Photos & Review | Once In A Lifetime: Lotus Brings the Talking Heads to Red Rocks | 09.19.2014




Red Rocks Amphitheatre :: Morrison, CO :: 09/19/2014

lotus red rocks poster

Photos By: Justin Ciccone

Words By: Ali Kramen


Once In A Lifetime: Lotus Brings the Talking Heads to Red Rocks


Over the past few years, I’ve had the good fortune of seeing some really fantastic venues. Yet any lover of live music would agree on the Mecca of all venues, the One venue to rule them all,  the Alpha and the Omega: Red Rocks Ampitheatre.
Nestled in the very red rocks of Morrison, Colorado that serve as the venue’s namesake is perhaps the coolest, most awe-inspiring place you’ll ever witness live music. From the minute you get off the exit to enter the town of Morrison, the views are striking. Even the parking lot takes your breath away. And if the parking lot doesn’t do the trick, the uphill hike to get into the venue sure as hell will.   The struggle is real, but it’s worth it. At 6,450 feet above sea level, the stage is carved into the massive brick-colored boulders that tower above the landscape where the Rocky Mountains meet the Great Plains. You’ll never see a place like it, no matter how far around the world you travel. This past Friday, I finally got to witness the magnificence of a show at this one-of-a-kind venue for the first time. The show? Well, that was something far from ordinary as well.IMG_1059_1024x683
I had traveled across the country to see instrumental quintet Lotus headline this spectacular venue for the fourth time, but this one would be special. The band had brought a vocalist with them to pay tribute to one of the band’s greatest influences, the Talking Heads. But first the crowd would warm up with a couple of solid openers. Orchard Lounge started the night off with a decent set of danceable mixes, though far darker in nature than I’m used to hearing from them. They were quickly followed by Papadosio. Dosio certainly did not disappoint on this night, and clearly were as caught up in the magic of the Rocks as many of the fans. Front man Anthony Thogmartin thanked Lotus for the incredible opportunity to perform that night halfway through the set, remarking in disbelief, “This is the craziest moment of my life, that’s for sure.” It’s a sentiment I’m sure other musicians and fans in attendance shared. Late in the set the band brought out Lotus guitarist Mike Rempel to join them on fan favorite “Find Your Cloud,” and Rempel’s unique playing style made for a distinct and memorable version of the song. There seems to be a special connection between Rempel and Papadosio, and it was readily apparent when he took to the stage that night.

“There’s something special about a band paying musical tribute to the music that served as inspiration. If it’s done right, you can hear, see, and feel the passion with every fiber of your being. This is what a Talking Heads performance by Lotus entails”


