SoCo Music Experience: Denver

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gnarls_barkley_blog.jpg[Above: headliners Gnarls Barkley]

Under the July sunshine, the SoCo Music Experience took over an open-air lot outside Coors Field in Denver on Saturday. The free festival drew thousands of Denverites for sunshine, interactive games, booths, and, of course, the free music.

eagle_seagull_blog.jpg[Above: Eagle Seagull]

Sitting on one of the ubiquitous red inflated Southern Comfort couches that peppered the lot, the first act I took in on the main stage was Nebraska sextet (and Paste Emergent artist) Eagle Seagull. The band's gorgeously anthemic, multi-instrument songs were punctuated by singer Eli Mardock's raw and caustic vocals, and climaxed over frenetic beats. Themes of love and loss wove through the group's music, with song titles like "Your Beauty Is A Knife I Turn On My Throat." The band also mentioned a new EP in September, titled You're The Reason Why I'm Afraid of Dying, with a second full-length to follow in January.

With music alternating seamlessly from the main stage to the local stage sponsored by Denver's Westword alt-weekly, there were nonstop performances from 2pm until Gnarls Barkley closed things down under the stars. On the local stage, Denver band The Hot IQs once again proved themselves one to watch. They always draw a delighted response from the crowd with their hard-driving powerpop with a smartly catchy edge to it. Drummer Elaine adds panache and a solid backbone to every song as she drums with a smile on her face and effortless cool. The large facially-pierced lady next to me was impressed, yelling, "Hey, guys, your drummer is like seriously hot. No, SERIOUSLY." Sexy percussionist or no, this band is always a treat to see live.

The free festival also provided attendees with plenty of distractions between bands. Folks were lined up to try their underhand beanbag throwing at the best-named game ever, Cornhole. There were also options to pose with a giant SoCo bottle at the SPIN photo booth, get heckled at Simon Says in the SoCo lime tent (I failed), or even front a homespun rock band in the Rock BandI gave Thom Yorke a run for his money).

samples of everyone from Nirvana to Snoop Dogg to the Beatles alongside his accessible beats and breaks. This act seemed equally popular with the newly-initiated spectators who found themselves unable to stand still and also the cadres of festively dressed, rabidly dancing Bassnectar fans that turned out in force, taking the stage to dance alongside Ashton. With long locks of hair often obscuring his smiling face, Ashton drew everyone in to his set in front of a mile-a-minute visual show flashing on the screen behind him. Ashton also appeared to be enjoying his set as much as the crowd, often counting off the beats with his fist pumped into the air, or looking at the crowd with a giddy sense of anticipation right before he dropped a new sample in, with barely-contained glee to see how we would react. He can take satisfaction knowing that he incited a huge party under the Denver skies.

blonde_redhead_blog.jpg[Above: Blonde Redhead]

The multilingual Italian/Japanese trio Blonde Redhead brought an oasis of spacey, haunting melody after the throbbing beats of Bassnectar. Keyboardist/guitarist Kazu Makino had an oddly unsettling yet beautiful voice that floated over the nervy and sometimes challenging intertwining guitar riffs. After first thinking the sun was getting into our brains, we realized we were not seeing double, and that lead singer and drummer Amedeo and Simone Pace are actually twin brothers, who together laced up the structure of the songs. Their set was impressive and nothing short of intense.

The crowd numbers swelled by sunset in anticipation of the set from Gnarls Barkleybeachballs to the sound of the beat. After covering the Violent Femmes  and working their way through some material from their new album The Odd Couple, Cee-Lo sat down for a few acoustic lovebird numbers. Towards the end of their set they finally unleashed their smash hit "Crazy," leaving fans sated as they shuffled out from a great day of free music.

The SoCo Music Experience is continuing its trek across the country this summer with upcoming stops in San Diego, Calif., Madison, Wis., Saratoga, N.Y. and Tempe, Ariz.

Read more of Heather Browne's writing at I AM FUEL, YOU ARE FRIENDS.

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