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Wednesday, April 1, 2020

From Dartmouth to deadmau5, a guide to online music courses

Posted By on Wed, Apr 1, 2020 at 1:00 AM

  • Rob Marmion /

Back in my days of work- ing low-paying office jobs, I hit upon the idea of taking some evening music classes at the local community college. At the time, it seemed like an ideal way to get away from the tedious routines of the corporate underclass, and maybe even learn something. Soon, I was making my way through rush-hour traffic four evenings a week to attend two-hour classes in music theory and keyboard technique. Meanwhile, I got to reacquaint myself with the forgotten art of homework, showing up late for class, and falling so far behind that you can never catch up.

But that was then, and this is now. With virtually all of America under some level of quarantine, many of us have a lot more time on our hands and a lot less to fill it with.

The good news today is that, especially for those who live and breathe music, there’s a world of educational opportunities just waiting for us online. Even Ivy League universities are currently offering classes for free, and you don’t even have to come from a good family to take them. Before long, you’ll be starting every other sentence with “Back when I was studying at Harvard” (or Brown, Cornell, Dartmouth, Princeton, Yale, etc.), and people will love you for it!

Two of the easiest ways to shop for your Ivy League education is through one-stop-shop search sites like and, where you’ll find all sorts of tuition-free courses in music theory, practice and appreciation.

As you may have guessed, the more high-brow schools go heavy on classical music and opera. Harvard, for instance, has its First Night series of “modules” that range from Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo and the Birth of Opera to Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring: Modernism, Ballet, and Riots.

And while we’re on the subject of riots, you may also want to pay a virtual visit to Yale, where you can check out its Music and Social Action course. While the syllabus doesn’t specifically advocate musicians taking to the streets — something you wouldn’t want to do at the moment, anyway — it does cover several artists who, over the past century, have shown their commitment to political and social issues, as well as government initiatives like the WPA’s Federal Music Project and the various ways in which our artistic outlook can change the way we see the world.

Also for do-gooders, there’s the University of Florida’s Healing with the Arts and the University of Melbourne’s How Music Can Change Your Life, both of which explore the values and practices of music therapy.
Meanwhile, have you ever wanted to deconstruct music through the lens of European philosophers like Pierre Bourdieu, Theodor Adorno and Jacques Attali? Of course you have! Which is why the University of the Arts The Hague offers its course in The Importance of Music and Power in Our Society. There, you’ll find classes devoted to topics like music and the state, music and subversion, affective tonality, fetish character in music, and the regression of listening.

For those who prefer more depressing subjects, West Virginia University is now offering a multi-part course called Today’s Music Industry, which includes classes on concert promotion, music publishing and record contracts.

Or maybe you actually want to make music. Many people do. To help out with that, the Berklee College of Music — whose graduates range from Levon Helm to St. Vincent — offers online students a broad spectrum of specializations that include DIY Music, Electronic Music Production, Developing Your Musicianship, and the Business of Music Production. You can also take classes taught by award-winning musicians on subjects ranging from musical improvisation to funk-rock and R&B guitar soloing.

Along the way, you’ll also find no shortage of opportunities to spend money. does offer some 250 music instruction classes, ranging from beginner to intermediate levels, that you can take for free. But for those who want to dig deeper, there are a few thousand more priced from $19.99 to $199.

Of course, if you take any of those courses — or maybe even just think about taking one — expect to find deeply discounted, limited-time-only offers showing up in your Facebook feed for the remainder of your natural-born life. (Not lying: Within hours of scrolling through their catalog to write this, Udemy sent me a sponsored Facebook ad offering 90 percent off on their $199 beginner’s piano course.)

Or you could just fall under the spell of those beautifully lit ads in which celebrity icons like Neil Gaiman, David Lynch and Steph Curry promise to tell you the secrets of success in everything there is to succeed at. Most of those come from, where musicians can seek out words of wisdom from Timbaland, Reba McEntire, Itzhak Perlman, Carlos Santana, Herbie Hancock, Christina Aguilera, Usher, Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello, composers Hans Zimmer and Danny Elfman, EDM artist deadmau5 and Armin van Buuren, with more to come.

And finally, of course, there’s an ever-growing array of musical instruction apps (Yousician, Fender Play, Simply Piano, Tunefox), live music tutors (Lessonface, LiveMusicTutor, Musika), and countless video lessons on YouTube and Vimeo.

Whatever route you take, there may be no better time than this to change the way you play, hear and think about music, and to eventually share it in the company of others.
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Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Don’t Stand So Close To Me: A social-distancing playlist

Posted By on Wed, Mar 25, 2020 at 1:00 AM


Now that Howard Hughes has become our national role model, what better way to chase away those social-distancing blues than a carefully curated collection of thematically appropriate songs?

Sure, you could just put Neil Young’s “Oh, Lonesome Me,” Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Alone Again (Naturally)” or Eric Carmen’s “All by Myself” on infinite repeat, but you can only spend so much time curled up on the floor in a fetal position before you weird out the cats.

So instead, we offer for your consideration a more diverse collection of songs that, if you don’t fixate too much on the lyrics, are really kind of fun. We’ve also included one lesser-known track that we honestly believe will leave you feeling more inspired and optimistic, which, given the current state of the human condition, is no small task. But we’ll get to that later.

