Photo by Drew Levin for Cinesthetics
The Scene: On a full moon night in early Autumn the young and the restless made their last Red Rocks appearance of the summer. The young crowd was decked out in full regalia and looking to cap off the epic summer of concerts on The Rocks. Groups were going all out, the parking lot was a parade of packed party buses, and each one was resonating with the excited hoots and hollers of concert goers.
The parking lot at Red Rocks is one of the most attractive parts of the concert experience. People are generally friendly, receptive and willing to share a beer and make predictions at how the night is going to unfold. Peddlers make their rounds selling crystals, posters, and illicit materials.
On this night the lot was marked by procrastinators holding hobo signs pleading with the prepared plea of “Cash For Your Extra.” The number of these sign bearers was unprecedented in my experience, showing unfettered desire to catch one last show on the Rocks. There was a buzz surrounding the headliner, Big Gigantic, the local heroes, and the touted visual display. The energy was palpable and the stage was set for a fantastic finish to the summer concert season.
Opener: Griz. Unfortunately the friendly energy of the parking lot had kept me there longer than I expected and I missed the opener Raw Russ. Once inside I could tell that the crowd was excited to hear the musical stylings of Griz, a producer and performer from Central Michigan. The amphitheater was almost half full at this early hour, and the partygoers were bopping to the Pretty Lights style beats. Griz’s music is marked by high orchestral lines and clipped vocals that kept the crowd swaying. As the set progressed Griz dropped more high-pitched American Dubstep tunes that made the crowd go wild. People’s legs were beginning to stretch and warm up for a long night of dancing.
Griz provided remixes of Damien Marley’s “Welcome To Jamrock” and Kayne West which included poignant and heavy drops. The highlight of Griz’s set was when he pulled out a saxophone and played some notes to go over his increasingly dark tunes. Producers and DJs are responding to the clamoring of some fans for more live elements in their music. When done correctly, live instrumentation adds an important organic element to the computer-processed sounds that dominate in the EDM scene.
Opener: Dillon Francis. Red Rocks was sufficiently warmed up after Raw Russ and Griz and the stage was set for the Dillon Francis. Francis came on the stage dressed to impress and rocking his signature slicked back Greaser Pompadour. He came flying out of the gate with a recognizable remix of The Champs’ “Tequila”.
Red Rocks was already in a frenzy early is his set and Francis had much more to offer. There was a wide range of sounds coming from the stage ranging from 8-Bit Nintendo, deep scratchy Hip-Hop horns to Moombahton. Perhaps a proper definition of his sound would be “Dubstep Zumba.”
People were definitely getting a workout in as Francis moved along at breakneck speed, providing more and more sounds from his Traktor DJ Turntables. Most of the climaxes came in the first half of the set and sadly the second half became a bit monotonous. There wasn’t much room in the set to take a break to breath, admire the Rocks, or hug a random stranger. With that said, Francis was certainly impressive and a performer that I would be willing to see again.
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis: This was the wild card of the night for me, I had never heard of these two characters but had reasonable expectations, as they were on the bill right before the headliner. The duo of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, complemented by a horn player and a gospel version of Nate Dogg, provided a Hip-Hop change up for the Red Rocks crowd.
The first couple songs moved along nicely and the people around me were taken aback but generally digging the vibe. Hip-Hop sandwiched in the middle of a predominantly electronic show was an ambitious idea, and one that may have not played out for the better.
Macklemore certainly had flow and proved his worth during the song “Thrift Shop,” an ode to the frugal Hipsters of the world but the next song is where this group lost me. They played a rendition of the Red Hot Chili Peppers “Otherside” prefaced with the comment “this song is about drug addiction.” The song had a good intentions but it is a matter of knowing your crowd; a large majority presumably under the influence of some illicit substance. While the message was valid this song seemed to bum everybody out as it was not well timed. Looking back, the crowd simply seemed to be lost at points. Perhaps they may have been better earlier in the night, before Dillon Francis, as their tone didn’t seem to be a good segue into the rowdy grooves of Big Gigantic.
Big Gigantic: After the crowd had shaken off the confusion provided by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, the stars of the night sky, Big Gigantic, took the stage and The Rocks went absolutely bonkers. From the get-go I could truly tell that these guys are hometown heroes. All the kinetic energy of anticipation was about to be released and we were all ready for it. Their music has evolved over the last few years (as with most EDM music) adopting a more maximalist approach. It is a contrast of atmospheric highs provided by the Saxophone and deep grinding Dubstep lows.
Their stage set up and lighting rig were massive as Dominic Lalli (Producer/Saxophone) and Jeremy Salken (Drums) were sandwiched inside LED “Devo Hat” looking capsules. The stage was teeming with lights, screens, and fog machines, which all joined forces to create an impressive display up front. As impressive as that was, it was to be upstaged by the live projection mapping video displays that spread out on the massive Ship and Creation rocks (Provided by Ghost Pixel). Quite simply it was like nothing I have ever seen, displaying images of Tetris, herds of rainbow colored raptors ascending to the mountains, and cosmic fractals. You were encased in light and sound creating of panorama of perceptual bliss.
They played some of the classic songs such as “I Need A Dollar” remix which turned Red Rocks into a giant cash register with dollars raining down from the heights of the rocks. People were singing and dancing together, some sort of unity was established through the tunes climbing up Red Rocks and into the night air. While there were moments of bliss and harmony there were also moments of dystopian chaos where people felt the need to head bang and run into the person next to you. But anytime it got to that point Lalli would come in with a soaring Saxophone solo that would elevate the crowd to the next level.
I was in awe of the cohesion and musicianship displayed by Big Gigantic. At points it looked like Lalli was going to blow his sax so hard that it would shatter into a million pieces. Salken is the under riding framework that binds it together, pounding relentless Dubstep, Drumstep, and Hip-Hop beats into the skins for over two and a half hours. I could not stop dancing and it was the same way for everyone around me as we all reached deep into our bag of dance moves in a show of respect and gratitude to the two men on the stage.
The conversation during the brisk exit from the venue was a tale of the tape on Pretty Lights vs. Big Gigantic and who is the premier EDM artist from Colorado. For my money, the overall display of lights and premier musicianship that came out of Big G’s Saturday night “RowdyTown” event trumps any card that Pretty Lights and his crew have yet to play. I understand that the scene is about love and respect for artistry, but these guys threw down their gloves, and I can’t wait to see the rebuttal that Pretty Lights Music crew have in store for us next summer.
Energy: A- (if only for the Macklemore mishap)
Stage Presence: A
Set/Light Show: A+