Tue, 08/07/2012 - 5:22 pm

My Morning Jacket is considered by many to be one of the premier live rock outfits in the country. Suffice to say, they did nothing but bolster that reputation over the course of six ridiculously entertaining hours Friday and Saturday night at the unparalleled Red Rocks Amphitheater in Morrison, Colorado.

Both nights began with sets from Trombone Shorty and Band of Horses. The two bands provided satisfying, if not spectacular, appetizers to the feast of MMJ (I’m referring to both the band and the liberal use of “herbal medication” by the crowd) that was to follow. Trombone Shorty (real name: James Andrews) and his band Orleans Avenue brought a jazzy, uptempo party-friendly sound with a decided Cajun tinge that was highlighted by the aforementioned Andrews’ virtuosic skill on the trombone and trumpet.

Band of Horses was decidedly more downbeat, but that didn’t stop them from getting the crowd going. The sets were solid, if fairly predictable, containing fan favorites and songs off their new album. Highlights included “The General Specific,” “Ode to LRC,” and “Monsters,” as well as stirring renditions of “Funeral” to end each night’s performance.

The band itself is talented, and frontman Ben Bridwell is a very solid songwriter. However, the whole time they were playing I just kept thinking they were like a diet version of My Morning Jacket. It will do in a pinch, but sometimes the only thing that will quench your thirst is Jim James and Company.

The Louisville, Kentucky group has been around since 1998 and has grown exponentially both in listeners and musical progression. Initially, their sound was indie and sparse, with top-notch songwriting being the driving factor. Now their songs include so many different styles and influences that the only term that feels appropriate to describe them is rock, plain and simple. I truly believe they are one of the great contemporary American rock bands, quite possibly the best. And now, with so many young music fans firmly ensconced in the electronic dance music scene and trading guitars for laptops, they could be one of the last.

At 9:30, MMJ hit the stage for the first time. They started things off with a slow boil of old tunes, including opener “Rollin’ Back,” “The Way That He Sings,” and “Lowdown,” both off their second album At Dawn. Things picked up with “Holdin’ On to Black Metal” and “First Light,” songs that are featured on MMJ’s latest album, Circuital. “First Light” had guitarist Carl Broemel swapping his shred stick for an alto saxophone and playing it with some seriously funky guitar effects.

“War Begun” was next, and while it’s a slower song off their first album The Tennessee Fire, the band punched up the ending with an inspired jam that featured Broemel and James trading off riffs. Band of HorsesBridwell joined the band onstage for a superb version of “Wonderful (The Way I Feel)” that had him and James exchanging vocal responsibilities and harmonizing beautifully. James’ voice is a powerful and unique instrument, and the acoustics at Red Rocks only enhanced his extraordinary wails.

I personally love it when bands cover songs, and I’m always interested to see the songs certain bands choose to pay homage to. MMJ didn’t disappoint in this regard. They played Elton John’s “Rocket Man” (featuring Broemel on a pedal steel guitar), Erykah Badu’s “Tyrone,” “Never Tear Us Apart” by INXS, and an unexpected cover of The Clash’s “Rock the Casbah” during the encore that had the whole place getting their respective boogie on.

Other first night standouts were a moving version of “I Will Sing You Songs” and a three-song face punch during the encore that included “Victory Dance” off Circuital, “Off the Record” from Z (arguably MMJ’s most accessible studio album), and “Cobra” from their Chocolate and Ice EP. They closed with Z’s “Gideon,” and the first night was officially in the books.

Even though they played 29 songs, I left the amphitheater thinking the band had left a lot on the table. I had a feeling Saturday night was going to be a monumentally epic show. My intuition proved to be correct. My Morning Jacket played an absolutely monstrous set the second night, lasting almost three-and-a-half hours. Things started off innocently enough, with a short-but-sweet version of “At Dawn”, the namesake song of their second album. Next was “Circuital”, the title track of their most recent album.

Guitar-heavy “Xmas Curtain,” “It Beats 4 U,” and “Lay Low” brought a thunderous change of pace. “Lay Low,” off of Z, is an especially rocking tune that calls to mind The Allman Brothers Band, especially with the dual guitar harmonizing at the end of the song. The band then switched gears again into “Highly Suspicious,” which I can only describe as WTF. It’s an awesome song off 2008’s Evil Urges that sounds like German industrial metal mixed with disco. James’ voice was in such a high register it sounded like he was breathing out the lyrics rather than actually singing them.

With the energy (and crowd) high, My Morning Jacket then played excellent renditions of fan favorites that included “The Bear,” “Golden,” and “Steam Engine.” They then brought Bridwell back on stage for their first cover of the night, an incredible version of George Harrison’s “Isn’t This a Pity” that had James, Broemel and Bridwell sharing guitar solos all over the place.

James soon busted out the omnichord for “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream Pt. 2,” a smooth, spacey, almost-but-not-quite electronic groove that was followed by the excellent “Movin’ Away,” the last song on Circuital and a wonderful reflection on losing a love you weren’t quite ready to give up yet. Sometimes the way James sings makes his lyrics hard to understand, especially if you haven’t heard the song before. But when you look up the words and combine his poetry with that voice, “genius” isn’t a strong enough word.

This brings me to the best song of both nights: “Dondante,” the last song off Z. A haunting, melodic, evocative masterpiece about the far-too-soon loss of a close friend, “Dondante” lasted at least 15 minutes and not once did it feel too long. It ended on a melancholy, poignant alto sax solo from Broemel. The song felt especially appropriate considering James’ announcement to the crowd that their good friend Jason Noble, a fellow musician from Louisville, had passed away that very morning. I am sure that song held a distinct meaning for them that night, and they played it as such.

A loud, vibrant version of “Run-Thru” came soon after, and they ended the set with the reggae-infused “Phone Went West.” The encore began with just James and his acoustic guitar playing “Bermuda Highway” and “I Will Be There When You Die.” The slower, gentler songs seemed to be a way to give the crowd and the band a bit of a respite before things got hectic again.

Sure enough, before too long James brought out Trombone Shorty and very special (see: random) guest John Oates to whip the crowd into a frenzy on a cover of Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up.” Trombone Shorty stayed out for “Dancefloors,” a song with both a country and big-band vibe to it. After that, My Morning Jacket closed with “One Big Holiday,” one of their most popular songs and one that the crowd had definitely waiting for. Despite having been blasted with music for the better part of three-and-a-half hours, there was no lack of energy and everyone in the crowd was dancing as MMJ shredded their way to glory.

While walking back to the car with my exhausted girlfriend, I couldn’t get over just how phenomenal the weekend was. My Morning Jacket always looks like they are having the time of their lives. James will run back and forth across the stage, climbing on the drum set, sometimes wearing a dashiki-cape thing and singing with it in front of his face like a superhero. His fellow bandmates are always smiling and quite often mouthing the words to the songs, as they are as deep into the zone as James is.

As a band they appear extremely cohesive. James may be the main man, but I sense no jealousy or egos running wild. And I especially appreciate the lack of banter. Some bands are good at it (Yonder Mountain String Band comes to mind), but for the most part it can be irritating. Just shut up and play. I could probaby count on one hand how many times James spoke to the crowd over the course of both nights, and I believe it’s because he and his bandmates genuinely love the music that they play and what they get to do for a living. Why waste time with frivolous chatter?

What I saw Friday and Saturday night was a band in their prime, fully engaged and demonstrating their prowess in every way imaginable. As far as live music goes, you’ll be hard-pressed to find much better than the incomparable My Morning Jacket.

Fri, 08/10/2012 - 4:51 pm

A lot of people like to use the word “genius” when describing Jack White, and it’s easy to see why. His mastery of so many genres, including blues, gospel, country, and rock, place him in rarefied air of modern musicians. Oh, and he can play a bit of guitar too.

White’s show at Red Rocks on Wednesday demonstrated a little bit of everything. Flanked by a six-piece all-female backing band dubbed The Peacocks, White played songs from his entire repertoire. Tunes from his days with The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather peppered the set list, along with many cuts from his recent solo album Blunderbuss and of course several White Stripes favorites.

The first song was “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground”, off The White Stripes breakthrough third album White Blood Cells. The song was a good indication of what was to come the rest of the night, with White somewhat deferring to his incredibly talented backing band and letting their skills shine through on numerous solos.

Two of the better songs off Blunderbuss, “Missing Pieces” and “Love Interruption”, were next. White laid down some gnarly guitar work on “Pieces”, while backup vocalist Ruby Amanfu was able to shine on “Love Interruption”.

Before the next song, White asked if the crowd liked country music. “Of course you do!” he answered himself as he launched into an extremely countrified version of “Hotel Yorba”, also off White Blood Cells. The pedal steel guitar work of Maggie Bjorklund and some impressive fiddle play from Lillie Mae Rische highlighted the song and gave it a down-home twangy-ness that had the crowd trying out their dancing shoes.

While “Hotel Yorba” proved to be a nice departure from the standard version of the song, the same cannot be said about “Fell In Love With a Girl.” White and his band played this song slow and calmly, without any of the frenetic, high-energy wailing and drumming that made the song special in the first place. Since the original song was the first time I ever heard The White Stripes and was what initially got me into them, I couldn’t help but feel slightly disappointed by this relaxed, almost casual version.

“I Guess I Should Go To Sleep,” off Blunderbuss, saw White swap his guitar for the piano, then switch back for “Take Me With You When You Go,” the final song off Blunderbuss. Things then slowed down a bit, with “We’re Going to Be Friends,” “Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy,” and the title track “Blunderbuss.” These songs really allowed The Peacocks to showcase their talents, as there was nary a guitar solo to be found.

However, White ended the first set loud and proud with a set of B-themed songs. “Blue Blood Blues,” the only Dead Weather song that made the set list, brought the crowd back into it with White’s guitar again taking center stage. After that was the song I was waiting for all night, “Ball and Biscuit,” a White Stripes tune off Elephant. The song kicked off with a bluesy tease before White ripped into it. He changed several of the lyrics, but it didn’t really matter because the song is really just a platform for White’s incredible guitar skills. He laid down his best work of the night, effortlessly shredding impossible solos that justified his standing as one of the world’s greatest living guitarists. It was an excellent way to end the set.

