The night was alive with the sound of dads beep-locking their Suburu station wagons, happy hour revelers roaming East Colfax and pure rock n’ roll. The Bluebird was hosting Ben Kweller’s 16 and up show, so there were a lot of younger fans waiting in line to see Ben Kweller when I arrived. I was happily surprised to see that inside the venue’s doors there were some original gangsters in attendance, as well. Take, for instance, the backwards-hat, baggy-jeans fellow who was readily prepared to answer, “Hell YEAH!,” to the first musician to address the crowd with, “Are you ready to see Ben Kweller?” Kweller’s audience disregarded any conventions or stereotypes from the beginning.
While considering this show experience, it got me thinking about whether or not there were any cliches about seeing live music in Denver. I’ve only been living here for about three years now, but I think there are some things that can be agreed has become standard, like someone making a joke about smoking marijuana for instance. Let me also add that I love seeing live music in Denver and wholeheartedly embrace all of the unique or stereotypical experiences that come with the package.
At 8:00 OTD (On the Dot), The Dig began their set as the crowd slowly made their way into the venue. Dad most likely went to go find a brew of the coffee bean variety and was going to “brb”. The Dig was ready, the members of which are family-friendly. David Baldwin and Emile Mosseri vocalized together for most songs, Mark Demiglio kept a solid beat, while Erick Eiser kept things going with double keyboard duty and picking up an extra guitar occasionally. It seems that lately the shows I have been seeing have an unspoken Bassist Motion Quotient (BMQ) that needs to be met, or maybe Mosseri was full of energy because he was manning the mic for most songs; Mosseri was popping and bumping, swaying and swerving like it was nobody’s business. Which brings me to the first cliche: Traveling band complains about the altitude.
This isn’t so bad, in fact lots of visitors complain about it. But all you need to do is drink more water - just like you would if you were flying in an airplane. You’re playing music, not climbing Pike’s Peak. The Dig is from New York, and it’s always nice to see some motion and energy instead of the overused complaint about altitude sickness. The group effortlessly went through a set of about seven songs, mostly from their yet-to-be-released album Midnight Flowers which will be available May 29. The group mentioned that this was their last night on tour, but kept it short and sweet and seemed genuinely happy to be apart of the tour lineup. Maybe the guys were so quiet because they spent the previous night in their tour van at a Walmart parking lot:
Pull into the wallmart parking lot in salt lake citytonight if you wanna see a couple of badass losers sle instagr.am/p/KE73VKPZyK/— The Dig (@thedigisup) May 1, 2012
The group is certainly hard-working. They released their first album in March of last year, toured with big pop-punk acts like Thrice, Dashboard Confessional and Portugal. the Man for most of 2011, and somehow found time to record this new album before they started touring a few months ago. With a work ethic like that and being introduced to such a widespread young audience, I’m sure we are going to see a lot more of them.
Sleeper Agent is a six-piece band from Kentucky, and when they took the stage they really “took” it: their equipment spanned the length of the floor, and any space left unoccupied was obscured by the copious amounts of hair presented by these young hooligans. With long flowing hair and bouncy, curly afros, the group headbanged the night away and didn’t restrain a single strand. The group’s laid back appearance added to their fun and energetic performance. There was not a pretentious word spoken and you certainly wouldn’t look at this group and mistake them for the kind of twenty-somethings you see on the cover of an Urban Outfitters catalog.
Drummer Justin Wilson commented on the end of their association with the Ben Kweller tour by mentioning cereal. It was an interesting take on what you may come to expect with an ending:
“You know when you eat Cinnamon Toast Crunch and you get to the bottom of the bag? And it’s like all the cinnamon parts . . . that’s what you guys are getting right now. It’s the best part.” It’s not like they are going home to rest on their laurels - the band will continue to play shows around the country for the summer and promptly begin their tour with Dispatch in September, when they will be visiting us again, this time at the 1stBank Center.
Which brings me to another cliche for live music in Denver: Marijuana. Usually in its physical form, the substance is frequently the subject du jour for visitors of the Mile High City, and typically the punchline for any media outlets that may lack originality and/or a sense of humor. Before Sleeper Agent began their rendition of “VCR” by the XX, once again Wilson spoke up to voice a compliment of sorts to the audience. “This is one of my favorite places in the country to be. Maybe because it smells so nice in Colorado. Everyone is just so nice and chill, and they drive so slow.” The cover was fantastic, it was a great way to showcase the singer’s deep voice with the multitude of fuzzy, loud bass-heavy instruments on stage. And with the young-ish crowd, there was less of a reaction to the drug reference than usual. I’m sure any teenager that grows up in Colorado just thinks it’s too mainstream to be cool anymore. But dads in the audience probably appreciated Wilson’s attempt at subtlety and might have prepared a little side-speech for the ride home, as dads are want to do.
Ben Kweller played all of the hits from his impressive five-album collection of songs spanning the past ten years. The artist is a prodigy of sorts, as his career started before he was legally an adult, and you would be hard-pressed to argue that he had aged much since he began, regardless of how many years had passed. A humble attitude, combined with power-pop rock songs and red-hair must be the modern-day fountain of youth. Kweller’s first five songs included his newest single “Mean To Me”, and his oldest single “Wasted and Ready”; within the first fifteen minutes of the show - Kweller had already shown the audience his hand, so to speak. What would the spritely pop-rocker do next? A lull in the set prompted a teenage girl dressed as a goth cheerleader to wave her glowing bracelets in the air as Kweller tuned his guitar, ignoring the flutter of the stage curtains to his left. Kweller kicked out the classics, not unlike your favorite jukebox and when he started playing “Falling” from of his first album, everyone was singing along and slow dancing.
It’s a mark of artistic excellence to appeal to multiple audiences. Kweller was singing to me, to dads, to the goth cheerleaders and to the backwards-hat homies - I think he had proven himself without needing to try. But then he still tried, which makes Kweller an ace musician; my point will be clear as I explain his next move.
Going back to this idea about cliches, I would certainly say that another general cliche for Denver - like most big cities in America - is Sports. You name it, and Denver probably has a franchise for it . This is not really a cliche reserved for live music but what Kweller presented was highly unexpected and not typical at all. Before going into “Walk On Me”, Kweller addressed the crowd: “This is the type of song where we need to bring out a local legend, right? Maybe a role model type of person. How about the mascot of the Denver fucking Broncos” With an introduction like that, I couldn’t tell if Kweller was hoping to get dad’s approval or make the hipsters giggle, but it was awesome. Bursting through stage right, the Broncos mascot, who barreled out doing high kicks and making a “Number 1” gesture. It was surreal. The mascot danced and paraded around the stage for the entire song, while the band members giggled; I have to say I was impressed, and it made me smile, too.
The crowd swayed and sang along for the remainder of Kweller’s performance that included piano ballads and alt-country jams; Kweller played for almost two hours, and it was full-energy all night. Given that this was the tail-end of a six-week tour it’s surprising this amount of energy was still available., but it was a great way to end a tour any way you put it.
See more photos from this show in our Facebook album!