Mile High Music Fest Live Reviews: Day One

Categories: Last Night

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Aaron Thackeray

See photos of Day One's fans on the slideshow page.

It's here: The second edition of the Mile High Music Fest is underway, and our gaggle of writers and photogs are shvitzing their way around the grounds to bring you ongoing, as-close-to-live-as-my-fingers-allow coverage of Denver's biggest music festival.

Check back throughout the weekend and on Monday, and get 140-character updates on Twitter.

Gregory Alan Isakov, 11:15 a.m., Westword Tent

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Brian Landis Folkins

What it was like: A band with the skills to some day play some big stages.

A few songs into Gregory Alan Isakov's sublime set, a guy sitting next to me asked who was on stage. After telling him the singer's name a few times, the guy said Isakov was awesome. Having seen Isakov countless times, I already knew that Isakov is more than awesome. The guy's damn near amazing. What's cool about festivals like this is that it will hopefully turn other folks on to people like Isakov.

Isakov and his band the Freight, which features cellist Philip Parker, violinist Jeb Bows and drummer Jen Gilleran, did some stellar takes from his latest album, This Empty Northern Hemisphere. They closed their set with what was the highlight of show, the album's title cut, where Isakov and the band ramped up the intensity near the end.
-- Jon Solomon

Lukas Nelson, 11:45 a.m., Main Stage West

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Brian Landis Folkins

The Northern Way, noon, Rhapsody Tent

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Brian Landis Folkins

What it was like: Starting out a massive, two-day music festival with a shot of radio-friendly pop.

The Northern Way didn't set out to overwhelm the modest crowd at the Rhapsody Tent with avant-garde sound experiments or driving rhythms. Instead, the group opted to stick to their bright, poppy, moderately paced sound, a musical aesthetic driven by frontman Steve Melton's airy piano chords and lead guitarist Ryan Buller's choppy chords and high-energy solos.

The result fit the mood and the setting of the festival's early hours. With tunes like "Perfect Time," "Crazy" and even a truncated cover of the Beatles' "Let It Be," the band's safe sound quickly involved the crowd that was slowly filing into the side stage. The band's pedestrian love lyrics and traditional song forms would have been a stretch on a larger stage, the safer aesthetic fit the smaller digs and the festival's early hours. -- A.H. Goldstein

Rob Drabkin, noon, Firstbank Stage

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Brian Landis Folkins

What it was like: Knowing that you're seeing a talented young musician who won't be playing side stages for much longer.

I'm pretty sure no other performer at the festival has more hair on his head than Rob Drabkin. The afro-headed acoustic guitar player cuts a memorable image to people who see him perform for the first time. He busted out his trademark flip flop rock tunes to an adoring crowd. Flip-flop rock, you know it: breezy Jack Johnson/Jason Mraz-style tunes that get people dancing. In fact, after the third song, Rob and his band were pulling in inquisitive newbies like a moth to a flame.

Verdict: Drabkin's brand of breezy flip flop rock is perfect for summertime festivals, and today was no exception. -- B. Dutch Seyfarth

Davy Knowles & Back Door Slam, 12:15 p.m., Westword Tent

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Brian Landis Folkins

What it was like: Watching a dude with some serious guitar skills.

Early on his set, Davy Knowles said in a British accent, "We're gonna play some blues guitar stuff for you." Dude did a lot more than that. He pretty much destroyed the blues, in a damn good way. It might not have been very impressive if Knowles were 40, but the guitarist is just 22. Some of the stuff he did was jaw-dropping, like on Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's "Almost Cut My Hair," where he started off doing some violin-like riffs using his guitar's volume knob and played a lengthy passage using just his fretting hand.

It's easy to see why Jeff Beck are tapping the young phenom to tour with him and why Peter Frampton would want to produced his forthcoming album. The kid knows his blues and really tore it up on a slow minor blues that recalled Led Zeppelin's "Since I've Been Loving You." It sounded like he was summoning Jimmy Page at times during his solo. Knowles and his group Back Door Slam closed out the set with brand new cut they're testing out. And judging by the crowd's enthusiastic response, the song, which featured some outstanding slide guitar work, Knowles is a keeper. -- J.S.

