Big Gigantic and Nicki Bluhm close out Aspen SkiCo concert series
If You Go …
Who: Big Gigantic
Where: Corner of Cooper Ave. & Galena St., downtown Aspen
When: Friday, March 25, 8 p.m.
How much: Free
Who: Big Gigantic
Where: Belly Up Aspen
When: Saturday, March 26, 9:30 p.m.
Tickets: Sold Out
More info: http://www.bellyupaspen.com
Who: Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers
Where: Snowmass Base Village
When: Saturday, March 26, 4 p.m.
How much: Free
More info: http://www.aspensnowmass.com
Among the great musical success stories out of Colorado in recent years, Boulder’s Big Gigantic has charted a new, genre-bending course for live music that brings together DJ samples and danceable electronic elements with funky saxophone riffs, live drums and an immersive laser light show. Their energetic live shows have made them one of the country’s it-bands on the road, selling out most of the national spring tour that brings the band through Aspen this weekend.
Big Gigantic’s show at Belly Up on Saturday quickly sold out after it was announced in February. But spring breakers and locals alike can still see the livetronica duo for free at Aspen Skiing Co.’s annual Core Party downtown today.
Formed in 2008, Big Gigantic steadily built a loyal following with legendary shows around Boulder and the mountains (early Belly Up concerts featured scant crowds that grew exponentially with repeat visits as word spread). Over the past four years, their summer shows at Red Rocks Ampitheatre — dubbed “Rowdytown” — have become statewide musical happenings, expanding into two-night runs in 2014. They recently announced their special guests for the fifth annual rendition, running Sept. 23 and 24, including Kill the Noise, Vanic and Louis the Child.
Saxophonist/producer Dominic Lalli and drummer Jeremy Salken use jazz improvisation, danceable electronic beats and samples to craft a singular sound on originals like the recently released single “The Little Things,” featuring vocalist Angela McCluskey (available for free download on the Big Gigantic website) and on remixes of pop and hip-hop hits. Their funked up take on Aloe Blacc’s “I Need a Dollar” was a breakthrough hit in 2010.
The bad rap that some electronica acts get as un-musically inclined button-pushers can’t be laid on this pair. Lalli settled in Boulder after earning a graduate degree in jazz at the Manhattan School of Music, started collaborating with Salken — who was a member of ski country jam band favorites The Motet for six years — and began blending live instrumentation and improvisation with electronic beats and samples.
Lalli saw parallels between the boom of electronic dance music and the early days of jazz history, which drew him to meld the fertile genres.
“People said the same thing about jazz: ‘What is this, what is this noise?’” Lalli told The Aspen Times during a previous run through Aspen. “And then it takes over. This happens all the time, has happened all through music. It’s like the electric guitar, or like the laptop. That’s one of the reasons I got into Big Gigantic.”
After their 2012 album “Nocturnal,” Big Gigantic became regulars on the big-ticket summer festival circuit. For Lalli, playing in service of a multi-sensory electronic band isn’t all that far afield from playing traditional jazz.
“The objective is different,” he said. “It’s like tennis and badminton — you have a racket in both, but they’re a different thing.”
Roots-rock band Nicki Bluhm and The Gramblers have taken an old-school approach to music, touring relentlessly, playing passionately and picking up new fans along the way.
But it was a dashboard-mounted iPhone in their tour van that helped give them their big break.
Like a lot of newer bands, they got some help from viral videos online. Between gigs, Bluhm and her band had begun taping performances in their tour van and throwing them on YouTube in a “Van Sessions” series. Four years ago, their cramped-in-a-van, on-the-road take on Hall & Oates’ “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)” became a national phenomenon, featuring Bluhm driving and on vocals. It’s racked up more than 3 million views to date, got the band its first national TV performances and landed Bluhm collaborations with the likes of Karl Denson and Grace Potter. In 2013, Oates joined Bluhm and the Gramblers on-stage at the Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival in her native San Francisco to perform the song together.
Last summer, Bluhm and the Gramblers released their second album, “Loved Wild Lost,” filled with spare and slightly retro folk songs driven by Bluhm’s booming voice and harkening back to 1970s singer-songwriters.
Bluhm’s rock star status was a surprise to her — out of college she taught and worked on a horse ranch and served as a naturalist in San Francisco’s public schools before guesting on-stage a decade ago with boyfriend and future husband Tim Bluhm of the Mother Hips. That led to more performances, two solo albums, a duets record with Tim, and eventually The Gramblers (the pair split up late last year and Tim left the band).
Between their self-titled 2013 debut and last year’s followup, the band has kept up its road warrior approach (including a stop at the Snowmass summer concert series on Fanny Hill in 2014).
On Saturday, at Snowmass Base Village, Bluhm and The Gramblers close out this ski season’s five-part Hi-Fi Concert series, which kicked off Thanksgiving weekend with a performance by Jamestown Revival at the base of Aspen Mountain. Last weekend’s show in Snowmass, with Nahko and Medicine for the People, brought out a massive crowd to Base Village that dwarfed most audiences for the shows there in recent years — which bodes well for Saturday’s show.
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