“Ghost Town”
by The Specials
“Do you remember the good old days before the ghost town,” sings Terry Hall in one of the more wistful parts of The Specials’ hauntingly tuneful take on rampant unemployment and closed-up clubs in Thatcher-era England. Written and recorded shortly before the seminal ska band called it a day, the song’s dub-influenced arrangement also showcases the deeply resonant vocals of Neville Staple, whose West Indian patois rivals that of Linton Kwesi Johnson. The result is one of the few political protest songs that’s actually fun to sing along to.

“Can’t Feel My Face”
by The Weeknd
“I can’t feel my face when I’m with you, but I love it,” declares The Weeknd on his runaway hit from 2015. Given the Canadian R&B crooner’s youthful indiscretions, it’s widely assumed that he’s singing about the numbing effects of a controlled substance. Or maybe the song is just about getting high on life. Either way, you’ve got to give him credit for putting an upbeat spin on an uncomfortable predicament.

“Germfree Adolescents”
by X-Ray Spex

While their politely titled “Oh Bondage Up Yours!” single fell on largely deaf ears, X-Ray Spex’s follow-up single went on to become the British agitprop band’s best-known song. “Germfree Adolescents” also turned frontwoman Poly Styrene into a feminist-punk icon, as she deftly skewered an antiseptic society where you could almost imagine people hoarding toilet paper and soap: “Her phobia is infection, she needs one to survive / It’s her built-in protection, without fear she’d give up and die.” Not recommended for the faint-hearted or those who don’t trust anyone under 30.

“Don’t Stand So Close to Me”
by The Police
It’s amazing that the CDC hasn’t used a single song by The Police for its social-distancing PSAs. “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” is of course the obvious one, but there’s also the multi-platinum “Every Breath You Take” as well as the clearly plaintive “So Lonely,” in which Sting sings the song’s title no less than three dozen times, which is more than enough to fill a 30-second spot.

“Behind the Mask”
by Michael Jackson
Which came first: the silver-sequined glove or the black surgical mask? No one can really say for sure. But we do know that the reclusive King of Pop wore his mask at a rehearsal on the eve of his death, because Jackson’s personal bodyguard said so right before putting it up for auction. In any case, the posthumously released “Behind the Mask” is an unjustly overlooked electro-funk single, with lyrics like “You sit around behind your mask, and you control your world” that are just about as unsettling now as they were back then.

“U Can’t Touch This”
by MC Hammer
The first MC Hammer single to reach the Top 10, “U Can’t Touch This” has absolutely nothing to do with maintaining personal space and everything to do with pumping beats and billowing parachute pants. Granted, the ’90s rapper let the opening riff from Rick James’ “Super Freak” do the musical heavy lifting, and the accompanying video’s hyperkinetic choreography makes Psy’s gangnam style seem subtle by comparison. And yes, rap rivals 3rd Bass did refer to MC Hammer as “MC Household Tool.” But when it came to unadulterated fun, “U Can’t Touch This” was tough to beat. Or as Hammer put it back in his hip-hop heyday, “Why would I ever stop doin’ this / With others makin’ records that just don’t hit?”

“You Can’t Go Outside”
by Kool Keith
“Now you’re famous, but guess what? You can’t go outside.” In Kool Keith’s song about a self-quarantined rapper who’s taken to canceling gigs for fear of becoming the next Biggie or Tupac, the former Ultramagnetic MC approaches his subject matter with a curious mix of sympathy and derision: “Request to have the chicken and fried rice / Chinese cat at your door on the bike / You doin’ the same thing you did last night.” The song’s chorus, which samples The Dramatics singing “You can’t walk outside... With your girl in the rain” drives the point home.

“Song to Humanity”
by The Lovetones
An ode to hope and redemption, The Lovetones’ 2008 “Song to Humanity” is as close to a sacred hymn as any secular psychedelic-rock band is likely to come. Led by Matthew J. Tow, a singer, songwriter and guitarist whom Rolling Stone has compared to The Kinks’ Ray Davies and The Beatles’ Lennon and McCartney, the Melbourne band employs ringing guitars, sweeping synthesizer and subtle vocal harmonies in service of lyrics that are both timely and heartfelt: “Take care of them all, the old and the small, the sick and the poor, take care of them all.” It’s a gorgeous track and a thoughtful reminder of our need to show kindness and compassion as we get through all this together.

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Monday, March 2, 2020

Good vibes with Tribal Seeds, KBong, The Expanders at The Black Sheep

Posted By on Mon, Mar 2, 2020 at 8:46 AM

The Black Sheep had concertgoers feeling irie on Saturday, Feb. 15, for a sold-out reggae show. We do not have any photos of opening act The Expanders, but we were able to capture electrifying and chill performances by Hawaiian solo artist KBong and San Diego, California reggae rockers Tribal Seeds. Check them out!
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Friday, February 28, 2020

Tejon Street Corner Thieves, The World/Inferno Friendship Society, Bridge City Sinners at The Black Sheep

Posted By on Fri, Feb 28, 2020 at 1:22 PM

Bridge City Sinners bassist Scott Michaud at the Black Sheep - GRIFFIN SWARTZELL
  • Griffin Swartzell
  • Bridge City Sinners bassist Scott Michaud at the Black Sheep
The term "punk rock hootenanny" came to mind on Monday, Feb. 17, when locals Tejon Street Corner Thieves joined Portland, Oregon folk/bluegrass squad Bridge City Sinners and Brooklyn, New York genre-shifting punk cabaret circus The World/Inferno Friendship Society at the Black Sheep. Check out our photos of this killer lineup!
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Thursday, February 20, 2020

Soulfly, Toxic Holocaust, Madzilla bang heads at The Black Sheep

Posted By on Thu, Feb 20, 2020 at 5:14 PM

On Feb. 4, 2020, The Black Sheep hosted a stacked lineup of heavy metal bands, featuring Soulfly, Toxic Holocaust, Madzilla LV, and more. The Indy sent photographer Griffin Swartzell to capture the show. Check it out below!
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Wednesday, February 12, 2020

A Valentine’s Day playlist for lovers who love love

Posted By on Wed, Feb 12, 2020 at 1:00 AM

Love, as The Captain & Tennille once sang, will keep us together. Were truer words ever spoken?

