I Might Be Wrong: Red Rocks plots a forgettable summer

There’s been much hullabaloo made in past weeks about Colorado’s beloved Red Rocks Amphitheatre and its century of concerts. And, deservedly so: Red Rocks is one of the best –- if not the best –- place on the planet to see live music. One monumental moment after another has occurred in Morrison, from the Beatles performing to Willie’s endurance. Still, most Red Rocks fans likely look back most fondly on personal moments: the first time caught in a rainstorm, losing a ride home, that first kiss or maybe even sneaking two 40s into a Neil Young show during high school and then passing out on the stairs.

Yet, with so much praise, one can’t help but notice that this summer’s concert line-up is relatively weak. (The film series might even out-duel the main affair.) The bookers that be –- AEG, Live Nation and the independent promoters –- have set up months of ‘70s rehashes (Earth, Wind & Fire, Chicago, Styx), jam-band burnouts (Widespread Panic, Yonder Mountain String Band), plain ol’ lousy music (Kings of Leon, Slightly Stoopid) and, odder still, cash-ins sans headliner (Michael Jackson Tribute, Abba: The Concert, 1964).

That, of course, isn’t the whole story, though.


What, then, looks like it’s worth the effort? Well, on back-to-back nights, Red Rocks welcomes the Flaming Lips and Primus (August 3) and My Morning Jacket with Amos Lee (August 4). Even though the Lips won’t be playing mainly originals –- they are covering Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” in full –- Wayne Coyne & Co.’s shows are always worth a jaunt. (Its split bill at Red Rocks with Ween in 2006 was an epic trip.)

MMJ’s slot the next night might be the single best date on the RR calendar. Its new record “Circuital,” -– due in a week –- isn’t on par with My Morning Jacket’s best stuff, but it has grandiose, expansive moments that will surely be welcomed bouncing off the sandstone. All of this said, it’s hard not to believe that the best years (the “The Soft Bulletin” and “Yoshimi” for the Lips and the “At Dawn” and “It Still Moves” one-two for MMJ) are behind both bands.

This year’s country-fied offerings like the Avett Brothers, Ray LaMontagne, Mr. Nelson and Alison Krauss aren’t half-bad, either. But, where’s the fire –- the feverish zest –- here? Where are the shows that you just have to see –- begging, borrowing or stealing (a ganja gooball)? Even looking back just a couple of years irks. 2010 saw the (semi-) indie cred of MGMT and Vampire Weekend take the Rocks (this year you’ll have to deal with the whiny Death Cab on that score) and Phish played in 2009 for its first time since the ’96 “riots” (the venerable warhorses have opted for Dick’s this Labor Day weekend). 2008 boasted Nine Inch Nails and Sigur Rós. Daft Punk visited in 2007.

Being from Denver (and traveling home from the East Coast for almost a decade) saw momentous shows from a Chemical Brothers/Fatboy Slim split to Radiohead in 2003. There, seemingly, aren’t such memory-makers this year. The season kicks off Saturday with an oddball bill of the Disco Biscuits with Rusko and Big Boi which certainly could be fun –- stoned as all get-out –- but is a harbinger of a bummer summer. Much of the schedule reads like its 1998 again: Three nights of Dispatch (one is too many), Big Head Todd, Widespread Panic (yeah, it’s the group’s 25th anniversary but they’ll be back; death, taxes, Panic at Red Rocks…), Umphrey’s McGee, Blues Traveler (a Fourth of July tradition that needs to see a merciful eradication), Sarah McLachlan, Train, O.A.R., Yonder and STS9 are all performing. Even a reunited Soundgarden takes you back to the days when you were more likely to see MTV showcasing a long-haired guitarist from Seattle than a beefed-up moron on a beach. Throw in a few Jethro Tulls and Santanas and you’ve got the vitality of classic rock radio.

Certainly Red Rocks is a largish venue but it ain’t huge, either (it has an sub-10,000 capacity). And while the demise of Monolith doesn’t bode well for the overly out-there or ambitious, concertgoers have a right to demand something more from the storied institution. The Thievery Corporation/Ghostland Observatory bill and even Atmosphere and Pretty Lights are pointed in the right direction, but even those artists aren’t fresh or influential. And none have ever been indispensable.

Feel free to comment on what you’re looking forward to (or not) for this season and, perhaps, maybe share your own 40 guzzling memories from summers past. Chances are you couldn’t smuggle two in.

I Might Be Wrong is a weekly opinion-based discourse written by Reverb columnist Colin St. John. It is also a persistent record-store-geek reference to Radiohead.

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Colin St. John is a Denver-based writer and merrymaker. Follow him on Twitter and check out his blog.