PHOTOS: Big Head Todd, Guster, at Red Rocks Amphitheatre - Reverb

Live review: Big Head Todd and the Monsters, Guster, Steven Page @ Red Rocks Amphitheatre

Is there anything that better defines the beginning of a Colorado summer than catching a show at Red Rocks? Pre-show tailgating before the evening turns cool, the majesty of the foothills under a rising moon and the sounds of Big Head Todd and the Monsters — Colorado natives — wafting over a diverse, all ages crowd.

Big Head Todd has large bluesy-jam-rock expectations to fill. According to lead singer/guitarist Todd Mohr, this is the band’s 20th show at Red Rocks since they formed 25 years ago. There is precedence for excellence, and you don’t get invited to play that many shows at Red Rocks without giving the crowd what they want.

The band flipped a switch and set in full steam on “Rocksteady” from their 2010 album by the same name. A lightshow and bass explosion, wah-pedal meets ’70s police chase soundtrack, and a series of infectious guitar riffs. The crowd roared, and all was right with the evening.

There is no doubt that Mohr is a guitar virtuoso. He masterfully brings traditional blues riffs into jam-band territory and back again without losing the hook. He improvises like Hendrix, but still delivers riff consistency. Very few guitar virtuosos can demonstrate they are magicians without turning their songs and band into a one trick flying finger pony. Big Head Todd and the Monsters is that band, lead by that guy.

Fans seemed to be most familiar with BHTM’s 1993 album “Sister Sweetly,” and their 1997 work “Beautiful World,” but Mohr and crew were determined to showcase their tight musicianship across a wide variety of work. For every crowd rousing “Boom Boom,” there was a open tuned acoustic blues cover of “Come On In My Kitchen” by Robert Johnson, or a brand new rendition of Charley Patton’s “Jim Lee Blues.”

Even when the band was risking it, it always backed it up with a crowd pleasing payoff. Take for example a stripped down version of “Bittersweet,” one of the group’s biggest hits. While it started with just Mohr and an acoustic guitar, the song transformed into a full band production with Mohr providing the signature electric solo on his Fender Jaguar.

It wasn’t all blues-rock, or hits like “Resignation Superman.” It was a crowd slow dancing to jams like “It’s Alright,” the amazing female vocals of Hazel Miller, long improvisational trumpet buildups to “Papa Was A Rolling Stone” by the Temptations, and an encore with Mohr on a double-headed 16-string Gibson SG.

Steven Page kicked off the show with a one-man acoustic set, and was rather comically dressed in pink pants, yellow shirt, and light blue blazer. Page performed his solo work, and BNL hits like “The Old Apartment” and “It’s All Been Done” to warm up the crowd. Page is witty, and it shows in his song writing. Even speaking he can’t get away from saying things like, “it’s not about the chorus girls, it is about the chorus, girls.”

Later, Guster burst onstage playing “What You Wish For” and it was clear, they what they had been wishing for was a break from Boston, and a gig at Red Rocks this summer. Working through a set of intelligent adult contemporary tunes, the band provided significant musical depth and variety to that had the crowd dancing in their seats.

With two drum kits played simultaneously, and drummer Brian Rosenworcel providing most drum beats with only his hands, the band ripped through crowd favorites like “Amsterdam,” “One Man Wrecking Machine,” “Satellite” and extended jams on “Airport Song.”

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Allen Klosowski is the social media strategist for The Denver Post. Check out his photos online.

Mark T. Osler is a Pulitzer Prize-winning Denver photographer and regular contributor to Reverb. See more of his work here.