A Week on The Rocks…MGMT, Janelle Monáe, Tame Impala, Sting, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, The Hangover

This week wasn’t opening week at Red Rocks, that happened the weeks prior with the likes of Big Head Todd, CSN, John Butler Trio and Tom Petty, but it was my opening week at Red Rocks.  The week to kick-off my second season at this most unique venue.

Last year was my first year as a Colorado resident and I was lucky enough to attend 10 shows at the Rocks.  The highlights were David Byrne, Wilco, Kings of Leon and The Flaming Lips w/ Explosions in the Sky.  This year I’m  looking forward to Tool, Rodrgio y Gabriela, Rush performing Moving Pictures and the BlackDiamondSkye Tour with Mastodon, Deftones and Alice in Chains.

This year kicked off with Film on the Rocks Presents The Hangover.  This was my first Film on the Rocks experience and it was a mixed one.  I arrived a little later than the rest of my group and I found the will call experience a little frustrating.  The movie night was sold out and I think a print at home ticket system would have been much more effective.  That being said, once I received the tickets and started the hike up into the venue, I was just stoked to be back there!

We did a bit of pre-drinking before the movie, and I will admit maybe it was a little too much drinking.  I think I was in concert mode and when dusk came and the movie started, I was having a hard time sitting still.  We watched the first 20 minutes or so and then a buddy and I headed up to the bar where we spent most of the night drinking beers, talkin’ shit and listening to the movie we’ve seen so many times.

We did get back to our seats for the end of the movie, laughed our asses off and then worked our way down to the parking lot for one last beer before heading home.  It made for a good night.  The picture was amazing even from the back row.  The sound was incredible of course.  And it was pretty damn cool to watch a movie in such a beautiful place with over 9,000 other people.  I just think next time I will go with my wife instead of a crew of friends…and I will have less to drink!

My second night came the day after The Hangover (with me fighting one).  This was June 9th.  It was my wife and my 6 month wedding anniversary, my parents were in town and we had plans to go see Sting with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra with six other couples.  None of us are huge Sting fans…but Sting at Red Rocks with a full orchestra just sounded like a great evening.

We started with dinner at Cafe Prague in Morrison.  A great dinner with an appropriately rude server who made us feel like we were really back in Prague.  Great food, good drinks with quite a bit of humour thrown in made for a great start to the night.

Dinner did run a little long, so we didn’t start the trek into the venue until about 8:20pm.  We heard If I Ever Lose My Faith, Englishman in New York and Everything Little Thing She Does Is Magic during our hike.  We got to our seats just in time for Roxanne and this is when I realized this night might not be what I expected.

The full orchestra was there, I think I counted about 60 people on stage with instruments.  Sting was dressed in black and stood front and center.  His voice sounded good, and the music sounded great…but the arrangement took so much away from the original.  I wanted to hear him belt out….ROOOOOX-ANNNE! But he didn’t.  It was almost like he was speaking it.  And as good as the orchestra he ‘borrowed from the queen’ were…it just wasn’t the wall of sound I was expecting.  We sat there and watched as he performed Straight to My Heart, Russians (a highlight) and about 4 or 5 other songs including Fields of Gold (another highlight) and then went up to the top for intermission.  We never returned to our seats.

I think if we would have splurged and bought the $180 tickets we would have had a different experience.  Sitting up front would have probably been more impressive.  But I would have never paid that much to see Sting.   So we stayed up top, mingled within our group of 20 or so people and listened to most of the second half as background music.  I was making jokes that Red Rocks had become my new bar, sure there were movies and music in the background, but I really just come here to have drinks and hang out with friends!

One highlight of the 2nd half was Every Breathe You Take.  We watched this from the back row and he brought it up a notch from the rest of the night and made me realize how good this show could have been.

Overall, I appreciate what Sting was trying to accomplish and the talent of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, I just don’t think it translated to the back rows.  I saw Sting with a rock band in London a few years back and it was such a better show.

Last night was my third night at Red Rocks this week and it was the best entertainment-wise of the three.

After following the storms on the news for the later half of the day, we decided to take our chances, weather the elements and head up to the Rocks for the MGMT show.   To be honest, we were there to see Janelle Monáe more than we were to see MGMT.  And because I didn’t know if she would play first or second, I wanted to get in there on time.  My wife and I got there early enough to park in the North lot, which proved to be crucial later in the night.  We had a beer and a drink each in the parking lots and got into the venue about 7:00.

We sat in the center of the 23rd row and Tame Impala took the stage at 7:30.  No rain.  Just a little chilly.  Everything was good.  The Australians started out a little weak.  It was still light outside and they seemed so small on this big stage.  Their comments between songs were about disbelief.  They could not believe they were here.  But as sun went away and the lights came on, they found their footing, bringing the half-full amphitheatre to it’s feet for Solitude Is Bliss.  The half hour set was a perfect opening for the now-psychedelic MGMT.

It started to sprinkle when the tuxedo/top-hat wearing man came out to announce the ‘experience’ that is Janelle Monáe, right before she took the stage covered head to toe in a black cape with two other caped figures. By the time she performed Cold War followed by Tightrope, her caped duo was dancing around with The Knife-like masks and  it was dumping buckets of rain.  Nobody in the audience seemed to notice.  The place was pretty full by this point and everyone was singing and dancing too much to give a shit about the weather.

Janelle is a bonafide rock star!  This 24 year old entertainer brings to mind Michael Jackson, James Brown and Lauren Hill.  She is beautiful, she has an amazing voice, she can sing, she can dance and she is a born performer.  Her 45-min set made the night and when it was over we all realized how bad it was storming.  We considered leaving at that point, but decided to stick around and give MGMT a chance to bring us through the storm.

MGMT have been struggling with their fan-base who want more danceable pop songs.  And as much as I do enjoy and appreciate their new album, I was here to see them perform their Time to Pretend hits.  I think Janelle was added to the bill at the last minute because these guys couldn’t fill Red Rocks alone.

By the time the boys took the stage it was storming pretty good, but it was manageable.  The neon backdrop looked cool, the band sounded great and the raved out, headbanded, painted-faced crowd seemed to love it…even the new material, which I have to admit translates very well in a live setting.  MGMT got through about 4-5 songs before thanking us for standing in the rain, calling us crazy, pretending to perform Riders on the Storm and then ripping into Electric Feel.  This is the song that made the crowd forget the wetness of the night.  This was the only song that came close to the power of Janelle‘s set.  This was the last song most people saw.

After Electric Feel they went into Siberian Breaks and that’s when the weather broke.  The rain became torrential, the winds started to blow and Red Rocks started to flood out.  Gallons of water started pouring down the stairs and seats.  People started leaving en masse.  We were among them!

By the time we got to the car we were soaked through.  I felt like I had been swimming in my clothes.  Thankfully we were at the closest lot, I can only imagine what those poor people in the south lots had to go through.  But I do have to say, the entertainment was worth the wet clothes…it’s just too bad the weather couldn’t have held out a little longer.  I would have loved to have seen Kids and Time to Pretend.

First week at Red Rocks.  Perfect?  Far from it!  But I do think it’s impossible to have a bad night up there.  Still one of my favorite places on Earth.

Janelle Monáe Setlist:
Suite II Overture
Dance Or Die
Locked Inside
Cold War
Mushrooms & Roses
Violet Stars/Happy Hunting
Many Moons

MGMT Setlist (up until we left)
Weekend Wars
Destrokk Play
Flash Delirium
The Youth
Electric Feel
Siberian Breaks