By Brian F. Johnson
For music freaks, New Year’s Eve has always been much more about the shows than it has about some arbitrary number on a calendar. Having stuck it out through thick and thin this year, Colorado audiences once again have a huge selection of concerts to choose from.
Here are The Marquee’s staff picks for some of this year’s most crucial gatherings.
The String Cheese Incident :: 1st Bank Center
The String Cheese Incident doesn’t need an extra excuse to celebrate on New Year’s Eve. It’s kind of their thing, already. But this year, as they flip the calendar from 2013 to 2014 with a three-night run at the 1st Bank Center, the group will have yet another reason to celebrate — for this new year brings SCI into its second decade together as a band. Cheese will be joined by Bootsy Collins and the Funk Unity Band on Dec. 28 and the Flaming Lips on Dec. 29, while The Tiny Universe Horns, featuring Karl Denson and Chris Littlefield, will join those nights as well. The band is being less forthcoming with information about New Year’s Eve proper, but they have left the door open for surprises by saying that there will be special guest appearances. And, as an added bonus, all ticket buyers will receive a download code, good for a remastered MP3 of the band’s very first cassette tape, featuring 11 early recordings of classic Cheese songs — heady, bro.
The Oh Hellos :: Ogden Theatre
They say that homemade presents are the most meaningful gifts and for The Oh Hellos it was one of those gifts that started the band rolling. Several years ago, when Tyler and Maggie Heath, siblings from San Marcos, Texas, got together to write a song for their mother, the two solo musicians liked working together so much that they formed The Oh Hellos. The pair self-released their independent album, Through the Deep, Dark Valley, in October of last year — a rare folk concept album meant to be listened to chronologically. Simple and beautiful in its presentation, the group might not host the most rocking party this New Year’s Eve, but then again, that’s what makes this show a standout option. Not every New Years needs to be treated like it’s 1999.
Umphrey’s McGee :: The Fillmore Auditorium
Thanksgiving dinner hadn’t even been served yet, when Umphrey’s McGee announced its third batch of dates for 2014. The announcement puts the Indiana-based group on the road pretty much continuously until May, when the band will host its annual Summer Camp festival in Illinois. The band’s New Year’s Eve run of shows, which takes place on Dec. 28, 29 and 31 (no show on the 30th), will mark the end of Umphrey’s fifteenth year together, and will take place just days after the band and its fans get back to the States after their annual Mayan Holidaze extravaganza in Mexico. As of press time, UM had only announced one guest for the run, Joshua Redman, who will join the band “throughout the evening” of Dec. 29.
Decadence New Year’s :: Colo. Convention Center
Based on square footage alone, Decadence is Denver’s largest New Year’s Eve party — by far. The promoters of AEG Live, Live Nation and Global Dance boast 600,000 square feet to host their two-day, two arena party which will feature Bassnectar, Tiesto and Dada Live in the Bass Arena on Dec. 30, and Pretty Lights and Above and Beyond in the Illumination Arena on Dec. 31, at the Colorado Convention Center in downtown Denver. Colorado’s Derek Vincent Smith, known in the music scene as Pretty Lights, has just wrapped up a North American headline tour in support of his latest album A Color Map of the Sun, which VIBE called a “masterpiece.”
Flobots :: Marquis Theater
The Flobots long ago made it clear that far beyond being a band, they’re stewards of their community. The rock and hip-hop group, which broke out in the mid-2000s with their hit “Handlebars,” are as busy today making waves in their community as they are making soundwaves in their studio. The group, under their non-profit organization flobots.org, has spearheaded the Youth Media Studio in Denver, which houses a recording studio, performance space, student work areas and the non-profit’s offices. They’re the band with the heart (and intelligence) to allow their whole community to capitalize on their successes, and they give back incredible amounts.
Yonder Mountain String Band :: Boulder Theater
Yonder Mountain String Band isn’t about to half-ass a New Year’s Eve run, especially in their hometown. Last year, the band played an epic four-night run at the Boulder Theater, and this year they will up their game even more, when they play five nights leading up to and including New Year’s Eve at the Boulder Theater. Their show the night before New Year’s Eve will be a benefit for Planet Bluegrass, which was devastated by the September floods that rolled through Lyons and other communities across Colorado. The band has just released a new EP, aptly titled YMSB EP ’13, which the group self-produced, and features four songs, one written and sung by each member of the group.
