Music/Popular Culture

TunesDay: What the hell is going on in Boulder?

When I first moved to Boulder, Colorado in 1993 there were three big local bands: Big Head Todd & the Monsters, The Samples and The Reejers. BHTM were and still are an outstanding blues/rock band. The Samples were an alt act that reminded me at times of The Police and at other times of Johnny Clegg & Savuka (although both comparisons are misleading – Sean Kelly’s voice had a sort of Stingish quality about it and the Savuka reference is mainly about Jeep MacNichol’s drumming). The Reejers were a hard, noisy industrial-edged grunge act, I guess you’d say. All three of these were, in my view, outstanding bands, and they represented a broad diversity of sound. I was in heaven.

But then Boulder went 100% hippie on us and has since been defined by bands like Leftover Salmon, The String Cheese Incident and Yonder Mountain String Band. If you were Dave Matthews, Widespread Panic or Phish you were going to sell product in the People’s Republic and any concerts would be well attended. I got to the point where I sort of automatically assumed that if a band was from Boulder or was popular in Boulder that I wasn’t going to care for them.No offense intended – a lot of these artists are quite talented, but what they’re doing with those talents doesn’t especially interest me. Chalk it up to taste.

Then, a couple of years ago, I was doing some production work in Coupe Studios up in Boulder, and found myself looking around at the walls and talking to the staff. At this point I became aware of the existence of Rose Hill Drive (they had recorded their last CD there) and, as I said, assumed I wouldn’t like them. But I looked them up anyway and was surprised to discover a sound that wasn’t, to my ears, even remotely Boulder-like.

Now they have a new CD out – it’s called Americana, and if you buy it expecting Americana you’re going to be sorely disappointed. No, this one comes closer to Queens of the Stone Age than it does The Jayhawks or anybody from Boulder. Check out the video for “Psychoanalyst” and you’ll see what I mean. (And yes, that’s Josh Blue in the video. I can’t stop laughing.)

That there are stoners in Boulder isn’t news. The existence of Stoner Rock, on the other hand….

Okay, so Boulder is a fair-sized town with an open mind that tolerates just about anything. Rose Hill Drive is a one-off, right? But then today I get a Twitter follow from another Boulder band called The Amends. I zip over to their Bandcamp page, expecting the worst. But no – their new CD features straight-on, driving American rock & roll that reminds me a little of The Gaslight Anthem in spots. A ragged-around-the-edges garage feel to it, solid song structures and some nice guitar work, as well. Guitars that operate within the context of the actual song, it should be noted, which is pretty much the opposite of the jam band ethic you normally find up the hill.

There are some live videos on YouTube, but they’re rough and, as always, the crowd won’t shut up while the band is playing. So start with the CD (s/t) at the Bandcamp page.

I guess it all goes in cycles, and maybe Boulder is evolving in ways that will produce more bands like RHD and The Amends. For all I know there are 15 or 20 of them already and I just haven’t discovered them yet. And why not. Once upon a time Boulder’s biggest band was freakin’ Firefall, and if you remember The Nails (“88 lines About 44 Women”) they were from there, too.

Whatever. Let’s sing this one off with my favorite track from Americana, “Telepathic.” Happy TunesDay, yo.

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