2019 was another great year for live music in Colorado and throughout the U.S. I covered my favorite musical events of the decade last week. Here are my favorite shows of the year, as they occurred:
Khruangbin, Boulder Theater, May 8
How best to describe this wig-wearing, largely instrumental trio from Houston? Call it international funk-rock with a side of surf guitar. Call it chill music for jam band lovers. From Coachella to Lockn', Khruangbin turned a lot of heads this year as 2016's highly original Con Todo El Mundo reached an expanded audience. The sold-out Boulder audience ate it up.
Jenny Lewis, Ogden Theatre, May 16
Jenny Lewis brought the incredibly catchy collection of songs from her latest album, On The Line, to the Ogden Theatre. The enthusiastic crowd sang along at the top of their lungs as Lewis rewarded them with material from her work in Rilo Kiley, Jenny, and Johnny and as a solo artist. With her strong visual style and lyrics that read like scripts for movies about LA bohemians, it's no surprise Lewis just landed the big career boost of an opening slot on the Harry Styles arena tour next year (at the Pepsi Center August 15).
Bonnaroo, Manchester, TN, June 15
This summer I dropped in for the third day of one of the country's longest-running and best-curated music festivals. It was a beautiful June day to meander between sets from The Record Company, Maren Morris, Hozier, Kacey Musgraves, Jim James, John Prine, The National and Post Malone. With a consistently varied lineup and expansive fairgrounds, Bonnaroo is a rewarding journey for any music lover.
Tribute to Johnny Cash by Rosanne Cash and Ry Cooder, Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, TN, June 16
My wife Wendy and I crossed Nashville's famous Ryman Auditorium (aka the Mother Church of Country Music) off our venue bucket list with a rare Father's Day Johnny Cash Tribute by daughter Rosanne and legendary guitarist Ry Cooder. Cooder played Luther Perkin's original Fender Esquire guitar, the same one he'd heard on the radio as a child growing up in Santa Monica. Rosanne sang her father's greatest hits, many of which she'd avoided playing live her entire life. The result was a truly special evening, with bonus points for spotting Emmylou Harris, John Prine and Rocky Skaggs in the pews of the venerated shrine.
Lucinda Williams, Blues From The Top, Winter Park, June 29
Americana icon Lucinda Williams spent the year celebrating the twentieth anniversary of her classic Car Wheels On a Gravel Road album, playing it start-to-finish at shows across the country. At Blues From The Top she included a slide show from her family album and introduced each number with a detailed retelling of how the song had been inspired. Sadly she didn't bring the tour any closer to the Front Range, but it was well worth a drive up to Winter Park on a sunny late June afternoon to bask in Williams' best music.
My Morning Jacket, Red Rocks, August 3
My Morning Jacket only played four shows in 2019, and two were at Red Rocks. The shows sold out in minutes, with many fans traveling great distances for the only shot to see the group on the twentieth anniversary of their debut, The Tennessee Fire. Jim James and company treated their hardcore followers to a nearly three-hour set on Saturday, peaking with a half-hour rendition of "Steam Engine" that interpolated "Get Back," "Imagine" and "Lean On Me" as it wound in and out of its powerful coda. This show nearly made my Best of the Decade list.
Vampire Weekend Red Rocks, October 9
For their first local appearance in six years, Vampire Weekend played two lengthy sets at Red Rocks. Each night was over two-and-a-half-hours, and in a surprising jam-band style they played sixty-six songs over two nights with only thirteen repeats. The expanded seven-member touring lineup allowed for more improvisation and fuller instrumentation, and showy new lead guitarist Brian Robert Jones made up for the absence of departed founding member Rostam Batmanglij.
The Raconteurs, Mission Ballroom, October 10
Jack White's side project with Brendan Benson played Denver's new Mission Ballroom; it was the only show I saw this year that required attendees to lock their phones in a secured, inaccessible pouch as they entered the venue. It was great--and unusual--to see a show without having to look through a hundred iPhones, and White powerfully demonstrated that, whether it's with The White Stripes, The Raconteurs, Dead Weather or solo, there are few guitarists working today who can shred at his level.
Kurt Vile and Dinosaur Jr., Mission Ballroom, November 6
This summit of long-haired stoner rock started with a strong Dinosaur Jr. set that included the J. Mascis power trio covering The Cure's "Just Like Heaven" with punk energy. Kurt Vile's vocal range may be limited at times, but he gets more self-assured with age and there's no arguing with the loping, slacker charm of slow ballads like "Bassackwards" and "Wakin on a Pretty Day."
Brittany Howard, Boulder Theater, November 15
Brittany Howard's Jaime--a tribute to an older sister who died young--was one of the best albums of the year. The Alabama Shakes leader brought an eight-piece R&B band to the Boulder Theater and burned down the house. Her solo material shined brightly in expanded form and she made the theater rumble with covers of "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher" and "Revolution."
It's a Small World Award
What are the odds of bumping into My Morning Jacket leader Jim James twice on a five-day trip to Los Angeles? I saw him at Scot Nery's Boobie Trap in Hollywood and then almost tripped over him in another part of the city three days later.
Most Annoying Crowd Award
Invasive chatter from noisy crowds is an increasing problem. During Mitski's strong opening set for Death Cab For Cutie at Red Rocks, less than fifty people in the sold-out crowd had any interest in watching her unique presentation or hearing her incredible indie-pop.
Worst Weather Award
This May 1 Red Rocks show, featuring a strong alt-rock lineup of Interpol, Car Seat Headrest, Japanese Breakfast, and Sunflower Bean, took place during a miserable, freezing mix of rain and snow. Second-billed Car Seat Headrest leader Will Toledo couldn't hack it and walked offstage after thirty-five minutes, letting the crowd know he'd had enough and was on his way backstage to get warm.
Best Free Show Award
Hiss Golden Messenger played a parking lot on The Hill in front of a sparse audience on August 7 as part of the FMQB radio industry convention held annually in Boulder. Leader MC Taylor lead his band through some of the strongest tracks off Terms of Surrender, his latest release; the material impressed even without a passionate audience to hear it.
Most Disappointing Set Award
The Foggy Mountain Boys' headlining slot on Friday night at RockyGrass in Lyons promised an extremely rare treat: a full set from the backing band from the O Brother, Where Art Thou soundtrack, which sold a gazillion copies and won every Grammy insight. Surprisingly, the group managed to play seventy-five minutes without a single reference to the movie, and only included two tracks from the much-loved soundtrack.