Why did thousands of dreaded, hallucinogen-fueled light-seekers load up the back of their vans with crystals, holy wood from Peru, tapestries and strange chemicals, traversing from all over the country to gather at Red Rocks on Saturday? This was one of the few times the entire 12-piece Shpongle — including both frontmen Simon Posford and Raja Ram — has played and will play (for the foreseeable future) in this country. The psychedelic (“psybient”) group from the U.K. has been pushing the boundaries of synth, world and experimental music since its inception in 1996, and last played as a full band in this country in 2011.
It’s been possible to get a taste of Shpongle, as Posford does tour with the band’s sounds and there are a few off-branches by members of the band who do DJ sets, but the full band’s appearances are “rarer than unicorn tears,” as Posford described their 2013 concert in London.
Pulling into the parking lot at Red Rocks, it was instantly clear that this would be a spectacle: painted faces, robes of brilliant neon colors, people selling their mystical wares on the side of the road — a weird scene. Every other person I walked by asked if I had an extra ticket (the event had long since sold out), willing to trade me absurd amounts and combinations of drugs for entrance into the holy land. And that was another thing: I arrived five hours before Sphongle would hit the stage and it was difficult to spot a sober mind in the nearly 10,000 people that Red Rocks can host (not including the one in five lost souls without tickets, who would probably end up in an adventure of their own in the parking lots).
A DJ set by Minnesota started the evening off as people started to file in and claim their seats, followed by the jam band Emancipator. Anticipation mounted as the sun set, a light rain began to fall, and a chilling breeze pushed the crowd’s smoke around above our heads. The audience cheered as lasers shot out from the stage and the distinct smell of burning moth balls filled the area. The band came out blasting their otherworldly sounds with luminescent apparel and shining dancers fluttering about the stage. Luminescent paint splashed on a canvas as a human slinky took the stage and the audience gasped in stoned wonder.
One of the first songs in their set was “Dorcet Perception” from “Tales of the Inexpressible,” a gypsy ballad with mind-altering potential. “My Head Feels Like a Frisbee” drove the crowd wild with its twisted Latin influence. A recording of Carlos Santana talking about about his experience with the psychotropic drug DMT seemed to fit in perfectly with the band’s samples, alongside philosopher and psychonaut Terence McKenna, leading well into “A New Way to Say Hooray.”
But the night really peaked when the opening bellow of “Divine Moments of Truth” rumbled through our chests, sending everyone into an excited frenzy. The song became popular in the drug subcultures when it was featured in the viral video “Acid and Shrooms Flashback” and the DMT-inspired artwork by Danny Gomez. The video with the constantly shifting artwork paired with Shpongle’s lyrics “LSD do DMT / I love everybody” is a less-than-subtle indication of the state of mind that this band attracts, but it is certainly still entrancing with a clear mind. Ram and an interpretative dancer acted out the video’s characters, trying to simulate the shifting and fractalizing movements onstage, while vivid, multi-colored laser-waves rippled overhead.
As “Divine Moments” ended, transitioning into another track, lasers shot out into the sky to reveal a confetti storm over the entirety of the amphitheater — but wait, that’s impossible, I thought to myself. I then realized snow had begun to fall at that moment, as if the acid gods above were celebrating this magical moment with us.
An impressive live performance, along with gripping production, the band is one music fans of any genre should experience if Shpongle ever materializes on this plane of existence again.
James Garcia is a community reporter at the Loveland Reporter-Herald and a new blogger at Reverb. Follow him on Twitter @JamesGarciaRH.
Dylan Langille is a Fort Collins-based photographer and a regular contributor to Reverb. See more of his photos here.