After a short break, White and The Peacocks shuffled back out for a raucous encore. “Sixteen Saltines” and “Freedom at 21” two high-energy songs off Blunderbuss, kicked things off. “The Hardest Button to Button,” a classic White Stripes song, was next. A stretched-out “Steady as She Goes,” one of three Raconteurs songs to make the set list, followed that, with White demonstrating a different, extended take on the guitar solo during the bridge.

“Seven Nation Army,” perhaps the most popular song in White’s arsenal, then made its much-anticipated arrival. White busted out a gigantic hollow body guitar and played slide while the crowd sang along in what was the most participatory song of the night. After announcing to the crowd it would be the last song of the evening, White and The Peacocks closed with “Goodnight Irene,” an old folk song popularized by Lead Belly.

My only qualms with the show were the length and the sound. White’s set clocked in at barely an hour and forty-five minutes, leaving me wanting more. As for the sound, I can’t really blame it on the artist. The show was sold-out and I was forced to retreat very high up. At Red Rocks, sometimes when you are at that height, the wind can really mess up the acoustics. Thus, some of the songs had a muffled quality to them.

Despite those issues, it was still a superb show that demonstrated just how skilled Jack White is, which was all I was really looking for anyway. He is indeed a musical master, and it was a treat to see him playing new songs and old favorites with such talented musicians and diverse instrumentation.

Tue, 08/14/2012 - 12:58 pm

It’s been another great summer for live music in Colorado. From the majestic Red Rocks Amphitheater in Morrison to the main stage at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, the state has again proven itself to be a major destination for all kinds of acts. As the season winds down and the weather (hopefully) starts to get cooler, the local boys of Yonder Mountain String Band still have one trick up their respective sleeve.

After 9 long years, the Kinfolk Celebration is returning to Planet Bluegrass in Lyons. The mini-festival will take place August 24th and 25th, and features several artists and bands. Yonder will play 2 headlining sets, with dobro player Andy Hall from The Infamous Stringdusters sitting in with them each night.

Festival attendees will also be able to camp at Planet Bluegrass. There is on-site camping, right by the stage, but unfortunately those passes have already sold out. Meadow Park, the second campground, still has spots available.

Fresh off their annual Northwest String Summit up at Horning’s Hideout in Oregon, Yonder will be bringing many of thier musical brethren to share in what’s sure to be one of the best events of the summer. Larry Keel, Split Lip Rayfield, and Todd Snider will open for Yonder the first night, while Greensky Bluegrass takes the reins the second night. During the day, there is sure to be no shortage of amateur pickers in the campground, so the melodies should be flowing around the clock.

Amazing flatpicker Larry Keel and his band Natural Bridge (featuring Mark Schimick on mandolin and vocals, Will Lee on banjo and Larry’s wife Jenny on bass and tenor vocals) will surely bring the thunder and get the crowd in the appropriate mood for what’s to follow.

Singer-songwriter Todd Snider’s introspective and clever lyrics are as Americana as apple pie. His songwriting has definitely touched a chord with Yonder, who frequently cover his tunes.

Split Lip Rayfield may be disguised as a traditional bluegrass band, but don’t let that exterior fool you for a minute. The band plays loud and fast, influenced by punk and heavy metal And a stand-up bass will never look quite the same again after watching bassist Jeff Eaton beat on his homemade one-string bass, built from the gas tank of a car.

Following up on their headlining set from the first night of the Northwest String Summit, Greensky Bluegrass will be looking to build on their relentless momentum. The band has been around since 2000 but has steadily boosted their reputation by combining non-stop touring with increased musical proficiency. Their diverse setlists also make for a good time. Any band that can cover Ween or Men at Work with bluegrass instrumentation deserves your attention.

As for Yonder themselves, they will be playing their only headlining Colorado shows of the summer at Planet Bluegrass. This means no Red Rocks this year for the guys, but they’re aiming for something a little more special with their return to Lyons.

The music is sure to be stellar, but it’s called the Kinfolk Celebration for a reason. Yonder wants their fans, their Kinfolk, to connect with each other. That’s why the camping and the downtime between acts is such a huge part of the experience. People will come because of their shared love of the music, but they will leave with stories and new friends. It’s what being Kinfolk is all about.

Wed, 08/22/2012 - 10:03 am

Adam Aijala, Ben Kaufmann & Dave Johnston of Yonder Mountain String Band took some time from their busy schedule to answer a few questions about the band's upcoming Kinfolk Celebration in Lyons, Colorado. This will be the first time in 10 years the band is playing the Planet Bluegrass grounds. It's obvious they're excited for the opportunity to put on a festival for their hometown fans.

GW: It’s been 9 years since the last Kinfolk Celebration. Why the decision to return this year?

BK: Well, we wanted a way to refer to our fans who were obviously building a community for themselves.  There are Deadheads and Phishheads and Salmonheads.  Yonderheads is a terrible name.  Kinfolk, in my opinion, brings with it an established definition, one that suggests an idea and helps encourage people to pursue the idea of an extended family.  Maybe you only see people once a year but they care for you just the same.

GW: Where did the concept of Kinfolk come from?

DJ: The concept of Kinfolk was something that grew out of our early touring necessity, where we wanted to involve people on grassroots level by asking them to help with tour promotion in exchange for tickets and stuff like that.  We wound up finding some really spectacular people in that way: folks who genuinely cared about the band and the show that night, or in some cases series of shows in certain geographic locations, say california. From there, it wasn't much of a stretch to try and put on annual celebrations or informal getting-to-know you type of events.  It's sort of like weekend date with our fans.

AA: We've had a Kinfolk Celebration every year since 2003, which has become our formal way of thanking our hardcore fans who've helped us continue doing what we love to do.  Don't get me wrong, we're grateful for every show we play, but we kind of treat this event as an annual celebration like you'd treat a birthday or anniversary.  Although this is only the 2nd time we've held it in Lyons at Planet Bluegrass (2003 and this year), we really love playing music there.  From 2004 to 2011, they've mainly been held in Chicago, Madison, and Milwaukee, though we've done it in Minneapolis once, too, I think (ha!).  I forget things sometimes.

GW: Since 2007, your band has been headlining Red Rocks shows during the summer. Are there still plans to continue that, or do you see yourselves doing more stuff like the Lyons festival?

AA: We love playing both Red Rocks and Planet Bluegrass, so I wouldn't be surprised to see us back at both locations through the years.

DJ: I feel like the Lyons show is a really special and rare occasion.  We don't often play out at the ranch, but it holds a profound place in my musical consciousness because it is a place where my mom first saw the band, it was the first giant gig to us, and it felt like, when we first worked there, that we had some key support from a great community in Planet Bluegrass.

BK: We'll certainly play Red Rocks again. We'll take a closer look after the Kinfolk weekend and make some decisions for next year.

GW: On Facebook, YMSB petitioned fans to post songs they wanted to hear over the weekend. Are the entire setlists going to be fan-built, and are there plans to play something fans have never heard before? Will there be any new original songs?

DJ: I think there may be a little bit from every category, but I am bound by secrecy to withhold our plan

AA: What we're planning is we're going to create one of our 4 sets of the weekend based on our fans suggestions.  The order we do the songs will mostly be decided by us, but all the songs will be off that request list.  Yes, there will be songs we've never played, but as of now I don't think any of those songs are originals.  We're looking forward to that.

BK: The song list submitted by the fans is, um, interesting.  I love the LCD Soundsystem suggestion, the Pantera suggestion.  I dislike the Cyndi Lauper suggestion but I like the Toto suggestion.  Mostly the requests were fort obscure original songs or covers we did ages ago.  I anticipate new material in some form or another.  We certainly lean fairly heavily toward the original music side of the fence.  At least that's what turns me on the most.

GW: Can we expect any unannounced special guests for the Kinfolk Celebration?

AA: Well it wouldn't be unannounced if I told you, now would it?

GW: Touché

BK: Considering the quality of musicians that call the Front Range home, I expect there to be a large gathering of players.  As anyone familiar with Yonder will know, we encourage sit ins and co-creation. I invited Lindsay Lohan to come sit in, but she just threw up on me.

GW: Many Yonder fans hold Mountain Tracks Vol. 3 in extremely high regard. That was recorded at the Kinfolk Celebration. Are there any plans to record another Mountain Tracks at the festival this year? If not, any idea when you will do the next one?

BK: The shows will be recorded, absolutely.  There's a discussion currently about the need for more Mountain Tracks.  Every show of ours is available online within a few days of the performance.  If another live CD is released it would have to be something rare or very special.  Of course, if past experience is any indication, the Kinfolk shows are examples of that.

DJ: Listening down to the tracks from that album was really an ear opening experience, and it really feels great to know what the band is capable of doing, even off the top of our heads like so much of those particular shows.  As far as another MT album, it seems like it might be a while in the works; you can however, get downloads from Nugs on-line, and I'd encourage anyone who likes the Mountain Tracks to check out some of the shows Hines has put up for download, they sound great. 

AA: I agree that that is our best Mountain Tracks.  I don't think we have plans for more because all of our shows.

GW: How does it feel playing in Colorado, especially so close to where your band started, versus playing on the road?

DJ: I can't compare playing in Colorado to any thing else.  Everywhere we play has unique characteristics and it feels that lately, everywhere has been charged in some new way.

BK: Colorado is home.  Everywhere else isn't.

GW: Last winter Yonder played 5 nights at the Boulder Theater for New Year’s. Any idea what you’re going to do this year?

BK: Personally, the Boulder Theater shows are counted among my favorites of the year.  We can really do things with design and production that are special because of the intimacy of the venue.  I'd personally like to play there again this year.  But isn't it funny how popular a market Denver is come New Year's time?  And so many of those bands are cannibalizing each others ticket sales.  So there's a business side of the question to consider.

DJ: I have an idea, but if you come to Lyons, you can find out our diabolical plans.

GW: Lastly, when can fans expect a new studio album?

DJ: Hard to put an exact date on it, but we are going to take a few cracks in the studio this fall, so we'll see.

BK: We've got our first sessions in studio in Chicago in the fall.  And we've got enough material for multiple albums.  Or one CD with 1000 tracks on it.  Sorry, did I say 1000.  I meant a billion.

GW: Thanks for your time, fellas. We'll see you this weekend!

Mon, 08/27/2012 - 4:10 am

With the Kinfolk Celebration and NedFest right around the corner, I decided to trek down to the Boulder Theater on Thursday night to give my ears a little warm-up session with WhiteWater Ramble and local Boulder band The Magic Beans.