The Band of Heathens, 12:30 p.m., Main Stage East

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Brian Landis Folkins

What it was like: Taking in a well-honed southern rock and blues band in a grandiose setting.

The Band of Heathens kicked off the Main Stage East program with a steady sampling of driving blues rhythms, extended guitar solos and a lot of lyrics about losing love and driving trucks. While a bit overly familiar at times, the group benefited from a tight sound and a knack for bluesy and honky-tonk song structures. The early hour detracted a bit from the overall effect; the sun was just starting to mete out its punishment, and tunes would have fit perfectly in a small bar but seemed a bit out of place in the airy expanses of a sports park. Still, the group's down-home sound involved the humble crowd already milling and setting up blankets on the grass. -- A.G.

Matt Nathanson, 1:15 p.m., Main Stage West

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Aaron Thackeray

What is was like: Seeing a sensitive singer/songwriter try his hand at amateur stand-up comedy.

Matt Nathanson didn't take himself too seriously as he led his trio through the second slot on one of the festival's biggest stages.

Between songs marked by sentimental lyrics and full major chords, Nathanson broke from the pattern of his sound and inserted some jocularity. Cracking jokes about Hannah Montana, French philosophers and typical rock theatrics, the San Francisco-based songwriter lightened the maudlin tone of some of the material.

That's not to say the musical end of the appearance wasn't effective or engaging. Nathanson touted a full tone on his acoustic guitar and his Gibson, and while much of the performance touted a staid, folky pace, the band balanced the general structure with many moments of speedy solos and impressive instrumental breaks.

Sure, the program of songs pining for love and relationships lagged at times, but Nathanson kept the performance afloat with his engaging interaction with the sizable crowd. -- A.G.

Rocco Deluca & the Burden, Rhapsody Tent, 1:15 p.m.
What it was (almost) like (sort of): Led Zeppelin (if you closed your eyes).

Music festivals are all about discovering new things that blow your hair back. Rocco Deluca & the Burden is that band. Channeling spiritual energy from Led Zeppelin through Robert Plant-esque vocal howls, bombastic pounding on the drums and psychedelic riffing on the resophonic guitar, the two-man band tore into songs that filled the tent by the end of the second song. Audience members Shay, Amy, and Lindsay from Denver and Boulder said right before the set, "We don't know anything about the next band, but we're excited to see what he's about." I'm sure they, along with the 2,000 other people in the Rhapsody Tent, are all new fans.

Verdict: I've seen quite a few two man blues-rock bands, but Rocco Deluca & the Burden blew me away. Consider me a new fan. -- B.D.S.

The Duke Spirit, 1:30 p.m., Westword Tent

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Eric Syl Grunesien

What it was like: Seeing hippies confused about what they were hearing.

It took three songs for the London-based alt-rockers Duke Spirit to step up their game. Maybe it had something to do with trying to compete with Matt Nathanson, who was playing at the Main Stage West; frontwoman seemed Liela Moss seemed a bit peeved. Just before Duke Spirit kicked into "'The Step and the Walk," Moss said, "Let's drown those fuckers next door." And that they did. From then on, the band stepped the step and walked the walk.

The sassy and captivating Moss, shaking her hips and a tambourine, led the band through some amped-up takes on "The Fold," "This Ship Was Built to Last," "Red Weather" and "You Really Wake Up the Love in Me. "

The verdict: After they warmed up, they delivered a killer set. -- Jon Solomon

Needtobreathe , First Bank Stage, 1:45 p.m.
What it was like: Proof positive not to judge a band until you give 'em a fair shake.

By 1:45 p.m., I'm running behind and am ten minutes late to the see NeedtoBreathe. I can hear what sounds like a Tom Petty cover tune emanating in the distance from the stage as I get closer. Uh oh. Normally, I'm not a fan of unknown bands pulling out cover tunes in their short 45-minute festival sets. I mean, if you're an unknown band, wouldn't you want to showcase your original songs? I guess I was wrong, because by the time I made it to the stage, the band was well into its last few songs and had a sea of young women swooning around the stage, and the music? Man, these guys are good. They sorta have that King of Leon-vibe happening musically, and the band's scruffy good looks seem to make the ladies happy.