Granted, people may stay together for other reasons, like, for instance, the children, or financial considerations, or codependency.

But since you love Valentine’s Day every bit as much as we do, let’s just set all that aside for the moment and enjoy this lovingly curated holiday playlist:

“Cuz I Love You” by Lizzo
It’s only fitting that the most soulful contender for this year’s Best New Artist Grammy would record this single for Atlantic Records, a label that will forever be associated with Aretha Franklin. Lizzo’s churchified vocal performance, which contemporizes the Queen of Soul’s sound without compromising it, combined with X Ambassadors’ brass-heavy arrangement, add up to an R&B love song that’ll surely stand the test of time.

“Je t’aime” by Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin
Once described as the pop equivalent of the softcore film Emmanuelle. “Je T’aime” was banned in America and other countries where virtually no one speaks French. But the two singers’ whispers, sighs and moans make it obvious that lines like “Je vais et je viens, entre tes reins” are anything but platonic.

“Let’s Stay Together” by Al Green
In which the consummate soulman makes an unimpeachable case for love and longevity. According to legend, Al Green wrote the lyrics in 15 minutes, then recorded the song in a room full of neighborhood drunks. But it still sounds like he’s singing it just for you.

”Computer Love” by Zapp and Roger
Before Autotune, there was the Vocoder, which Zapp leader Roger Troutman took to appropriate extremes in this musically and lyrically prescient electro-funk tune. Key lyric: “Oh won’t you keep me warm tonight / You are such a sweet delight / I will cherish the memory of this night / Yes I found my computer love.”

“God Only Knows” by The Beach Boys
“That’s not a love song, it’s a suicide note,” said Brian Wilson’s father when his son first played it for him. He was wrong. Regardless of whether it’s sung by Brian sitting alone at his piano — or by his brother Carl in the baroque-pop rendition that appears on The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds — this is still one of the most beautiful love songs of all time.

“Ben” by Michael Jackson
Forget the Captain & Tennille’s “Muskrat Love,” this is the only rodent song that truly matters. A sweetly romantic ballad, it was recorded for the soundtrack of the comparatively creepy film Willard, but taken out of context, you’d never guess that Michael Jackson was singing to a rat.

“I Feel Love” by Donna Summer
Although this wasn’t Donna Summer’s first hit about love — that came earlier with “Love to Love You Baby” — it’s arguably the best, with Giorgio Moroder’s arpeggiated sequencers and Summer’s breathless vocals soaring into the disco stratosphere. In the decades to come, the dance floor diva would release more than two dozen songs with “love” in the title, including “Cool Love,” “Unconditional Love” and “Supernatural Love,” but none of them can surpass this one.

“Miracles” by Insane Clown Posse
Because Juggalos need love, too.
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A Valentine’s Day playlist for people who hate love

Posted By on Wed, Feb 12, 2020 at 1:00 AM

‘Love is overused and has no good rhymes,” lamented the Grammy-winning songwriter Jimmy Webb.

And that’s true. Think about how many artists have been reduced to rhyming “love” with “glove” in at least three songs. There’s Elvis Costello, Barenaked Ladies, George Jones, Badly Drawn Boy, Aerosmith, Alice Cooper, Marc Almond, Motörhead, Sting… you get the idea.

Best of all was Frank Sinatra, whose repertoire went there at least half a dozen times, resulting in such timeless lyrics as: “Bump into things like someone in love / Each time I look at you I’m limp as a glove.”

And that’s not the only thing wrong with love, especially when it involves actual people. But while we like to blame social media apps for our growing sense of isolation, it’s also worth remembering that social alienation goes back much further than Silicon Valley, or Hallmark greeting cards, or even the incarceration and execution of Saint Valentine himself.

So if you’re not feeling the love this Valentine’s Day, cheer up! You’re not alone. And since nothing takes the sting out of hating love quite like listening to songs about hating love, here’s a holiday playlist just for you:

“This Is Not a Love Song” by Public Image Limited
Never one to understate the obvious, former Sex Pistol John Lydon howls the line “this is not a love song” more than 40 times on this strangely uplifting anthem that, seemingly against all odds, went on to become their best-selling single.

“Sorry” by Beyoncé
An unapologetically scornful electro-pop masterpiece that’s about as far from “Crazy in Love” as you can get. Key lines: “Suck my balls, pause, I’ve had enough” and “He better call Becky with the good hair.”

“A Thin Line Between Love and Hate” by The Persuaders
The New York City R&B group’s sublime mix of orchestrated soul and close vocal harmonies is so pretty that you might overlook lyrics about an emotionally abusive man who comes home at 5 in the morning and wakes up in the hospital.

“Love Like Anthrax” by Gang of Four
“Love’ll get you like a case of anthrax,” declares Gang of Four, “and that’s something I don’t want to catch.” The influential post-punk band may be stretching the truth here — the CDC has yet to classify anthrax as an STD — but it’s as good a metaphor as any.

