Mile High Music Fest Live Reviews: Day Two
See photos of the day's fans and crowds on the slideshow page.
We're back for Day 2, which looks to be shaping up a little hotter, and not just because of HoneyHoney's frontwoman (above). Check back throughout the day for more photos and reviews. For coverage from Day One, see our reviews and a slideshow of the fans.
What it was like: Starting your day with an old-fashioned hootenanny.
The first show of Sunday in the Rhapsody Tent was simultaneously familiar and novel.
Paper Bird strikes a successful balance between the old and the new in their sound, and it's a combination that makes for an engaging live performance.
While the band's instrumentation -- a seamless blend of tenor banjo, trombone, guitar, stand-up bass and trumpet -- and its three-part harmonies from Esme and Genevieve Patterson and Sarah Anderson summon cues from classic Americana folk, ragtime and early New Orleans jazz, their stark lyrical imagery and deviation from standard structures make their sound seem new.
It was a dual dynamic on clear display during their Mile High performance. With spot-on harmonies, energetic cadences and intriguing solos, the group quickly captivated the crowd. Songs like "Colorado," had the masses moving, and in this case, the communal ambiance felt more like a heartfelt camp meeting than an unruly music festival.
Verdict: A rousing way to start the second day of the festival. -- A.H. Goldstein
What it was like: Like a fish out of water where the fish actually lives to tell the tale.
Strange Condition has certainly paid enough dues to earn the right to play Mile High Music Festival, amassing a solid Denver fanbase and crafting a slew of radio friendly rock songs that get fairly regular rotation on local radio. But their 11:15 am set was a study in differing opinions on what worked and what didn't. I thought the drums and lead guitar sounded like garbage through the main speakers. You barely heard any of the guitar solos due to lousy front-of-house sound. The drums sounded even worse -- like cardboard boxes getting whacked with a broom. The fans seemed to disagree. The lead and backing vocals sounded as spot on as I've ever heard with this band. When Strange Condition played their set list staple "If You Fall", the crowd really plugged in and bobbed heads in agreement with the music.
Verdict: Strange Condition played admirably in spite of terrible front-of-house sound on the lead guitar and drums yet overall pulled in a few hundred heads for the first band of the day who (mostly) enjoyed the music -- B. Dutch Seyfarth
What it was like: Like that great '90s alternative rock band Collective Soul, but without the catchiness.
I remember being told a long time ago that being honest with your readers when reviewing bands is more important than struggling to find something nice to say. One of the photographers I've been chatting with this weekend told me his buddy loved Jerry Joseph and the Jackmormons so much that he flew all the way from San Francisco to see this band perform. So I was excited; maybe I was in for a real treat!
Not so much. First of all, the sound issues on the lead guitar and drums at the Westword stage were corrected and sounded substantially better than during Strange Condition, but good sound doesn't replace lackluster songwriting. Jerry Joseph and the Jackmormons retred the same '90s alt-rock sound made popular by bands like Collective Soul, replete with swirling guitars and throbbing bass lines. Sadly, where Collective Soul built a solid career on this type of sound combined with memorable song writing, Jerry Joseph and the Jackmormons brought nothing new to the table.
Some fans around me disagreed, but I still can't believe that anyone would fly in from across the country to see this band.
Verdict: Good, I guess. But good doesn't equal great. -- B.D.S
What it was like: Honey-coated vocals and some clever songwriting.
Suzanne Santo and Ben Jaffe, the duo that makes up honeyhoney, opened their set in a rather sublime way by easing into it with a great take on Nancy Sinatra's "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)." While it was just the two of them -- Santo on vocals, violin and banjo, and Jaffe on guitar and bass drum -- that's all they needed to deliver a wonderful set. On most of the tunes Jaffe played bass drum his foot while laying down some wonderful guitar work to perfectly complement Santo's honey-coated vocals. On the jazzy "I Go to Work," Jaffe triggered some horn lines (possibly on his laptop) while the lovely Santo turned her back to the crowd and jerked her hips to the beat, almost like a burlesque dancer. Even if it was just for a few moments, it just showed what kind of sass the gal had.