After much anticipation, at 9:45 pm, Lotus finally emerged from the darkness of backstage at the Rocks, to a fiery explosion of cheers and screams. This would be no ordinary Lotus show. After much begging from fans who had missed the band’s special “Talking Heads Deconstructed” set at Bridgeport, CT’s Gathering of the Vibes Music Festival, Lotus decided to take the idea for another spin, this time dedicating one set solely to the music of the Talking Heads and the second set solely to classic Lotus tunes. I had the privilege of witnessing the band’s first run at this concept during Vibes, and was blown away. Weeks after the show, and even after three subsequent Lotus shows, I still ranked the Vibes performance as the best I’d ever seen out of the band. I didn’t think it could possibly be topped. But I was proven wrong at Red Rocks.
IMG_1146-1_512x768There’s something special about a band paying musical tribute to the music that served as inspiration. If it’s done right, you can hear, see, and feel the passion with every fiber of your being. This is what a Talking Heads performance by Lotus entails. As one should expect given the band’s propensity to constantly evolve, Lotus mixed it up from their previous Talking Heads set. But the band literally could have played their exact same set from Vibes, note for note, and it still would have been an incredible opportunity for all in attendance simply because of the zealous commitment that went into this project. Dolled up in Byrne-esque fashion, child-like smiles crossing each of the musicians’ faces, they were on fire that night. Percussionist Chuck Morris and bassist Jesse Miller enthusiastically singing backup vocals, drummer Mike Greenfield standing while tearing up the drums with an energy I rarely see from any musician, guitarist and keys player Luke Miller taking improv to a whole new level, and Rempel practically dancing as he plays. The passion is real, and it’s perceptible. You won’t see it like this during an ordinary set even on the band’s best night. Pan Astral front man Gabriel Otto once again joined the band as lead vocalist, and channeled David Byrne just as perfectly as he did during the first Talking Heads set. The dancing, the singing, the theatrics – the entire package is beyond impressive.
To a number of favorites performed during their Vibes set, the quintet added “Girlfriend is Better” featuring Jesse getting down and dirty on his bass in a serious way. Papadosio drummer Mike Healy joined on the congas for both “Naïve Melody” and “Crosseyed and Painless,” helping to create percussive perfection with Morris and Greenfield. Between the percussion work, the improv all around, and Otto’s vocal and theatrical prowess, “Crosseyed and Painless” was one dynamic set closer.
The light rig must be addressed before going further. I’ve never seen anything like it. Dubbed the “Chandelier” light rig by Luke Miller, strings of LED lights dripped from above the stage as if to rain upon the band in layers, layers that could (and did) move throughout the night to create new 3-D patterns. Combined with the panoply of lights they’ve already put to use this year, and the way the lights interacted with the awe-inspiring Rocks, the effect was unreal. The Rocks is a place to bring everything you’ve got as a performer, and Lotus succeeded in doing so on every front. These lights were the icing on the cake.
The second set was reserved for the band’s personal repertoire. Some have complained it was a “standard” set. Say what you will, but know where you are. Boo hoo, you didn’t get to see the return of a long-shelved rarity? Cry me a river. Do you have any concept of what you DID get? Think about what doing a Talking Heads set entailed for the band. I’ll try to give you an idea. This is a band that has no vocalist, doing a set of music that required a vocalist who notIMG_1258_1024x683 only could nail all the lyrics and intonations, but could also embody a uniquely grandiose persona. And given the importance of the band being honored in their set to their own work, they understandably wanted to do the music justice. In the week leading up to its first performance of the first Talking Heads set, the band rented out Philly’s three-thousand-capacity Electric Factory and practiced for nine and a half hours straight, with lighting rig and all. The musicians approached this project with utmost seriousness. And after a month and a half since last playing with Otto, the inclusion of songs that had not appeared in the set at Vibes, and new lights, I’d imagine they deemed a similarly rigorous rehearsal necessary here as well. With all of the work that had to go into such a spectacle, is it any wonder the band didn’t have time to break out a song like “Philly Hit” which they haven’t thought about in years, and do the work inherent in dusting it off, polishing it up, and mastering the reworked version for live performance? Be thankful for what you got; it’s nothing to scoff at.
The Lotus set featured a number of classic tracks that were taken up a notch by skillful improv. Take for example the hard-rocking fan favorite “It’s All Clear to Me Now.” It’s a song that traditionally receives jam treatment that regularly leads to versions well over ten minutes, and Red Rocks was no exception. At one point, after the hard-hitting breakdown that has the band going from a dead silence to a glorious explosion of wonderful sound, Rempel’s solo seemed as though it would never end. Just when you thought “here’s where it goes back into the theme,” Rempel just went right back into his jam, with that peacefully joyous smile spread across his face, and he did it more than once. It was the perfect tease. And then as if on cue, as the music got dark and heavy and Jesse went to town on his bass, lightning appeared in the distance. Shortly thereafter, the band transitioned into “Spiritualize,” almost as if they’d planned it all.   A wonderful choice of segue on any day, but the way venue and music and environment converged in that moment was idyllic. And yes, I am well aware they played this same segue two weeks earlier during their second performance at Summer Dance. But it surely wasn’t the same. It was a sight to see. From a technical standpoint, the classic “Suitcases” and its space funk grooves perhaps more perfectly executed in addition to being equally as noteworthy as “It’s All Clear” for its improv, but that “It’s All Clear” was something special.
The passion was palpable all night. And in that venue, it packed even more of a punch than it would have anywhere else. After two exceptionally well-executed sets of music, the band returned to the stage for a two-song encore that began with their newest album’s emotional heart-melter “Sunset of the Giant Dipper.” Divine dynamics, intoxicating intonation, flawless timing – the quintet did it justice. It brought the emotion to such a great peak that it would have been hard to believe the band could push us further. But as the first notes of “Once In A Lifetime” cued, it became readily apparent that the band would do just that. It brought chills that stuck with you. Toward the end of the song Otto briefly dipped out, saying “here comes the twister” – and with that, the band proceeded to make the song all its own, with a fabulously futuristic Rempel-heavy jam that had Lotus written all over it.
The band left the stage to thunderous applause fit for the imposing rock walls enclosing the amphitheater. It was a magnificent ending to an unforgettable night, and the crowd reaction said all that needed to be said.  From start to finish, the show truly was once in a lifetime.


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