Aspen Times Weekly: On-stage offseason highlights | AspenTimes.com

Aspen Times Weekly: On-stage offseason highlights

by Andrew Travers

"Soul music is a tough one to watch when you're sitting in your chair," Allen Stone told the local crowd, shortly into his Oct. 21 show at the Wheeler Opera House. "I implore you to get up out of your chair!"

The audience followed Stone's command and stuck with the soulful Washington-based singer and bandleader through a phenomenal performance that demonstrated why he's been touted as one of 2014's breakout national artists.

But the debut Aspen show from the 27-year-old began inauspiciously. An offseason show in Aspen can be hit or miss for a musician like Stone, without huge name recognition or an established local following. I got a bad feeling about its chances when I arrived to find the balcony closed and the orchestra seats little more than half-full. A small crowd and the Wheeler's seated layout can act like kryptonite on a high-energy, dance-friendly performer like Stone.

"I don't know what Al will do if people just sit and stare at him," a member of his merch team told me before the show.

The crowd did just that as Stone began, but everybody was up, clapping and dancing with him mid-way through his second song, "Freezer Burn," and he kept them up and moving in a show that demonstrated why he's garnered comparisons to R&B legends like Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye. The guy is a shamanistic soul man, with a crowd command befitting this preacher's son. Songs like "Say So" and "Contact High" showed Stone at the height of his powers, propelled by his massive voice and complemented by his two sassy backup singers and skillful, seven-member backup band, which added layers of swampy guitar, and funky Meters-style Hammond organ and bass.

"You can take a seat now," he said with a smile mid-way through the show, before going into a suite of slow songs, including "Million" and the breezy R&B number, "Bed I Made."

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Matisyahu

Matisyahu has chilled out considerably since he broke onto the hip-hop scene 10 years ago with his hard-hitting, high-energy reggae rap, and he's played here regularly to a fervent Aspen fan base since 2006, when he headlined the Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Festival.

His evolving approach to performance made his Oct. 7 concert at Belly Up one of the more divisive local shows I've witnessed.

Matisyahu's stage presence is muted these days. He doesn't move much or try to pump up the crowd, opting instead to lay back and spit his verses. His increasingly cool approach is accentuated on stage when juxtaposed against his ripping back-up band, the Dub Trio.

A lot of us in the crowd were content to hang out and listen to him rhyme on new tracks like "Reservoir" and on slowed-down versions of old hits like "King Without a Crown," and to witness the evolution of an artist. But others were (understandably) confused, and fled the thinning crowd on the dance floor by mid-set wondering whether the rapper was in the midst of a Propofol binge. I can't knock a musician for changing, but it looks like Matisyahu is leaving some fans behind as he matures.

His opener, the trio Radical Something, made a case for itself as the next iteration of Sublime-style SoCal rap-rock, offering up part-friendly beats and rhymes.

The Apache Relay

The Apache Relay has a lot going for it. The Nashville-based band, which played Belly Up on Sunday, Oct. 19, has a charismatic front man in Michael Ford, Jr., and six high-caliber musicians crafting its dynamic mix of country, indie rock and Americana. It was impressive how well the wall-of-sound production of the band's new self-titled album translated on stage and in show highlights like "Katie Queen of Tennessee" and "Good as Gold."

Ford worked the small but enthusiastic crowd well between songs, buttering them up with banter and the obligatory "Dumb and Dumber" quotes. The national buzz behind this band didn't translate into much of an Aspen audience, but based on the quality of this show, I won't be surprised if these guys are headlining some bigger and better-attended local gigs within a few years.

The opening band, the young Utah-based rock quartet Desert Noises, looks like one to watch out of the region. They played an admirably hard-charging set, though the thin crowd early in the night was mostly people leftover from the Sunday Night Football game picking at Buffalo wings.

Poliça

Playing with two drummers can be a mark of silly rock 'n' roll excess (see King Crimson, Foreigner), but in the case of Minneapolis synth-pop band Poliça — who played Belly Up Oct. 26 — it was a revelation.

On the band's two albums, the double-drum rhythms of Drew Christopherson and Ben Ivascu are outshined by Channy Leaneagh's moody vocals and the soundscape of Ryan Olson's electronic production. In concert, Olson's digital textures often faded into the background, with the drums giving song like "Very Cruel" an enthralling velocity, while Leanaugh's voice provided the soul, transforming them into surprisingly high-energy, danceable live versions.

The show was the last on Poliça's fall tour, during which this rising band filled much bigger rooms than Belly Up. But alas, Aspen brought only a small, enthusiastic crowd out for this performance. For those of us in attendance, it was one to remember.

Upcoming

Three offseason shows worth marking your calendar for:

Kyle Gass Band (Belly Up, Nov. 7)

The non-Hollywood half of Teniacious D mixes humor and high-caliber musicianship with his side project.

Tennis (Belly Up, Nov. 8)

The Denver-based critical darlings and husband-wife duo close their fall tour here, supporting the new record “Ritual in Repeat.”

Toad the Wet Sprocket (Wheeler Opera House, Nov. 23)

The ‘90s hit-makers recently got back together and released their first album in 16 years.