A few songs later, a guy from the crowd yelled, "You're so hot!"
Jaffe replied, "Me or the lady?" The dude yelled, "Both." Jaffe then joked, "We do threesomes." But jokes aside, the LA-based duo did some wonderful stuff, including the bossa nova-tinged "Sugarcane" and an awesome interpretation of the Smashing Pumpkins' "1979," which honeyhoney recorded on an EP of cover songs.
Verdict: The name fits the band perfectly: double the honey. -- Jon Solomon
What it was like: Quickly recognizing a musical pattern.
The first song of Dead Confederate's set established a pattern that would repeat throughout the performance.
Beginning with a slowly building intro, marked by carefully spelled out guitar lines with distorted tones, the band quickly progressed into quicker, plodding rhythms and extended instrumentals. It was psych rock at its most basic, realized with a particular zeal by this Athens-based ensemble.
The routine became a bit tiresome 15 or 20 minutes into the set, but the quintet managed to maintain a sharp performance and well-executed solos . It was a flair for performance that helped keep the set interesting, despite some sounds and structures that arose multiple times. Drummer Jason Scarboro and keyboardist John Watkins offered particularly energetic and arresting performances.
Unfortunately, the mix sounded muddled at times, and the proximity of the Main Stage West made for some moments when the sound from Jack's Mannequin's set bled into the tent.
Verdict: The novelty quickly wore off, but Dead Confederate still managed to pull out some genuinely engaging musical moments. -- A.G.
What it was like: Hearing faithful interpretations of Bob Marley's hits.
The Wailers have been carrying on Bob Marley's legacy for a long time, and they've obviously got Marley's material down pat. After opening with an instrumental, the band did some faithful interpretations of Marley's more popular material like, "Natural Mystic," "Rastaman Vibration," "I Shot the Sheriff," and "Jammin," which got the crowed pumped up and clapping along. A lot of people in the audience were also singing along to other hits like "Waiting in Vain," "Is This Love" and "Three Little Birds."
Verdict: While they've got the Marley hits nailed, it would have been nice to hear some more obscure Marley material as well. - J.S.
What it was like: A tale of two bands.
Jet rolled up to the East Main Stage to a lot of fanfare. It's been awhile since they've played in Colorado, so the crowd in attendance waited with bated breath. Early in the set, the band played many of the radio hits, including "Are You Gonna Be My Girl." The band played great but sounded a bit paint by numbers. Thanks to modern big screen technology, everyone in the crowd could see the band members up close, and the band just plain looked tired. Later in the set, Jet pulled out some newer songs, which breathed much-needed life into their hour-long set. They played four-on-the-floor rock anthem "Goodbye Hollywood" and "Last Chance," a mixture of the Ramones and AC/DC that flat rocked. It was like someone poured a tall glass of enthusiasm into the bodies onstage.
Verdict: Jet is an incredibly fun band to watch. Too bad only the second half of their set truly rocked. -- B.D.S
What it was like: An insane gypsy punk party.
Gogol Bordello kicked off on an insanely vigorous set of gypsy-fueled punk with "Ultimate," the opening cut from the New York-based band's latest effort, Super Taranta!. The band kept the energy pumping through the set with frantic frontman Eugene Hutz leading the way. A few songs in, two female back-up singers/dancers ran out and pumped even more vigor into the show, as did the deft violin and accordion players. The bass player, wearing a Bad Brains T-shirt, locked down the groove throughout the show, especially on the gypsy ska of "Sally." The band's Eastern European-tinged punk kept the crowd bouncing through most of the set, especially during "Educate Thy Neighbor" and "Start Wearing Purple," which was one of the highlights. Near the middle of the set, the back-up singers came out, one with a pair of cymbals and the other with a bass drum strapped on, and helped churn out some of the faster punk of the set.
Verdict: Gogol Bordello gets my bet for the most energetic show of the festival. -- J.S.
What it was like: Listening to a soothing, radio-friendly set in a massive crowd of screaming people.
It was the fullest I'd seen the Westword tent so far.
