Lucero and Paper Bird at Denver Botanic Gardens in Denver, CO on 8/27/17

Lucero

Attending a concert at the Denver Botanic Gardens is an amazing experience. The audience members are not searched, prodded, or violated as they enter the lush grounds (the opposite of visiting other large musical venues or maximum security prisons). Foliage and music fans were allowed to bring in food and adult beverages. People schlepped in everything from expensive bottles of wine to Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. Concertgoers had food ranging from pizza to caviar. I even saw picnic baskets with glass plates and Champagne flutes. Women in big floppy hats in floral dresses were siting next to rockers with tattoos peaking out from their all black apparel.

Lucero – view from the back

The moment Lucero’s lead singer Ben Nichols entered he claimed, “We have never been to a place this fancy in Denver. I am surprised they let us in here.” The Memphis, Tennessee band has been a hard touring machine since 1998. The best way I can describe their sound is Tom Waits meets Social Distortion. Nichols confessed that the band was in between learning new songs for a recording and forgetting how to play the old ones. They restarted a few songs during the show. This resulted in a casual performance that was more charming than sloppy.

Lucero trying to remember the old songs

The majority of their songs were slow ballads including Nights Like These, Drink ‘Til We’re Gone, and War an acoustic song about Nichols’ Grandfather in World War II. Nichols sang about the cruelties of combat while guitar player Brian Venable laid on the grass with the audience and posed for selfies. Another song that tug at the heart strings was Loving a song Ben Nichols wrote for his brother Jeff Nichols’ film Loving (about a couple that were plaintiffs in the 1967 United States Supreme Court decision that invalidated states prohibiting interracial marriage) – “And I could tell them I don’t love you/I could prove my heart is true/And it might not be good enough for them/But I just wanna be good enough for you.” Of course, the band turned up the noise for Tears Don’t Matter Much as the audience sang along with their fists in the air. Nichols thanked everyone “for sticking with us for a whole bunch of songs we don’t remember.”

Paper Bird

Before the country-punk rock band took the stage, Denver’s own Paper Bird warmed up the crowd. The band’s line up has changed throughout the years. In 2014, lead singer Esme Patterson left for a successful solo career. Canadian crooner Carleigh Aikins replaced her. In March of this year, the other sister Genevieve Patterson left making the group abandon their signature three-part female harmonies. Sarah Anderson and Carleigh Aikins now sing with a more contemporary sound. Anderson wore a white flowing outfit that Lucero described as “a Clorox commercial waiting to happen.” Their set included songs from their new self-titled album. Don’t Want Half was a stand out from their new material with its impressive layered vocals. Aikins led the group through an amazing version of George Jones’ Tennessee Whiskey (almost as good as Chris Stapleton’s). Paper Bird appeased their old fans by performing As I Am from their 2013 album Rooms. Drummer Mark Anderson (Sarah’s brother) expressed his affection for the crowd by saying, “I love seeing punks walking around the gardens.”

See you at the next show. I’ll be the one with a swanky picnic basket wondering how I got into such a fancy place.

Father John Mistry and Built to Spill in Morrison, CO at Red Rocks Amphitheater on 8/25/17

Father John Misty

Every time Father John Misty performs in Denver, he plays a larger venue mainly due to his dramatic performances. He went from playing the Ogden Theatre (1,600 capacity) in 2015 to the Ellie Caukins Opera House (2,225 capacity) in 2016. On Friday, Father John Misty played Red Rocks Amphitheater (9,925 capacity). Drama started about a week before the show. First, fellow alternative musician Ryan Adams had a Twitter fit about Father John Misty and declared him “the most self-important asshole on earth” (he later apologized). A few days later, opening act Jenny Lewis cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances. There were rumors her friendship with Ryan Adams caused the withdrawal (a family emergency was the real reason).  Built to Spill replaced her.  That’s right . . . Built to Spill.

Father John Misty – All photos by The Rock 
and Roll Princess

Father John Misty A.K.A. Josh Tillman followed up his 2015 album I Love You, Honey Bear about marriage in dark times with another cynical album about the current state of America entitled Pure Comedy. He began his performance with the title track – “Where did they find these goons they elected to rule them/What make these clowns they idolize so remarkable?/These mammals are hell-bent on fashioning new gods/So they can go on being godless animals.” Okay. This might sound like a depressing foreboding folk downer. But it’s not. It’s performed with James Brown like energy with a side of sarcasm. Father John Misty explodes with emotion fueled by the passion for music shown through dance. His pants with holes in the knees and his ripped suit jacket are the results of his spirited performances.

The Dancing Father John Misty 

The extraordinary lighting mixed with the beauty of Red Rocks Amphitheater provided a dream like atmosphere. His song So I am Growing Old on Magic Mountain felt like it was tailor made to perform at the historic venue. Father John Misty played a number of his older songs. The synth heavy True Affection turned Red Rocks into a dance party. The lighting transformed his body into a silhouette while he danced. When the song ended, the lights suddenly went dark. Thus providing a perfect time for Bored in the U.S.A. to begin. The 420 fueled audience were singing along while laughing at the lyrics at the same time. The night ended with the fast paced Ideal Husband – “I spend my money getting drunk and high/I’ve done things unprotected/Proceeded to drive home wasted/Bought things to win over siblings/I’ve said awful things, such awful things.”  Of course, it was done the Misty way with a wink and a smile.

