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Mission Ballroom hosts King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard

Photo courtesy of heavenlyrecordings.com

Psych-rock group plays new Denver venue

Australia’s most prolific multi-genre seven-piece, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, was recently christened as one of the Mission Ballroom’s first headlining acts. Before the group’s absolutely monstrous performance, however, the venue itself has since undergone a few hiccups. 

That’s not to say that Denver’s newest musical venture isn’t impressive in its own right, as the RiNo venue sits at 60,000 square feet with a capacity of nearly 4,000, according to 303 Magazine

It turns out that this location is one of the most unsettling things about the Ballroom, though. The entire area surrounding the venue is completely barren except for the highway, several construction sites, and a train station. From every angle it mostly looks like a somewhat out-of-place, all-black warehouse, made only distinguishable by the well-lit entrance. It certainly doesn’t deteriorate from the experience of the show itself, but Mission will surely have a tough time becoming as timeless of a venue as Red Rocks or anything downtown with such a weird locale. 

Inside, the Ballroom is trendy and intuitive, containing all manner of sporty amenities, including a bar, dance floor, and a staggeringly large mirror ball dangling from the middle of the ceiling. The floor also contains stadium seating, a big selling point of the venue, boasted on the Mission Ballroom website with “unrivaled sight lines via tiered rows.” 

In actuality, these seats are a little more than underwhelming, really only a couple rows in the back and sides of the venue act as the unassertive alternative to an overcrowded general admission area. The space isn’t quite large enough to warrant actual seats for every ticket but isn’t small enough that everyone should be standing either, instead offering an awkward hybrid of the two. 

It’s safe to say that while it still has that exciting new-venue smell, Mission Ballroom is certainly still experiencing some growing pains. Fans of Tame Impala learned this the hard way, as many who tried to buy tickets either came away empty-handed or with a ticket three times the general admission price, according to Denver7

The venue had in fact taken steps to prevent this in the form of  “Mission Fair Ticketing,” a randomized lottery intended to ensure scalpers and bots wouldn’t have an advantage and buying a ticket would be—according to the Mission website—“a more convenient, less stressful, and a truly fair method to purchase tickets.” Denver7 quotes AEG Presents Rocky Mountain Region’s Don Strasburg that complaints from fans of shows using the system convinced the venue to avoid using Fair Ticketing for Tame Impala and just use their standard ticketing system used for smaller shows, causing it to sell out in a matter of seconds. 

The Ballroom has since posted on their Facebook that they are cancelling all fraudulent ticket purchases and promised to make those tickets available to the public again. Westword has also reported that the venue intends to use the Fair Ticketing System again in November for performances from the String Cheese Incident

Still, the venue contains a gorgeous and hefty-sized stage, with notable lighting and a massive screen in the back. It’s otherwise well put-together and atmospheric and will surely help to deliver a memorable show no matter the artist.

As for King Gizzard, they delivered a surprisingly pulverizing show that was unsurprisingly tasty, tight, and unforgettable. For those unaware of the group’s discography, their latest LP Infest the Rat’s Nest further elaborates on their expansive list of genres to include a full-fledged thrash metal record. Needless to say, the anticipation was palpable as drummers Michael Cavanagh and Eric Moore began the opener and one of the wildest tracks from the new album, “Self-Immolate.” Some moshing had gone on a bit during the opening acts but once King Gizz took to the stage and the song fully kicked in, beer flew through the air, hands thrust to the sky, and all hell broke loose. 

This level of excitement remained consistent during the remainder of the set, but particularly with the Rat’s Nest tunes. Aside from the aforementioned “Self-Immolate,” the band pulled mostly from the record’s deeper, non-single cuts, like “Mars For The Rich,” “Perihelion,” and the absolutely devastating album closer, “Hell.” 

While they also played many of their most popular live tunes, like the “Robot Stop/Big Fig Wasp/Gamma Knife” and “Crumbling Castle/The Fourth Color” medleys from Nonagon Infinity and Polygondwanaland respectively, there were a few curveballs in the mix as well. “Muddy Water” and “Beginner’s Luck” made the cut from Gumboot Soup, one of the quieter releases of the group’s 2017 five-album run. The latter showcased vocalist/guitarist/front man Stu Mackenzie’s considerable live vocal ability, as he was able to emulate a softer and more intimate vocal tone in stark contrast to the various yelps, growls, and screams in the Nonagon and Rat’s Nest songs. 

The majority of the set sounded almost exactly like the group’s studio recordings, maybe with a little bit of a hotter live feel, spare the harmonica performances from keyboardist/harmonicist, Ambrose Kenny-Smith. Through some perfect combination of mixing, effects, and instrumental ability, something about the harmonica leads on songs like “Plastic Boogie” and “This Thing” from the bluesy Fishing for Fishies made for an especially cutting and visceral performance from Kenny-Smith. The other members certainly had their particularly special moments throughout as well, and without a note out of place the King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard set at Mission Ballroom was one for the books. 

The same can’t be said for the opening acts, Stonefield and ORB, which were a little more of a mixed bag. Stonefield’s quick, early-show set was definitely the stronger of the two, as their fuzzy, thick guitar tones brought out an addictive heaviness in their songs scarcely found on their studio recordings. Their only fallback was a somewhat uncomfortably stiff stage presence, contrasting to the wildly unhinged Gizz later in the evening. Still, as far as first openers go, Stonefield did a commendable job of putting forward a distinct and enjoyable performance. 

ORB’s set was uncontestably the longest 30ish or 40ish minutes of the evening. Everything about it wasn’t necessarily bad, just kind of lame. The passing listener would have a tough time differentiating or even remembering any of their songs, between the nine-minute track that sounds like Black Sabbath, but slower, or another nine-minute one that sounds like Jimi Hendrix, but slower. Everyone on stage looked uncomfortable or bored, much like the entire audience. To top it off, the guitar amps weren’t even facing the audience. It’s unclear whether or not this was some kind of avant-garde live mixing maneuver or simply some technical limitation confronted by the sound department, but either way the guitar tones sounded disgusting. 

All in all, however, Mission Ballroom was able to host an exceptional show featuring King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. What’s in store for the venue is anyone’s guess, but for acts as solid as King Gizz, it’s certainly a must-attend occasion.

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