REVIEW: Bassnectar at Red Rocks

Photo by Jules Kueffer

Bassnectar is exactly that — a sweet distillation of low-frequency pollens, collected from the flowers of many sizes and colors. And just like the name implies, the crystalline sugar that results from all that busy-bee gathering is always the king of the show. Seeing DJ Lorin Ashton’s black mane thrashing behind the mixing board, or the blinding light installation that serves as his backdrop, is great, but it’s the chest-shaking, face-melting bass that brought Red Rocks to capacity and kept everyone moving (or forcibly vibrating) during the more-than- three-hour set.

The average Bassnectar audience is always interesting to see, “glowstick hippie” being the fair generalization, even though Ashton makes it clear that bass knows no cultural bounds. The hippie factor was certainly accentuated by opening act and fellow Californians Beats Antique, popular for their world flavor and tendency to let their freak flags fly. It can’t be easy to impress anyone waiting in anticipation for Bassnectar, so I want to do them fair service and mention that all night I heard people lament that Beats Antique rarely headlines their own shows.

Any fan of Big Gigantic would have appreciated Beats Antique’s combination of live drums and saxophone, made even spicier with the addition of belly dancing, live strings and animal masks. The heavy low-end complimented the tribal beats in a way that visibly brought everyone into a collective groove. At their slow points, the music was softly psychedelic and melodically driven. At their peak, they brought a driving groove like an elephant caravan through a delicate glass desert.

The sun had nearly set by the time Bassnectar sent his first pulse against the Martian acoustics towers that give Red Rocks its name. I was customarily running back from the bathroom as the first wave of energy crested in the crowd, and feeling not the slightest bit sorry as I gazed up into an amphitheater full of hands pulsing the energy of “Boombox” straight back down again. Ashton would later tell the crowd after the show that they could experience, for one moment, the feeling of “10,000 people going like this on you. It’s so rad, it’s so stupidly good.”

Standing there at the base of the audience, exercising my best make-believe to pretend that I was on stage, “stupidly good” felt like having your insides turned into whipped cream. It looked liked 10,000 hands rhythmically waving front and back as if they were cords of seaweed washed by the same transparent wave — constant, harmonious, beautiful and terrifying. Throughout the night, I would turn around and they would still be up, a constant monitor of the pulses that relentlessly pounded against the stone steps of Red Rocks.

It began relatively slow — I only notice this in hindsight because at first, it was hard to believe the energy would continue to go up. Ashton played straight through the entire set with no encore breaks and performed with a masterful curve rise, explosion, meltdown and experimentation. Whether it was the 808-style hip-hop rhythm that reset the energy or the variations on dubstep/drum & bass/drumstep, the bass showed absolutely no signs of slowing down. It literally left you breathless, even as he skipped through out-of-place samples like Martin Solveig’s “Hello” and Led Zeppelin’s “D’yer Mak’er.” There were choices that were more interesting than effective, but I was honestly so exhausted that I appreciated any chance to catch my breath.

It felt futile to keep tabs on the tracklist, but there had to have been at least 50 songs thrown into the mix. As the tempo slowly sped up, they seemed to zip by ever faster. In general, the set list seemed to be much less hardcore-influenced than Bassnectar’s appearance at The Snowball in Vail last March, with much more time and intention to spread out and explore just how high the crowd could follow until the “meltdown” where he finally pulled out the big hits like “Lights” and “Wildstyle.” The night didn’t end there, however, and the audience was still voracious after a few new tracks and a little wandering into the deeper corners of the Bassnectar vault.

The result was a relentless sensory assault; I wore earplugs and still left the venue with my head ringing.  A friend commented that I walked back to the parking lot “like a confused baby deer.”  Bassnectar is a VIP at just about any festival in the U.S., but to see him stretch his wings like this with a truly incredible system in an open-air venue is an entirely different experience: tough to endure, impossible to forget.