Photos by Michael Liggett
The Scene: After night one of bass filled glory Friday (which I was sadly unable to attend) the crowds arrived in the Upper North Lot at Red Rocks in droves, and they showed up surprisingly early. The parking lot scene at the larger EDM events for acts like Pretty Lights and Big Gigantic has begun to resemble that of the jam band scene, with glassware, pins, posters and chemicals being peddled in mass up and down the aisles. We were graced with a few short lived and refreshing rain showers before the gates opened which created a beautiful double rainbow (yes, double!) over the city skyline. Bassnectar’s fan base, affectionately known as Bass Heads, has grown exponentially throughout the past 5 years to the point that fans from all over the country are now coming from miles around to see, hear and feel the distinct experience that is a live Bassnectar show. My group of friends tend to utilize the shows as a quasi family reunion, a moment in time when you can be sure to get everyone together to enjoy an evening under the glow of stars and connect through the vibration brought to town by the “King of the Sound”, Lorin Ashton. Having seen every Bassnectar headlining event on the Rocks, I’m always intrigued by what the new stage and light setup will look like. The Bassnectar road crew runs nearly 100 deep and they pride themselves on bringing an event that will top what’s been done in the past. I can say without trepidation that they accomplished their goal this year. The lot was abuzz with predictions of what was played the night before and what the set list would look like on what could be the final Bassnectar show on the Rocks for the foreseeable future. Giddy hippies, groove cats and bass freaks shuffled their way through the doors early to man their bass battle stations up and down the steps in Morrison.
Bassnectar: Opening acts Golden Lips of Silence, Break Science and Crookers did their due diligence to warm up the legs of the crowd and the state of the art sound system brought in specifically for the seminal Bassnectar events like this one. Shortly after the sun had set, the anticipation was palpable and the lights were cut on stage. Out of the darkness strolled the mastermind of the Bassnectar project, clad in his customary black t-shirt, skate shorts and Adidas sneakers. After the cheers had died down, the stage lights began pulsating to the infamous five-tone phrase from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It was an eerie and gradual effect that put the crowd on notice of the limits of the largest system of stage lights and LED screens I have ever witnessed in person.
From that point, the game was on and it was time to immediately test the sub-tone frequencies that have made Bassnectar famous in the world of dance music. Accompanying a spiraling mechanical gear visual came “Frog Song,” an unreleased track that Ashton only puts into live sets. The bass line cutting only for the occasional “riibbbbbiit,” we marched onward into deep of the genre-bending style known as “omnitempo maximalism.” Ashton does an immense amount of work on stage, bouncing back and forth between two laptops running Ableton Live and acting as an on the fly composer of musical collage. He takes the familiar, samples it for you, and then twists and reshapes clips into sounds and rhythms that push the limits of the creativity of improvisational DJing.
The overall experience is extremely immersive and can border on overwhelming between the mind-bending visuals, pounding beats and bass frequencies that vibrate you from the inside out. At times the visuals made me feel as if we were chasing the stage down a perpetual long and winding tunnel, inducing a feeling of motion and possibly hypnosis. Looking at the crowd around me, there were equal parts stoic wonder and head banging whirling dervish dance. Ashton is in full control on stage, utilizing what he calls the “Ultimate Nerd Server,” a system which allows him to control both the sound and the sights through his computers. After moments of breakneck beats he understands the need for a break in the action, grinding the bass to a halt and cutting the lights, a much needed sensory time out. The breaks don’t last long, out of the first came the iconic horn fill and beat from Pharaohe Monche’s “Simon Says” which then seamlessly meshed into “The Matrix,” complete with the neon green flow of symbols, freezing only to display an image of a gilded glowing Neo sitting in meditation.
Trying to keep up with the set list is a futile game of cat and mouse, with Ashton toying a synth line or a drum beat from a tune to peak the crowd’s interest, only to strip it away and spin off in a different direction entirely. From hip-hop to breakbeat to rock to dubstep to ambient to glitch and drum & bass, an astonishingly wide array of tempos and genres were compiled into one set. Bass Heads have been increasingly vocal in the past year about their desire to hear Bassnectar’s older material played out on the new sound systems and it appears that Ashton has his finger on the pulse of his fan base. He spun new versions of classic tracks like “Snake Charmer” and “Bursting,” showcasing his passion for collaborative creation, made with Kraddy and Buckethead respectively.
In the midst of the madness of dancing crowds, spinning lights and subwoofer science there is always a message. Ashton has the heart of an activist and uses his platform to create not just a party, but also in an attempt to galvanize the generation he has the opportunity to speak to. Tonight’s inspiration came in the form of the images and voice of an impassioned Martin Luther King Jr. quote, “If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl. But whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.” The Bassnectar experience will inject positivity into your mind, heart and soul. Promoting freethinking and self-expression is the name of the game, and the man in the midst of all that noise and beauty onstage is doing his part to inspire those he is graced with the opportunity to touch. I always look forward to seeing what nugget of knowledge will be imparted on an often party-minded audience.
Taking cues from some other electronic acts, Bassnectar has begun to include the occasional live musician on stage. On this night he brought out vocalist W. Darling for a live debut of the single “You & Me” off of the new album. The song illustrates Bassnectar’s ability to amalgamate sounds and to incorporate both the deep dark and bright shining dualities of music. After a long and winding freestyle section of glitch and ambient tunes the lights were cut and the requisite family photo was snapped from the stage. Ashton implored the crowd to scream loud enough so that “the neighbors can hear us” a subtle jab at the newly created noise ordinances in Morrison. A short encore included the ill Gates track “Open Your Eyes” and the night was closed out through the lens of Jim Morrison putting us on notice that “This is the End.”
The house lights came up and the customary wide-eyed crowd collected belongings, bobbed heads and hummed our way towards the exits. Rumors were heard earlier in the week that this could potentially be the last time at Red Rocks for the Bassnectar crew, who are looking to do something “bigger and better” next time they come through Colorado. If that is the case then they could not have provided a better send off to the devoted fans who came from far and wide to get their taste of the indelible and utterly unique feeling that is Bassnectar.
Stage Presence: A
Set/Light Show: A+