Lespecial, Shwarma & Mr. Specific 2.18.23

Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom
Denver, CO

Words & Photos by Gab Kaplan

This past Saturday, the eclectic trio known as Lespecial returned to Denver for the first time since their Red Rocks debut last summer. Although the band had been in town since then to record with Mike Dillon and to play a few solo/side project sets, they had not performed here as Lespecial since last June when they opened the night at Umphrey’s McGee’s annual Red Rocks event. The group was welcomed back to town by a sold-out crowd at Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom with support from Denver locals Shwarma and Mr. Specific. This Saturday’s show was the second stop on their "Not So Quiet On The Western Front" tour following their kick-off performance with Denver locals Squeaky Feet at The Lincoln on Friday night in Cheyenne, WY.

Coming straight from Jam Cruise and a mini East Coast tour with Mike Dillon as Fackin A, the boys were absolutely fired up and ready to throw down. Their set glimmered with bangers, new tunes, and some top-notch covers including "Know Your Enemy" by Rage Against The Machine featuring Andy Frasco and the U.N. guitarist Shawn Eckels, as well as a cover of "Thela Hun Ginjeet" by King Crimson with both Shawn Eckels and Dopapod drummer Neal "Fro" Evans. I was beyond stoked to hear one of my favorite King Crimson songs, which I was actually listening to along with a few other tracks off King Crimson’s 1981 album Discipline just a day prior while I was getting in the mood for Lespecial, as well as some of the other artists the band takes influence from like Primus, Rush, and Tool. All of these influences shine brightly in the Lespecial song arsenal as the group takes great care in emulating the accuracy, clarity, and creativity of those high-caliber musicians while brewing their own new flavors out of those saucy bases. As a group so heavily inspired by such giants of the prog world, their music pulsates with odd times and rhythmic modulations, thick layers of guitar and bass effects pedals, including looping, and auxiliary percussion inspired by elements of world music. Not to mention their tasteful usage of samples. Lespecial’s sound can best be described as a cohesive mix of every genre from metal to funk to synthwave to hip-hop. 

The last time I saw Lespecial at Cervantes was in December of 2021 with local band Sqwerv. I drove up 6 hours from Durango with a friend for the weekend to see that show, as well as to see Opeth and Mastodon at the Mission Ballroom. Needless to say, that was an incredibly heavy weekend! This group has been on my radar since I first saw them open for Pigeons Playing Ping Pong on the first night of their Denver two-night run in November of 2019. This legendary group has been known to perform entire sets of the popular Primus album Frizzle Fry, which they have displayed at Beanstalk 2021 as well as on their 2021 New Year’s Eve run in Boston and in 2022 at NYC’s Gramercy Theatre. Not to mention a killer mixed Primus set at Summer Camp 2022 with Mike Dillon and Kris Meyers. They have even gotten props from Les Claypool himself! Through all of it, these guys remain super humble as people and musicians who are just doing what they love at a high level. You love to see it!

With a new album on the way, Denver fans are chomping at the bit for any little piece of Lespecial they can get. In early January, Lespecial bassist Luke Bemand and Dopapod drummer Neal "Fro" Evans teamed-up to perform as Luke’s side project Drunken Doja Monkey, which consists of him playing bass while live DJing usually accompanied by improvised live drums that are often played by Lespecial drummer Rory Dolan. This resulted in a packed-out Wednesday night at local venue Your Mom’s House, where the group had previously displayed sets from Drunken Doja Monkey as well as Lespecial guitarist Jonathan Grusauskas’s DJ set as Jonny G the Sunday following their Red Rocks performance last year. It seems fitting that a few weeks after this show Fro was sitting in on auxiliary percussion with the full group at Cervantes. With only one single ("Enter The Homieverse") released so far from the group’s highly anticipated fourth album, which I believe is due to be released this year, fans have been ecstatic to hear more unreleased material appearing more frequently in the lineup.

Before Lespcial lit it up, two incredible local Denver bands, Mr. Specific and Shwarma poured the gas. Both of these acts were a perfect fit for this bill, as they each had elements of prog, metal, and funk in their sets that resonated with exactly what the crowd was looking to hear that night. Both groups displayed impressive showmanship as well as memorable stage presence to compliment the vibe that Lespecial brought. Mr. Specific was the first act to open the night up. The trio was absolutely on fire. Though many heads arrived early enough to fill the venue with a sizable crowd, I’m regretful that I was only able to catch their last few songs, but I’m glad I caught enough of a taste to make sure that I don’t miss their next show (5.5.23 with other local acts The Buzz and Schema Things at Your Mom’s House), and I’m really glad I was there in time to see the group cover "Break Stuff" by Limp Bizkit with Luke on vocals. The group’s sound can be best described as instrumental prog with hints of funk, jazz, and metal, as well as some electronic elements. Sandwiched in-between Lespecial and Mr. Specific was Shwarma. This 5-piece band labels themselves as “kebab-rock”, and if that isn’t enough to draw you in, Shwarma’s music is full of heavy influence from classic rock, power metal, funk, and punk all wrapped up between mixed-meter passages and catchy lines that reminded me of all kinds of different bands from Dream Theater to Steely Dan. The group effortlessly blurs the lines between genres with great distinction between each, but also with great focus on blending them into a delectable smoothie you’d want to chug. Probably a mango lassi. Try to catch yourself in a Shwarma mosh pit if you have the opportunity to!

I’ll be enjoying a second night of Lespecial debauchery this week in my previous home-base of Durango at the Animas City Theatre. The last time I was in Durango was actually when I saw them perform a two-nighter with Mike Dillon at Motel Soco in Pagosa Springs as "Mike Dillon vs Lespecial", which was really just Fackin A before it got that name. It maybe even got that name because of that weekend, as the band would scream it periodically throughout the sets and the crowd would respond. More on that in my next article!

Gab's Photo Gallery

Lespecial Setlist: Lungs of the Planet, Repeater Brown paper bag, Dnb improv > Machine Elf, Sugaboi, Snells Fleet, The Only Thing They Fear Is You, Enter the Homieverse, Rayers > Onlookers, Know Your Enemy*, Thela Hun Ginjeet**, Leather On**, Drum solo, Absolutely Stunning, Fruit Wolf Dance, The Vessel

Encore: Tonberry


*With Shawn Eckels
**With Shawn Eckels & Neal "Fro" Evans


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