Verdict: Except for the Tom Petty song, I thought these guys owned it. I bet their next Denver headliner show is packed. -- B.D.S.

Gomez, 2 p.m., Main Stage East

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Aaron Thackeray

What is was like: Seeing the first arena-worthy act of the festival so far.

It's less than three hours into the festival, and my ears have already played host to a wide array of sounds. But Gomez's set at the Main Stage East was the first show that felt truly epic, a sense stemming from the group's well-rehearsed sound, its diversity of instrumentation and its dynamic performance.

Band members Ian Ball, Ben Ottewell and Tom Gray switched off vocal duties on tunes like "Revolutionary Kind" and "Hamoa Beach," and each song seemed to boast a different and novel musical aesthetic. Drawing on aural textures from acoustic and electric guitars, a melodica and electronic cues from keyboardist Tom Gray, the band boasted a rich set of sounds.

During "Love is Better Than a Warm Trombone," for example, the band spelled out a loping, jumbled rhythm and incorporated a degree of dissonance in its melodies. The result was a surreal, stumbling rock tune, one that seemed simultaneously novel and completely appropriate for a large festival stage. -- A.G.

Railroad Earth, Westword Tent, 2:45 p.m.
What it was like: Railroad Earth brought out the tie-dye crowd with more than a few people singing along to the songs. I already was a fan of the band, but they surprised me with a few new tricks I hadn't seen before -- specifically the mandolin played to create Caribbean steel drum-type sounds. How do they do that? Switching from densely atmospheric psychedelica to straight bluegrass, hoe-down stomping, the band satisfied the massively packed tent. In fact, I had to take my time to squeeze my way up front to get a closer look at how the band was getting the sounds they were getting. Lucky for me, I got to see the band take one of their songs from an epic guitar solo straight down to a low E that shook the ground. People cheered, high fives were exchanged. Mission accomplished.

Verdict: This band proves that you can reinvent what acoustic instruments can do. -- B.D.S.

Galactic, 3 p.m., Main Stage West

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Brian Landis Folkins

What it was like: A trip down to New Orleans during Mardi Gras.

Galactic was one of the first main stage bands that actually owned the stage, and hundreds of heads rolled up to catch their set. The first couple songs didn't blow me away; they were too similar. But by the third song, when trombone player Corey Henry came strutting into the crowd in the alley between the sound booth and the stage, you knew the band meant business. The absolute highlight of Galactic's set has to be G. Love jumping on stage for an impromptu rap and harp-blowing session with the band. G. Love along with Corey Henry sharing frontman vocalist duties for Galactic melted every last face left in the house.

Verdict: Galactic is becoming well known for adding surprise guests at every show, and bringing G. Love on stage was easily the festival highlight so far today.

Ani DiFranco, 3 p.m., Rhapsody Tent

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Molly Morrison

What it was like: A righteous babe hard at work.

Like her record label, Ani DiFranco showed what a righteous babe she really is. She kicked off her set with the intimately mellow "Little Plastic Castle" and ramped up the intensity with some percussive finger picking on "Manhole." Backed by a drummer and a stand-up bassist, DiFranco also delivered a wonderful version of "78% H2O," which the full tent of folks seemed to love. The singer then rapped a bit on "Fuel" and the crowd cheered when she mentioned Obama. She followed up with a funky tune that she wrote for the new president, and she said it was the first tune she'd written for a president. Her new song, which includes a bit about sweating, seemed especially appropriate for this scorcher of day. Among many highlights of her set, her take on Florence Reece's 1930s work song "Which Side are You On?," which she performed at Pete Seeger's 90th Birthday, was especially strong.

Verdict: She's not just a hell of a singer. Her choice of songs for the set showed what a great lyricist she is. -- J.S.

Lyrics Born, 3:30 p.m., FirstBank Stage

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Aaron Thackeray

What it was like: Seeing a high-energy hip hop show with a jaw-dropping funk ensemble as backup.

