Mile High Music Festival 2009
Dick's Sporting Goods Park; Denver, CO

[July 18-19, 2009]

This year’s Mile High Music Festival, the second annual celebration of all-things-elevated in Denver, Colorado, was an odd beast if you looked at it up close. Let’s see, first off we’ve got Widespread Panic playing... bo-... both nights? Umm okay, could be a typo...

Moving right along, we’ve got a list of bands you’d expect to be playing with Panic: Ben Harper (sure, why not), Matisyahu (I’m in a good mood, go for it!), Thievery Corporation (yeah, still rockin’), Gov’t Mule (things are gettin’ weird), G. Love & Special Sauce (now I’m just getting angry), Ani fuckin’ DiFranco (I’m freakin’ out!!!)...

Then, after you peel the initial, stinky-hippie layer, you’ve a few choice pieces of action: DeVotchKa (incredible!), Lyrics Born (indelible), and Pepper (incredibly unoriginal and indelibly enjoyable).

Then the REAL head-scratchers enter the mix: Incubus (it is now officially 1999), Black Keys (it is now officially 2004) and, mother of all motherfuckers, Tool’s first show since December 2007 (it is now officially time to take three hits of sunshine acid).

It all melted together reasonably well. And I mean literally: The hot-to-the-touch temperatures had my balls sticking together like velcro straps. How can one enjoy music with so many distractions, including sweltering heat, lots of food, tons of drunk people, and several well-distributed recycling tents?

Very carefully. To me, Mile High wouldn’t have made any sense at all without the VIP tent, where I was able to grab roughly seven-or-so ice teas -- iced -- every hour. Those who did attend without the heightened luxury must have spent every bit of disposable income they had on beer at $8 a cup.

I just can’t do that; maybe that’s why I write about it instead. Regardless, despite the lineup gaffes, Mile High didn’t crash to the ground.

LIGHTNING SPEED REVIEW ROUND!!!!!:

- Incubus: Yr pretty, but HA! Make yrself, fucko.
- Ani DiFranco: I ... I just have no idea.
- Thievery Corporation: Good; no seriously, it’s good, I promise. When is it over?
- The Black Keys: No seriously, it actually DOES sound like two people, nothing more.
- Pepper: It’s good, but it’s Sublime. Be honest.
- Ben Harper: Is that a KISS cover? No? Shit, sorry.

As short as that last section seems, I’m not sure if I could have shit out another word for any of those groups if my life depended on it. The real reason I -- and everyone else -- went to Mile High was to get beaten over the head by Maynard James Keenan’s big, floppy Tool.

They didn’t disappoint. Or maybe they did; after seeing them five times starting in 1997, I can’t really tell anymore. All I know is that Tool are a consummate live act, even though I find myself not as starstruck as in the past. It’s not so much the songs or the killer-cool stoner vibe or the whole Tool-is-the-new-Rush thing; it’s more that, as a four-cog machine, the quartet have few peers. Danny Carey, their drummer, is the ultimate conservatory musician, trained in the fundamentals to a fault; he can do anything required of him except grow an extra limb (though I’m told he is working on that). Their bassist Justin Chancellor is the perfect wall for Carey to bounce his beats off, as he can go from a head-charge rumble to a fluid melodic groove in no-time-flat. Guitarist Adam Jones is the least skilled but just as important, his brush strokes adding something tangible for the masses (no one wants to pay $70 to sit on the grass and listen to drums-and-bass solos).

And then you have Maynard James Keenan. He’s a decent lyricist in a pinch, or at least he was before 10,000 Days, but his best quality is his ability to project his voice over the daunting din of his band. THAT’s what sets him apart from the Chino Morenos of the world: He can hold a note, and more than that, he can hold it next to a distortion guitar and still be heard.

Well, there you have it: Two days of 90-degree temperatures to really see one, maybe two bands.

Such is life.