The doors opened at 8:30, and the handful of people that were there by 9 received a special treat. Jet Edison, another local rock/jam band that is playing the first late-night set at NedFest, did a surprise set. There were probably less than 30 people in the theater at the time, but it didn’t stop Jet Edison from laying down some precise, melodic, funky grooves. Their sound reminded me a lot of String Cheese Incident, which is not a bad thing at all. Max Kabat contributed some mighty guitar solos, but it was really Phil Johnson’s outstanding keyboard work that stood out.

WhiteWater Ramble was next. The Fort Collins-based band has a unique sound, combining several elements of bluegrass, funk, and rock into a tasty stew of boogie. You can always tell a true Colorado band by the beverages they have behind them on stage. If they are from out of the state, it’s most likely water. If they are from here, I expect to see beer. WhiteWater Ramble’s drink of choice appeared to be Pabst Blue Ribbon, solidifying their Colorado band status.

Apparently it was their first time at the Boulder Theater, and they wanted to leave an impression. They started off fast with “Drawing Straws,” off their full-length album All Night Drive, and it never really slowed down.

After a few more fast-moving numbers, the band did something that I rarely see but am always pleasantly surprised when I do: they let the drummer sing a song! Luke Emig did a great job keeping the beat going while belting out a tune about standard deviation. Letting Emig take over the vocals for a song might have been an example of the band engaging in their little bit of deviation, as Emig didn’t sing another song all night.

Next was the excellent “Dead For Now”, which had mandolin player Patrick Sites singing fast-moving lyrics while the band progressed to a lengthy, crescendo-filled jam. “Riptide” followed, which started out like it might just be a fast bluegrass song before it became a loud mega-rocker complete with superb guitar from Patrick Latella.

The band ended with long instrumental song called “Beyer’s Canyon,” a song that let Adam Galblum’s fiddle shine. At the end of the song, bassist Howard Montgomery actually tipped his instrument over its side and stood on it while simultaneously playing it. I can honestly say I have never seen that before, and the crowd went nuts.

The Magic Beans had some tough acts to follow, but they proved their worth. Not being familiar with their music, I couldn’t tell you what songs were actually played, but they definitely showed they have serious chops. Right around 12:00, they played a nice, long cover of Eric Clapton’s classic “After Midnight” that had everyone in the theater dancing as if their lives depended on it.

It was after that song that I decided to leave. Not because the music wasn’t amazing, but because I knew Friday and Saturday were going to be long ones and I needed the rest. I will say The Magic Beans are certainly a band to watch out for in the local jam scene, as the crowd they drew was about equal to the one for WhiteWater Ramble.

In closing, all three bands brought the thunder, and the lively crowd returned the favor. Overall, it was a great, fun, energetic show that was the ideal appetizer for this incredible weekend of music in Colorado.

Thu, 08/30/2012 - 10:36 am

In case there was any confusion regarding Yonder Mountain String Band’s capacity for throwing down an amazing show that everybody can enjoy, the band brought out three little girls on stage during a cover of Danny Barnes’ “Funtime” who danced and whipped their hair with more fervor than Willow Smith herself. And it wasn’t for show either; they were doing the same thing backstage, where nobody could see them. That image right there summed up the Kinfolk Celebration. It was about celebrating the past, present, and future of the band and their fans.

The band has been around since 1998, and in those 14 years some in their legion of fans (dubbed “Kinfolk”) have popped out little Kinfolk of their own. That was evident at Planet Bluegrass in Lyons, Colorado, where the sight of small children running around was as common as a tie-dyed shirt or a set of dreadlocks. And the best part? The band embraces it. That much was clear when they let those young ladies boogie all over their stage.

The Kinfolk Celebration is YMSB’s annual thank-you to their fans. In recent years, the band has done Celebrations in places like Chicago, Madison, and Milwaukee. They haven’t held it in Lyons since 2003, when they recorded the legendary Mountain Tracks Volume 3. That, combined with the fact that Lyons is pretty darn close to where YMSB started as a band, meant the thunder was going to be brought.

Larry Keel got the party started on Friday with his band Natural Bridge. The flat picker extraordinaire set the mood and played with vigor, despite the small crowd size. Most of the festival attendees either hadn’t shown or were still at their campsites making sure they were properly hydrated for later.

Split Lip Rayfield came on next. Bassist Jeff Eaton’s one-string gas tank bass named Stitchgiver, which he furiously plucked to the crowd’s delight, highlights the three-piece band. Split Lip Rayfield has an intriguing, addictive sound. It’s hard not to dance. The vocals and lyrics have a down-home feel, but the music is fast and aggressive. One festivalgoer described it to me as “thrashgrass”, which seemed appropriate. Standouts of their set for me were “How Many Biscuits Can You Eat?” and their jam of “I’ll Be Around” into “Devil’s Lies.” They closed with “Kiss of Death,” a funny, possibly semi-true tune about ill-fated cars. Perhaps Eaton scored his bass from one of the crashed cars mentioned in the song.

The final opener before YMSB on Friday was Todd Snider, I like Todd Snider a lot as a songwriter, but I felt his set was a little slow-paced. It seemed strange that he would be the last person to come on before Yonder, just because the energy level between the two is so different.

Snider’s songs are all about the lyrics, which are equally hilarious and insightful. I’m always happy to hear “Conservative Christian Rightwing Republican Straight White American Males” and “Statistician’s Blues” with Snider playing by himself, but the whole crowd was extremely appreciative when bassist Ben Kaufmann and mandolin player Jeff Austin of YMSB joined Snider for his final four songs. They closed things on a high note with a superb version of “Sideshow Blues,” one of Snider’s songs that has become a staple in Yonder’s catalogue.

At 7:30, it was time for Yonder to hit the stage. They were playing all of their sets this weekend with Andy Hall, the insanely talented Dobro player from The Infamous Stringdusters. I had expected the opening song to be something a little slower, but they kicked everyone in their respective faces with “Shady Grove” into “Wheelhoss” back into “Shady Grove.” Right then, I knew what kind of weekend it was going to be. The rest of the set featured newish tunes like “All The Time,” “Don’t Worry Happy Birthday,” “Straight Line,” and “What The Night Brings.” I was sure nothing was going to beat the “Shady Grove” opener, and yet somehow Yonder kicked it up another notch with a brilliant take on The Grateful Dead’s classic “Shakedown Street.” The crowd was in utter bliss as the first set ended.

The fun was not done, however. The second set began with Jeff’s song, “New Horizons,” about a family trying to escape a flood. Ben pulled out the bow to create a loud and super-low tone on the bass, and then the band went into a nice, long version of The Beatles’ “Dear Prudence.” Dave Johnston, the banjo player, and guitar player Adam Aijala busted out another newer song, dubbed “Pass This Way.” That song, along with the other new material, seemed to resonate quite nicely with the audience.

Following Ben’s announcement that he wrote this song after “making love,” YMSB launched into one of his Sheriff’s Saga standards, “On the Run.” The band usually likes to split that one up, and tonight was no exception. They went right into the Danny Barnes’ ode to creepy, overprotective fathers, “Pretty Daughter,” which was stretched out to almost ten minutes.

They finished “On the Run” and, after “Pockets,” brought out Larry Keel for their final three songs. The first with Larry Keel was “My Gal.” Yonder has a great intro to this song, where Ben sings the first couple of lines and in between Jeff and Adam each get to rip lengthy solos before the song actually begins. Well, with Larry Keel and Andy Hall on stage, that tradition was taken to a whole other level. Each musician got to showcase his chops, but Keel’s guitar battle with Adam was basically solid ear gold.

Yonder closed their second set of the first night with terrific renditions of two of their more vintage songs, “Snow on the Pines” and “Raleigh and Spencer.” A short, but entertaining encore of “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke” and “Going Where They Do Not Know My Name” ended the night, and happy concertgoers shuffled back to their tents. The music didn’t stop, necessarily, as amateur picking sessions soon began and lasted well into the morning.

Greensky Bluegrass was the only band to play before Yonder on Friday, and they played an energetic set that was short on songs but long on jams. There was a cover of Prince’s “When Doves Cry” fairly early on in the set, followed by “Lose My Way” and “Dust Bowl Overture.”

Lots of bands have covered “Atlantic City” by Bruce Springsteen, but I think the version Greensky plays is one of the best I’ve heard. Mandolin player Paul Hoffman’s vocals have the right amount of depth and remorse to give the song its proper hopeful-yet-sad feel, just like the Boss intended. The band brought it back up at the end of the set, displaying outstanding musicianship on “Crying Holy” and “Leap Year” to close out their portion of the evening.

I was really looking forward to Yonder’s first set of the night, as this was the one that was picked exclusively by fans. The band didn’t disappoint, playing a set filled with rarities and covers I haven’t ever heard them play. They kicked things off with “Rambler’s Anthem,” the other Yonder song about ramblin’ that doesn’t get played very often. An Adam-led cover of the traditional song, “Jack A Roe,” came soon after. The band dipped back into their Elevation days with “High on a Hilltop”, then Ben pleased the crowd with a mini-Sheriff’s Saga consisting of “Part 1 (Lord Only Knows)” and “Mother’s Only Son,” complete with Dobro wizardry from Andy Hall.

Yonder then dusted off the uber-rare “Gilpin Swing,” a jazzy, swingy number that had the whole place grooving. Later, Ben swapped his standup bass for an electric as he and Adam crooned The Beatles’ “Hey Bulldog.” The band saved the best for last, however, with a face-melting super jam led by Jeff that featured a long cover of Phish’s “Sand” sandwiched between fan favorite “Peace of Mind.” It was a half-hour of pure shredding, and a great way to end the fan-inspired set..

During the set break, Yonder’s personal emcee and audio-archivist Pastor Tim led the crowd in one of the loudest Yeehaw Factor yells I have ever been privy to. It was clear that the fans were enjoying the show thoroughly, The band came out and, after some platitudes about how Yonder fans are the best fans in the world (like we didn’t know that already), they played “Illinois Rain” and another traditional song, “I’ve Been All Around This World,” sung by Dave.

Soon came a rollicking version of “Ten,” with “Funtime” and the aforementioned dance party in between. After some good-natured teasing by Ben about Adam’s age, Ben proclaimed, “There are very few songs that we sing that are older than Yonder Mountain String Band, and this is one of them.” Adam then took the spotlight on his most popular song, “Left Me In a Hole.” Next, a cover of John Hartford’s “Holdin’” had people scrambling for their lighters, but not to hold aimlessly in the air.

