A cool, beautiful night at Red Rocks: Behemoth red
towers flanking each side and the twinkling city skyline in the distance, and the only thing not to love is standing next to me in the crowd.
My shirt is off and both hands are stretched upwards as tightly as my vocal chords that squeak out my last possible yell. My deodorant is not performing as well as it should, and my legs are too spent to hold me in place. But I’m never the only one — there were thousands of people just like me packing the Rocks on Saturday, ready for a loaded lineup that was many kinds of electronic and all manners of epic.
The billing was an interesting mix of instrumental groups and laptop-driven producers: the vibe was set by hipstery synth guru Com Truise, pushed into overdrive by established jam rockers The New Deal, hammered flat by some psychedelic crunk from MiM0SA, uplifted by the ever-graceful Lotus ensemble, then slammed back again into a West Coast stomp led by The Glitch Mob. Each act could have held the headlining slot, as I would hear countless times during the show and especially after The New Deal said an abrupt goodbye to their last Red Rocks audience (their late-night show at the Fox was their final Colorado performance, and totally worth the rush back to Boulder).
Others would say MiM0SA was the surprise set of the night; even more people commented that Lotus stole the show. It was fantastic that it was all left to debate, clearly a battle between the “jammers” and the “steppers” that made the night a slugfest of music, pitting instrumental/improv groups against laptop-driven producers. Each act gave its all to the crowd, so I don’t point this out to demean the art of one group or another — only to show the clear dichotomy between The New Deal/Lotus and MiM0SA/Glitch Mob, that the latter was favored in the billing, and that the crowd had distinct reactions to each.
The New Deal can put the pedal to the metal. Jamie Shields is hands-down one of the best keyboardists on the scene, and magic happens when the rhythmic backbone of drummer Darren Shearer and bassist Dan Kurtz drive the tempo past the red line. They killed it with “Gone, Gone, Gone” and “Moment #2,” and before you knew it, they had completed their final Red Rocks show (they announced in April this would be their last tour).
Then it was MiM0SA’s turn to whomp the crowd into submission, a single performer taking the stage. Showing some hesitation, Tigran Mimosa began with a handful of crowd-pleasing hip-hop that included Chris Brown’s “Look At Me Now” and Lil Wayne’s “6’7.” My complaint with MiM0SA’s recent set at the Boulder Theater was the serious deficiency of his own chill but absolutely well-crafted tracks, so I was disappointed but understood why he didn’t start with his own music. I applaud him for trying out a little drum and bass (which American dancing feet still don’t quite understand yet), moving into drumstep and busting out a sick collaboration with vocalist Penny before he put his own productions out there.
A friend told me that when he bought his ticket two months ago, Lotus was originally billed as the headliner. I can’t confirm this, but in any case, they absolutely lived up to it. The crowd united into the beautiful geometric expansions of sound as the sunset and night brought out the glow sticks. They forgave and encouraged guitarist Luke Miller when “Umbilical Moonrise” had technical issues, and showed even more love when he resolved it and charged on. They even ate up the dubstep-influenced bass wobbles that bassist Jesse Miller created with a foot pedal, bringing the tempo high and low without ever disengaging the crowd. Though many fans got the two-night deal that included their previous night’s show at the Fox, it was visibly obvious that the Red Rocks show lived up to lofty expectations.
Then arrived the moment of truth: could electro hip-hop retake the spotlight after Lotus whipped everyone into a frenzy with live instruments? It’s a task perfectly tailored for The Glitch Mob, who have increasingly turned their performances into live, unassisted reconstructions of their tracks. Using MIDI drums and intricate touchpads to tap every sound into its place, there was nothing lacking about the trio’s high-energy performance that was blasted from within the obtuse halo of light that surrounded each member. The portal-like rigs were designed by the famed duo of Martin Phillips and John McGuire, who engineered Daft Punk's iconic pyramid stage, and a breathtaking cloth dancing routine halted the crowd in their tracks.
The Glitch Mob’s stage energy has easily quadrupled since I saw them play at the Fox in 2009, and they have risen around an association of individual, talented producers into a fully formed group after releasing their widely acclaimed debut Drink The Sea. And as they often brought to the crowd’s attention, much of their set came from the yet-unreleased album We Can Make The World Stop, due July 12 — a dream performance for any Glitch Mob fan that will have to be extremely challenging for them to top.
So why was it that so many people walked out of Red Rocks in discontent, shouting to each other that Lotus was the ultimate champion of the night? It just wasn’t the same frenzy that Lotus was able to create, and that is why I insist on making the jammers vs. steppers comparison. It gave me the context to understand why The Glitch Mob left everything out on the stage without satisfying the entire venue.
For one, the Mob built their reputation by hyping a fresh, rhythmic sound for which they later became the uncontested ambassador. The glitches and chops were so surgically beautiful that the electronic scene had to take notice, and though it was a bummer their early shows were essentially a showcase with a one-person spotlight, it was clear that the term “supergroup” absolutely applied.
But rather than utilize that anarchic mentality, they have distilled that essence into a melodic but monotempo sound that left fence-sitting audience members waiting for the old classics and the killer finale of their White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” remix. The Mob’s highest and lowest points were within inches of each other, all within a do-or-die mentality to make their Red Rocks show as epic as possible. Visually, it was everything you could have asked for: I don’t need to mention the sexy cloth dancers again, except to point out the rumor that Glitch Mob member Ooah is dating one of them. However, it didn’t impress many of the jammers, who thrived on the variety and energy of improv instrumentalism.
The lesson I learned is that variety is the spice of life. Some prefer dreadlocks to hair gel, or neon colors to earth tones; some want to spin glow toys at the top of the venue and others want to be so close to the speakers that their cigarette smoke disintegrates with every kick drum. And whether you’re better at jamming or stepping is never really up to you — but doing both is a guaranteed way to enjoy your night.