I can see how Guster - with their easily digestible guitar lines, calming vocals from Adam Gardner and straightforward rock structures - would appeal to a wide range of folks. But I was in no way expecting the massive crowd that packed the tent for their midday performance.
While the heavy attendance may have been a heartening commentary on the band, the density detracted from the performance. Finding an adequate vantage was almost impossible, and the quality of the sound that reached the tent's outer fringes was subpar.
Still, I was able to glean some enjoyable moments from the set: "One Man Wrecking Machine" made for an interesting opener. And the band followed their tune "Red Oyster Cult" with an almost note-for-note cover of the instrumental section of Blue Oyster Cult's "Don't Fear the Reaper." They even included the cowbell.
Verdict: The band put on a competent, stirring performance, but it was difficult to pick up on its nuances from the fringes of the tent. -- A.G.
What it was like: A dog being raped in a train station.
OK, that's was actually how John Butler's described his set. I guess that means John Butler must be the best thing to happen to Mile High Music Festival today because he had the biggest crowd, had the best interaction with the crowd, and was hands down the most mesmerizing musician of the entire weekend. I have seen some incredible guitar players in my life, but I have never seen anyone like John Butler.
I've heard the John Butler Trio buzz for a few years now, but this was the first time seeing him perform (sans Trio). With just an acoustic guitar, his right foot stomping a rythm, and his voice, he immediately had the few thousand people in attendance in the palm of his hand. Starting out with the well known John Butler Trio crowd favorite "Used To Get High (For a Living)," I was reminded just how truly talented some musicians are. To make things even better, Butler switched up the vibe, tempo, choice of guitar, and key of each song, demonstrating some true variety in his set, which has been sorely lacking with other bands here today. About five songs in, he brought out drummer Nicky Bomba and took the mind-blowing show to a whole new level, and every song took the crowd energy higher and higher. For me, John Butler is the highlight of the day.
Verdict: You have to see this guy to believe it. Pray someone captured today's performance and uploaded it to Youtube. -- B.D.S
What it was like: Seeing a legend up close ... really close.
About an hour into his epic set, Buddy Guy left the stage.
The seminal blues player didn't sneak backstage to take a break or run off to replace a broken string. Instead, Guy descended into the crowd in front of the Main Stage East, keeping up an incisive and dense solo to an Albert King cover the entire time.
Guy navigated the screaming crowd easily, carrying a mobile microphone and cooing blues lines as fans rushed to snap his photo or touch his arm.
It was one of the most amazing moments of the festival so far.
Seeing a player who helped define a genre wander among fans helped make this fledging festival seem more legitimate and more significant.
Apart from his impromptu trip into the crowd, Guy's set stood as one of the most impressive performances for its sheer soul, its expert players and its unbridled energy. His vocals boasted a dual quality of alternating ferocity and gentleness, and his soloing has not suffered at all for his decades of being on the road.
Indeed, whether he was playing standards like "Hoochie Coochie Man" or the title track from his new album, "Skin Deep," Guy encapsulated the best of an old-school blues performance in his rapport with the crowd and with his inimitable guitar playing.
Verdict: Of all the acts I've caught at Mile High so far, Guy's performance was the nearest to legendary. -- A.G.
Where/When: Westword Tent, 4:15 p.m.
What it was like: A really big gypsy wedding.
While Denver-based DeVotchKa may not have had the same furious energy of Gogol Bordello, who played on the Main Stage West just before the DeVotchKa's set, the two acts do draw on similar Eastern European gypsy influences. DeVotchKa did kick up its set with two up-tempo gypsy cuts, including "Head Honcho" from the band's latest album, A Mad and Faithful Telling, before the group rocked out a bit on "Venus in Furs," which was quite a bit faster than the lethargic Velvet Underground original. After a lively take on "Queen of the Surface Street," a trumpet player joined the band for the Mariachi-tinged "Along the Way."
