Battles on the main stage later that day, so we made sure to catch that show.

Here we are at the Public Shaming poriton of this post. Close to the end of the Ian Cooke show some crashing bores came and stood near us & in front of us - I had to tell one guy to step aside as he had rudely set up directly in front of me in the aisle to where I couldn't see. But the capper was this girl who was standing talking to someone and waving her sweaty body odor right at me:

Don't be like her, kids. Be aware of your surroundings.
After seeing Ian Cooke, I wanted to catch Joy Subtraction at Bar Standard, but they were the only venue all day to deny access to my 11-year-old. Undaunted, we walked over to Rooster & Moon to watch A Mouthful of Thunder, again at Nigel's suggestion.

There were a couple of microphone feedback issues and a lot of warm people packed into a small place, but the music was really good, lush, catchy, rootsy pop, and I'd like to see them in a bigger venue that could fit the band & it's music.

We left a little before the set ended to go get out of the sun and have some food & water and enjoy the air conditioning inside my car. We then made our way over to Stoney's to see Bop Skizzum, but got there early enough to catch the end of Rob Drabkin's set of jam-band-ish tunes. Rob has done some shows recently where he has covered Paul Simon's Graceland album. I love that record and it looks like a performance of it is up on Spotify that I'll probably check out soon & may try to see if he's going to do that live again as well.

Bop is a band I saw for the first time a couple of months ago and really enjoyed meeting Andy, the lead singer/guitar player. I first heard of them about 10 years ago from a co-worker and haven't really seen or heard much from them in the meantime, but they seem to be everywhere lately (probably thanks in part to the efforts of my friend Aimee at Giese Media). 

Bop puts on a hell of a show, even a short set like they were at the WMS, and my kid loved that they have a female singer. We went up and talked to the band afterward - everyone in the place was sweating like devils afterward - and they're so nice & gracious.

After Bop we went over to the main stage to catch Battles. What Ian briefly told me about them was that they make dance-type music but using live instruments. Very difficult to describe but enjoyable. Not like sampling, but playing with precision, controlling the sounds the instruments make, probably some looping. Unfortunately, I did not get any pictures. Oh well.

At this point we went back to the car for more air conditioning, water, song trading & singalongs with Terry. Sufficiently cooled, we went back to the main stage area to watch Macklemore & Ryan Lewis.

Pretty fun stuff, not brain surgery, you know? Something good to listen to while we waited for Girl Talk. Both my kid and I were there mainly to see Girl Talk. I had seen him last year just a few months after All Day was released, and it was easily the most insane concert experience I've ever had. I was there alone and everyone was packed together, dancing, sweating, moving almost completely as one. I left that show thirsty, wet, and somehow completely worn out and energized at the same time.

The crowd at the WMS started gathering and I told the people I was with that "shit's about to get crazy," and I don't think anyone believed me, but the joke was on them. More people kept packing into the city block parking lot where the show was being held. All of the people around us were vitalized and we were feeding off that as well. It wasn't quite dark yet when the show started and everyone started dancing, but the crowd seemed to be holding something back.

(this photo was featured in Westword's WMS Instagram recap!)

The darker it got, however, the more everyone let loose and just danced like nobody was watching. Maybe that was just me, but it felt like the atmosphere became more charged and the crowd shook off their inhibitions and everyone was having a great time. That's what a Girl Talk show does to people, and it's great.

The long, hot day ended with a bunch of tired people, energy spent, us included. My kid told me how great that was, though, and that was worth it for me. I'm completely grateful to Ultra5280 for the tickets and to my friends for sharing the day with us. I hope to have more days & nights like that, and soon.

Band Links:

The Don'ts and Be Carefuls
Ian Cooke
Mouthful of Thunder
Rob Drabkin
Bop Skizzum
Girl Talk

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Post-Violator Depeche Mode Discography Suggestions - Part Two

Where was I...oh yeah. Depeche Mode had released Ultra, a slow, sensual album in the wake of Alan Wilder leaving the band & Dave Gahan almost dying. Or actually dying and being revived. Either way, it's a great album, and one of my favorite DM records, post-Violator or not.

The biggest challenge when writing posts like these, however, is not to frame what the band does *after* a classic album in the same light as the classic album, or "classic period." I will never be caught up in the excitement of discovering Depeche Mode again, I will never have another concert experience like seeing the Black Celebration tour at Red Rocks, I will never be falling in love with my future wife to Violator. As previously mentioned, Songs of Faith and Devotion was the soundtrack to a pretty heavy time in my life. Ultra, well, I just remember half-drunk late nights with the record on and sinking into the corporeal music and lyrics.

With 2001's Exciter, I don't have those types of memories or experiences (except with one song), so I'm left to simply give my take on the songs as I hear them now. 2001-02 were very busy years for me. I wouldn't be surprised if I bought Exciter in 2003 or later.

