Anybody’s bet on a place not to find me would be at Red Rocks Amphitheater, just down the hill from where we live, during a rock concert. We have been there three times before, but never for a packed house performance as we saw the other night. Our friends came upon some free tickets, and offered us two, and because they are really nice people and fun to be with, we accepted.
We met an hour before showtime and drove on down, and tailgated. I was not aware that this is a big thing for rock concerts. I have walked through the tailgating section before Denver Bronco games, and it is a big deal. Many people who tailgate the Broncos do not attend the games. For us, given our age, it was sandwiches, banana bread, and one beer.
The venue that night was folk-bluegrass, mostly. I like acoustical music, and really enjoyed Mumford and Sons before they chose to go heavy metal. The engineering behind filling an auditorium like Red Rocks, an outdoor amphitheater, with sound, requires tremendous amplification. “Acoustic” might be a stretch. It is not “unplugged” in any sense. It is extremely loud.
Here is the venue:
This is a Saskatchewan band with four members, pictured above. They played for an hour. The place was only half-filled and filling up during their set. I enjoyed them. They interacted with the audience, and if I can say so as a guy, have great sex appeal. I could not understand one lyric they sang, but that would be true for the whole evening. After they played, they joined the crowd in the seats just below us, and the man on the left, Danny Kenyon, had girls tripping over each other to make their way to him for a photo and a full-frontal kiss. He’s a very sexy man, but the others are no slouches. Nate Hilts, second from the right, is usually the lead singer, and carries it well, strong voice and charismatic stage presence.
Many years ago, and I mean many, I attended a concert in Billings, Montana that featured Smith as the opening act, followed by Iron Butterfly. I did not know that the custom for rock concerts was to be drunk, high, or both, such a straight-laced guy I was and am. So while the opening act, Smith, was pretty good, Iron Butterfly and their signature act, In a Gadda da Vida, with its 15-minute drum solo, in my stone-sober view, sucked. I said so on the way home, and was never again asked to attend a rock concert. I once attended a celebration hosted by some Unitarians as they welcomed in the winter solstice by banging drums. That was far, far better than In a Gadda da Vida, in my opinion.
That’s just an outside view of rock concerts in general – talent is where you find it, and these guys, Dead South, in my mind, stole the show.
My first piece of advice would be to change the name, not that it isn’t clever, but because when you put it in a search engine, many other things come up first. This was a classic rock band, as I saw it, with rhythm guitar, lead guitar, bass and drums. The lead singer, seen on the right above, is John J. McCauley. The people behind me suggested he might be Tom Petty’s bastard child. Like Petty, he’s a weak singer.
The bass player, not pictured, left an awkward feeling. He was never near a microphone, and had to mostly just stand there and play his bass, allegedly the easiest-to-learn of the amplified instruments.
The drummer, Dennis Ryan, was a very good drummer, and made the set for me. I like good drums (I am a Hal Blaine fan going back to the time when I did not know I was listening to Hal Blaine).
At one point, Mike, my friend sitting next to me, suggested this was the worst band he had lever heard play. I mentioned Iron Butterfly, but he said they were in fact very good. He saw them on numerous occasions. I only saw them once and was stone cold sober, so defer to his judgment. Deer Tick, individually talented men, are not a good performing group. They failed to connect with the very young and getting-more-stoned-and-drunk audience. Too bad.
Trampled by Turtles
Finally, the main feature. This group has been around for years, has many big hits and has sold millions of songs in the digital age. Of course, I had never heard of them. Interestingly, they hired four classical musicians, two violins, a viola and cello, who did a soft play-in at the beginning. They promptly drowned them out. The classical players would return at various times in the act, but could barely be heard above both the crowd and the heavily-amplified group.
The lead singer for this group is Dave Simonett, and I could not help but notice that he sounded a lot like Paul Simon. Each of them have soft voices, though Simonett projects better (and with great effort). Paul Simon always hit his notes, part of his appeal, but his voice lacks resonance and range other than a falsetto now and then. Simonett lacks that ability.
The group is seven abreast against the audience, and features some very good mandolin playing by Erik Barry. Their songs mostly sounded alike to me, my problem I suppose, as the audience members knew the words. The light show that accompanied the music has to have enhanced the chemical highs in the audience.
We left probably three songs before finale, to beat the crowd. The stadium was full by this time. We all agreed that the best part of the show was the very beginning, Dead South.
I cannot “woo.” My vocal range is ends many decibels below. In watching TV shows, I notice that in older times audiences laughed and applauded, but never wooed. These days it is nothing but woos, mostly unearned by mediocre performers. In addition to the-woos, there is also the piercing yelp-woo. A young guy behind us would let go with one of those now and then, and it would, no kidding, pierce my ear drums and make me jump. I cannot imagine the ability to generate such noise with mere vocal chords. Is it damaging? Is he hoarse the next day? My right ear still has a high-pitched ring.
Even as the music was, aside from the charisma of Dead South, pretty ordinary fare and unmemorable, at least 60%, maybe more, of the appeal of a live rock concert is the ability to get high, get drunk, and pretend that you are listening to a recorded performance by the group. (Live performances rarely measure up to studio-recorded music.) With Trampled by Turtles much of the audience was singing along to the non-melodic songs and unfathomable lyrics. I realized that they were reciting the group’s recorded music, overdubbing and enhancing it with pot, meth and beer. I suspect the combined total of all of this is a buzz not unlike that produced by cocaine. These kids were flying high above the amphitheater.
Music has power. I know this, I do not demean it or the people who enjoy it. I have long suggested is that its real value in terms of controlling the herd is that its lyrical messages go straight to the brain while bypassing any internal filters or editors. Much of our lax sexual mores and drug-soaked culture can be traced to music, which over time has pushed us further and further into a freedom frenzy. Over the decades it has slowly moved us from straight-laced and conservative to what I can only think of as extremely decadent.
What I saw and experienced in this concert was a mostly young crowd high on pot and meth and drunk on top of that. The combination of that, the loudness of the music, and the light show produced a orgiastic frenzy. The stadium was in bedlam, inhibitions set aside, and no one embarrassed by the spectacle.
I realize as I write that that I am no different now than when I sat through the Iron Butterfly drum solo. I am what they might call “uptight.” I don’t let go, don’t get high or drunk, though beer has at times been my best friend. I don’t blend with a baked crowd. The music has no effect on me, in fact, has never been a big deal to me. I have liked a lot of it over time (though I avoid oldies), but for the most part enjoy quiet solitude when alone, conversation when with friends and family. Music means little or nothing. I can live without it.
I am the last person who should be reviewing a Red Rocks rock concert.