Between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day weekend of this year, I saw approximately 200 bands across 40 venues, 6 festivals, 10 cities and 2 time zones. From DIY house shows to rural fests to Larimer Lounge BBQs, it was the summer that my ears never stopped ringing. Here’s what sticks out the most:
11. Bright Eyes @ the Boulder Theater, August 9. I saw Conor Oberst and friends at Coachella last April, and while the setting could not have been more picturesque, the music, itself, never hit home. Flash forward to a packed August show at the Boulder Theater, and this was a tight, energetic, stop-on-a-dime band offering the perfect mix of new and old material. Full review and photos here.
10. Dispatch @ Red Rocks Amphitheatre, June 5. I begrudgingly volunteered to review this show when it became apparent that we had a band coming to Red Rocks for a three-night stand with no one signed up to review. For most of middle school and high school, Dispatch was my band for life, my first musical obsession. And while I’ve outgrown songs like “Elias” and “Flying Horses,” hearing them live (again) elicited a level of nostalgia I’ve never known. Full review and photos here.
9. Langhorne Slim @ the Fox Theatre, June 8. Langhorne Slim may be the hardest working man in folk rock, and his lightning-fast three-piece backing band is supporting the habit. Slim’s raspy voice, criss-cross stage antics and Elvis-meets-James-Brown moves made for a memorable Wednesday eve in Boulder. Full review and photos here.
8. Andrew Bird @ Chautauqua Auditorium, August 10. Simply put, this was the best-sounding, most dynamic and generally pleasurable live music I’ve heard all year. Bird commanded the stage with masterful whistling and impressive violin chops — in a snazzy blazer. Full review and photos here.
7. Old Crow Medicine Show @ Telluride Bluegrass Festival, June 18. Say what you will about this faux-grass quintet, but they delivered one of the most entertaining and lively sets during a four-day fest rife with veterans married to traditionalism. And hearing Emmylou Harris sing back-up on the ballad “We’re All In This Together” will stick with me for life. Full review and photos here.
6. School Knights, Force Publique, Fingers of the Sun @ Brass Tree house, June 25. This was my first time inside the Brass Tree house in the Baker neighborhood of Denver, and while the concept of a house show is nothing revolutionary, the way that these guys do it is, for lack of a better word, special. The noisy, messy, yet technical garage rock of Denver band School Knights is something not to be missed in an intimate setting. Watch the video here.
5. Ha Ha Tonka @ 3 Kings Tavern (UMS), July 21. The best kick-off to the UMS, hands down. The band’s set didn’t get underway until well after midnight and the crowed had considerably thinned, but it didn’t matter. Members of Churchill and the Centennial took to the stage for the last couple numbers, and the rousing version of “Usual Suspects” had the entire room stomping and clapping in exhilaration. Listen to the band’s Mile Marker here.
4. The Vaccines @ the Ogden Theatre, May 30. While technically the Vaccines were merely opening for Arctic Monkeys, the on-the-rise Brits stole the show from their touring mates, without question. Lead singer Justin Young strangled his microphone in the manner of the Walkmen’s Hamilton Leithauser and traversed the stage with a palpable sense of purpose. Full review and photos here.
3. The Flaming Lips performing “Dark Side of the Moon” @ Red Rocks Amphitheatre, August 3. I had seen the Flaming Lips twice before this night, and while I’ll always bask in the spectacle of it all, it’s no secret that they tend to play a variation of the exact same show on every tour. So, to hear the Lips interpret “Dark Side” in an alternately creative and accurate manner (the guitar solos on “Money” and “Time” were flawless), was nothing short of a thrill. The neo-synchornization with “The Wizard of Oz” put this one over the top. Full review and photos here.
2. Adele @ the Ogden Theatre, May 28. This was the most packed I’ve seen the Ogden Theatre since Mumford & Sons last played the venue in October 2010. Simply shuffling to the bathroom was impossible, let alone getting a drink at the bar. None of that mattered. The chart-topping star exceeded her already high expectations with crystal clear vocals, a tight backing band and dominant stage presence. Watching from the corner of the balcony must have felt like seeing Diana Ross or Aretha Franklin in the brief time before they became superstars. Full review and photos here.
1. My Morning Jacket @ Red Rocks Amphitheatre, August 4. With so many variations, reinventions and subgenres of indie-rock, one can easily forget the raw power of a fundamental rock show. My Morning Jacket destroyed Red Rocks for nearly three hours in early August with soaring guitar lines, anthemic choruses and sheer jubilation. Twang, pop, soul, noise rock, disco — it was all there — and it nearly caused the ground to shake in Morrison. Full review and photos here.