The second set of the second night ended with one of the more epic jam sandwiches I have ever seen Yonder lay down: “Traffic Jam” into “Keep on Going” into “After Midnight,” then back into “Keep on Going” and then back into “Traffic Jam.” All in all, it lasted about 40 minutes. If I hadn’t seen the band before, I think I would have been completely lost. Andy Hall absolutely slayed his solos on “Traffic Jam.” Actually, he pretty much dominated the whole weekend. In my opinion, he was far and away the best musician on stage. With all the accomplished pickers there, that is truly a compliment.

Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t give props to Dave Johnston. Jeff and Ben are great in their co-frontmen roles, and Adam is the most talented musician when the band is in their normal lineup, but Dave’s steadying influence is underrated. Serious bluegrass junkies often malign his banjo playing, but his style suits Yonder perfectly. He writes great songs, and his playing, from background melodies to solos, was on point all weekend. His long, technically sound solo during “Traffic Jam” made that clear.

The encore began with Jerry Garcia’s “Reuben and Cherise,” which the crowd approved of tremendously. It was an enjoyable way to allow the audience a chance to slow down and catch their breath after the frenetic end to the previous set. The lights, which had been excellent all weekend, were particularly nifty during this song. They kicked it back into high gear with “Troubled Mind” into “20 Eyes” back into “Troubled Mind” to end the night and send the weary but satisfied festivarians to the exits.

Walking back to the campgrounds, my feet were sore, my legs were shot, and I had a gigantic smile on my face. Yonder Mountain String Band gets better every time I see them, and luckily I don’t have to wait long until they return. They are playing four nights at the Boulder Theater for New Year’s, and I can only imagine what surprises they’ll have up their sleeve for those shows. If they put on even half as good of a time as they did for the Kinfolk Celebration (or for that matter, their five night run at the Boulder Theater last winter), there will be no shortage of people cutting a rug, young or old. Kinfolk’n A, indeed.

Check out lots more photos, including lots of festivarians from Friday & Saturday.

Sun, 09/16/2012 - 5:42 am

It’s no secret that Boulder is a hotbed for bluegrass music. The area has spawned popular bands like Leftover Salmon and Yonder Mountain String Band, who might not be considered bluegrass in the traditional sense but certainly share an appreciation and admiration for the genre that undoubtedly influenced them. In fact, it’s not an exaggeration to assume that without bands like Boulder’s very own Hot Rize, Salmon and Yonder might not exist today.

Hot Rize returned to the Boulder Theater on Friday for a night of old-fashioned fun. The legendary band practically bleeds bluegrass, with their suits and ties and unplugged instruments (except for Nick Forster’s barely plugged in bass), right down to the single microphone the group crowds around to harmonize. The crowd itself was a bit on the older side, which isn’t surprising considering the band has been in existence for almost 35 years. Hence, the show was seated, a first for me at the Boulder Theater.

Things started off strong with “Ninety Nine Years (And One Dark Day)”, off their self-titled debut album, followed by “Hard Pressed,” an original song by mandolin player and lead vocalist Tim O’Brien. After a superb version of the traditional song “Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning,” Forster took some time to introduce the band, keeping things light. Pete Wernick, aka Dr. Banjo, introduced Forster, who of course is already a regular at the Boulder Theater as host of the syndicated radio show eTown.

The band played some more short but sweet tunes, including “Radio Boogie,” “Colleen Malone,” “High on a Mountain” (which featured Wernick using a phaser effect on his banjo), and the theme song to the old Martha White Biscuit and Cornbread Time show, initially popularized by Flatt and Scruggs. Hot Rize got their name from the leavening ingredient in Martha White’s flour. Forster then revealed how Wernick got the nickname Dr. Banjo: he earned a PhD from Columbia University, whereas the rest of the members in the band only had one year of college experience total among them.

Finally, guitarist Bryan Sutton was granted a chance to shine on his song, “Hangman’s Reel.” The flat-picker extraordinaire dazzled the mostly subdued crowd, and actually inspired a few genuine hoots and hollers. His solos consistently drew the loudest applause throughout the night.

For those who are unaware, Hot Rize often performs as their alter ego Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers, a honkytonk group from the small town of Wyoming, Montana. So, after “Hangman’s Reel,” Hot Rize switched out their unplugged bluegrass instruments for plugged-in electric ones and their dapper suits for some decidedly garish cowboy wear. Forster (aka Wendell Mercantile) was the most fashionable, with red tassles hanging from his suit and guitar.

The group obviously has a lot of fun getting into character, and the crowd loved it as well, especially when they played their most popular song, “Oh Mona.” The banter was quite excellent, too. My favorite joke was Wernick, in his persona as the dim-witted Waldo Otto, saying, “Don’t call him an enigma. He’s an igma!” Cue the rim shot and muted trumpet!

The guys then came back out as Hot Rize and performed the fan favorite “Nellie Kane.” A surprise treat followed, as Forster and Wernick debuted a new song recently written in Forster’s basement. Another brief set from Red Knuckles came next, with Forster swapping his red tassels for white ones and Waldo Otto’s brother Elmo Otto (fiddler Justin Hoffenberg) joining the band on stage.

Coming back out as Hot Rize one last time, the band closed with “Midnight on the Highway” and the bluegrass standard “Shady Grove,” with Wernick utilizing the phaser effect again on “Shady Grove.” The band then played a brief encore with Hoffenberg that consisted of Bill Monroe’s classic “Wheelhoss” and the slower song “Won’t You Come and Sing For Me?”

Overall, it was an excellent show. Even though it was over by 10:30 (presumably due to the semi-geriatric audience), they played an impressive number of songs, all of them featuring top-notch vocals and instrumentation.  There is little doubt that Hot Rize is one of the most respected and accomplished bands around, bluegrass or otherwise. As long as they’re around, the bluegrass scene will remain alive and vibrant in Boulder.

Thu, 10/11/2012 - 8:24 am

Dr. Dog is one of those genre-defying bands whose sound is difficult to describe to someone who hasn’t heard them before. There is no other band that they can easily be compared to. It’s indie rock mixed with 60’s psychedelia, splashed with some punk and funk and soul. The result is a delicious musical cocktail, as anyone who attended their show Tuesday at the Boulder Theater can attest to.

Opener Cotton Jones was decent, and while their particular brand of introspective folk didn’t exactly set my brain on fire, the rest of the crowd seemed to enjoy it. Although I certainly appreciated their diverse instrumentation, I would have preferred at least a couple more uptempo songs.

Luckily, Dr. Dog more than made up for their lack of energy, kicking things off with “How Long Must I Wait” off their latest album, Be The Void. The show would lean heavily on Be The Void, with those songs taking up a third of the setlist.

“That Old Black Hole,” my personal favorite off Be The Void, followed soon after. The high-pitched vocals and guitar-fueled ending were delivered perfectly by Scott McMicken, the lead guitarist and co-frontman of the band. For those who are uninitiated with the musical stylings of Dr. Dog, harmonization is a key player in every song. While McMicken and Toby Leaman, the bassist, take turns on the lead vocals, every member of the band contributes to the harmonies, which quite frequently are masterful. It’s just one of those unique things that enable Dr. Dog to stand out from other bands.

The set featured two other Be The Void standouts: “Vampire” and “Lonesome,” both sung by Leaman. While some might consider the chorus in “Lonesome” to be a little cheesy (“What does it take to be lonesome? Nothin’ at all!”), I actually enjoyed it. It’s a small sampling of the clever wordplay Dr. Dog frequently uses in their songs.

Other highlights included “The Ark,” with its insanely catchy guitar riff fueling the crowd’s head-banging, and the dark, spacey, somewhat foreboding “The Beach,” in which Leaman’s howling, raspy vocals gave an extra edge to lines like “Fate has a funny way of coming around.” The song also featured some of the heaviest bass of the night, allowing Leaman to showcase his talents on his instrument as well.

Of course, no Dr. Dog show would be complete without their staple “The Rabbit, The Bat, and The Reindeer.” That would be followed by “Heart It Races,” a terrific Architecture in Helsinki cover. Dr. Dog doesn’t really cover songs, so you know this one must have really connected with them. Truthfully, I like their version more than the original.

The set ended with the haunting, almost-too-serious “Jackie Wants a Black Eye.” The lyrics in the song seem very literal, especially compared to the somewhat obtuse lyrics that permeate their other songs. It’s not a bad tune, but it was a slightly downbeat way to end the set.

The band came out for a strong four-song encore, ending with the fan favorite “My Friend.” The song’s message is that death is inevitable, so why worry about it? Spend your days doing what you love with people that you care about, and everything will be fine. After walking out of the Boulder Theater with a giant smile plastered on my face, I couldn’t help but think they might be on to something.

Check out more photos and videos from the show.

Mon, 11/05/2012 - 1:19 pm

In the midst of a full-on revival, Primus played a sold-out show at the Fillmore on Saturday night. This was not to be a typical concert experience however; this tour has been billed as Primus 3D.

I was handed a pair of 3D glasses as I entered the auditorium, and I was a little skeptical as to how the visuals were going to work. Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised. While the screen could have been a little bigger, the images and colors were sharp, vivid and very cool. The 3D worked so well that at some points the images were actually projecting out over the band. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen, and I’m not sure how Primus tours in 2D ever again.

Still, the backdrop was just an accent to the best part of the show; the music. Any conversation about Primus typically starts and ends with Les Claypool, as the eccentric frontman is one of the most extraordinary bassists on the planet. But guitarist Larry “Ler” LaLonde and drummer Jay Lane are incredibly skilled in their own right, and together they play a loud, strange-yet-wonderful brand of what I can only refer to as funk metal.

With the 3D in full effect and the audience more interested in hypnosis than moshing, the show had a decidedly psychedelic vibe. “American Life” kicked things off, with the first three-dimensional image of the Statue of Liberty inspiring a cheer from the crowd.

After a couple of songs off their latest album Green Naugahyde, “Last Salmon Man” and “Jilly’s on Smack”, Primus closed out their set with some old-school classics. “Golden Boy” led into a prolonged “Groundhog’s Day,” with Ler taking advantage of the jam mentality to lay down an extended guitar solo that ranged from smooth to frantic. “Bob” was next, and then “Jerry Was A Racecar Driver,” with 3D cheese wedges flying out towards the crowd.

