The National @ Red Rocks | Photos by Merry Swankster
Last month I was able to plan around domestic life to catch the National play Red Rocks. It felt like a big deal. Not because they were first time headliners, or because the weather was beautiful – a slight breeze providing a taste of the coming fall and a moon kissing the night with light. It’s because the biblical rains had finally subsided. Just days prior, severe and widespread flooding was devastating parts of Colorado. It was scary stuff. Constant rain went on for a week straight. It never rains like that here. “This is a semi arid climate!” We joked from the gallows to cope with being waterlogged. The band addressed the topic directly by saying what we were all thinking in the days leading to the show, “We didn’t even think we’d be here.”
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Red Rocks never ceases from being its arresting self. No matter how many times I go the surrounding beauty spoils. Locals know it is de rigueur for performers to mention the awe of playing there. As expected as a quip on the thin air’s effects, “this altitude is really getting to me, how do you guys do it!?”
Bands arguably have the best views in the house, overlooking a cheering crowd wedged between massive monoliths in the Colorado foothills is a unique sight to switch from the regular summer shed circuit. I don’t see how it would be possible to be jaded by the situation.
The National didn’t waste any time getting things going. Starting strong with the instant classic “I Should Live In Salt” and moving slightly uptempo to “Don’t Swallow the Cap” before lighting things up proper on “Bloodbuzz Ohio”. They paced themes very well as they worked through a smartly created setlist. “Ohio” is proof how at the hands of a well executing band, exquisite songcraft enhances everything. With most National songs, the singing isn’t exactly full of high energy excitement, despite that, this track scorches. Highway speed drumming clears the path for escalating guitars and a sparse, simple keyboard acting like an urgent siren.
Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats | Photos by Matt Kelley
I’m a big Nathaniel Rateliff fan. This old review from a 2011 Thanksgiving show lays it all out. It gets in depth. I still agree with it all – which feels nice as consistency reassures me. That was then. In this mid point of 2013, Nathaniel Rateliff has found a new act. Newly possessed in the role of Soul Man, fronting a band I would describe as R&B revival. With a nostalgia conjuring name that should immediately break the top 10 of best “The” band names – The Night Sweats. They are brilliant.
Sharing a band uniform is done to portray a certain slickness, a monochromatic look that helps the overall focus of performances. The Night Sweats gentlemen wore suits that defined cool. Slick dudes in suits. In a rock band. BOOM. Nathaniel Rateliff played it a bit looser. With a open collared shirt, with more than a few buttons past business casual acceptability, and general scruffiness apt for a front man of the Night Sweats, Rateliff completely embodied the role of possibly buzzed traveling rocker. Hilariously at times. Like the circus intro in which the MC claimed awesome and of course ludicrous truths about Rateliff (“minister of mayhem”, “master of the Telecaster”) culminating in a triumphant, horn blasting, run up to the stage. Showmanship to the max. If Rateliff was dealing with new found nerves as he fleshes out the new persona, there wasn’t much letting on.
From the moment word hit of Jack White’s presence in Denver, a full day ahead of a sold out Red Rocks engagement, rumors of an unannounced, so called secret show, occupied the time of local music bloggers. Following every sighting and rumor with a chaser of anxious speculation. And then more speculating.
It was fun. I was all-in on the lively online tracking of Mr. White. Twitter continues to impress as a medium for real time interaction with the world. Try to think of a distant future where anthropologists study our contemporary times – Twitter is basically a rough recording of the world’s events as seen through humans, way better than conclusions from buried pottery. Anthropologists in the future will have it waaaay easier.
Most canned profiles on Jack White mention his penchant for vintage gear and other obscure potpourri. Though driven from a firm, unwavering belief that amplification and recording performance have all peaked in their technological capabilities long ago, when coupled with White’s throwback persona, adoration for peppermints, and publicly stating a longing for kids to get serious with remote-controlled steamboats; a veering caricature of White as Luddite is never far. Then things like these “B shows” happen, and the method in which the news propagates (and the surrounding hoopla) brings into focus the savvy brilliance of Jack White.
Jack White. B show. B there. B square. Isdajo Automotive. 3411 W. Colfax Ave. Denver. 3:30 PM.
30 minutes later a couple hundred people gathered at a nondescript auto service station to see the coolest rockstar on the planet play a short set in the middle of the afternoon. I was so anxious about the entire thing – tracking it for 2 days, driving there, getting stuck in traffic – that by the time I was there I barely had a second to enjoy anything between shooting photos. There’s a lesson there that I know Jack appreciates.
Jack White – “Ball and a Biscuit” B show, Isdajo Automotive Denver
Was I naive to think a show in 2011 billed as “Guns ‘n Roses” would NOT be regrettable? Would my taking an opportunity to capture even a small sliver of the MTV-defined glory of my pre-teen years be a foolish decision? Did I inadvertently put myself in one of those positions where adult curiosity polishes gauzy nostalgia clean to the bone? The question I ask myself is why God, why did I suppress that little voice inside my head telling me not to go to this show? Why did I overestimate those heralded performances of a different version of an Axl-led “Guns ‘N Roses” in which I heard people speak highly about? I clearly remember something about a great MSG show. Why the hell did I think such a thing would be relived in sleepy suburban Colorado on a Sunday night?
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