“Is She Really Going Out With Him” by Joe Jackson
Marshall Crenshaw and Joe Jackson both wrote songs about watching out their window as their ex walks by with another guy, but Jackson wins out for doing it first, and with way more vitriol.

“What’s Love Got to Do With It?” by Tina Turner
In which the post-Ike soul legend poses the question “What’s love but a second-hand emotion?” The recording was subsequently inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, where it resides alongside Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel,” Hank Williams’ “Your Cheatin’ Heart” and Louis Armstrong’s “What Did I Do to Be So Black and Blue.”

“Love Will Tear Us Apart” by Joy Division
Because it can, but only if we let it.
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Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Music release dates in 2020 will be meaningless

Posted By on Wed, Jan 1, 2020 at 1:00 AM

FKA Twigs' Magdalene
  • FKA Twigs' Magdalene

Last week, we talked about how major labels may well kill the CD in 2020. In the meantime, the concept of a release date for a new album, which has sustained sites like, has become all but meaningless. A given new work may have five different release dates. The streaming version of an album doesn’t always come first, though most labels treat CDs and LPs as afterthoughts.

Let’s take FKA Twigs’ Magdalene as an example. The album came out in a special curated version only in Target stores in early October. This was followed by a streaming version in the middle of the month, and finally by CD and LP versions for mere commoners at month’s end. The same multiple dates occurred for Denver death metal band Blood Incantation and Brooklyn’s queer pop sensation King Princess. The strategy often seems to be, “How much will you pay to get a physical copy early, or at all?” Copies of releases on or near release dates could go for $30 or more — Neil Young’s LP version of Colorado, which preceded the CD, fetched $40.

An optimist would say this turns the release of a new album into a scavenger hunt of sorts, putting a sense of adventure into record-buying. One can always find a release later, at inflated prices, from eBay or But as we said last week in regard to the death of the CD, how does such a strategy benefit either the major label or the consumer?

Those who don’t like big business will be happy to see music revert to small labels and Bandcamp. But the large-scale music industry seems to be going through a self-inflicted series of fatal wounds, which will have huge effects in 2020.
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Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Will CDs finally succumb in 2020?

Posted By on Wed, Dec 25, 2019 at 1:00 AM


Last spring, Independent Records in Colorado Springs and Twist & Shout in Denver were among 40 independent music stores that wrote to Universal Music Group, Sony and Warner Entertainment, warning that contracting their distribution to outsider Direct Shot was making business impossible for music stores. The co-signers laid out a case that this was a deliberate attempt to stop manufacturing CDs, while preserving LPs as a low-volume art object. The claims seemed a bit paranoid at the time, but subsequent events prove the record stores were on to something.

In the fourth quarter of 2019, even large retail outlets like Target and Barnes & Noble claimed they had to wait weeks or months to receive promised CDs. The big record labels didn’t seem to care that their retail networks were falling apart. What’s inexplicable here is how this benefits the Big Three. They may see themselves becoming content specialists like the dozens moving into streaming television, but the predominance of Spotify, Tidal and other audio streamers indicates the prime function of major labels will be to link a musician to an existing streaming service, which could be handled by a music PR firm, raising the question of why major labels exist.

It’s likely that CDs will continue to be offered by independent labels, but both CDs and LPs will be harder to find in 2020. Musicians will have to launch Kickstarter campaigns to produce a few physical copies of releases, because a music release that exists only in the cloud is subject to removal from a streaming service at any time. Next week, we’ll talk about what this means for the elusive concept of a “release date” for new music.
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Monday, December 2, 2019

Slayer and co. thrash Colorado Springs

Posted By on Mon, Dec 2, 2019 at 9:01 AM

On Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019, the mind-boggling became real: Slayer headlined the Broadmoor World Arena. No joke, the response when I say I saw Slayer at the World Arena has been largely incredulous, as if the town that hosts Focus on the Family and New Life Church would be hesitant to host the band that wrote tracks like “Disciple,” which has “God hates us all” as part of its hook. I can’t po$$ibly imagine the rea$on behind thi$ deci$ion, but I'm happy as hell about it. But it’s the final leg of Slayer’s farewell tour, dubbed “The Final Campaign,” and the lineup was stacked with headline-grade talent. Check out a slideshow of photos from the event below, and read more about what went down below the jump.
Opening the show, Philip H. Anselmo and the Illegals played a set of Pantera covers — Anselmo was vocalist for Pantera during their ‘90s heyday, and his band includes Flesh Hoarder guitarist Mike DeLeon, Superjoint drummer and guitarist José Manuel Gonzalez and Stephen Taylor on drums and guitars respectively, and former Cattle Decapitation bassist Derek Engemann. Anselmo has lept feet-first into controversy in the past through occasional drug- and drink-fueled racist comments on stage, most recently in 2016, though the jury’s still out on whether he's a bigot who keeps his mouth shut when sober or just clears the low bar of “not as racist as Morrissey.” Either way, we wish him health in his sobriety.

After, industrial metal innovators Ministry played a set consisting entirely of classics — not a single track released after 1992. Al “Uncle Al” Jourgensen looked as lithe and deranged as ever in his signature dreadlocks-and-round-glasses outfit, belting out the bands ‘80s and early ‘90s hits. The tour marks the 30th anniversary of The Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Taste, but Jourgensen, who grew up in part in Breckenridge, Colorado, opened with some deeper cuts “The Missing” and “Deity.” Jourgensen’s live band included former Tool member Paul D’Amour on bass, former 3 Headed Snake members Sinhue "Sin" Quirin, Cesar Soto and Derek Abrams on guitars and drums, respectively, as well as former Prong member John Bechdel on keyboards. Between the flashing lights, the scrap-metal cross and the psychedelic-meets-Matrix video reels on the projector, they set a great vibe. Ministry finished their set with industrial speed metal classic “Jesus Built My Hotrod,” a wall of gibberish and riffs that plowed through the crowd with all the forbearance of an eighteen-wheeler with dead breaks, proving that this rock thing is true: Jerry Lee Lewis was the devil.

