Some concerts are obvious pit stops along a nationwide route. Others are market-pleasing check boxes necessary to keeping a tour’s profitability in the black. Roo Panes’ trip to Denver last week was a rare outlier, as his show in the city’s Lost Lake Lounge was a true destination concert. Along with two old friends/fellow Englishmen traveling as his tour-mates, Panes made a point to immediately address that they “fought tooth and nail” to be able to play to Denver. Red Rocks may be closed for the season, but the trio still took a took a notably inconvenient detour to get to the concert. Panes confessed that they flew in from Portland that morning and were flying out the following morning to go back to San Francisco. As a visitor to the city myself, no additional reasoning was needed to explain Panes off-road journey. There was something special circulating in that thin mountainous air that warranted Panes’ indirect course to satisfaction.
Before Roo Panes took to the stage, solo artist Anthony Ruptak did his best to rouse the crowd with some local acoustic flavor. To no surprise of anyone who has attended a concert over the last two months, Ruptak began his set with the politically probing question “Who voted?!” As a minuscule amount of hands slowly rose from the shy crowd, Ruptak disappointingly counted “1, 2…6?! Dammit…” That pessimistic opening banter served as a window into Ruptak’s world-weary set. His performance was a strange combination of sporadically energetic and introspectively dreary live music, as songs continuously confessed callously self-aware lyrics like “This old world doesn’t need another love song, but she’s halfway across the globe and I can’t sleep.” Despite the set’s emotionally draining nature, Ruptak was a fantastic musician who, all things considered, had a lot of thought-provoking ballads that were well-worth listening to.
Roo Panes emergence was met with expected cheers, but his opening song emphasized the value that the venue and the crowd played in his wayward journey. As an audience member, you could practically hear yourself breathing as Panes fluttered through the intro to “Silver Moon“. The crowd was virtually silent, not because they were disinterested, but because they were uncommonly respectful. They would erupt at the end of each song, but immediately revert back to silence moments later at the start of the next song. No one rudely objected, they only courteously responded. The first decipherable words that came from the crowd came a ways into the set when Panes grinned and said “You guys are a real treat.” Someone from the back of the bar immediately answered “You’re a real treat, Roo!”, to which the crowd flared up in excitement and sparked a massive smile across Panes’ face. Hell, as just another member of the well-mannered audience, I couldn’t even bring myself to drop my empty can of traditional Coors on the floor and stomp it into a pancake as I (and everyone else) would have done at most of my more familiar hometown venues. The venue, the crowd, and the musical experience were simply too admirably respectful.
But with an intimate venue, artists will always run the risk of technical difficulties. Roo Panes 12-string guitar was marvelous over the front half of his set, but after switching instruments around and eventually transitioning back to the 12-string guitar, it wouldn’t properly plug into the audio jack. Just when the crowd started to doubt the show’s longevity, Panes made an executive decision that would spark the most magical moment of the night when he exclaimed, “Nothing’s working on this tour anyway, so we’re just going to cut the electricity and unplug everything if that’s alright with all of you.” Panes and his accompanying band members walked into the front of the crowd and began signing his international hit “Tiger Striped Sky” with a nothing but a few unplugged guitars and the crowd’s gracious support. The audience answered the call of duty without the slightest hesitation, corroborating with Panes and company by singing as a harmonious collective with the vigor of a church choir on Easter Sunday. Smiles were infectious, people stomped their feet in percussive support, and the venue had turned into a truly synergistic community. It couldn’t get any better than that, right?
Wrong. Two thirds of the way through “Tiger Striped Sky“, the group’s rhythm guitar player took a 90 degree shift and transitioned the song into an acoustic cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing In The Dark“. About half the crowd transitioned along with him, while the other half couldn’t help but chuckle out of comedic disbelief that he had made such a successfully bold turn. When the hybrid song finally came to an end, the largely soft-spoken crowd left elated, energized, and candidly unprepared for bed. Their energy was an apparent indication that Roo Panes and his accompanying band did a fantastic job integrating those reverent concert-goers into a shared performance that both they and he would remember for a long time.
Favorite Live Tracks: Tiger Striped Sky/Dancing In The Dark, Silver Moon, Quiet Man, Land Of The Living, Little Giant
Due to the lack of a publicized setlist, below is a playlist of my favorite songs between Anthony Ruptak and Roo Panes.