I Swear It's ...

The Head And The Heart

8/28/16
Morrison, CO
Red Rocks Amphitheater
Map of Colorado, USA
2.5 Stars
Where’d you go? This was Aida’s and my second time seeing this terrific band at Red Rocks and this one was … just okay. They seemed uncomfortable onstage, and made the awkward vibe worse by breaking between-song silences with admissions that they’re no good at talking to the audience during shows. And those silences! The crowd was not into it. A shame since the band delivered a serviceable performance — albeit without founding member Josiah Johnson — that focused on the most celebratory moments of their album Signs Of Light and the best sing-alongs from throughout their catalog. Whatever … we’re seeing them again next summer and I’m confident that one will be a step back in the right direction, especially if they’re reunited with Josiah. Setlist

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Unknown Mortal Orchestra

8/26/16
Denver, CO
Ogden Theatre
Map of Colorado, USA
3 Stars
Lean and unpredictable. You learn quickly that UMO frontman Ruban Nielson’s not much of a talker — he comes onstage without fuss and, after a long time fiddling with his guitar, moves quickly from song to song — but that doesn’t mean you don’t get inside his head. One second he’ll be chillin’, like he’s on a quiet street corner playing for himself … and the next, he’ll bust a James Brown-style dance move out of nowhere or drop to his knees and shred like Prince. He’s not aping — he’s a terrific guitar player — you just don’t expect it. If that’s all that was presented it would be enough to keep things interesting … but holy shit the drummer, Amber Baker, is a beast in hip-hop style clothes, and the light show is on point. The songs alternated from the patient delivery of “So Good at Being in Trouble” to the shred-fest “One At A Time” to the bounce-a-thon “Ffunny Ffrends.” You don’t know which Ruban Nielson is going to play you the next note, but that was part of the fun. Setlist

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LCD Soundsystem

8/3/16
Morrison, CO
Red Rocks Amphitheater
Map of Colorado, USA
5 Stars
Elevator going up! I love the disco stylings and fast tempos in these guys’ music and couldn’t pass up a chance to see them reunite at my favorite Colorado venue. It was magical. After two really excellent support acts and a drenching rain shower got things started, the band — a dozen-strong Army corps of beat-makers, knob-twiddlers and multi-instrumentalists — started their set … and didn’t stop the rock until every leg, neck and arm was liquified. I mean, it was exhausting just watching these guys on stage: a flurry of activity, the music surging out of each member through drum kits and keyboards and guitars and microphones. The party gushed in rainbows out to the crowd; the fans wigged out. My concert tastes skew more folk than this so, for me, it was a trip getting swept up; that my good friends and fellow music-lovers Rebecca and William and Lynn were there with me, sliding along the groove and back into the warm night, was like warm gravy. Easily my favorite show of the summer. Setlist

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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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Twenty One Pilots

7/12/16
Morrison, CO
Red Rocks Amphitheater
Map of Colorado, USA
4.5 Stars
Well-rehearsed spectacle. I bought tickets to this show as an excuse to introduce my kids to Red Rocks. They love Twenty One Pilots; I only marginally like them, but I like that they don’t cuss in their lyrics, so off we went. I expected lots of wide-eyed tweens and goth teens there in obnoxious groups or leaning away from their dads (like my boys). What I got instead was The Greatest Show On Earth — Magic! Robot dancers! Costume changes! — with the crowd singing along to every word. And it was presented by two cool and earnest young people for a crowd of cool and earnest young people. The show opened with the band — just two guys! — onstage in ski masks. But then a shroud falls over the singer and, a second later, a spotlight reveals the singer on a giant rock 50 feet from the stage! Then the spotlight on the drummer’s kit goes dark and, a second later, the drummer’s on a full kit on the roof of the beer stand! Then they’re playing on a satellite stage in the middle of the crowd surrounded by fans! Something crazy like this was always happening, without interruption to the music. And the guys in the band couldn’t have been more respectful of the fans. They delivered stories about the joy of playing music — from friends’ bedrooms to packed stadiums — and the importance of being true to yourself among others; stuff that sounds cheesy to cynical old concert farts like me but visibly moved the young people in the audience. I could appreciate the message, and I know my kids took the spirit of it home with them. These two guys spent a lot of time crafting an excellent rock show that was unique to the venue and appropriate to the audience. Besides employing a bit more live instrumentation, there wasn’t much more they could have done to please the crowd. I know I loved it. 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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My Morning Jacket