The second set highlight was “These Damned Blue Collar Tweekers” into “Southbound Pachyderm” into “Over the Falls.” “Southbound Pachyderm” was extended into mega-jam territory, with Claypool’s bass guiding the others and oftentimes the visuals behind him as well. On “Over the Falls,” Claypool stopped the song to give his introduction to Ler’s trademark epic guitar solo. They closed the second set with a terrific version of “Harold of the Rocks,” which again had a long, free-form jam in the middle of the song.

Newer song “Hoeinfordaman” led off the encore. It was an okay song, but with so many tunes in the Primus repertoire, it was an interesting choice to say the least. The reliable “Tommy the Cat” ended the show, with Claypool laying down one of the funkiest bass solos possible. His fingers move so quickly, yet he has been at it so long that it looks effortless. The man can shred, no doubt about it.

Primus has one of the best live shows, period. When you add 3D to it, it becomes an even more extraordinary experience. The only question left is how do they top themselves? With Claypool at the helm, I’m sure they’ll find a way.

Mon, 12/31/2012 - 5:16 pm

When Yonder Mountain String Band gets the chance to play in Boulder, Colorado, they don’t pull any punches. The supposed “warm-up” show at the Boulder Theater the night before New Year’s Eve was filled with high-energy performances and dazzling musicianship that left the capacity crowd satisfied and happily exhausted by the time the music stopped at 1:30.

The set started off innocently enough, with just the original four members of YMSB playing favorites such as “Out of the Blue,” “River,” and “Loved You Enough.” They were all crowd-pleasers for sure, but you could sense the restless anticipation in the crowd. It seemed as though the band was priming them for what was to come.

After a magnificent cover of The Beatles’ “Only a Northern Song,” the band brought out special guests Christian Teele on the drums and Hot Rize bassist/E-Town host Nick Forster, and the show took a decidedly amplified turn. The vibe changed completely, with Teele’s steady drumming and Forster’s electric guitar wizardry energizing everyone in the theater.

Eventually, Ben Kaufmann and Adam Aijala plugged in and swapped their normal acoustic instruments for electric ones to play songs never before performed live by Yonder. It started with “I Second That Emotion”, the Smokey Robinson song that most of the crowd recognized as a tune the Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia Band used to cover fairly regularly. Ben then sang a new, hard-rocking honky-tonkish song dubbed “Love What I Do For a Living,” which was, appropriately enough, about playing music in a smoky bar. The first set ended with a nice, extended “East Nashville Easter,” leaving the audience buzzing with eagerness for the next round.

The second set began with Yonder playing as their usual foursome again. The band wasted no time, smacking the crowd in its collective face with a huge “Peace of Mind” as their very first song. Dave Johnston’s long banjo solo feverishly built the audience to a boil, and when the song finally ended the crowd showed their appreciation with thunderous applause and stomping that seemed to even surprise the band. It sounded like the applause you might hear after the last song of the last night of the four night run, not the first song of the second set of music. “Lighten up, would ya?” Aijala jokingly remarked.

The band then eased the crowd back down with some slower numbers, but again this was only because of what was to come. The special guests were brought back out for another stellar sequence of plugged-in jamming. They busted out another Beatles cover, with Aijala again shredding the electric guitar on “Hey Bulldog.” Next Yonder again performed another song they had never played live, as Jeff Austin took over vocal duties on a cover of The Who’s “The Seeker.” Teele definitely did justice to Keith Moon, and Aijala and Forster blew the roof off with loud, massive guitar solos.

The second set closed with a rowdy “Traffic Jam”, where the band jammed into Peter Tosh’s “Legalize It” then back to “Traffic Jam.” “Legalize It” featured some amusing vocal distortion and hilarious improvised statements from the band, with Johnston admitting they “just make this (stuff) up as they go along.” Yonder then played the first two songs of the encore, “Dreams” and “Southbound” as a foursome before bringing out Teele and Forster for one last go-around. The weary faithful that had stayed the entire show were rewarded with a mammoth take on the Grateful Dead’s “Shakedown Street.”

With one night left on the four night run, there is little doubt that Yonder will be bringing the thunder on New Year’s Eve. The second set from this night is going to be difficult to top. That being said, if there is one band that can consistently exceed expectations, it’s this one.

Check out more photos & videos from the show.

Wed, 01/02/2013 - 2:04 pm

As far as ways to start off 2013, you can’t do much better than Yonder Mountain String Band at the Boulder Theater. Mixing a balanced setlist that featured a little bit of everything with the inimitable Darol Anger on the fiddle made for a tasty New Year’s Eve stew.

Dave Johnston | YMSB

The band began the last night of the four-night run with “If You’re Ever In Oklahoma” and quickly found a groove. Anger is a frequent Yonder guest and in many ways is like a fifth member of the band. Of all the guest musicians they play with, outside of Andy Hall from the Infamous Stringdusters, he seems to fit them the best.

He got a chance to really display his chops early in the set with “Polly Put the Kettle On,” inciting chants of “Darol! Darol!” Adam Aijala also debuted a well-received song and the fast-paced instrumental “Southern Flavor” started shaking the venue. The first set ended with a long “On the Run/”Dawn’s Early Light”/”On the Run” jam sandwich and sent the thirsty crowd to hustle up more libations.

The second set started around 11:30 with fan favorites “Ramblin’ In the Rambler” and “40 Miles To Denver.” Jeff Austin lent some excellent vocals to an extended “Cuckoo’s Nest” that was stretched to accommodate the approaching midnight countdown. At midnight, several large balloons descended from the ceiling, inspiring a full-scale balloon volleyball party.

YMSB | Boulder Theater | 12/31/12

Soon after the countdown, Dave Johnston continued his banjo domination of the weekend on “Just the Same.” Ben Kaufmann had two strong songs back-to-back, a new song about a girl who “smiles like you’ve always been a friend” and “Finally Saw the Light.” The second set ended with an appropriate New Year’s song, “Keep On Going.” The band then jammed into Aijala’s song “All the Time” before morphing subtly back into “Keep On Going.”

champagne @ New Years

The band left the stage but came back almost immediately for a quick two-song encore, highlighted by a groovy, bluesy “Crow Black Chicken” that sent everyone in the audience looking for a dancing partner, if they hadn’t found one already yet. Yonder then came back for a second encore, “Angel” into The Beatles’ “Dear Prudence” back to “Angel.” The lights alternated between intense strobes for “Angel” and soft, slow spins of the disco ball on “Dear Prudence.” It was an appropriate contrast for the songs, and a great way to end a terrific weekend of music at the Boulder Theater.

Yonder Mountain String Band | Boulder, Colorado

Check out more photos from New Years Eve.

Sat, 02/09/2013 - 6:39 pm

On a brisk February night in Denver, Nederland jamgrass band Mountain Standard Time (with some help from some special guests) brought the heat to the Bluebird Theater for part of their annual Mardi Gras celebration.After a stellar opening set from the Dead Winter Carpenters, MST came out in their current lineup, which features Nick Dunbar on mandolin and vocals, Stan Sutton on guitar and vocals, Curly Collins on bass, Zach Scott on drums and newer addition Ryan Ebarb (formerly of YAMN) on keyboards.One of the first songs they played was an instrumental dubbed “Eat My Shorts,” an “ode to Bart Simpson,” as Sutton informed the audience. The band quickly settled into a groove on this song, which led to the trance-like intro for “Push on Through.” Ebarb and Scott started it off slowly with a soft piano riff and light drumming. Sutton switched to his electric guitar and the song picked up from there.Once that song was completed, the band brought out Jenni Charles, the extremely talented fiddler from Dead Winter Carpenters. The first song they played with her was off of MST’s new EP Sunny, called “Behind the Bar.” Dunbar introduced it by saying it was about the new bartender “who gets prettier and prettier the drunker you get.” The song started off a little sloppy, but I just chalked that up to the fact that it was a new song and they were playing it with a guest musician.The next song, an instrumental, had Charles looking more comfortable and laying down a really nice fiddle solo. She displayed dazzling chops on the final song she played with the band, getting into an extended organ/fiddle duel with Ebarb that had the crowd hooting and hollering.After Charles left the stage, MST played one more song in the original lineup. They called it a slow dance number, but it started off as kind of an eighties power ballad, with Sutton strumming power chords on his electric guitar and Collins laying down a bass line that seemed more suited for a progressive rock song. After a few minutes of jamming, the song completely switched gears and became a rather cheesy love song. After a verse and a chorus, the song switched back to the loud, rocking style, and then back to the love song. Not going to lie, this song didn’t do a lot for me. The opposing dichotomies made it difficult to really get into the music and the lyrics (“I would move mountains if I can get closer to you”) were a little too cliché for my liking.Finally, it was time for that evening’s main guest: Jeff Austin, the singer and mandolin player from Nederland mega-band Yonder Mountain String Band. The crowd’s energy picked up noticeably once Austin hit the stage, and they started with a funky jam that allowed him to find his spot in the music fairly seamlessly. Next was a hard-rocking fast tune called “Tear it Down,” where Austin was able to lay down one of his signature head-banging mandolin solos.At the end of the first set, Austin sang “Raleigh and Spencer,” a traditional number that has become a Yonder staple. It started off surprisingly slow and subtle, which is not how Yonder normally plays it. After the first verse, however, the song sped up and spun the crowd into a dancing frenzy.The second set began with just MST on stage again. Highlights included a tune Sutton sang about road rage while driving up Canyon Road to Nederland from Boulder, and fan favorite “Picture”, sung by Dunbar. He also switched to an electric mandolin for that song, leading to a terrific jazzy interlude featuring strong solos from both Dunbar and Ebarb.Eventually Austin joined the band for a few more songs and the encore, including a long, jammed-out version of Austin’s own “King Ebenezer.” Overall, the show was pretty fun. I do think Austin should have been featured on a few more songs, considering his name was on the billboard in letters as big as the headlining band. But Mountain Standard Time is a fairly excellent band in its’ own right, with or without Austin. The addition of Ebarb to the keyboard adds a completely different dimension to the music, and their sound definitely still has a bluegrass vibe to it despite the lack of a banjo player. I expect their Mardi Gras tradition to continue for years to come, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they started playing bigger venues down the road.