A few songs later, drummer Shawn King switched to trumpet and joined the other trumpeter on the Mexican-flavored "We're Leaving." About halfway through the band's set, violinist Tom Hagerman switched to accordion that for some reason was borrowed from Golgol Bordello. Urata thanked the fellow gypsy band for letting them use the squeezebox and "for being all around awesome." The next cut started off a bit slow with Urata playing a theramin, but within no time, the song veered into frenetic Gogolo Bordello territory with Urata playing the theramin while he was playing an electric bouzouki. The band kept the momentum going and got the crowd clapping along on "The Enemy Guns." After some lovely takes on "How it Ends" and "The Clockwise Witness," DeVotchka ended its set by whipping the crowd into another high charged gypsy/klezmer tune.
Verdict: DeVotchKa delivered a solid set fueled by quite a few up-tempo gypsy tunes. --J.S.
What it was like: Sweating to the oldies with several thousand absolutely crazed people.
Gotta hand it to 3OH!3, man. The act has far exceeded any expectations anybody had at the beginning when Nat Motte and Sean Foreman first hit the scene and were drawing massive crowds in Boulder. While we were right to wonder if the act would grow beyond a regional phenomenon, the duo's provencial sound has translated effortlessly to the masses in in this area code and every other area code in the country, largely thanks to "Don't Trust Me," the inescapable radio hit from the outfit's Photo Finish debut, Want. And the maniacal fandom the guys have inspired shows absoltely zero signs of waning. The pair have been on the road for the bulk of the summer on the Warped Tour, and their show has become highly seasoned, particularly with the addition of the Chain Ganf of 1974's Kamtin Mohager on bass, who's every bit as animated on stage as Motte and Foreman, and the ace timekeeping of Adam Halferty of Young Coyotes. Those two boast an undeniable fraternal interplay.
Before 3OH!3 even took the stage, the masses were staking out their spots and the Rhapsody tent was buzzing with fevered anticipation. Those assembled weren't assuaging their curiosity, they were all genuinely super amped to see the group, as evidenced by the sea of upraised hands forming the 3OH!3 hand gestures and the fact that they willfully engaged in umprompted sing-a-longs with 3OH!3's album cuts. Word for word. Throughout the bulk of the set Motte and Foreman, who were dependably energetic, stalking the entire stage, gave ample shout outs to their homestate. The pair's vocals were pitch-friendly from time to time, but considering how much they physically exert themselves on stage, most people would have difficulty speaking much less singing. The fourteen-song set was chalked full of newer favorites at the exclusion of older cuts like, "Holler Til You Pass Out," which was conspiciously missing from the set. They did offer up "Choke Chain," however, which was a bona fied crowd pleaser. And if there were any question as to whether the crew could deliver another radio hit, that's since been dispelled, thanks to a new track the group debuted. They didn't announce the name of the song, but from the instantly infectious whoa-whoa-whoa chorus, we're pretty sure the hit factory is plenty well stocked. The mystery behind 3OH!3's conspicious absence from all Warped Tour ads has also been solved: 3OH!3 will be back on August 8 for the Warped Tour. --- Herrera
Verdict: Hope you're not sick of 3OH!3 because these guys are not done by a long shot.
Mile High Music Festival
July 19, 2009
01. Punk Bitch
03. Colorado Sunrise
04. I'm Not Your Boyfriend Baby
05. I Can't Do it Alone
06. Dance With Me
07. Say Dem Up
09. Rich Man
11. (New Song)
12. Choke Chain
13. Don't Dance
14. Don't Trust Me
What it was like: This is what it sounds like when doves cry.
Warren Haynes and crew are one the veteran, professional groups on the jam band circuit, and for good reason: They deliver the goods on stage each and every show. Unlike some of their jam rock peers though, Gov't Mule always bring something new musically to every show to keep their fans on their toes. This show was no exception, weaving bits and pieces of songs from Prince's "When the Doves Cry" to the Mule's trademark liquid guitar and organ solos.
Gov't Mule's fanbase skews a little older than bands like Robert Randolph, who was playing the nearby First Bank Stage, which is a shame. Robert Randolph and the Family Band had the younger fans who would have liked to watch both bands. Too bad fans had to choose because from a crowd size perspective, Gov't Mule lost out. In a perfect world, both bands would play the same stage, since the two bands compliment each other so well.