As far as the music itself goes, "Dream On" is a peppy two-step, definitely quicker than anything on Ultra, and it's an ok single. "I Feel Loved" was the next single, and while it definitely shares that quick two-step DNA with "Dream On," for some reason I like it better. There's a lot of effects and riffs winding around the beats, and it keeps my interest pretty well. There's not much lyrically to the song, though, and that holds for most of Exciter, in my opinion. There's a depth that feel like I'm used to from Martin Gore and I don't feel like I'm getting it here.

"When the Body Speaks" is good, but my favorite song on Exciter is by far "Freelove." Listening to this record, I know the singles ok, but not the album tracks ("The Sweetest Condition," "The Dead Of Night"), although I must have listened to them to have heard "Freelove." I don't really know "Goodnight Lovers" that well, but the melody reminds me of an old tune from the 40's. Listening to it, this is clearly the start of my "Oh, Depeche Mode has a new album?" phase, meaning I wasn't paying attention as closely as I had for the previous decade. Which isn't to say that there aren't great tunes on these recent 3 records, and "Freelove" is a catalog fave.

Continuing with the 4-year release cycle, Playing the Angel was released in 2005. The only single I remember from this albm is "John the Revelator," and I remember that more for the title than the music. I read now that "Precious" was the first single and that's definitely one of the songs I picked off this album on first listen, which was pretty much a couple of months ago.

This process has been interesting for me, listening for songs to recommend when I dont really know them. I've been trying to figure out if I'm listening for songs that remind me of the "old" Depeche Mode or if I'm just listening for good hooks and good lyrics. I have a future post coming about when one of your favorite groups released an album you didn't care for, I suppose I'll explore that feeling more when I write that post.

The songs I really like on this record are the other singles - the aforementioned "Precious" and "Suffer Well," the latter of which is one of Dave Gahan's first lyrical contributions to be featured on a Depeche Mode album (along with "I Want It All" and "Nothing's Impossible"). "Precious" reminds me musically somewhat of one of the slower Nitzer Ebb songs from the As Is EP, "Come Alive"and has a really catchy chorus. "Suffer Well" has a good guitar hook - something that started with Personal Jesus and has become another recent DM signature - not what most people used to think of when they thought of a synth band.

I certainly don't mind "John the Revelator" or "A Pain That I'm Used To," and I guess they're someone's idea of what new Depeche Mode singles should be. "Nothing's Impossible" and "Lilian" are decent tracks as well, and "The Darkest Star" was all right. The rest of PtA I wasn't crazy about.

Sounds of the Universe was released in - you guessed it - 2009 (I think that means we're due for some new Depeche in 2013) and was the first Depeche album I recall paying attention to in a while. Which strikes me as a bit odd now, because I didn't listen to the album until recently, either. Thinking about it now, I think I remember reading that it was a more "Depeche" album than the last couple had been.

The album is pretty strong, as far as I'm concerned. From "In Chains" through the first single "Wrong" to "Fragile Tension" and "In Sympathy," (my two favorite songs on the record), and on through the choirlike sound of the refrain on "Peace" and the most relaxed I've ever heard Martin Gore sing, I think, on "Jezebel", it's just a really good record. If you listen with headphones, there are a lot of nice synth touches - "In Chains" opens with square analog waveforms joining one at a time and then being tuned to a chord that drops out before Dave Gahan's voice appears clear & strong. The rich bass tones & trill treble riff that starts "Fragile Tension" are Devo-esque; there's a bitcrushed 8-bit rhythm tone that runs through "In Sympathy"; "Peace" could musically be set in the middle of Some Great Reward without anyone noticing.

All of this is not to say that it's a retro record - the central musical feature of "In Chains" is a distorted wah-wah guitar riff, and most songs have at least a little guitar in them, usually supporting the chorus. But Sounds of the Universe to me sounds like a Depeche Mode that is comfortable with its past and secure in its future. This may end up being one of my favorite DM records ever. I definitely slept on this album when it was released. Don't count on that happening again.

These albums all have their high points, but my favorite post-Violator single wasn't an album track, it was a single that appeared only on The Best Of - Volume 1 collection. "Martyr" was recorded during the Playing the Angel sessions but could easily be a Violator track. There's something in the strong pulsating backbeat and signature guitar riff that immediately set it off from the other PtA songs and, for me, it would be enough to purchase the whole Volume 1 collection - if there wasn't a "Martyr" single  available.

So, there you go. I didn't go over the Dave Gahan or Martin L. Gore solo records, perhaps that will be an exercise for another time. I'll link to my absolute favorite tracks below, and please feel free to argue or support my choices in the comments!



Post-Violator Depeche Mode Discography Suggestions - Part One

Affiliate Links (buy here and support Your Older Brother a little):