I Swear It's ...

Adele

7/17/16
Denver, CO
Pepsi Center
Map of Colorado, USA
3 Stars
Big-voiced charmer. Aida and I lucked out on this last-minute invitation to witness a world tour that sold out in minutes, featuring a superstar as unlikely as they come. I hopped on the Adele bandwagon early — my decades-old interest in British artists led me to her on the eve of her first album — so I relished the opportunity. The concert didn’t disappoint. She played my favorite song, “Hometown Glory,” not one song into the set! The woman’s voice is a ballsy galaxy-shaker, a unique blend of husk and soul and bombast, and it’s p-e-r-f-e-c-t: not a bum note was sung. The crowd was wrapped around her finger, due in no small part to her earnest, self-deprecating (and frequent) between-song banter. And that woman can banter; holy shit, she’s funny, and she’ll do anything for a laugh. The performance was over-produced and too heavy on spectacle … but I expected that. The soccer moms shelling out $300 to get dressed up and see a concert at the massive Pepsi Can didn’t want an understated club show; they wanted a mind-blowing marvel. I would have been thrilled with just that great voice and a tiny piano but I, like everyone else in that arena, was over the moon with the marvel we got. Setlist

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Airborne Toxic Event

4/15/09
Denver, CO
Ogden Theater
Map of Colorado, USA
5 Stars
A true exchange. Was the music great? It was. But that’s not why this show has such sentimental value for me. The gig was originally planned for the tiny Bluebird Theater up the street from the cavernous Ogden where it ended up happening, a change I was bummed about (I love the Bluebird). The change of venue was driven by overwhelming public demand for this band and, boy, could you feel it once the show started. The band members had great chemistry and performed their asses off. Lots of great rock posturing and showmanship. And when they left the stage after their proper set, the crowd went ape-shit. You couldn’t hear yourself think. We were in love with them and we wanted them to know it. When they finally came back onstage — the drummer so moved by the outpouring of support he was in tears — the frontman shared his story about writing the debut album: it was a cathartic thing he did during a time of deep personal depression, done without expectations of who, if anyone, would hear it. We heard it. And we loved every minute of it. Setlist

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Avett Brothers

6/30/12
Morrison, CO
Red Rocks Amphitheater
Map of Colorado, USA
2.5 Stars
Earnest and energetic. These four guys can fill an awful lot of space with just their voices and a few acoustic instruments. That’s all it took to get this Red Rocks crowd moving and singing along to every word. Their enthusiasm for their craft is infectious; it’s hard to resist getting caught up in it. Setlist

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Avett Brothers

7/12/14
Morrison, CO
Red Rocks Amphitheater
Map of Colorado, USA
2 Stars
I am nonplussed. Can these guys write great songs? Yes. Can they play and sing their asses off? Yes. Do I need to buy a ticket to see it every summer? No. Great company at this show though: a colleague of Aida’s flew in with his wife and we all had a fun time. Setlist

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Band Of Skulls

9/13/16
Englewood, CO
Gothic Theatre
Map of Colorado, USA
3 Stars
Rawk, with charm. Like fellow Brits Led Zeppelin before them, this group ably straddles the line between Sabbath-level heft and foot-tapping melodics, and does it in a way, again like Zeppelin, that balances the masculine and feminine energies fueling the best tunes on rock radio. Having an actual female in the band helps here, and bass-player Emma Richardson brings a cool and competent swagger you never realized your favorite music was missing. It was all on full display this night at the tiny Gothic Theatre: thick, bluesy guitar riffs, drumming at once nuanced and propulsive, and <em>that bass</em>, like arteries of subterranean oil keeping everything at the surface sliding to the rhythm. The aggression in their best songs’ themes (the price of ignorance, the inevitability of retribution) belies their charming modesty on stage: it’s a no-frills set-up with a straightforward light show. And frontman Russell Marsden, while eager to share stories behind the songs, apologizes for talking too much, concerning himself with the audience’s good time. He needn’t have worried; we were lapping it up. The set was worthy of our non-stop head-banging, and was heavy on the just-released material they were touring. Still, they managed early on to sneak in a slower and older one, “Cold Flame,” that’s an all-time favorite of mine. The huge grin it put on my face stayed put all night. Setlist

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Another Throwback Beastie Boys Pageant Tour

Back in 2004 Beastie Boys, an act with nothing left to prove, three guys who could do whatever they wanted, decided to have some fun. So they built a tour that spent two nights in each city, one a classic hip-hop show and the other … something else. “This Is A No Sneaker Jam. Dress To Impress. No B.S.” read the announcement. Tiny venues. More instrumental. Plenty of surprises. 

I regret that I never made it to any dates on the tour but I think it’s a remarkable example of risk-taking and playfulness that’s too rare among superstar live acts.


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Beck

8/15/14
Morrison, CO
Red Rocks Amphitheater
Map of Colorado, USA
4.5 Stars
Love this man. Seeing Beck perform live has been a Bucket List event for me for a very long time. But to check it off in such majestic fashion — a summer show outdoors at Red Rocks starring the band that recorded one of my all-time favorite discs (Sea Change) — just exceeded all expectations. As I had hoped, the set spanned Beck’s entire ridiculous and spectacular career, nestling some of his weirdest deep cuts (“Wave”) alongside his biggest hits (“Loser”) and balls-out rockers (“Debra”). The light show was bonkers and his dance moves were bananas. I have to knock a half-star off for the poor sound mix that plagued most of the show … but otherwise this one did not disappoint. I wanted it to never end. Setlist

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Ben Harper

9/15/15
Morrison, CO
Red Rocks Amphitheater
Map of Colorado, USA
4 Stars
heartfelt and raw. Ben Harper has a knack for turning even large venues into intimate spaces. He played most of this show seated, his head down and his lap steel guitar bouncing on his thigh. He may have been deep in concentration but it was successful in drawing the audience into his little circle on the stage. He could make it loud (“Ground On Down”), he could make it quiet (“Another Lonely Day”), he could make it tense (“Touch From Your Lust”), but no matter what he made each person in the crowd feel like they were sitting right next to him. This was never more evident than when he ended the set by stepping to the front of the stage, asking his tech to turn off all the microphones, and delivering a bone-chilling rendition of “Where Could I Go” a cappella. It was an invitation to feel what he felt, hear what he heard, and you could hear a pin drop. Fantastic. Setlist

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Ben Harper

6/28/16
Morrison, CO
Red Rocks Amphitheater
Map of Colorado, USA
3 Stars
The streak continues. Aida and I have seen Ben Harper at Red Rocks so many times that the shows are in danger of becoming predictable, forgettable affairs. While every Innocent Criminals-backed show hits common notes — the “Burn One Down” extended bongo solo here, the “Steal My Kisses” beatbox guest there — we’re always treated to a surprise. This night it was a stunning duet between Ben and special guest Dallas Green (whose band City And Colour opened the show) on one of my favorites, “Another Lonely Day.” It was sung with such pitch-perfect tenderness by both men it made me wish Mr. Green would join the band permanently. We were hosting friends from out of town so I couldn’t have been happier with the beautiful music they got to see at this extraordinary venue. Setlist

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Ben Harper

6/7/2011
Denver, CO
Ogden Theatre
Map of Colorado, USA
3 Stars
Rock & roll revival. A bunch of Relentless 7 songs, a cover of Zeppelin’s “No Quarter” and two encores for the rabid fans screaming their lungs raw for more. Does this guy and his Innocent Criminals ever disappoint? No. No they don’t. Setlist

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