Review: Flying Lotus in 3D at Mission Ballroom in Denver

By: Désirée N. Ross

I first fell in love with Flying Lotus as a fan of Adult Swim on Cartoon Network. When Boondocks was becoming a cult favorite, the bumper music in between episodes always caught my ear. Before Shazam cared about non top 40 jams, I researched the music on YouTube and discovered that the same guy who played the bumper music was a fellow weirdo and just so happened to be Saint John Coltrane’s great nephew. ‘Massage Situation’ was an instant household favorite that soon became public when my DJ and service industry friends regularly played tracks from “Los Angeles” like ‘Camel’, ‘Melt!’ ‘GNG BNG’ and very randomly ‘Testament’ with Gonja Sufi or ‘Fall in Love- A Tribute’ to J. Dilla during off nights and happy hours to an unsuspecting crowd. From there I had to have FlyLo everything, and procured it directly from three of my local DJ homies: Musa, Gyp, and SD. I had a compressed zip file on CD that totaled 120+ songs. On it, I was formally introduced to Steven Ellison with the “Reset EP” followed by the “Los Angeles” album.

“1983” (which I discovered after the “Los Angeles” album and the subsequent remixes “L.A. EP 2 x 3” and “3 x 3”, respectively) had essentially given birth to this genre the new kids call “LoFi-study-chill-anime-beats”. Self described as ambient, instrumental, experimental, crate-digging-worthy loops that require nary a rapper. This is the soundtrack for the stoner who went to college, loves anime, is a college student (psychology major + a music minor for music therapy) and has become a savant in all things that intersect with jazz, hip hop and instrumental music. Flying Lotus is the first of his archetype to create his own lane by birthing a record label named Brainfeeder in 2008. I always like to think of it as a safe space for music that adheres to the sentiments of the ‘free’ or ‘avant-garde jazz’ period by showcasing: melodic tempered vocals from featured singers, actual instrumentation and an unlikely arrangement of sounds that include an array of different chord changes, polyrhythmic beats and random co-signs from a synthesizer (or otherwise electronic instrument). Label mates include the likes of the late, great Ras G, Gaslamp Killer, Kamasi Washington, George Clinton and most recently the featured opening acts of pbdy, Salami Rose and Brandon Coleman. 

“Cosmogramma” which was released in 2010 is a critically acclaimed opus that reflects these stylings. It also can be played in a perfect loop from start to finish, like every other album in Lotus’ discography. Featuring fellow label mate Thundercat (née Stephen Bruner), the first of future collaborations with Thom Yorke (of Radiohead) and collaborator favorite Laura Darlington (label mate Daedelus’ better half), the album takes you on a climatic stroll before dropping off on a quieter mode that foreshadows the tone on “Until The Quiet Comes”, released in 2012. UTQC had a darker feel to it but was accompanied with great features that included Erykah Badu and Nikki Randa as well as repeated collaborations with Yorke, Darlington and Thundercat. It was inspired by a film he scored for the Ann Arbor Festival whose imagery was centered in dream like states. You see this theme overlay in to his next album “You’re Dead” which was released in 2014. With this album, FlyLo acquires two Grammy nominations for Best Dance Recording and Album of the Year with his work on Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp A Butterfly”. 

 

Since then, FlyLo has grown into his many roles as a record label owner, a rapper (Captain Murphy) and DJ into a music producer that scored music for films which lead him to his newest venture of adding the Brainfeeder Film Divison as of 2016. After gaining nods  (and walkouts) at the Sundance Film Festival in 2017 with his directorial debut of “Kuso” starring Hannibal Burress and George Clinton among others had me excited to see the 3D side of his show. Lotus has always featured visuals at his previous performances and his past videos were mini works of art (see Kahlil Joseph’s stunning short film for “Until the Quiet Comes”). 