Sat, 02/16/2013 - 7:10 pm

At the second stop on their Ski Tour through Colorado, the Infamous Stringdusters used their first night at the Fox to make an extremely compelling case for the audience to return for the second show on Saturday. Seamlessly combining soaring solos with impressive stage dynamics and powerful songwriting, The Stringdusters left the capacity crowd in a sweaty, euphoric state.

The openers, Waiting on Trial, did a respectable job of priming the audience. The band, hailing from Durango, was clearly excited to be playing the Fox for the first time. All the members have one of the tricks of being a successful bluegrass band down: strong facial hair. Chris Lane, on banjo, displayed serious chops both musically and stylistically, with sideburns that would rival Weapon X, aka Wolverine. They stuck to mostly original material, and their songs were always competent and more often than not downright decent. The only cover came courtesy of (surprisingly) Social Distortion. Robin Davis, the mandolin player, sang a terrific bluegrass version of “Diamond in the Rough,” a newer song off 2011’s Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes.

The Infamous Stringdusters began their first set right around 10:15. Immediately, the chemistry between all the members was apparent. One of the first songs they played was “Night on the River,” off their most recent album Silver Sky, followed by Andy Hall singing “Well Well.” It was on this song that The Stringdusters really began to find their groove, as Hall’s superb dobro led into an epic guitar solo from Andy Falco. The long, trance-like jam really showcased Falco’s flat-picking, which really was second to none that night.

That was followed up with a bit of a pander job. I don’t know the name of the song, but I do know it included the word “Colorado” roughly 75 times. It wasn’t a bad tune, and the crowd ate it up. The Stringdusters really seem to have found their niche in this great state, so I don’t have any problem if they want to show love for it.

Near the end of the set, the band played two excellent covers, “Walking on the Moon” by The Police and Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright.” Hall had a nice, subdued dobro solo during “Walking on the Moon” and Jeremy Garrett was able to pull of a sweet fiddle jam during “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright.”

The first set also included a couple of instrumentals, which is where The Stringdusters truly shine. Every single one of them is an accomplished musician, and their stage presence is incredible. I particularly liked how when it was time for one person to solo, the rest of the band would move around on stage and center around whoever’s turn it was. It gave the impression that they were playing traditionally around a single microphone, but everyone was plugged in and loud.  Moving on stage also demonstrated their willingness to make it about the band, not an individual. By highlighting everyone who was playing, they made the idea of a front man irrelevant.

All the band members sang songs throughout the night, but during the second set it seemed Travis Book, the bassist, was getting the majority of them. Some of the ones he sang included the John Hartford cover “Keep on Truckin’” and “He’s Gone” by the Grateful Dead, which the Boulder crowd enthusiastically sang along to. Other second set highlights included “Long and Lonesome Day,” “17 Cents,” and “Ain’t Know Way Of Knowing.” However, the best part of the second set (besides “He’s Gone”) had to have been “No More to Leave You Behind.” The song eventually delved into a banjo-and-fiddle jam of “Salt Creek,” which banjo player Chris Pandolfi nailed.

After a lengthy instrumental to end the second set, the band came out for a one song encore, the always-appreciated Hartford number “Steam-Powered Aeroplane.” With that, the first night was over. The weary crowd shuffled to the exit, tired but no doubt excited about what The Infamous Stringdusters would bring the next night.

Check out more photos from the show.

Sat, 04/06/2013 - 5:24 am

On an otherwise nondescript Thursday night at Shine, local band The 100 Percent made the most of their 45-minute set. Packing in nine soul-soaked original tunes that had the crowd cheering and clapping, often before the song was even complete, the band displayed chops that show they have what it takes to differentiate themselves in the oversaturated Boulder music scene.Led by front man James Thorpe, who writes all the songs, sings lead vocals and plays guitar, The 100 Percent is a mix of the best aspects of Ben Harper and Jason Mraz, Whereas those other groups would fall mostly into the “pop” music category, The 100 Percent rise above that designation with exceptional musicianship. Their sound is more bluesy and soulful, without the overproduction and glitz that seems to taint those other bands. In short, it just sounds more real.Thorpe’s songwriting isn’t revelatory, and the lyrics can be somewhat obscure, but they are often relatable and always honest. His high-pitched vocals sounded genuine and heartfelt, and you could tell Thorpe was putting his all into the performance. His guitar work, especially during his solos, was also above-average.However, this is no one-man show. Thorpe has assembled some seriously talented musicians to bring his songs to life. Ben Reich on the upright bass was incredible, and the band allowed his smooth, effortless bass lines dictate the directions each song took. Greg Bair-Caruso’s drumming was tight throughout, and he even got a chance to throw in a solo on the song “Madness.” Also, sitting in for this particular show was Paul Fowler on the keyboards, who added vocal harmonies and an awesome makeshift mouth-horn solo on the song “Virgil.”The 100 Percent is a band that has the ability to transcend genres, which is what could help distinguish them. In a town where there are so many groups trying to fit in one category, be it jam, bluegrass, or electronic, it’s refreshing to see one that isn’t so easily defined. While their work may be cut out for them, The 100 Percent has demonstrated they have the ability and musical prowess to really make an impact.

Sun, 05/12/2013 - 4:01 pm

It's amazing that Built To Spill has been around for over 20 years. In that time, Doug Martsch's little outfit has released seven full albums, three compilation and live albums, several EP’s and singles and gone through numerous lineup changes. Remarkably, however, the band’s sound has stayed relatively consistent, as have the excellent live performances. This is all a credit to Martsch, whose passion for songwriting and performing haven’t waned one bit over the years.

On Saturday night, Built To Spill's latest version played an energetic, wide-ranging sold-out show at Boulder’s Fox Theater that had to please even the most discerning of fans. The lineup featured guitarists Brett Netson and Jim Roth, bassist Jason Albertini, drummer Steve Gere, and of course Martsch on vocals and guitar.

The show started off with the long, raucous “Goin’ Against Your Mind,” off 2006’s You In Reverse. This was followed by “Planting Seeds,” off their most recent record, 2009’s There Is No Enemy. After that, Built To Spill went into some old-school favorites, including a strong breakdown “Stab,” “Reasons,” “The Plan,” and “Get a Life.”

There is something timeless about Built To Spill’s music. It’s incredible to hear songs recorded before 2000 and see how they still resonated so deeply with much of the crowd. Martsch is undoubtedly the main reason for this. Even though his banter is refreshingly minimal (he mostly sticks to “Thank you’s” after some songs, and he did take a moment to thank the openers, Junior Rocket Scientist), his energy while he is playing is undeniable.

His head bobs and shakes like some sort of manic Muppet while he sings, and his solos range from nimble and melodic to lo-fi, grungy fuzz. The man can do it all. And while it appeared he may have been a bit under the weather, due to his coughing after some songs, it didn’t appear to affect his performance one bit.

After a superb rendition of “Kicked it in the Sun,” off 1997’s Perfect From Now On, Built To Spill launched into their first cover of the night, Bob Dylan’s “Jokerman.” This was followed by the crowd-pleasing “Big Dipper,” one of the first Built To Spill songs I ever heard and still to this day one of my favorites. “Srange”, off 2001’s Ancient Melodies of the Future, was another solid tune. Martsch busted out the tambourine for that one, and both Roth and Netson played some serious slide guitar.

Soon after that came an absolutely blistering version of Metallica’s “Orion.” That song came across as a testament to Built To Spill’s versatility. One minute they are playing slower songs with soul-baring lyrics, the next they are shredding an instrumental by one of the most famous metal bands in the world. The momentum from that song carried over into the closing tune, “Carry the Zero,” a Built To Spill classic from 1999’s beloved Keep It Like a Secret. Despite a fellow concert-goer’s assertion that “millennials don’t mosh,” I saw plenty of it during those two songs.

The encore featured two more covers. They played “Don’t Fear The Reaper,” by Blue Oyster Cult, complete with a cowbell played by one of the members of Junior Rocket Scientist. Suffice to say, the crowd had a fever, and the only prescription was more cowbell. This was followed by a great rendition of New Order’s “Age of Consent.” Netson traded out his guitar for an additional bass, adding more rhythm to the 80’s cover.

The band ended the show with “Joyride,” giving the crowd a bit of a chance to catch their breath before heading out into the night. With that, another supremely solid Built To Spill concert experience was in the books. I hope Doug Martsch and Co. release a new album at some point in the near future, but in the meantime, their back catalogue and variety of covers is more than enough material to keep them touring and entertaining for years to come.

Sun, 06/09/2013 - 7:08 pm

Rage. Rest. Repeat. This was the motto printed on flyers around Boulder promoting Umphrey's McGee upcoming Red Rocks show, and it was the one the band adhered to faithfully on Friday night. Mixing in a high-energy varied set list with their unique, dynamic musicianship, Umphrey's proved why they are one of the best live bands, jam or otherwise, performing today. 

The show began with Delta Spirit providing an enthusiastic, if fairly straightforward, performance to the smattering of fans that had made their way into the amphitheater. Most folks were still in the parking lot tailgating, but the band didn’t seem to care and were clearly enthused to be playing Red Rocks for the first time.

The other opener, the more established Dr. Dog, played to a much larger crowd and delivered the same stellar show I have come to expect from them. The set leaned heavily on 2012’s well-received Be The Void, but there were enough older songs to satisfy the longtime fans in attendance. Bassist and singer Toby Leaman crushed “The Beach” and “Lonesome,” howling his vocals as he climbed over the railing to interact with fans. Dr. Dog also opened for Wilco at Red Rocks last year, and if the audience reaction is any indicator, they will get their own headlining slot sometime in the near future. 

This night, however, was really all about Umphrey’s McGee. Unlike their other peers on the jam scene, Umphrey’s eschews spacey noodling for a more technical, precision-based diverse sound.  Their influences are all over the map. Friday night’s show featured mostly metal and funk, but they truly can play anything they want.

When it all comes down to it, though, Umphrey’s is a progressive rock band. The arrangements and progressions of the songs themselves are incredibly complex, yet the band (featuring Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger on guitar and vocals, Joel Cummins on keyboards, Ryan Stasik on bass, Kris Myers on drums and Andy Farag on percussion) remained tight throughout the night.

Kris & Jake | Red Rocks

The set began with the band marching onto stage to the tune of “In the Hall of the Mountain King,” an appropriate song considering the setting. The band immediately kicked things into gear with the first part of “Divisions” into “The Floor,” which featured a subtle “Don’t Fear the Reaper” tease. “40’s Theme” into “In the Kitchen” had some funky, soul-influenced guitar that kept the crowd grooving, while set closer “Miss Tinkle’s Overture” was full-bore prog metal at it’s finest, complete with pyrotechnics.