The band made all the difference.

Don't get me wrong - Lyrics Born could easily carry a set solo with dense rhymes and captivating stage presence. Indeed, as soon as the Berkley, California-based rapper took the FirstBank Stage, the considerable crowd seemed to come alive, and through constant exhortations, Born kept the audience engaged for the entire set.

But the complement of a competent, unerringly funky backup band only added to the effect. The smooth synth lines, the funk chords spelled out high on the neck of the electric guitar and the funky lines plucked from a five-string bass added an organic dimension to the performance. The presence of a backup singer lent the same effect.

Born showed no lack of energy or enthusiasm during the hour-long set. Having a solid backup band that could have dominated its own stage helped complete his performance.

Verdict: The presence of a five-piece backup band helped make Born's words even more approachable and powerful. -- A.G.

Big Head Todd and the Monsters, 4 p.m., Main Stage East

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Aaron Thackeray

What it was like: Navigating a mine field of blankets, tarps and lawn chairs to a radio-friendly soundtrack.

The green of the grass in front of the Main Stage East quickly disappeared under the massive cover of cloth and plastic before Big Head Todd and the Monsters played a single note.

The band's commercial appeal and its continuing ability to attract an audience of all ages and backgrounds found a physical testimony in how densely packed the area in front of stage became in a matter of mere minutes.

As Colorado's native sons opened their hour-plus set with tunes like "Spanish Highway," "Beautiful Rain," "Cashbox" and "Broken Hearted Savior," the grounds filled up with a crowd of all ages, many of whom freely sang along.

The density made it difficult to get a close look at the band, and even circulating in the area farther away from the stage became frustrating.

For all the headaches associated with finding a vantage point, the performance was solid, if a bit predictable. Frontman Todd Park Mohr hasn't lost his knack for an emotive vocal delivery and competent guitar playing, and while the Monsters' catalogue lacks in any great musical risks, it's safely catchy and can be engaging at its best moments.

Too bad there was no place to sit to enjoy it.

Verdict: I would have preferred a vantage point of a nicely shaded area with a minimum number of tarps and lawn chairs to take in the set, but the Monsters still managed to offer some genuinely engaging moments. -- A.G.

Paolo Nutini, 4:15 p.m., Westword Tent

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Brian Landis Folkins

What it was like: Bob Marley playing country, jazz and a little bit of soul, sort of.

Paolo Nutini and his band were obviously well versed in quite a few styles, but Nutini's vocals recalled Bob Marley at times. That wasn't a bad thing, especially since the Scotsman has a decent set of pipes, and the crowd seemed was digging pretty much everything they threw at them. He knocked out "New Shoes" first, and then kicked into "High Hopes," a bouncy reggae tune where the Marley thing came into play. After a swinging cut with muted trumpet, Nutini and company ran through the fast country of "Alloway Grove" and then slipped into "Simple Things," a mid-tempo country song that sounded kind of like Marley singing country. They had some momentum going all the way through "I Wonder," but then slowed things down a bit with Nutini singing a mellow solo acoustic number.

The verdict: Nutini was definitely a crowd pleaser. -- J.S.

Incubus, 5:30 p.m., Main Stage West

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Brian Landis Folkins

What it was like: Listening to a three-dimensional radio tuned to a quaint seaside town in SoCal.

Of all the acts on the bill on this first day of the Mile High Music Festival, Incubus is clearly the one with the most mainstream appeal thus far. Armed with a slew of radio hits, the outfit wisely front loaded its set with plenty of favorites, including "Make Yourself," "Pardon Me," "Nice to Know You," "I Wish You Were Here," "Stellar," "Megalomaniac," "Love Hurts," which kept the crowd sufficiently engaged. The outfit, led by a smartly shorn Brandon Boyd, clad in a white tank emblazoned with the words, "Make believe not war," ran through its mid-tempo rockers with a workmanlike efficiency.