“Flamagra” was released in May and feels like a return to his debut style with features from Anderson Paak, Little Dragon, George Clinton, Tierra Whack, Denzel Curry, Shabazz Palaces, Toro y Moi, Solange and narration by David Lynch. Yet another album that plays on a perfect loop that takes a dancey stroll through FlyLo’s many ethereal sounds. Every single feature is dope af and brings something different to the few of this latest release. My personal faves are ‘Yellow Belly’ with Whack, ‘More’ with Paak, “Black Balloon Reprise’ with Curry, and ‘Burning Down the House’ with Clinton. FlyLo added more instrumentation and a lighter feel from the previous two albums that made this release feel so kindred. 

Mission Ballroom, Denver’s newest music venue.

Mission Ballroom is by far one of my new favorite music venues. It’s efficacy is much to be desired as a state-of-the art venue which can hold a capacity that ranges from an intimate setting of 2,200 persons or rock out to maximum capacity at 3,950 persons. Friday’s show was definitely on the snug side but appropriate given what the show entailed. In true fashion, I went down and scooped out the area before I arrived as I had never been. Located at 4242 Wynkoop, Mission is neatly located across from the Pepsi Bottling Plant and near the 38th & Blake Station near downtown. It’s walking distance from the new residential area that has appeared on Brighton Blvd as a part of the historic warehouse district that existed before the ticky tacky boxes of ‘prime real estate’ in ‘North Wynkoop’. If you would’ve told me fifteen years ago when I worked at Pepsi that there would be a Natural Grocers across the street, I would’ve scoffed and cackled loudly at you. Development in Denver within the past five years has truly become a growing pain for what’s left of Colorado natives or residents that have lived here at least twenty years and drink the tap water. For what it’s worth, I’m glad to see that AEG partnered up with developers and gave Denver another much needed music venue that has already shown signs of becoming a neighborhood staple. 

There’s a beer garden that’s completely unaffiliated with the venue that offers a sand filled area for food trucks, ping pong, picnic tables and of course, liquor vendors. They operate from 4-9p and offer a free entry option to pre-gaming any show at Mission. Too early to tell if they will be year round but it looks like a go for the warmer days. Outside of the venue, you’ll find a ride sharing lane for bikes, scooters and Lyft, an official partner of Mission Ballroom as a venue. Parking at the venue is $15 but there are shuttle options that start at $5 at nearby bars and hotels. The light rail station brings you within 5-7 minute walking distance of the venue and RTD has a stop right out front on the 48 route. It’s encouraged to carpool or ride the rail/bus as there’s limited on-site parking unless you park nearby (like at the coliseum for $10). 

Inside the venue, I immediately compared it to an indoor version of Red Rocks with air conditioning, an interactive disco ball that was featured in the 3D show and yes, butt pads. The seating is Amphitheatre style with concrete seats but there’s an option for outdoor furniture-type chair pads one could sit on but not plainly announced. Most of the crowd sat crossed legged or stretched out throughout the show unless you were in front of the stage. The bars were long, staffed and convenient as most of the crowd was underage. The smoking areas were small but agreeable on both the East and West sides of the building and the stalls in the bathroom were clean and plentiful. Mural art in Denver is a kindred thing and it was amazing to see some local love on the walls by the staircases. 

The vending machine upstairs takes the cake as the best alternative to having a food vendor inside as it is still led with premium sandwiches, sweet potato chips, vegan wraps, cookies and cheese (of all things). Make sure your mobile wallet or credit/debit cards handy as it doesn’t accept cash. For general admission, you can sit all the way from the floor to the top with reserved sitting on the second floor only on either side of the stage with their own respective bars. 

For the stoners, on this particular night the smoking area upstairs was 420 friendly and even came with mood lighting (a tall guy covered the light outside with his hat to the cheers of everyone in the area). I won’t say this is the policy going because I thought of Kamasi Washington who was here with Herbie Hancock just days before and I can’t imagine anyone’s aunt Jan smoking pre-rolls in between sets, but this is Colorado. 