Looking at the bill, Primus were the clear outlier among thrash metal and thrash-influenced acts, sparking many a “seriously?” from myself, peers and colleagues. But after two sets of full metal guitar theatrics, the trio of bassist/vocalist Les Claypool, guitarist Larry Lalonde and drummer Tim Alexander served as the perfect palate cleanser. These iconic weirdos, Gen X’s freak-pride answer to prog legends Rush, mostly stuck to their stranger ‘90s hits as well, spotlighting Claypool’s bass-slappin’ licks and Alexander’s deceptively complex drum fills alongside Lalonde’s slow-burn guitar work. Claypool, now evolved into his true “quirky gnome uncle” form, shared plenty of energy in his wry lyrics, shuffle-stomping around the stage with abandon. The band slipped in a cover of “Cygnus-X” by the band's heroes in Rush and finished with some heavier cuts from their early albums: “My Name is Mud” from ‘93’s Pork Soda and breakout hit “Jerry was a Race Car Driver” from ‘91’s Sailing the Seas of Cheese.

After Primus’ set, the halls of the World Arena filled with occasional mass-screams of “SLAYER!” as if the band were coming on stage, a reminder that the Bay Area thrash metal co-founders' 38-year career has spawned loyalty and dedication paralleled by few. In metal, Slayer fans have earned a reputation for dedication and going off like lunatics, which they proved with wide, unceasing mosh pits and fervor in tribute to the band’s final tour.

As for the band themselves, remaining original members Tom Araya (bass/vocals) and Kerry King (guitars) performed in uncanny lock-step with guitarist Gary Holt and drummer Paul Bostaph, both of whom split time between Slayer and their band, fellow Bay Area thrash OGs Exodus. Araya may have wanted to retire since at least 2013 and has talked about selling his soul to Slayer, but he kept a strong performer’s smile on his face as he delivered snarling machine-gun vocals and thunderous bass licks.

The band’s stage setup was one of the simplest of the evening: no screens, no projectors. Just lights, smoke, backdrops celebrating the iconic (grim, bloody, blasphemous, bleak) album art created for the band by the late Larry Carroll, and fire. Lots of fire. Walls of fire, gouts of fire shot into the air, flame jets at front and back of stage, and even more flamethrowers forming an inverted cross during particularly blasphemous passages. It’s good to know that Slayer won’t drag their live career on into pitiful, shambling mockery of what they once were, that they’re going out with shows as laser-precise and mad as ever. If we had to complain, we’d wish the setlist had a few of the band’s slower tracks to break up the full-speed-ahead thrash attack. But this is Slayer doing everything they needed to do: fast, heavy, and always at maximum volume.
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Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Tool punishes the Pepsi Center — the band at its best

Posted By on Wed, Oct 16, 2019 at 2:41 PM

Tool played the first of its two Denver shows on Tuesday, Oct. 15 at the Pepsi Center, in support of the newly released Fear Inoculum. Superfans or those heading to the Oct. 16 show will want to know the set list, which kicked off with the title track and included a thoroughly fulfilling journey through older material as well as half the new album, with a final encore devoted to "Stinkfist" off Ænima (during which frontman Maynard James Keenan told the crowd they were finally allowed to get out their phones to shoot the band, as there was a strict no-phone rule in place during the rest of the set).

Talking with fellow media members with whom I was seated (yes we all stood and danced damn near the whole time) and friends in attendance who've seen many past Tool performances, the consensus was that this was the most spectacular Tool show any of us had seen. The energy was palpable, the musicianship absolutely tight, the light show dazzling and the sound beautifully balanced across the arena for an all around memorable show.

A colleague at Westword who stood scribbling notes to the left of me the whole show, claims the show left him with insomnia, for which he doesn't sound upset at all. Give his article a read for the rundown on everything from Keenan's always-interesting wardrobe to the "surreal"  background projections that colored the stage with Tool's usual creepy-cool and very visceral, morbid, yet somehow spiritual/enlightened vibe.

Hearing the new tracks live for the first time proved especially exhilarating, though on a personal note my favorite track from the new album, "Descending," didn't get played; perhaps they'll whip it out for the Oct. 16 set. However, another favorite track, "Invincible," preceded "Stinkfist" during the encore, and was a particular highlight to the show.

After such a long hiatus between albums, Tool's capitalizing — perhaps feeding off of — all the pent-up fan energy, it seems. Fear Inoculum's been on repeat play for me and several friends. The band's as relevant and outstanding as ever, and never shy on showing an acerbic, humorous side, as noted on our media photo passes, which read: "Toxic Masculinity! A timeless example of the dangers presented by Iwo Jima, Feb 23 1945." 

