by E.P Pirt, Jr.
This past Wednesday I had the pleasure of celebrating “making it through another hump day” with none other than Poolside and Denver favorite, Tycho. I was super pumped for Poolside. Going in, I had seen them only twice – once at Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox and once at Sonic Bloom 2017. Both sets were great, especially SB. It even made it into my ‘Nine Acts that Crushed Sonic Bloom 2017‘ list. So needless to say, I was excited to see the melodic, groovy, and chill DJ duo yet again, and in a fancy new venue no less. Or so I thought.
The vibe was indeed melodic, groovy, and chill, but it wasn’t a DJ duo. No, unbeknownst to me, I was in for a special treat – the often imitated but never duplicated Poolside live band! The five piece band consisted of guitar, bass, drums, percussion, and keys/sax. The band was tight and summery classics like ‘Can’t Stop Your Lovin’, ‘Feel Alright’, ‘Everything Goes’, and of course, ‘Harvest Moon’, were the perfect vibe set-up for Tycho. Everyone around me was swaying and nodding their head and of course smiling. That’s the thing about Poolside’s music – it just makes you happy.
Obviously most people were there for Tycho and you could tell that a lot of them were being introduced to Poolside for the first time, right then and there. My friend that I met up with at the show was one of them. He said repeatedly how great he thought they were, and I think it’s safe to say that Poolside gained a lot of new fans in Denver that night.
After being treated to my first live Poolside set, I meandered back over to the stage left bar to grab another beer. Once again, I was pleasantly surprised by how short of a wait it was for my beer – but more on that in a little bit. I then met up with a couple more friends and chatted while we waited for the main attraction. Full disclosure, I wasn’t very excited for Tycho. I like their music okay, but the one time I had “seen” them live was at Euphoria Music Festival in Austin and I was not impressed. I had found it just pretty boring, put simply. I only watched for a bout 15 minutes before seeking out something more hyphy. Festival sets and actual headlining shows are two completely different things, however, and while I won’t pretend to be a huge new Tycho fan after last Wednesday, I was not disappointed.
The thing that first struck me were their visuals. I will say that I’m a fan of those. The editing and effects were cool, with the different scenes twisting and turning and fading from one to the next. But it was the subject of the visuals that did it for me. They were simple, but beautifully so in this case. Short video clips of things like the sun setting over hundreds of people as they walked hurriedly around what looked like Manhattan, or just pretty clouds floating across a vibrant blue sky. They were organic and real and captured the oft-overlooked beauty of some of life’s little moments. Now that I think about it, I guess that kind of encapsulates Tycho’s whole sound and vibe.
I kept telling myself that I was going to leave after the next song (it was a school night, after all), but with each song I was drawn more in until, wouldn’t ya know it, they left the stage for the encore. I definitely recognized a few of the tracks but it was more about the overall aesthetic and vibe that kept me intrigued (and of course the visuals). It was definitely beautiful music, thanks in part to the incredible ethereal vocals of Saint Sinner. Holy cow that girl can sing – I was honestly blown away by how perfect her voice was. I might not ever consider myself a Tycho fan, but after the Mission Ballroom performance I can definitely appreciate them for their pure musicianship and their ability to find the beauty in life and in vocal collaborations.
Speaking of beauty, how about this Mission Ballroom place, eh? There’s something about “new 60,000 square foot venue smell”, am I right? This was my third show at Denver’s newest and much-talked about new venue, operated by AEG. The first two being The Lumineers and George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic. Each show has been uniquely different and equally impressive. The venue is decidedly unlike any in Denver, and honestly, unlike any I’ve been to anywhere.