The thing that's always set the group apart from its contemporaries is the dynamic space the band affords its arrangements and the interstellar textures -- the various blips, bleeps and squeals -- all of which are augmented by the Boyd's earnest delivery. To that end, Boyd delivered, singing the bulk of the tunes with his eyes closed, seemingly oblivious to the fact he was performing in front of a crowd. Though the further back you ventured the more disengaged the crowd seemed, overall the act kept folks engaged through familiarity.

Just the same, Boyd, who kept chatter to a minimum, could've been more engaging. Occasionally, he interjected with the obligatory in-between banter like, "How you guys doing?" Periodically, though, he did offer up more personalized observations like, "You guys have, like, super lungs out here, don't you?" Before the crowd really had a chance to respond, Boyd then offered, "You get higher, too, right?" A pair of gentlemen sitting within throwing distance of me, who just happened to be sparking a blunt as he spoke, were too preoccupied with getting "higher" to break the puff-puff-give of their rotation by even acknowledging Boyd's query. Elsewhere during the set, Boyd and company delivered stark renditions of crowd-pleasers such as "Drive" and "Dig," which featured a freewheeling, conga-inflected section with a guitar line that conjured a Moroccan marketplace. Aside for periodic phasing caused by the wind, the sound was fairly consistent for the bulk of the set, as the band's set drew to a close with older songs like "A Certain Shade of Green," from its Science LP.

Verdict: An hour of Incubus is more than enough. The songs tend to become interchangeable after a while. -- Dave Herrera

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Aaron Thackeray

G. Love & Special Sauce, 5:30 p.m., Rhapsody Tent

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Brian Landis Folkins

What it was like: A third degree sunburn after baking in the rocky mountain sun.

By the time G. Love took the stage for the second time today for his headliner set (see Galactic review earlier in the day), many of the people here at the festival looked like walking wounded. Pasty white suburban kids sans shirts with flesh roasted to a bright shade of pink took the stumbling, drunken steps. So it was no surprise that the Rhapsody Tent quickly filled up with people escaping the sun. Most of these people were not the folks you would normally associate with G. Love's brand of slow cooked soul grooves. That didn't matter. From the opening notes of "Deep Fried" to the final booty shaking sing along "Cold Beverages," G. Love and his band had even old men on crutches dancing. Everyone present loved different aspects of the show. Rico from Denver said "he reminds me of Kid Rock with his intensity on stage", while Dale (Denver again) said "it barely scratches the surface how cool this is, actually everything. I love it all". Well said, except I don't really see the Kid Rock angle.

Verdict: A must-see band at this year's festival. G. Love & Special Sauce had standing room only and played everything from hilarious stoner anthems to sing alongs about booty calls. -- B.D.S

The Greyboy Allstars, 5:30 p.m., FirstBank Stage

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Eric Syl Grunesien

What it was like: A super funky street party.

I got a chance to see the Greyboy Allstars many times at San Jose's Ajex Lounge when the band was just starting out in the early '90s. It was a small little joint that only held about a hundred people, so it was cool seeing the hundreds of people grooving on the dudes today. Hell, these San Diego-based cats've come a long way since they started turning out the solid funk. And the got deep into the funk today, locking in on one solid groove after another. Karl Denson was tearing it up on alto and tenor saxes as well as on flute. While Denson's a decent singer too, he only sang on a few cuts, like "Still Waiting." One of the highlights of their set was a funky gospelized take on Kenny Burrell's "Susie." They closed with an early cut.

Verdict: These cats are the kings of locking down heavy grooves. -- J.S.

Ben Harper, 7 p.m., Main Stage East

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Aaron Thackeray

What it was like: Seeing another side of a performer you thought you knew well.

My exposure to Ben Harper being generally limited to the Innocent Criminals output, I was preparing myself for a staid acoustic set to usher in the evening when I arrived at the Main Stage East.

Instead, I was taken off guard by the program of straightforward rock solos; frenetic, frenzied slide guitar; torrential drum work; and fast cadences. It was a welcome surprise, a peek into another facet of Harper's musical and onstage persona.

While the set suffered from a few sound issues and some lagging instrumental moments, Harper's foray into a faster, edgier format made up for the lapses.