Yep, play with that next time you can't sleep. The tour continues if you feel like hopping a plane and doing whatever it takes to score a ticket. 
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Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Ghost, Nothing More rock Broadmoor World Arena with theatrical gusto

Posted By on Tue, Oct 15, 2019 at 9:36 AM

On Tuesday, Oct. 1, the Broadmoor World Arena hosted local rock radio station 94.3 KILO’s fifth annual Fall Brawl concert, this year featuring Swedish band Ghost as headliners and Texas band Nothing More supporting. It was a stop on Ghost’s nation-spanning Ultimate Tour Named Death, for which the Indy spoke to them, and that’s more than enough with the logistical details, because the Indy sent me to photograph the show, and it was wicked cool.

Nothing More opened the show up with a bang, with singer Jonny Hawkins standing atop a scrap metal ladder and cranking an air raid siren as the band broke into their 2018 single “Let It Burn.” His torso half-painted black, Hawkins bounded across the stage, an energetic and engaging performer, his vocals backed by guitarist Mark Vollelunga and bassist Daniel Oliver. KILO listeners will no doubt be excited to know that Hawkins announced plans to record and release an acoustic version of their song “Fadein/Fadeout” soon.

While the music was solid and engaging, I really dug their stage setup — Hawkins, previously the band’s drummer, added percussion on a kit bedecked with gears and rusty diamond mesh. At one point, he, Oliver and Vollelunga jammed a contraption into it to hold a bass and soloed on it collaboratively. At the end of the set, the percussion kit flipped onto its front, and Hawkins stood high atop it, playing a precarious-looking instrument dubbed the Scorpion Tail, which looks like That 1 Guy’s magic pipe as built by the warboys from Mad Max: Fury Road. They used it to cover Skrillex.

Sweden's Ghost performed at the Broadmoor World Arena on Tuesday, Oct. 1. - GRIFFIN SWARTZELL
  • Griffin Swartzell
  • Sweden's Ghost performed at the Broadmoor World Arena on Tuesday, Oct. 1.
And then, there was Ghost. I’ll cop to it; this is the third time I’ve seen Ghost live. By all accounts, they’ve changed up their live setup, dialing back the aggressively occult/Satanic shtick as they’ve grown in popularity. Early albums leaned on the Satan thing pretty hard, but their most recent full-length album, Prequelle, shifted from lyrics about human sacrifice and carnal knowledge of the antichrist to metaphors about the black plague. Mainman Tobias Forge’s recent litigious misadventures with his now-former backing band of Nameless Ghouls coincided a change in the live show, too. Their faux-Cathedral setup now shows not images of Satan, but past incarnations of his Papa Emeritus persona, the skeletal pope character Forge played for the band’s first three albums.

But the fires of hell still burn for these ghouls, led by Forge in his newest persona, Cardinal Copia. They’ve always had a knack for the theatrical, and the new band — Forge plus seven instead of just five — sounds just as tight and bigger than Ghost has before. Adding an additional keyboardist and guitarist who also do vocal harmonies has let Forge sing in lower registers, where he’s more powerful and more comfortable, which is especially apparent on older tracks like “Ritual.”

The Ghouls also show more presence and personality onstage, with the lead and rhythm guitarists playing virtuoso and goofball during a solo-off and other elements of the show. During Prequelle (2017) instrumental “Miasma,” a guest musician dressed as glowing-eyed methuselah Papa Nihil was walked to center stage for a ripping saxophone solo.

As for the elements they’ve cut back on, Forge’s banter offering to wobble the asses and tickle the taints of all present with Meliora (2015) cut “Mummy Dust” feels puerile. In the past, he’s had a bit about how the female orgasm was once considered the work of the devil, which led into set-closer “Monstrance Clock” from 2012 album Infestissumam, which makes the “come together for Lucifer’s son” hook stick out more. But live performances of songs from 2019’s ‘60s-inflected EP Seven Inches of Satanic Panic, showed Ghost as sex-mad and catchy as they’ve ever been — see late-set sing-along, “Kiss the Go-Goat.” And of course, older and more overtly Satan-worshipping tracks like “Ritual,” “Satan Prayer” and “Year Zero” got the audience singing along with fervor. Key moment: pillars of flame lighting the faux-cathedral stage like the church scene in Hellraiser III as the crowd sings “Hail Satan, archangelo,” at the top of its lungs.

Ghost’s live show is theatrical in a way few modern bands aim for, and that makes them a treasure to see live. But all the provocative, spooky, horny, Satanic theatrics mean nothing without good rock/metal songs, and it’s no coincidence that I’ve name dropped track after track in this write-up. Consider Ghost a must-see band for rock fans of all stripes, even the ones who need to say a few Hail Marys afterwards.

Check out a slideshow of photos from both awesome performers below!
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Thursday, October 10, 2019

Raconteurs rock Denver's new Mission Ballroom, Jack White shreds guitar as usual

Posted By on Thu, Oct 10, 2019 at 1:06 PM

  • Matthew Schniper

The Raconteurs put on a hella energetic performance in support of their new album Help Us Stranger at Denver's new, spiffy Mission Ballroom venue in the RiNo District on Oct. 9.

The setlist included a kickoff with the first track from Help Us Stranger, "Bored and Razed" and a lengthy encore that toured from "Consolers of the Lonely" (the highly popular title track from the band's second album) through "Help Me Stranger" and "What's Yours Is Mine" to an extended finale with some guided crowd participation on "Steady, As She Goes" (the mainstream hit from Broken Boy Soldiers, the band's first album).

Guitar virtuoso and Raconteurs co-front man Jack White was in his usual form, which is to say shredding guitar like few of his generation can and lending now-legendary vocal stylings through various channels of distortion, backing up fellow singer Brendan Benson.