I was disappointed that Jenny Lewis had to cancel. I opened my heart to embrace the band that replaced her. I searched for similarities. Built to Spill is the brain-child of Doug Martsch. Jenny Lewis was also in a band with a weird name called Rilo Kiley. Built to Spill gained national attention by playing Lollapalooza in 1995. Lewis earned national attention as a child actress in the 1989 Shelly Long vehicle Troop Beverly Hills (she played Lollapalooza in 2016). Bass player Jason Albertini and drummer Steve Gere back Doug Martsch. The Watson Twins (identical twin sisters) frequently back Lewis on vocals. Martsch’s fashion consists of sweat pants and a t-shirt.  Lewis favors pantsuits airbrushed by graphic designer Adam Siegel and boots by Saint Laurent. And that’s where the comparisons end.

Built to Spill

Built to Spill are credited for creating the Northwest Sound. Death Cab for Cutie and Modest Mouse site them as a major influence. Doug Martsch’s guitar playing is impressively noisy. The hipster standing in front of me was inspired to dance along to every song. A few fans sprinkled throughout the audience really enjoyed their performance. Doug Martsch stated, he was “siked to be there.” And so was that guy standing in front of me.

See you at the next show.  I’ll be the one feeling misty about Jenny Lewis.

Strange Americans and Miles Nielsen and The Rusted Hearts at Bluebird Theater in Denver, CO on 8/11/17

Strange Americans

A few weeks ago a tragic event happened. The skies darkened, hearts were broken, and the world weeped. Of course, I am talking about Justin Bieber canceling his world tour. This left four women from the Pacific Northwest with a weekend in Denver without the Biebs (he was scheduled to perform at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on August 12th). The Beliebers were determined to make the best out of this catastrophic event. Dressed in Justin Bieber and Calvin Klein wear (he is their underwear spokesman), the heart broken music fans attended Strange Americans Album release party. Apparently bearded guys playing roots rock is the closest thing Denver has to Justin Bieber.

Murry Mercier and Trent Nelson

Unlike the instant YouTube success of Justin BieberStrange Americans have been a hard working Denver band since 2009. They consistently perform in the Rocky Mountain Region. Strange Americans played Red Rocks in 2015 and opened for the indie Rock Gods The Old 97s last year. Their new album Borrow You, Brother took three years to make. Their recording process consisted of living together in a single apartment, a fire, and four separate trips to Denton, Texas. After some record label juggling, the album consisting of 48 minutes of rock anthem goodness has been released into the world.

Strange Americans – All Photos taken by
The Rock and Roll Princess

The majority of the album was performed to the crowd that consisted of friends, family, and four Justin Bieber fans positioned in front of the stage. Matt Hoffman wearing his signature trucker hat and flannel shirt led the band through songs about the struggles of striving for the American dream with Big Black Car and No Punches. Trent Nelson took over lead vocal duties for Riverside with amazing harmonies from the band and his trademark leg stomp. Older material was played throughout the set including the Springsteen like Blood in Gold and Rocks/Rolls featuring Murry Mercier pounding on the keyboards. The night ended with Places II with Hoffman signing with raw emotion, “Remember when we had nothing at all.”  The audience congratulated the band with handshakes and hugs and quickly purchased the album. The Justin Bieber fans walked away with a high from the power of Rock and Roll or second hand pot smoke.

Miles Nielsen

The opening band Miles Nielsen and the Rusted Hearts played infectious songs and created a party like atmosphere. Strange Americans were their supporting act for a few weeks during their recent summer tour. The band was returning the favor for Strange Americans album release party. Miles Nielsen is the son of Cheap Trick’s guitar player Rick Nielsen (the eccentric Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member). His brother Daxx Nielsen is currently Cheap Trick’s drummer. Dear Kentucky (You’re Killing Me) a love song about a city with a warning label was a crowd favorite. Shine Your Light made the audience stop talking and notice the gospel inspired song with multi-instrumentalist Adam Plamann playing an amazing clarinet melody in the background.

Miles Nielsen and The Rusted Hearts
with Strange Americans Dance Troop

When Miles Nielsen stated special guests were joining him for Start Me Up, Matt Hoffman, Trent Nelson (no relation, different spelling), and Murry Mercier came on stage and danced during the chorus. The crowd went crazy and the Justin Bieber fans were just confused. Miles Nielsen and The Rusted Hearts later joined Strange Americans for a jam session. The Rusted Hearts’ Daniel James McMahon guitar skills were awe-inspiring.

See you at the next show. I’ll be one impressing the masses with my new Strange Americans‘ dance moves.