The first thing that caught my attention and that stands out the most is the unique layout. It’s called an “Amphifloor” layout, which is a combination of amphitheatre and floor. Ok I just made that up, but the design really is basically half amphitheatre, half floor. The wide dance floor stretches from side to side, bordered on each end by a long bar, which you magically never have to wait more than 3 or 4 minutes on a drink for, or at least I haven’t in the three shows that I’ve been to. In an effort to reduce plastic, they offer a discount on drafts if you purchase a reusable souvenir cup, which you can bring back to any show. To boot, all of the bartenders and staff were friendly, accommodating, and seemed genuinely excited to be a part of something so new and well, exciting. About three-fourths of the way back, tiered rows of “seats” begin going up and back. I say “seats” because depending on the show, there will be few to no people sitting. But the rows are nice and wide (think Red Rocks), so there’s still plenty of room to get your groove on. They are also tall enough from one to the next to still have a great view of the performance, unlike certain other venues in town. Reserved (VIP?) sections are perched above the aforementioned bars, overlooking the dance floor. The stage can be moved to accommodate as many as 3,950 guests, or shrunken to make for a more intimate experience with a capacity of 2,200. With this layout not only is it nearly impossible to have a bad view, but there always seems to be somewhere to stand/sit without feeling claustrophobic or even worse, having some sweaty wook’s dreads bumping in to your face all night.
Being brand new, it’s obviously got all of the state-of-the-art bells and whistles that you’d expect from an AEG-funded venue, including a top notch sound system, lighting, and acoustics. Along with that, it can boast that it’s thrown arguably the best shows of any venue in Denver in the last month (The Lumineers, FKJ, Trey Anastasio, Ben Harper, Steve Miller Band, Herbie Hancock, George Clinton & P Funk, Flying Lotus, Phantogram, $UICIDEBOY$, Collective Soul + Gin Blossoms, and Flogging Molly just to name a few). But just because it’s operated by the biggest promotion company in the world doesn’t mean there isn’t local influence. AEG handpicked and commissioned different local artists to come in and make their mark, which results in an impressive array of diverse artwork all around the venue.
Kellie Donahoe of AEG was interviewed by 303 Magazine before the venue opened and quoted as saying “Our goal for the Mission aesthetic was to highlight what Denver has to offer in terms of art and entertainment, both sonically and visually. We want the art to guide patrons through the space in an exciting way that hasn’t been experienced in other venues,” Donahoe explained. “The art was curated in a way that we hope will compliment all genres of music, in hopes that the art enhances the live music experience rather than distracts from it”. We’d say they nailed it on that front, too.
It isn’t just the 60,000 square foot venue itself that’s new and exciting. Outside it’s clean and modern, but there is definitely a hint of the area’s gritty industrial past in the air, reminiscent of some place like Brooklyn. There’s a cool, large, cutting edge LED sign just out front, which serves as a digital billboard used for advertising upcoming events. At first glance I thought it also served as some sort of office or control room, as the staircase going up to the sign is completely enclosed in glass walls and zig zags through two spacious floors. But apparently it’s just a huge indoor staircase that seemingly leads to nothing but the LED sign. Seems impractical but hey, it looks cool so we’ll just go with it. Across the pedestrian area and courtyard is a hip outdoor hangout area with the feel of a beer garden. A rotating selection of Denver’s best food trucks set up shop there, offering up tasty pre-show treats.
The area surrounding the venue, dubbed North Wynkoop, is “a new 14-acre mixed use project by Denver-developers Westfield Company, located at the north-end of the RiNo neighborhood.” Basically an extension of RiNo, the area that was once nothing but warehouses, train tracks, and seedy empty lots, now boasts shiny new paved roads, parking lots (take a Lyft if you’re in Denver to avoid paying $20 to park), and a nearly complete 90,000 square foot office/retail building. Eventually, a hotel, residential spaces, and additional office & retail space will complete the facelift.
I like to consider myself one of the bigger fans of the Denver music scene and all of wonderful, unique places we have to enjoy it, so it’s hard to play favorites when it comes to venues. But it’s safe to say that the Mission Ballroom is up there. To the chagrin of many, it’s been pretty cool to see how much Denver has changed in the 8 years that I’ve lived here, and now in twenty or thirty years I can talk about how I watched the Mission Ballroom get built, and was lucky enough to be at a few of the first of what will be many, many great shows.