Verdict: Having Gov't Mule on the lineup of this year's festival was a
solid choice; I only wish the band wasn't overlapping timeslots with young blues rock guns Robert Randolph and the Family Band. -- B.D.S
I was especially interested to see Matisyahu live.
I'd heard recordings, I'd heard anecdotes about concerts from friends and I'd even heard stories from my relatives in New York about meeting the Hasidic musicians at holiday Purim festivals upstate.
But secondhand stories and studio recordings didn't adequately capture the most unique facets of a live performance.
The musical textures and structures weren't anything groundbreaking -- all of the elements Matisyahu's relatively new performing band used were pretty standard fare for a reggae set. The choppy chords and the syncopated beats were expected, and even the lyrics referencing Old Testament biblical patriarchs weren't all that out of place.
It was the earnestness and focus on display from Matisyahu that truly set the performance apart. From the set's first tones, Matisyahu exuded a special sort of intensity and concentration that set the music apart. While the sound was muddied at points, the group's passionate performance made up for it.
In songs like "Indestructible" and "Escape," Matisyahu explored themes of intense religious and spiritual import, and the artist's commitment to the words came through in his energy and zeal.
Indeed, the grandiose and profound themes of the program seemed a bit out of place for a laid-back music festival, but any religious imagery or themes didn't intimidate the crowd. The Westword tent was packed 20 minutes before the show began, and more and more people arrived as the set progressed.
Verdict: Sometimes, seeing a performer's passion and intensity firsthand can sell you more than any record or anecdote. -- A.G.
What it was like: A funky good time with a few thousand of my friends.
There was a smile plastered as big as the Colorado sky across frontman Robert Randolph's face. Enthusiasm and positive vibes forced themselves into every living soul present for the Robert Randolph and the Family Band spectacle. The connection between crowd and performer was knit into a tight bond by the middle of the first song, due in large part to the jaw-dropping musicianship from each band member on stage, all led by ringmaster and pedal-steel guitar virtuoso Robert Randolph.
Some would say that playing blistering blues rock licks on a music intended for old time country and western music is a mere gimmick. There's no denying the gimmick factor, but good lord Robert Randolph can conjure up any sound he wants from his pedal steel set-up. Gimmicks work when used correctly. Throw in a dash of Led Zeppelin (from which many other bands borrowed this weekend), a peppering of sticky funk rythms, and the aforementioned enthusiasm and positive vibes, and you had the perfect band for a perfect rocky mountain summer afternoon.
Verdict: Around ten years into his career, Robert Randolph shows no
sign of letting up. There's a reason he's a festival favorite every summer. -- B.D.S
What it was like: This is your brain, this your brain completely
hammered and high. Any questions?
Pepper was hands down the rowdiest, drunkest, hardest partyin' band of the entire Mile High Music Festival. Now, I'm no super fan of reggae rock, but I am definitely a Pepper fan. They cracked jokes on stage about not being able to fire their tour manager because he knows too many secrets, and made utterly hilarious references to Star Wars and the bass player asking if the band could cover a Tool song (to which the guitar player replied it was too hard and they'd screw it up). Add in endless drinking on stage, and you have an easy recipe for letting the good times roll.
Mixing rap, reggae, and hard-core punk is a standard affair these days, but no one delivers the comedy and booty-shaking good times quite like Pepper. People pay good money to come to music festivals like Mile High to be entertained and have a good time with their friends, and no band entertained people more than Pepper.
Verdict: There's a reason why Pepper is getting so popular; they know how to make you laugh, dance, and party. Isn't that what music festivals are all about? -- B.D.S
The Fray, 8:30 p.m, Main Stage West
What it was like: Walking into any Starbucks across the country where you know exactly what to expect before you even walk through the doors.