Head for the Hills :: Aggie Theatre
Head for the Hills have been climbing over said hill in recent years, growing from a rag-tag bunch of string-playing misfits into a tight, well-rounded package. The group released Blue Ruin this year and when The Marquee reviewed it, we said this album is their best work yet. We went on to write that the new album “is kind of like seeing your old college drinking buddy dressed up in a tie on the way to the office. That’s not to say Head For The Hills has put away the fun, they’ve just tightened their songwriting and their presentation,” on a massive scale. Ironically, this year marks the first year that the band will play their hometown on New Year’s Eve.
New Orleans Suspects :: Quixote’s True Blue
New Orleans super-group New Orleans Suspects, which features members of The Radiators and The Neville Bros., formed in the summer of 2011, following the demise of the Radiators after 34 years. The band combines original songs in the NOLA style with hits and obscurities from the Allen Toussaint and Dr. John songbooks, and, of course, they play songs from the Radiators, Nevilles, and Dirty Dozen repertoire.
The Sword :: Bluebird Theater
To put it bluntly, or to put it the way The Sword’s guitarist Kyle Shutt put it when he talked to The Marquee late last year, The Sword is “heavy as balls.” The Austin-based neo-seventies metal quartet has a catalog that is wrought with trippy-ass stories, mythical creatures, space ships and similarly heady themes. In fact, on paper, the idea of The Sword and their music sounds like a trite, been-there done-that kind of band, but their insanely sharp playing and no frills presentation of those songs is rock solid in a Black Sabbath meets Mastodon sort of way. As cathartic shows go for New Years, The Sword’s two-night run at the Bluebird sits at the top of the short list.
Reverend Horton Heat :: Gothic Theatre
It’s been over four years since Reverend Horton Heat released a new album, and just a few weeks into 2014, the Dallas-based psychobilly pioneer, called “The Godfather of Rockabilly” by many, will release Rev, the trio’s eleventh album. The group has already released a sexy, pin-up laden video for the single “Let Me Teach You How To Eat.” Now in their 25th year together, the group bills itself as the perfect soundtrack to the drive-in movie of your life. Their legendary showmanship and lyricism that centers on loaded .38’s, fast cars, and fast women is like an injection of pure nitrous into the hot-rod engine.
Slim Cessna’s Auto Club :: The Oriental Theater
They’re not for passive listeners. The formerly Denver-based Slim Cessna’s Auto Club blend pretty much every sub-genre of Americana to create what one reviewer called “the past, present and future of American music.” Gothy, hillbilly and absolutely certifiably insane, the band is dark in their jubilance, and they’re more engaging than a trainwreck. In spring of 2013, the group released a two-CD/DVD package, SCAC102: An Introduction For Young And Old Europe. The DVD portion was filmed at the Lion’s Lair in 2012, and shows the band literally consuming the bar with energy, and pelting audience members with their intoxicating tunes.
Wu Year’s Eve :: Cervantes’ Masterpiece Ballroom
New Year’s Eve isn’t all about bow-ties and flutes of champagne. Sometimes it’s about getting down and dirty like Ol Dirty Bastard would have wanted. This year, the members of Shaolin, Raekwon, Method Man and Ghostface Killah will team up for Wu Year’s Eve at Cervantes’ Masterpiece Ballroom. Currently, members of the Wu Tang Clan are working on a new album, but reports have been mixed, to say the least, about the fate and release date of that effort, which is rumored to be titled A Better Tomorrow.
Paper Bird :: Hi-Dive
Following a busy year in 2012, where they toured with The Lumineers, Denver’s Paper Bird started 2013 with the release of Rooms, an album that American Songwriter called “a folk album for the 21st century.” The seven-member crew, which proudly (and rightly so) claims to have seven songwriters and no leader, has been featured on NPR’s “All Songs Considered” and were voted in the Top 10 Best Underground Bands by the Denver Post three years in a row. The band also has some big plans for 2014, but weren’t able to share more details as of press time.
Brother Ali :: Fox Theatre
Late last year, after his first trip to Mecca, and a two-month exile in Seattle once he got back to the States, Brother Ali released Mourning In America and Dreaming in Color. The album is harsh, scathing even, but an honest critique of America and its many flaws, and it’s also a hopeful look at the potential that the country still has for the future.