The two moved together at many points during the show to solo atop each other, also joined at interludes by bassist Jack Lawrence (The Dead Weather) for vocal support. Drummer Patrick Keeler (The Greenhornes) and keyboardist Dean Fertita (Queens of the Stone Age) held together the tight musicianship; the band's sound bleeds folk and blues at turns with an overall pure rock n' roll vibe.

Help Us Stranger debuted at number 1 on the US Billboard 200 list back in June when it was released.

Our only grievance with this spectacular set and show was the absence of a personal favorite track, "Carolina Drama," which we've been pining to see live. Still, after a 10-year wait for this new album from the band, White and crew's showmanship more than satisfied. If you feel like hopping a plane, here's what's left for current tour dates.

Check out the below slideshow for at least a visual taste of the evening's energy:
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Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Music venues find it costly to stay on the right side of copyright law

Posted By on Wed, Sep 11, 2019 at 1:00 AM

Lauren Reece, Axe and the Oak marketing director, with a guitar signed by musicians who have performed onstage at the venue. - ERINN CALLAHAN
  • Erinn Callahan
  • Lauren Reece, Axe and the Oak marketing director, with a guitar signed by musicians who have performed onstage at the venue.

Live music is every bit as vital to Axe and the Oak Whiskey House’s business model as its signature malted liquor.

Mondays and Tuesdays are for acoustic music, with a house DJ on Wednesdays, says Lauren Reece, Axe and the Oak’s marketing director. Thursday through Saturday is when the more established bands, many of them based in Manitou Springs, take the small stage tucked away in a cozy corner of the former Ivywild School.

“People know that we’re a place that always has live music,” Reece says. “Especially on the weekends, they really like coming down and having a place to get a drink, but not necessarily to be as crazy as at some of the downtown bars.”

About two years ago, however, Jason Jackson, one of Axe and the Oak’s founding members, received some unwelcome feedback: a letter from a performing rights organization threatening to hit him with a lawsuit for hosting live music without legal permission — unless he paid that organization an annual licensing fee.

“I bet if you were to call any bar in the Springs, you would get the same response,” Jackson says.
These organizations — which include Broadcast Music Inc.; the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers; Society of European Stage Authors and Composers; and Global Music Rights — act as intermediaries between music venues and songwriters to protect intellectual property and make licensing more cost-effective and convenient, according to an article posted in November 2017 on the National Restaurant Association’s website.

Restaurants and bars pay a fee to the PROs for a blanket license that grants permission to use all of the music each organization represents, the article states. Those organizations, in turn, distribute the fees to their affiliated songwriters, publishers and composers as royalties.

Jackson eventually paid the fees, but he couldn’t help thinking that the scales were tipped, and not in favor of business owners.

“I fought it [for] forever,” Jackson says. “I was so upset.”

Music copyright law is “not exactly simple,” says Dave Ratner, principal of Creative Law Network, a Denver-based firm specializing in entertainment, intellectual property and business law.

“There’s two copyrights in every piece of music — composition, and completely separate for sound recording. The only thing that the PROs are licensing is the right to publicly perform the composition,” says Ratner, who also teaches classes on entertainment and intellectual property law at the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law. “That doesn’t just mean a live performance. That means performing for more than a few people in a venue that isn’t at your house.”

When it comes to publicly performing another artist’s copyrighted composition, the licensing responsibility generally falls to the venue, not the performer, Ratner says.

“Whether it’s a little dive bar or a football stadium, they all need to have a license,” Ratner says. “The fee will vary, but the fact that you need a license does not.”

A PRO will issue a blanket license granting a venue the right to perform every single song in that organization’s catalogue, Ratner says. Licensing fees vary based on the size of the venue, but are often based on a building’s seating capacity established by a fire marshal, he says.

ASCAP’s rates for restaurants, nightclubs, bars and similar establishments depend on “whether the music is live or recorded, whether it’s audio only or audio-visual, the number of nights per week music is offered, whether admission is charged, and several other factors,” according to the organization’s website.

BMI’s website states that “all fees, less BMI’s operating expenses, are paid to our affiliated songwriters, composers, and music publishers in the form of royalties. Currently, nearly 90 cents of every dollar of your licensing fee goes to our affiliated copyright owners.”
One thing that often gets lost is that “ultimately the PROs are collecting money on behalf of the artist,” Ratner says.

“If you think about when player pianos came out, when I wrote a song, the only way that song was going to be performed was if I performed it. I can control the exploitation of my performance,” Ratner says. “As soon as we had radios, all of a sudden, my song is all over the place and it’s really not feasible for me to go to every bar and restaurant and collect a licensing fee.”

A performing artist can only grant licensing ability to one PRO, but business owners typically can not get away with only getting a license for one PRO, Ratner says. All PROs have searchable databases on their respective websites, but all also include disclaimers stating the information may not be accurate and will not protect a business owner from claims of infringement, according to the National Restaurant Association.

“If I own a song and I’m with BMI, not ASCAP, and you have an ASCAP license and someone plays a song of mine in your venue, I didn’t get paid,” Ratner says. “You didn’t have the right to use my music.”

If that happens, the consequences can be sobering, with fines of up to $35,000 per work infringed, according to a June 2018 report published by SevenFifty Daily, an online publication that covers the business and culture of the beverage alcohol industry.

In Colorado, establishments can face a minimum $2,000 fine for violating the statutes covering performing rights societies, according to legislation passed in 2017.