It takes serious talent to navigate as much musical ground as Umphrey’s does. Perhaps no song embodied their experimental song structures as much as “Frankie Zombie.” It came near the end of the first set, and it’s a relatively new song that mashes together “Relax” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood and “Thunder Kiss ‘65” by Rob Zombie, with a dash of “Have a Cigar” by Pink Floyd thrown in there for good measure. That’s quite the musical mulligan stew. A lesser band would no doubt get lost in the instantaneous timing transitions, but then again a lesser band probably wouldn’t have undertaken such a feat to begin with.

The second set saw the band pick up right where they left off. “1348” came fairly early, as Cinninger and Bayliss swapped gnarly, melodic guitar solos to the crowd’s delight. Stasik and Cummins shared the spotlight on “Push the Pig,” slowing things down with a slick bass-and-keyboard duet. The largest crowd reaction came after a rousing rendition of “Glory” led back into the rest of “Divisions,” from the first set.

The band ended the second set with the rarely deployed cover of AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck.” Cinninger did a more-than-passable Brian Johnson impersonation on the vocals, and the aforementioned pyrotechnics made a glorious return, shooting towers of flames behind the band. Then, as if the fire fountains weren’t enough, they launched fireworks into the pleasantly warm night air as the song ended.

Speaking of pyrotechnics, I would remiss if I didn’t mention the light show. Umphrey’s light technicians are almost as incredible as the band itself. Instead of using an LED display, the band uses an impressive array of rotating angled flood lights, with patterns and colors that took excellent advantage of the natural beauty of Red Rocks. The lights were on point, able to keep up with every complicated transition Umphrey’s made, and that’s a feat in itself.

After coming out for the encore, Umphrey’s announced they’ll be returning in December to play three nights at the Fillmore for New Year’s. The weary but still game crowd roared in approval, and Umphrey’s launched into the beginning of “Preamble” which led to the prog-rock journey that is “Mantis.” It was the perfect closer for one hell of a show. Right now, Umphrey’s McGee is in their prime, and landing the coveted New Year’s Eve slots at the Fillmore shows that more and more people (at least in Colorado) are starting to take notice. The success is an excellent reward for a band that clearly has put in a lot of effort to reach the point they’re at today, and their future appears brighter than ever.

Check out more photos from the show.

Sun, 06/30/2013 - 1:47 pm

So, Widespread Panic played a show at Red Rocks on Saturday night. Honestly, for those of you who have seen them in that setting before, that’s about as good of a review as you need. All it would take is one glance at the set list, particularly from the second set on, to know that it was a spectacular evening. But I will nevertheless provide the recap for those who were not fortunate enough to attend and those who were dancing so hard they missed something, which was pretty much everyone.

The band wasted no time locking into a groove with opener “Junior” into “Stop Breaking Down Blues.” Jojo Hermann on the keys was featured prominently on the second song, a theme that would continue throughout the night. In fact, the next tune “One-Armed Steve,” was one of three classic Jojo songs the band played.

Things slowed down a bit after that, with “Degenerate” leading into “Tickle the Truth,” in which lead guitarist Jimmy Herring turned the song into a power ballad via a long, piercing, melodic solo. The tempo picked up again with “Pigeons” and the first set closed strong with three old school faves in “Hatfield,” “Contentment Blues” (during which the band displayed a giant chicken head on the LED screen behind them), and “Worry.”

Dave Schools | Red Rocks Ampitheatre

When the band came back out, the sun had finally slipped behind the foothills and it was officially on. Panic deftly mixed old and newer-school favorites in building an unforgettable set that never gave the audience a chance to slow down. It seemed as though each consecutive song brought a louder, more elated reaction from the crowd.

An early highlight was “Impossible” into “Conrad.” John Bell’s vocals haven’t diminished at all, but the audience was more than happy to help him sing along. Immediately after “Conrad,” the band switched gears and began a long, trippy intro into “Second Skin.” The groove-heavy, dark-electro vibe of “Second Skin” might seem somewhat out of place with Panic’s other more southern-influenced songs, but I doubt anyone would argue that it was a perfect song choice for that moment in the show.

The ante was upped even further when the LED display switched to a video of a car moving down a road, and the first notes of “Driving Song” rang out. The band took the beginning of that song into “Ride Me High,” the second excellent Jojo song of the night. The following drum solo gave the audience a little bit of a chance to catch their breath, at least until Dave Schools came back and started playing a deep, dirty bass line. This led to “Proving Ground,” which in turn led back to “Driving Song,” drawing a large roar from the audience. Panic closed things out with “North,” with the jazzed crowd almost drowning out Bell on the vocals.

The band was so good they prompted the audience to burst into song in between the second set and encore. I heard rousing renditions of Boyz II Men’s “I’ll Make Love to You” as well as the theme song from “Cheers” sung by rowdy concertgoers who just didn’t want the music to stop.

Luckily, they didn’t have to wait very long. It was difficult to see how the encore could build upon the tremendous second set, but somehow they did it. The honky-tonk boogie of “Big Wooly Mammoth” kept the crowd in a dancing mood, and Hermann’s request for somebody to “throw him a fire” sent all remaining glow sticks into the air. The show closed with the gritty, hard-rocking “Henry Parsons Died,” returning the band to their southern rock roots and giving the audience one more chance to frenetically bang their heads.

It’s easy to give Jimmy Herring the MVP award after any Widespread Panic show. He’s earned that recognition with his incredible guitar wizardry and ability to turn even the most mediocre of songs into an epic jam. However, I think Panic is at its best when Herring is scaled back a bit and everyone has a chance to shine. Tonight, Herring had more than his fair share of memorable moments, but so did Jojo, Schools, Bell and percussionists Todd Nance and Domingo Ortiz.

Nights like this one demonstrate exactly why Widespread Panic basically owns Red Rocks at this point. Despite nearing their 30-year anniversary as a band, they still have lots in the tank and show no signs of slowing down. Some might argue they’re the best they’ve ever been, at least in the post-Michael Houser years. There is a reason they have sold out a record 42 straight shows there, and I suspect that number will basically be untouchable by the time their incredible streak comes to an end.

Check out more photos from the show.

Sat, 12/28/2013 - 11:17 am

When bands do five-night runs, the first night is usually expected to be, more or less, the warm-up night. Yonder Mountain String Band had no such things in mind as they laid down a blistering show to a packed Boulder Theater on Friday night that set the bar pretty high for the remaining four nights.

This was in no small part to the special guest du jour, Roosevelt Collier. The pedal steel guitar maestro fit in seamlessly to Yonder’s jams all night, impressing the crowd into several rounds of raucous applause.

Things got off to a fast start, literally, with a nimble “Fastball” into “East Nashville Easter,” which allowed Collier to find his footing almost immediately. Yonder pulled out some classics in the opening set, including “Angel,” “Rag Mama,” and a monstrous “Snow on the Pines.” However, the highlight was probably “Jack-A-Roe,” the rare traditional cover made popular by the Grateful Dead.  The first set closed with the Waylon Jennings/Willie Nelson song “Good-Hearted Woman,” and I couldn’t have been more satisfied.

As good as the first set was, it was merely a prelude of what was to come. I had been very impressed with the song selection from earlier and I wasn’t quite sure what was in store for the second set. Fittingly, they opened with the Rolling Stones’ “No Expectations.” It was as though they were sending a message to the crowd: leave your expectations at the door, not necessarily just for tonight but for the entire New Year’s run.

They kept things rolling with Adam Aijala singing an excellent “Spanish Harlem Incident.” One of my favorite newer songs, “Pass This Way” came soon after, with Dave Johnston delivering solid vocals and strong 5-string banjo. “Dear Prudence,” the superb Beatles cover that Yonder had previously played with Collier at Summer Camp back in May, was next and featured one of Collier’s most frenetic solos of the night.

“Raleigh and Spencer” whipped the crowd into a further frenzy, and then bassist Ben Kaufman offered them a “palate-cleanser” in the form of “Town.” Yonder only had one jam sandwich on the night, but it was a doozy. “If You’re Ever In Oklahoma” led into the boogie-tastic “Shake Me Up.” Futureman (Saturday night’s special guest) came out on stage at this point, and he and Kaufman brought serious grooves to the middle tune. Kauffman especially earned some whoops and cheers with his long, smooth bass solo. The song went back into “Oklahoma” and with that the second set came to a close.

The encore was short but sweet, with Jeff Austin leading the way on “Yes She Do (No She Don’t)” to start it off. Austin managed one of the best scat solos I have heard from him in a while, and the crowd ate it up. Finally, the night ended with another Grateful Dead cover, the always-appreciated “New Speedway Boogie.”

There are still four nights left, and Yonder has plenty left in the tank. However, Friday was a tremendous way to start things off. Collier was a sensational guest, and the anticipation for the rest of the shows has been sufficiently amped up. It will be a tough act to follow, but one thing this band has done consistently is defy expectations. For those of you lucky enough to be attending all five shows, buckle up. This is going to be one hell of a week.

Check out more pictures from the show.

Mon, 02/03/2014 - 11:25 am

On a cold, snowy Friday night, the inimitable Dr. Ralph Stanley brought the heat to the Boulder Theater in his latest stop on his Man of Constant Sorrow Farewell Tour. Backed by the excellent Clinch Mountain Boys, Dr. Stanley sang some of his best-known songs along with the usual heaping of bluegrass standards made unique by him.

The relatively unknown Mile High Express opened the show, and if the audience’s reaction was any indication, they won’t be toiling away in obscurity for long. Led by Jenny Bousquet on rhythm guitar and lead vocals, the band displayed an impressive knack for original songwriting, and they paid homage to the headliner with some excellent instrumentals. They kicked things off with a cover of The Infamous Stringdusters’ “Wichita Stomp,” and lead guitarist Mike McCormack earned the first hoots and hollers of the night with a rollicking solo.

Bousquet shone on her original songs “Good Girl” and “Freakshow,” the latter a gypsy-flavored tune that went in a decidedly different, but wholly appreciated, direction. Her powerful voice and dynamic stage presence quickly made her a fan favorite and allowed the rest of the band to focus on their timing and solos, which were top-notch all night.

