Concert Review: Darren Hanlon, Colorado Springs 11/16

In the best case scenario, when you write a review of a show, you write solely about the music, but sometimes other things overshadow the real purpose of your trip. Last night we took a field trip to Colorado Springs to see Darren Hanlon. Hanlon was great. The rest of the evening was not so great, and I’m not talking about the snowstorm on the way back.

I’ve already written about Hanlon and why he’s excellent; there’s not much to say about his music that I haven’t already said. Instead, I’m going to focus on what I’ll call the unfortunateness of the venue.

El Paso County, of which Colorado Springs is the county seat, trends very politically and socially conservative. (It’s also the location of Focus on the Family headquarters and the Air Force Academy.) As you can imagine, this leads to a dearth of venues for live music in town. When I saw that Hanlon was opening for Tim Kasher in the Springs, I was a little surprised they hadn’t chosen to stop in Denver or Boulder instead.

Mysteriously, the Black Sheep is Colorado Springs’s best venue for live music for five years running, and they’ve got the certificates over the bar to prove it. The Black Sheep is an all-ages venue, which is good; I was thinking to myself as we were sitting in front of the bar that it’s got to be rough growing up in Colorado Springs with an interest in seeing or performing music. (Denver is an hour away, transportation between the cities isn’t great, and there are a couple of stretches of I-25 in between that are pretty scary in the dark, even in good weather — and I’m saying this as someone who offroads in Wyoming in her hatchback. Even if you’re a teenager with a car, it’s not necessarily realistic to drive up for a show.) And that’s why I listened to the local opener for Darren Hanlon with a certain degree of tolerance. They were four boys, somewhere between thirteen and fifteen, and while their lyrics were self-indulgent and their music was heavily cribbed from a book of piano finger exercises, it was clear they have potential, given time and exposure to more music.

And then they busted out the original composition about American Indians that started out with I am a hunter-gatherer / I walk out across the grasslands collecting fur, set to something similar to the Atlanta Braves’ Tomahawk Chop. My friend and I exchanged a few is this really happening? glances. Today I’m still stuck on did that really happen? Because WOW, RACIST.

This is why I’m not naming the band or linking their MySpace, because I don’t want to give them the page hits. I’m willing to be an appreciative audience for a band that isn’t very good, especially given the ages of the band and where they live, but it’s pretty simple, really: when you write and perform something racist, I don’t want to give you any free publicity. What really gets me is that the lead singer’s father and uncle were there filming their performance, which means they’re theoretically supportive — but they’re either not really listening or they don’t care. Either way, it’s pretty horrible.

The audience wasn’t too great, either. There was a small knot of people up by the stage for Hanlon, but he rightfully called them out for having a loud conversation right in front of him while he was playing. I don’t get it. If you want to have a conversation while someone you’re not interested in is playing, the back is excellent for that. I myself have been known to do that. But right up by the stage? Seriously?

On the bright side, that meant that when Hanlon was introducing “Eli Wallach” and he caught sight of me and my friend having a minor fit of glee, it visibly improved his night. And he asked us for a few requests, which meant I got to hear a couple of favorites.

We didn’t stick around for Tim Kasher because it was a work night and we were an hour away from home with bad weather ahead of us. Hopefully the crowd got better for him.

“I’d never heard of Colorado Springs before this,” Hanlon said to us after his set. We don’t actually understand why anybody wants to live here, we said. Next time, we told him, play in Denver. Or play anywhere else but here.

Darren Hanlon: Official Site | MySpace | Facebook | Twitter | Store (Australia) | Store (US)

Hey, Chicago folks: Hanlon and Kasher are at Schuba’s this Saturday. If you’re not doing anything, show up and give him a little love. He’s worth your time.