For years, the Fray has been accused of aping Coldplay. Turns out the guys had much grander aspirations all along -- they really wanted to be U2. At least that's what certain aspects of the current tour suggest and none so subtly at that. From the elaborate bank of video screens that encircle the band to the stark, individual black and white images of the band cast on the giant screens surrounding the stage, shots which evoke the still photographic style of Anton Corbijn, to Isaac Slade's frequent Bono impressions -- the pained expressions, the Christ poses, crouching in front of the spotlight -- U2's shadow looms large. The band even kicked off its fifteen-song set with a modified intro to "Happiness" that segued into "Over My Head (Cable Car)" with an ascending synth build that recalled the opening lines of "Where the Streets Have No Name."
For those who've seen the Fray in the past, the most striking difference this time around was Slade stepping out to the forefront from behind the piano for the first three songs. Clad in a thin sports coat and a white, deep v-neck t-shirt, Slade stalked the stage while his bandmates churned out respectable renditions of "Absolute," "She Is" and "Say When." Since emerging more than five years ago, the band is undeniably seasoned at this point as musicians, even if the songs lacked a certain vitality. The absence of guitarist Joe King's sublime backing vocals, which were conspicuously missing due to some vocal problems on his part, undoubtedly dulled at least some of the sheen.
And King's voice wasn't the only thing missing. Slade's typically witty repartee seemed notably muted from past shows, robbing the performance of some of its personality and spontaneity, one of elements that always set the act apart from its legion of contemporaries. It was a good four songs before Slade really even engaged the crowd -- previously his strong suit, always off the cuff and sometimes awkward -- and when he did, he purportedly parroted almost word for word the anecdote he delivered when he introduced the song during the act's not-so-secret dress rehearsals last month at the Broomfield Events Center. Likewise, the set mirrored the rehearsals pretty closely -- with the exception of "Heartless," the Kayne West cover, and "Vienna," which the outfit presumably dusted off in lieu of "Ungodly Hour" and "Heaven Forbid," songs that King takes the lead on -- including when Slade climbed on top of his piano during "Never Say Never" as he had during the warm up gig.
To be fair, that's the whole purpose of a dress rehearsal -- to perfect these sort of overtures -- and it wasn't open to the public, so the gestures and song order were likely brand new to the bulk of this crowd. Still, the overall performance, although tight as the skin on Joan Rivers forehead from a musical standpoint, felt a little regimented. As it goes through the paces with mechanical precision, the outfit is veering dangerously close to a by-the-numbers arena rock band these days. And God knows, the last thing the world needs is another die cut anthemic rock band.
For all the seemingly manufactured moments, there were some welcome deviations, including a tension building, bass-driven interlude during "Little House" and the presence of drum tech Jeff Linsenmaier on stage, who has inexplicably become a fixture of the group's recent performances, generally standing off to the side rattling a tambourine.
Verdict: Ultimately, the thing that will save the Fray from being relegated to the soulless, tract home suburbia inhabited by bands like Coldplay is precisely the thing that made the act stand out in the first place: injecting more of its own relatable personality into the proceedings. After all, their relatability and their knack for unabashedly wearing their hearts on their sleeves is what allowed these guys -- and, by virtue of that -- their songs to resonate on a massive scale in the first place. -- Herrera
Set List - Mile High Music Festival
Happiness intro/ Over My Head (Cable Car)
How to Save a Life
Enough For Now
Look After You
We Build Then Break
Never Say Never
All At Once
What it was like: Watching a band get a second chance to make up for its previous live errors.
As soon as they announced this year's Mile High lineup, I questioned the wisdom of booking the same band two nights in a row, especially in a large festival setting.
While the crowd for the final performance of the festival - a second helping of Widespread Panic's psychedelic, jammy sounds - was far from overwhelming, it was nothing to dismiss either.
And they ate up the band's second stint of extended solos, long-form rock vehicles and mashed-up tempos. While last night's set yielded mixed results in terms of successful execution, Sunday night's set proved much more consistent.
While I was pleased with the quality of the performance, the extended instrumentals seemed stale after half an hour or so. What's more, the group started at least 25 minutes late, an imposition that dampened my enthusiasm for the band.
Verdict: The second night of Widespread was better than first, but I still would have preferred an additional headlining act. -- A.G.