Our arts editor’s favorite Aspen concerts of 2018
It’s list season in journalism, when we somewhat arbitrarily rank the biggest news events and best movies and albums, etc., from the year that’s about to end. I’ll spare you another one of those, but I do want to spotlight a handful of extraordinary concerts that stuck with me in 2018 and that I think should go down in the annals of Aspen’s storied live music history.
X Games, Jan. 27
It was frigid at Buttermilk on this January night, as the temperature neared zero and LCD Soundsystem singer James Murphy didn’t let us forget it. Midway through the 90-minute X Games set, Murphy — outfitted as if for an Antarctic exhibition in heavy-duty blue parka and bomber hat — quipped, “I’m amazed you’re all still here because its f—ing freezing.”
But if the harsh cold was the stated theme of the set, it didn’t hamper the music, which surprisingly included just two songs from the band’s comeback album “American Dream” and instead rewarded this very cold crowd of thousands of snowbound fans with favorites like “Us v Them,” “Get Innocuous,” “You Wanted a Hit,” and set-closing one-two punch of “Dance Yrself Clean” and “All My Friends.”
JAS Café, March 16
Tribute shows are often fun but forgettable, with a talented singer resurrecting the hits of a great from yesteryear but inevitably falling short of the beloved originals. Not so at this breathtaking and revelatory reinterpretation of Bill Withers songs by the brilliant singer and rapper Jose James. At this intimate gig in the pop-up jazz club at the Cooking School of Aspen, James imagined Withers songs anew with injections of fast-paced rhymes, new soundscapes from his jazz combo and a stark and haunting “Grandma’s Hands.” It sent me home to listen to Withers’ soul classics, which I’ll never hear the same way again.
Belly Up Aspen, Oct. 25
The set included just a half-dozen songs, strung across a mesmerizing two-hour show from the groundbreaking Los Angeles bandleader and saxophonist Kamasi Washington. And the Belly Up crowd — filling the place in the depths of offseason — hung onto every note from Washington and his band. It was something of a miracle to witness this band manage to bend some seriously out-there avant-garde jazz — the otherworldly solos of upright bass player Miles Mosley especially — into a pop music club and set off a dance party. One of the most talked-about, most written-about and most acclaimed musicians of recent years, Washington lived up to the hype and then some.
ZAC BROWN BAND
Jazz Aspen Labor Day Experience, Sept. 2
When Zac Brown told the sold-out Snowmass Town Park crowd, “I have one of the greatest bands in the world behind me,” it was no exaggeration. Brown and his seven-man wrecking crew — on the tail end of a summer stadium tour when they played the local festival — is transcending its country-rock roots with a big-tent approach that filled this crowd-pleasing set with idiosyncratic cover songs and the rarefied showmanship we associate with legends like Springsteen’s E Street Band.
And some additional favorites: Method Man and Redman at X Games; Cold War Kids on Aspen Mountain (February); Keller Williams and Martin Sexton at Belly Up (March); Joyce Yang with Aspen Santa Fe Ballet (March); Jackson Emmer at The Temporary (May); Leslie Odom Jr. at the Jazz Aspen Snowmass June Experience; Ray Chen and the Aspen Chamber Symphony at Benedict Music Tent (July); The Decemberists at Belly Up (August); Gary Clark, Jr. at Jazz Aspen Labor Day Experience; Carl Broemel at Belly Up (October).
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If you are jonesing for some Spanish wines this June, you are in luck because you live in the Roaring Fork Valley.