Each PRO does its own enforcement, with designated teams that look for and find places that allow live performances of copyrighted music without the appropriate licenses, Ratner says.
While Ratner often encounters potential clients who were unaware such a service existed, “ignorance is not a defense,” he says.

Venues offering music have been sued for using songs without permission. - ERINN CALLAHAN
  • Erinn Callahan
  • Venues offering music have been sued for using songs without permission.

Jackson, a musician
himself, says he is frequently told not to perform covers by venues that have not yet paid PRO licensing fees — something that he says can have a chilling effect on aspiring musicians looking for a foot in the door with the local scene.

“That’s not a problem for me, but for up-and-coming guys that haven’t started writing yet and just want to perform, these businesses are paying the price,” Jackson says. “[The PROs] got around the individuality and went after the businesses, and so far they’ve been doing pretty well.”

A statute passed by Colorado lawmakers in 2017 brought some relief to the state’s small music venue owners, Jackson says. A performing rights society is now required to publish and file with the secretary of state: its form contracts, a schedule of fees it charges a proprietor to license music for public performance, a proprietor’s rights and duties for public performances, and a catalog of musical work the society licenses.

Still, Jackson says, monitoring each performance’s compliance involves time and resources not available to many small business owners.

“[The PROs] say, ‘You need to just pay the fee because you might have people in your establishment that are going to play one of our covers,’” Jackson says. “I can’t police that as a business owner. I may not even be there, and my bartenders are serving drinks.”

Jackson added that he has heard of businesses closing their doors because “the lawsuits are for more than the businesses even have,” he says. He adds that he would rather see his money go directly to the artist instead of licensing fees to PROs representing thousands of musicians.

“As a small business owner, $5,000 or $6,000 a year is a lot of money,” Jackson says. “That could go to supplies. That’s artists I could be paying for their time to come in and share their souls with me.

“There’s a lot I could do with that money, and it goes nowhere.”
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Thursday, May 9, 2019

Sonic Bloom: Four days of electronic music, live art and learning in Spanish Peaks Country

Posted By on Thu, May 9, 2019 at 2:47 PM

Phase 3 lineup announcements were released May 9.
  • Phase 3 lineup announcements were released May 9.
The days are getting longer, and there's little more than a month left until summer solstice — which means Sonic Bloom, southern Colorado's annual electronic-focused music festival with jam and funk flavor, is almost here.

"SONIC BLOOM remains an event for the true individual; a welcoming, creative community encouraging the exploration human potential, the next wave of art and music and the possibility of a more beautiful and just world," reads a recent release. "We come together June 20-23 to celebrate a global community that believes in the power of art, music and innovation to inspire a future worth believing in."

Headlining this year at Hummingbird Ranch (outside Walsenburg, in gorgeous Spanish Peaks Country) are Gramatik and Opiuo, who'll both be heading to Electric Forest in Michigan the following weekend, along with Emancipator Ensemble (Emancipator and live band).

The Sonic Bloom Orchestra closing out the festival this year includes Opiuo, Sasha Rose and Jordan Polovina, along with members of SCI, Russ Liquid Test and Zilla, organizers announced May 9.

Sonic Bloom also offers a packed schedule of yoga, dance performances, live art and a kids' zone for the wee ones. For a little extra cash, you can attend Sonic Bloom Academy, which offers programs on music production, visual art and permaculture.

Things you should know about Sonic Bloom:

1) There's no reentry allowed during the four-day festival, which means you have to camp. (Don't worry, you won't want to leave.)

2) Keep in mind that although you can bring your own food and alcohol (if you're over 21) in the camping area, rules and regulations apply. (No glass — it's a major risk for the animals who live on the ranch the rest of the year.) There's also plenty of vendors selling local and organic food.

3) "Mom probably told you once 'Don’t take candy from strangers' — and that still applies, especially here," Sonic Bloom's website reminds you.

4) Visit the official site for more information, and to buy tickets and camping passes.

5) Words can't really describe Sonic Bloom, so here's a recap of last year's festival by Matt Worldly Denartket:

Last year, I made the mistake of taking zero work off to attend my first Sonic Bloom. I drove down to Walsenburg after work on Friday, and headed back to Colorado Springs around midnight Sunday. Needless to say it was a difficult Monday. But totally worth it.

This year, I'm happy to say I'll be at Hummingbird Ranch all four days — and sharing a taste of the 14th annual Sonic Bloom with our curious Instagram followers. Make sure you're following @csindependent to stay in touch!

In the meantime, here's the official festival playlist to get you hyped.

Don't feel quite ready to spend four days in the mountains with a bunch of friendly strangers? For a preview of the music genres and the types of people you can expect to encounter, check out one of the following "Road to Sonic Bloom" shows:

The Unified Field: Official Sonic Bloom pre-party featuring Break Science, Schlump, kLL sMTH and more
Friday, May 10 at 7 p.m.
Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom
2637 Welton St., Denver

Of the Trees with Dorfex Bos and MADDNETO
Thursday, May 16 at 8:30 p.m.
The Fox Theatre
1135 13th St., Boulder

Of the Trees with Dorfex Bos, ELCTRX and Recon
Friday, May 17 at 9 p.m.
Aggie Theatre
204 S. College Ave., Fort Collins

Kalya Scintilla with Eve Olution, Mindex and DRRTYWULVZ
Friday, May 24 at 8 p.m.
Meow Wolf
1352 Rufina Circle, Santa Fe, NM

Tor with Blossomn, Andrew Rothschild and Moon Frog Band
Saturday, June 1 at 9 p.m.
Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom
2637 Welton St., Denver
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