While Harper drove the set with his emotive, pleading vocals and his driving guitar work on both his lap steel and picking traditionally on a Gibson, the Relentless7's energy helped carry the set.

Specifically, the drummer offered a thunderous, overwhelming backup for the tunes, while lead guitarist Jason Mozersky offered acrobatic solos and apt rhythmic accompaniment.

Together, the combination made for dynamic performances of tunes like "No Name" and "Never Trust a Woman Who Loves the Blues," even though it was difficult to discern words and individual notes at certain points.

One of the most enjoyable moments of the set came in an expertly executed cover, a faithful rendition of Led Zeppelin's "Good Times, Bad Times." While Harper took some liberties in the vocal delivery, the performance was a faithful paean to the original.

Verdict: While subject to some lapses in sound, the set proved to be an interesting peek into a more driving side of Harper's musical persona. -- A.G.

India.Arie, 7:30 p.m., FirstBank Stage

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Aaron Thackeray

India.Arie is a Grammy winner. That much you know. This weekend, though, she also holds the distinction of turning in one of the most powerful, inspirational performances of the Mile High Music Festival. Arie's performance, rushing with a notable gospel undercurrent, had a spiritual, uplifting, empowering quality that was unlike any performer I've seen in recent memory.

Although undeniably worthy of a main stage appearance, Arie performed on the decidedly smaller First Bank Stage. And what an absolute treat. Like the best street party you've ever had the pleasure of attending, Arie and her phenomenal backing band delivered a set that was simply transcendent and filled with an array of touching and unexpected moments. During "Because I Am a Queen," she ad-libbed a verse that included the lines, "Born and raised in Colorado/look like my dad and sing like my mom," which elicited cheers from the modest crowd. Likewise, later during "I Am Not Hair," which boast lines like, "Good hair means curls and waves/Bad hair means you look like a slave/At the turn of the century/Its time for us to redefine who we be/You can shave it off/Like a South African beauty/Or get in on lock/Like Bob Marley/You can rock it straight like Oprah Winfrey/If its not what's on your head," she electrified the crowd when she ripped off her hair piece at the end of the song.

As personable as she is talented, Arie had us in tears during "He Heals Me," which she dedicated to her father, former pro basketball player, Ralph Simpson, and her brother, who, along with her mother Joyce, were on hand for the performance.

The thing that sets Arie apart above all from all of her neo-soul contemporaries is her honest, heartfelt lyrics and the tangible emotion she infuses each of those words with -- even when those words aren't her own. During her cover of Don Henley's "Heart of the Matter," Arie conveyed Henley's original sense of longing and regret, but tinged those wistful words with a sense of hopefulness that was ten times as poignant and affecting as the original. A little later during "There's Hope" when Arie reminded us that "we don't have to pay to smile, we don't have to pay laugh, and we should thank God for that," it felt like she was speaking the gospel. What's more, during "Complicated Melody," which she sent out to the men in the audience, it felt like she was signing directly to us. "To open your heart to a women's point of view is beautiful," she exclaimed. An easy task thanks to Ms. Arie.

At the end of Arie's set as she donned butterfly wings and spoke of how the wings represented the spiritual transformation of her life and music, and as her mother Joyce, herself a very accomplished singer who was once signed to Motown, sang the last verse, I stood in absolute stunned awe. It was the kind of performance where when she was finished you immediately wanted to reach out to anyone within earshot and ask them if Arie had as profound effect on them.

Verdict: Overall, Arie fully embodies the genuine soulful spirit of greats like Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder, which will go a long way towards giving her music a similar timeless quality.

The Black Keys, 7 p.m., Westword Tent

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Brian Landis Folkins

What it was like: Dirty and bluesy.

"Dirty" is the first word that comes to mind when hearing the Black Keys. But it's good dirty. There were a whole lot thick and dirty riffs that guitarist and singer Dan Auerbach builds his songs off, like the set's opener "Thickfreakness." While drummer Patrick Carney laid down one of many solid grooves on the cut, Auberbach sang in unison with the riff he was playing. After a killer take on "Girl is on My Mind," the duo fired out "Set You Free" and then slowed things down with another thick riff on the slinky "The Breaks." The guys knocked out one bad-ass groove after another for a hell of a set.