5/28/16
Morrison, CO
Red Rocks Amphitheater
Map of Colorado, USA
4.5 Stars
Weird and unforgettable. The buzz around this show was heady: it was the first of a two-night run on Memorial Day weekend, the holiday enabling many One Big Family members to fly in from all over the country; the deluxe reissue of It Still Moves (in my opinion, the best MMJ album) had just been released the day before and was rumored to be played in its entirety; and original guitarist Johnny Quaid had tweeted that he’d be onstage with his old band for at least part of the shows. After sprinting from early entry to the GA section and securing awesome spots mere feet from the stage — Carl side, of course — my man Brian and I were ready to take it in. Brian’s brothers and a few of his high school friends joined us for a swirling trip through fan favorites and deep cuts from all over the band’s catalog, including a rare spin through “Just One Thing” and a gut-punching “Steam Engine” — both off ISM — that made us euphoric. It was a bizarre and ridiculous set, only the encore showing a bit of predictability (much of it borrowed from the Red Rocks show a year earlier). But even that was amazing, delivering three of the band’s most ass-shakingest tunes — “Highly Suspicious,” “Touch Me Pt. 2” and “Cobra” — in quick succession. A top-five MMJ show, for sure. Setlist

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Explosions In The Sky

5/10/16
Denver, CO
Ogden Theatre
Map of Colorado, USA
3 Stars
Cinematic. Claustrophobic. Courageous. I can’t say I’ve ever seen a concert quite like the one performed by this band. It’s remarkable that their music, played in a rock club with no vocals (they’re 100% instrumental) and no video screens (just smoke, lots of smoke) manages to paint such clear pictures on the listener’s imagination. The songs build slowly, starting quietly, drawing you in. Sometimes they meander to unexpected places; usually they feature crescendos like tidal waves, walls of sound, thrilling and punishing. It helps that the band members can really play their instruments, I mean they can really play. There aren’t many other bands playing in the vocal- slash frontman-dominated modern rock scene borrowing more from symphonic film soundtrack music than from Led Zeppelin or Nirvana or EDM … and they’re killing it. Huge smiles in the audience everywhere you looked. Setlist

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Foals

4/26/16
Denver, CO
Ogden Theatre
Map of Colorado, USA
4 Stars
Another Foals corker. These guys just blow me away every time I see them. They’ve got a no-bullshit approach to their live show — walk out, get playing, chat a bit, keep it moving — but their energy is off the charts. Each man on stage is writhing and jumping and headbanging and swaying and sweating … for two hours. And the songs! They’re rock — even heavy at times — but they’re so, so danceable. A Foals show sees hipsters, club kids, metalheads and mathletes all shaking their asses. This was a great, eclectic crowd, and you could tell the band was loving it. Bonus points to opener Kiev for covering an obscure Paul Simon song, “Can’t Run But,” one of my favorites. Setlist

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Wolf Alice

4/14/16
Denver, CO
Bluebird Theater
Map of Colorado, USA
1 Stars
Little Miss Poseur. What a disappointment this one was. The bassist was a punk wannabe douchebag; the lead guitarist focused on his fretboard, his effects pedals and not much else; and the drummer kept abandoning his job to try to be the singer, a role for which he was painfully unsuited. The actual singer, frontwoman Ellie Rowsell, couldn’t have looked more bored or played her guitar with less enthusiasm. This may have been the only rock show I’ve ever been to where I considered walking out before the end. The only good thing about this show was the fact that my friend Anthony, planning on joining me, couldn’t make it, so he was spared. Oh, and demerits to the band for rushing through my favorite song and playing it like shit. Setlist

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