Bands follow string back to their Aspen ties |

Bands follow string back to their Aspen ties

Stewart Oksenhorn
John McEuen of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band performs Saturday night at the Wheeler Opera House as part of E=mc3, a trio with two of his sons. (Stewart Oksenhorn/The Aspen Times)

Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” Two musical acts with deep Colorado roots and strong ties to Aspen used their familiarity with the place and its audience, in concerts this past weekend. But the way Big Head Todd and the Monsters, a rock band whose core trio met more than 20 years ago at Columbine High School, and E=mc3, a string trio led by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s John McEuen, employed that coziness with the crowd offered a sharp contrast.

Friday night, Todd Park Mohr, singer and guitarist of Big Head Todd and the Monsters, didn’t speak much to the crowd. And what he did say ” at one point it was “We’re Big Head Todd and the Monsters, from Colorado” ” was beyond obvious. Playing before a sold-out crowd at Belly Up ” a space that in its earlier incarnation as the Double Diamond is where the band signed its first record deal ” Mohr and his even quieter mates didn’t need many words. Mohr’s best guitar hooks are instantly rec­ognizable, and the three-note, arena rock intro to “Broken-Hearted Savior,” a hit from their breakthrough 1993 album, ” Sister Sweetly,” was a far more effective way to introduce the song than stating its title.

The band, which recently released “From the Archives,” a collection of very early recordings, didn’t shy away from dip­ping into its past. Among the show’s high­lights was “Vincent from Jersey,” an old fan favorite that had Mohr breaking out his rarely used harmonica.

McEuen, a former longtime Evergren resident and a familiar face thanks to the Dirt Band’s tight relationship with Aspen, talked about the town’s wild ’70s era, told jokes and even brought his family along for the trip. Of course, two of his kids ” Jonathan and Nathan, both guitarists (like their dad) and accomplished singers (unlike pops) ” often flank McEuen onstage these days.

McEuen’s chattiness during the first set was an impediment to actually hearing a song all the way through. But McEuen, nearly as deft a showman as he is a string player, knew what he was doing. The talk­ing set the scene for a relaxed atmosphere, and the three family members took advan­tage. Taking a sharp turn from the pre­dictable country- folk- bluegrass fare, Jonathan began improvising a vocal lick to the current hit “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley. Nathan picked up on it, playing verbal beat box, and John, somehow, seeming to have no idea what the song was, laid banjo licks over the tune. By song’s end, it was some­thing new and memorable.

Friday night also may have seen the induction of a new member into Aspen’s extended musical family. The Brakes, a young rock quintet from the Philadelphia suburbs, made its local debut in an opening set for Big Head Todd. The group has some obvious roots influences ” the Allman Brothers, Little Feat ” but also demonstrat­ed a knack for a more contemporary style of songwriting. It will be a surprise if the Brakes do not make a return visit reason­ably soon.