Mandolin player Phil Buckley took over lead vocal duties for John Hartford’s “Steam-Powered Aeroplane” and the original song “Victory,” in which he unleashed his best solo of the night. His raspy, deep vocals are a nice contrast to Bousquet’s more melodic voice, and the two harmonize extremely well with one another. Buckley also sang another cover, The Steeldrivers’ “Heaven Sent,” which saw banjo player Paul Larson take over the spotlight with his own exceptional solo.

After a cover of the instrumental “Hartford’s Reel,” the band closed with the fiery “Black Irish,” a song from by The Devil Makes Three. About the only thing that was missing was a solo from bassist Eric Gordon, whose steady, smooth bass lines kept the groove going throughout. Overall, it was a terrific showing for the band, and will hopefully lead to more high-profile gigs down the road.

The good Dr. Ralph Stanley came on stage a little before 9:00 and wasted no time delivering the namesake song of the tour, “Man of Constant Sorrow.” There was no slowing down as the band quickly went into the fast-paced “Little Maggie.” It was apparent from the outset that these guys meant business, as all the musicians were on point and delivering energetic solos and rolls.

In the first of what would be several a capella songs, Dr. Stanley sang the bluegrass gospel standard “One Day I Will.” The soon-to-be 87-year-old showed he can still dazzle with his distinctive voice. His haunting, high-pitched, gravelly vocals gave the song even more gravitas, and it kept the spellbound audience mesmerized. Dr. Stanley called it “the prettiest song I ever heard” once he was finished.

The fiddle player, Dewey Brown, took over on “Lee Highway Blues.” The speedy song had several in the audience stomping their feet as Brown laid down some seriously frenetic solos. Next came arguably the most popular song in Dr. Stanley’s repertoire, “O Death,” the Appalachian dirge that Dr. Stanley sang a capella for O Brother Where Art Thou. His pride in the song is evident, as it earned him a Grammy in 2002 for Best Male Vocal Country Performance.

The show was really all about celebrating the legacy of Dr. Stanley, and it was obvious that those in the band were extremely thankful for the opportunity to play with a bluegrass legend on his last rodeo. After all, these are the finals shows of a career spanning almost 70 years. Nathan Stanley, lead guitarist for the Clinch Mountain Boys and grandson of Dr. Stanley, delivered the most heart-warming tribute of the night. His newest album, The Legacy Continues is about keeping the traditions his grandfather imparted to him alive. To show his gratitude for everything Dr. Stanley did for him, Nathan Stanely wrote a song called “Papaw I Love You,” and it was a pleasure to see him play it with his grandfather on Friday night.

The familial vibe continued as Dr. Stanley’s son, Ralph Stanley II, made his only appearance of the night to sing his popular song “Bluefield.” Seeing three generations of one family all playing music together on stage is one of the more unique experiences I have had at a show, and I am sure it’s something those in attendance will never forget.

Dr. Stanley doesn’t play the banjo much anymore, but he did do it for one song on this night. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the name of it. It was a newer song and obviously not as fast as some of his other ones. Still, it was a pleasant surprise to see the banjo icon strap on his beloved instrument at least once.

The show closed strongly with “I’ll Fly Away,” “Long Black Veil,” and the classic “Rolling in My Sweet Baby’s Arms.” The seated audience immediately rose and provided a standing ovation once it was over. The thankful good Dr. Stanley took it all in, relishing his last moments in the Boulder Theater spotlight.

The farewell tour has been extended into November 2014, but Dr. Stanley won’t be returning to Boulder. He certainly has earned his retirement, and all adulation and accolades are well-deserved. However, you can tell performing is something he loves to do, and he was just as appreciative of the knowledgeable Boulder bluegrass fans as they were of him. Thus, it was bittersweet to see him depart the stage. However, Dr. Ralph Stanley can take solace in knowing that his final Boulder show was up to the lofty standards he set for himself throughout his incredible career.

Check out a few more photos from the show.

Thu, 05/01/2014 - 3:17 pm

There’s one thing you can count on from a Gogol Bordello show; you’re going to leave it dripping, either from your sweat, everybody else’s sweat, or with some red wine that frontman Eugene Hutz uses to liberally douse the crowd. You’re also going to leave immensely satisfied at having seen one of the best live acts going, period.

Despite the fact it was a nondescript Tuesday night in April, there was a palpable energy in the packed Boulder Theater. It had been a while since the venue had seen Gogol’s innovative blend of gypsy/world/punk music, and the anticipation had built to a fever pitch.

The crowd erupted when the band finally hit the stage a little after 10 pm with “We Rise Again,” the first song from their latest album, Pura Vida Conspiracy. “Not a Crime” and “Wanderlust King,” two immensely popular songs in the band’s catalog, immediately followed and the tone for the evening had been set.

They dug back into the new album for the excellent “The Other Side of Rainbow,” which sees Hutz reflecting on the not-so-pretty side of life, where everything is “black and white.” Gogol’s reputation as a party band doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of producing complex, thought-provoking lyrics. This song, with Hutz musing about “finding freedom” in the “deeper knowing” of one’s soul, is a superb example of the strength of their songwriting.

After a few songs from Trans-Continental Hustle, including “Mi Companjera” and the softer (meaning it gives the crowd a chance to catch their breath) yet triumphant “Last One Goes to the Hope,” the band reached way back for “Bara Foro,” from their second album Multi Kontra Culti vs. Irony. The song is sang entirely in Ukranian, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t achieve its desired impact. In fact, if anything, it gave the other amazing band members a chance to shine, especially violinist Sergey Ryabetsez, whose vigorous playing conveyed just as much emotion as any lyrics could ever hope to do.

Make no mistakes; Hutz is an excellent frontman, and he is the one most closely identified with the band. But what I have always enjoyed about Gogol Bordello is the dynamic between all eight members. The diversity of the members (the eight hail from seven different countries) and the energetic movement between all of them makes for an incredible stage presence. Sometimes they don’t even have to be playing anything. Even though MC Pedro Erazo and dancer Elizabeth Sun don’t play many instruments on stage, I can’t imagine a Gogol show without their charisma and relentless crowd-hyping.

The set ended with a couple of Gogol classics, “Start Wearing Purple” and “Sally.” “Purple” is basically the anthem for the band, a certain crowd-pleaser and a near-guarantee to hear anytime the band is playing. “Sally,” on the other hand, isn’t quite as frequent, and it also happens to be one of my personal favorites. Suffice to say, my excitement at hearing the song was such that it didn’t even matter Hutz completely skipped an entire verse. They had to save something for the encore, right?

Indeed they did. The three-song encore featured an incredible rendition of “Alcohol,” Hutz’s ode to well, you know. The song began with just Hutz strumming his acoustic guitar, but he was gradually joined by Ryabetsez and accordionist Pasha Newmer.

The final song, “Ultimate,” was one more chance for the crowd to dance and mosh before being released into the chilly night air. The song is a great closer, and it features a lyric at the beginning that mostly sums up the entire Gogol Bordello experience/outlook on life: “If we are here not to do/What you and I want to do/And go forever crazy with it/Why the hell are we even here?”

Mon, 07/07/2014 - 11:02 am

For the first time since they started headlining Red Rocks, Umphrey’s McGee achieved a sellout on Saturday night at the famed amphitheater. They proceeded to demonstrate over the course of two fiery sets exactly why it was such a hot ticket.

From the brand-new opener of “Lucid State” until the the end of the classic “Bridgeless,” Umphrey’s McGee provided endless supplies of heavy, hard-hitting RAWK. It was a showcase of how their sound has grown and matured into the all-consuming prog monster that filled the space between Ship Rock and Creation Rock with dazzling displays of technical wizardry, both musically and visually, due to Jefferson Waful’s unrivaled light show.

Openers Moon Taxi got the crowd going with their mix of earnest rock and loud, formidable jamming. People who had never heard of the band prior to the show surely came away with something new to check out. However, it was the local boys of The Motet who really fired people up with their unique brand of dynamic funk. It was the band’s first appearance at Red Rocks, and they made it count. Judging by the number of folks who were there primarily to see The Motet, I foresee several future gigs there, possibly even as a headliner. The Motet kept the local vibe going as they brought out Dominic Lalli, the saxophonist from Big Gigantic, for one song, trying to ensure that the crowd would indeed “shake their booty off.”

The euphoria from The Motet hadn’t dissipated a bit as Umphrey’s McGee took the stage at 9:45. It was apparent from the get-go that the band meant business, as each song seemed to get heavier and heavier. To use a clumsy analogy, if previous versions of Umphrey’s have been Shredder from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (no doubt a formidable foe/force as is), than this version is surely Super Shredder. They’ve unlocked the secret of the ooze and are now bigger and badder than ever.

At no point was it more obvious than midway through the first set, when the band began “Jajunk” which led into a massive “Ocean Billy” that featured a little Raw Stewage “Gents” jam thrown in the middle for good measure. This was followed by a tremendous, borderline-apocalyptic “All in Time,” and the crowd lost what little was left of their sanity.

The next song was a much-needed breath-catcher in the form of “End of the Road,” which allowed guitarist Jake Cinninger to stretch his legs on an old guitar that Jerry Garcia used in the 1970’s, a Travis Bean TB500. Opener Moon Taxi had used the guitar earlier in the night as well.

Next, the band took a stab at another debut, this time one off of their new studio album Similar Skin entitled “Educated Guess.” The song was complex but thoroughy enjoyable, especially Joel Cummins’ work on the keyboard. I predict it will start making more appearances in the band’s live repertoire. Cinninger took over vocal duties on a lively cover of Bob Seger’s “Hollywood Nights” to close out the first set.

The second set started with a bang, as “Little Gift” went into the beginning of “Bridgeless.” Lalli came out and performed on the new-ish “Bad Friday,” which was the danciest moment of either Umphrey’s set. Later, the band closed the second set with an enormous “Wappy Sprayberry” into the end of “Jajunk.”

Umphrey’s brought out the horn section and vocalist Jans Ingber from The Motet for a an excellent take on The Band’s song “Ophelia.” The show went back into heavy mode for a gritty, explosive “Hajimemashite” that meshed into the perfectly appropriate close of “Bridgeless.” The same song that ends their newest album thus ended another epic Red Rocks show, and sent thousands of deliriously weary fans into the night with grins plastered to their faces.

Check out more photos from the show.