Verdict: Even though there are only two guys in the Black Keys, that's all you need to make some dirty thickfreakness music.

Tool, 8:45 p.m., Main Stage East

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Joe Tone
(Tool's manager wouldn't let us take pictures.)

What it was like: Exhilarating, like bumping uglies in the great outdoors -- and unnerving like having fire ants crawling up your hind quarters.

Tool is startlingly consistent live act that's as elusive as it is enigmatic. As noted above, the group's management didn't give us their blessing to photograph the band. For reasons that are completely inexplicable and presumably known only to it, the group gave papers such as the Greeley Tribune the nod, while giving us the bird. While such gestures generally inspire hand-wringing on our part, ultimately, it enhances the band's overall mystique.

Fact is, Tool has always done things Tool's way. Though he's one of the most charismatic frontmen in rock, for instance, Maynard James Keenan frequently performs in the shadows. So getting the hand from the band on this whole photo thing is fitting, we suppose, and just as well. After all, Tool isn't really the type of band whose majesty depends on or can even be captured by mortal lenses anyway. How can a mere photo even hope to capture Danny Carey's impossibly complex yet confoundedly fluid timekeeping? (It can't.) Still, we remember being completely guffawed when Adam Jones and Justin Chancellor mugged for the cover of Guitar World.

Tonight, as they've been on most nights we've had the privilege of seeing them, Maynard James Keenan and company were utterly mesmerizing. Keenan's sneering quips at the beginning of the set -- "This evening is being presented by breweries; Denver likes breweries" (though we thought he said, "boobies" at first) -- added color to the proceedings. As the act essentially leveled all takers at the festival, bathed in hues of vibrant green and blue, it also offered a heck of light show, with green intellibeam lasers, and various eye-grabbing images flashing on the giant screens flanking the stage.

Although this show wasn't our favorite (that would be its May 2006 tour tune-up at the Buell), it was still insanely good. And so while the band may seem aloof, that self-inflicted sense of ironic detachment the band embraces is exactly what inspires such religious devotion from fans.

Verdict: Although the sound was intermittently marred by phasing caused by the wind, the set was expectantly intense and beyond outstanding. -- Herrera

Tool*
Mile High Music Festival
07/19/09

01. Jambi intro
02. (-) Ions intro
03. Stinkfist
04. Forty Six & 2
05. Schism
06. Lost Keys (Blame Hoffman)
07. Rosetta Stoned
08. Flood
09. Lateralus
10. Vicarious

* Thanks, Metalsetlist.com for help sussing out the setlist. For some reason we were completely blanking on the "(-) Ions" intro.

Widespread Panic, 10:45 p.m. Main Stage East

What it was like: A Widespread Panic fan's dream come true.

Widespread Panic does the improvisational blues rock better than any other band perhaps in the history of live music and has the fanbase to prove it. I like Panic, but I do have a couple complaints: one was the gusty wind (which isn't anyone's fault) that made the live sound phase in and out from my vantage point on the hillside overlooking the stage. Number two: Widespread Panic got off to a slow start with a sloppy percussion section intro that just didn't seem to really launch the band. After the rather clumsy intro that went nowhere, the band led off with the classic Panic song "Goin' Out West," which was a great first song choice, but the transition into the trademark long section jam was clumsy and the end of that first song where Panic traditionally (and usually seamlessly) segue into a new song was an obvious miscommunication and stumbled about a minute before the band locked in with each other. I was bummed. I've seen the band absolutely blow minds by changing gears into new songs at the drop of a hat, but this was a pretty obvious trainwreck. The band regained their composure though, and from there on out, were damn near flawless and in classic Panic form. Since I have to be up early again for Mile High Music Fest round two, there was no way I could stick around until the end of the set at 2am, so feel free to weigh in below and let us know how the rest of the show went.

Verdict: Although I have always really liked the band, they really didn't hit their smooth song-to-song stride until the third song in. After that, it was a classic Panic show. -- B.D.S

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