Zac Brown Band, Darrell Scott, and Caroline Jones at Coors Field in Denver, CO on 7/29/17

Zac Brown

Walking into Coors Field Ballpark, I was confronted by a sea of country fans in their checkered shirts and cowboy boots. This made me assume Zac Brown Band was a typical country show. Instead I witnessed exceptional musicians switching musical genres faster than Donald Trump changes communication directors. The threat of a downpour drenching the crowd turned into only sprinkles throughout the night. Zac Brown Band similarly sprinkled in alternative, classic, country, and pop songs throughout the show. I discovered Zac Brown’s own songs can be straight country, Jimmy Buffet tributes, and pop songs. There is a reason one of his albums is entitled Jekyll and Hyde. The Old Guy at the Show HQ acquired the highly sought after pit passes (general admission by the stage). Zac Brown was so close to us that he shook our hands and possibly shed some of his beard upon us. In the middle of his show, Zac Brown stated, “I turned you on to some good sh*t tonight.”  He was talking about the artists that opened up the ballgame…. I mean show.

Caroline Jones All photos by the Rock and
Roll Princess

The first inning started with singer-song writer and multi-instrumentalist Caroline Jones. She played most of the instruments on her soon to be released album. Jones grew up in Connecticut, but a trip to Nashville made her fall in love with country music. As the crowd found the way to their seats, Jones sang a song about her dog Old Blue on the banjo. Her picking was impressive and her smooth vocals made the crowd look up from their adult beverages. After a few acoustic songs, a full band joined her on stage. Jones switched to an electric guitar to play her “mission statement” and title track to her album Bare Feet. It could be about striving to live out your dreams or her hatred for footwear (every song is up for interpretation). Another highlight was Chase Me about her belief that men should chase women not the other way around (some how I don’t think that’s one of her problems). By the end of her set, it was apparent why Caroline Jones was listed in Rolling Stone’s 10 New Country Artists to look out for in 2017.

Darrell Scott

One of Zac Brown’s favorite songwriters Darrell Scott was next up to bat. He rose to fame writing and playing for the likes of Steve Earle, Sam Bush, and Guy Clark. Looking like Guy Fieri’s uncle, the spiky grey haired Nashville musician serenaded the talkative crowd to a picturesque song about Colorado entitled… wait for it….Colorado. After a few songs, two members of Zac Brown Band joined him. A couple of songs later most of the band was on stage playing with him including Zac Brown himself. Brown sang back up to No Easy Way and Long Time Gone (Scott’s song made famous by The Dixie Chicks). A curtain closed and the video screens displayed a five-minute count down clock. The anticipation for the main event grew stronger with each second ticking away.

Zac Brown Band

When the countdown clock reached zero, the curtain raised and the entire band including Darrell Scott appeared with impressive video screens and lighting displays making Coors Field glow. Wearing a top hat that looked like a lampshade stolen from your grandma’s house, Zac Brown kicked off the night with his hit Keep Me in Mind. Everyone around me sang along. The band kept the momentum going with Toes (a Jimmy Buffet like song inspired by a trip to Key West).  The crowd chanting the chorus, “I got my toes in the water, ass in the sand/Not a worry in the world, a cold beer in my hand.”

Zac Brown and his hat

The Kings of Leon’s Use Somebody was the first genre changing cover of the night. You can tell the crowd was trying to place the song in the beginning. But after a few moments, the county fans were dancing along to the alternative rock hit. A few songs later, Ben Cameron (a singer Brown met at a campfire) sang Stephen Stills’ Love the One Your With.  There was multiple “Do do do do do-do” sung throughout the ballpark.  Caroline Jones came back to join the band for Tomorrow Never Comes. Not satisfied with just a duet, Zac Brown had the beer fueled audience join in by instructing them to sing, “Woo woo woo wooh.” They followed with the inspirational Free combined with Van Morrison’s Into the Mystic. The curtain lowered and the countdown clock started again because the show was only in its fifth inning.

Zac Brown and Clay Cook

When the curtain rose yet again, the band played John Denver’s Rocky Mountain High intertwined with Zac Brown’s own Colder Weather (a song about Colorado and the girl that was left behind). The Colorado crowd went crazy (pandering always works). Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody was next (Zac Brown wisely didn’t attempt to hit the high Freddie Mercury notes). Guitar player and keyboardist Clay Cook embodied the late Gregg Allman performing The Allman Brother’s Whipping Post. A long jam session started entertaining the band as much as the audience. Snapping the crowd out of the heartbreaking blues, a guitar duel between Coy Bowles and Clay Cook began. They played Jimi Hendrix, AC/DC, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Nirvana guitar licks. This lead up to the band playing Guns N’ Roses Paradise City inspiring the crowd to jump so high their cowboy hats were flying away. The night ended with the hit Chicken Fried with the crowd singing, “You know I like my chicken fried/Cold beer on a Friday night/A pair of jeans that fit just right/And the radio up.”

See you at the next show.  I’ll be the one in the weird top hat trying to grow a beard with my pit pass.