Brainfeeder Special Guests: Salami Rose and Brandon Coleman

For the opening acts, we have newcomers Salami Rose and Brandon Coleman. Miss Rose is so new in fact it was kinda hard to research her but she hails from overseas by the sound of her accent and could be from either France or Sweden. She moved to the US where she currently lives in L.A. and was signed to the Brainfeeder label. She describes herself as a musician that plays the keys, box and an improvisational beat maker. Her music is dreamy and randomly grooves with her timed bass line drops. Salami’s live performance was amazing as she recreated her songs ‘I Miss You So’, ‘Octogonal Room’ and a remix of ‘Tell Meeee’ with the vox and gave many thanks to the crowd in between songs. She also performed a song with label mate pbdy whose title I didn’t catch but matches more of Rose’s style. Also a newcomer to the label, pbdy DJ’ed between acts with his style of Lo-fi meets EDM if that’s a thing. 

Brandon Coleman is a young man with an old, funkadelic soul. I could count the amount of people who were even old enough to know what a Keytar is! He came with a three piece band that included him, a drummer as well as a guy on the trumpet. They played ‘Live for Today’, ‘All Around the World’, ‘Sexy’ (which is a jam of jams) and ‘Giant Feelings’ from  his “Resistence” album released a year ago. The highlight of the set was when the band freestyled a beat that sounded like the final fight scene from Double Dragon (and that drummer hit every note!). 

Flying Lotus in 3D

As the amphitheatre quieted and everyone took their cue to put on their 3D glasses, FlyLo comes right out the gate with the craziest ish I’ve ever seen: the visuals for ‘Fire is Coming’, narrated by David Lynch. From here I had to learn to manage my expectations for what was to come. A quick video montage came on that  that you could also hear go through all of FlyLo’s most popular jams and segue’s into Flamagra with ‘Heroes’. The MC Escher feel of endless continuity within a continued design is absolutely amazing with 3D glasses. He continues with ‘Actually Virtual’ before going into a Captain Murphy set with a newer digital look designed especially for this show I’m sure. I’m hype and realize fifteen to twenty minutes in who was hopefully old enough to do any “party favors” to enhance their personal concert experience.

My people watching kicked in right on time: one man had his shirt off and stomped up and down on everysong before being escorted out while another young man who had been still for ten or so minutes suddenly became animated and made his way downstairs. An age appropriate remix of Soulja Boy’s ‘Crank That’ united the crowd before he went into ‘Zodiac Shit’. ‘Burning Down the House’ and ‘Debbie Is Depressed’ (where FlyLo tells the crowd that not only is Debbie a real person, he is in fact Debbie) before going into ‘Cronus, The Terminator’. It is at this point I wish he would have made the video for this in 3D version versus the 3D version of being mitochondria in a diseased body in inflammatory colors.

FlyLo then goes into ‘Getting There’ with Nikki Randa and I’m hoping, pleading in my mind that he’ll do this but instead we get the planetarium version of the universe (which is still cool since I haven’t seen it since HS). Before the show ends, we get the visual for ‘Post Requisite’ which reminds me of Micheal Jackson’s ‘Leave Me Alone’ meets the weird videos you’d catch on Public Access after midnight and subliminal references to the movie “They Live”.

He then ends the show with heartfelt thanks for previous shows in Denver and the love he received before playing his songs with Paak and Lamar for the encore. If I was sixteen and allowed to come to this show, my mind would’ve been blown but as a fan and attendee of previous shows, I expected more jams and/or visuals associated with said popular jams on the set list as it seemed FlyLo was trying to play it safe for whatever reason. I just felt like he didn’t maximize the venue for the depth of his show but it was still enjoyable overall. 

The tribute to Ras G earlier in the evening was one of the most touching things to witness. G has been generously described as this generation’s version of Sun Ra. Self described as “ghetto sci-fi”, Ras infused hip hop, jazz, instrumentals and clips from throwback movies to make himself a staple in the experimental music scene in L.A. His “Space Base” became a mythical legend where new kids he met at the Poobah Record Shop in Pasadena would come to view his massive vinyl collection and make beats. It is said that FlyLo started his label in part to give a platform to release Ras’ music. The cause of his death is still unknown but the L.A. community has come together to support several fundraising memorials for his family. He joins the ranks of other notable deaths this year that include Dr. John, Art Neville and Bushwick Bill. My wish is that his legacy will me kept alive and profitable for the sake of his family. Brainfeeder will always be known as the springboard for many artists who have done their own thing and hopefully continues to provide that safe space for free space music thinkers + makers. 

 

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