Shawn James and the Shapeshifters went metal last weekend and it was delicious.
Last week, I crawled through a sea of black t-shirts emblemed with the gods of metal: Slayer, Metallica, and Anthrax, where beards as thick as midnight stretching until dawn were abound, and heavily tattooed arms were a part of the dress code for the evening. At the center of the room was an enormous square bar that left just enough room for the crowd to squeeze up to the stage. I was at Denver’s Summit Music Hall in the Moon Room, and if metal is a feeling, this space exudes it through the walls.
The night began with a pair of Colorado locals: Sea of Teeth and Champagne Charlie. Each set the tones of their performances by engaging with the crowd and creating anticipation for the headliner, and the band I was there to see, Shawn James & The Shapeshifters.
As I sipped a $7 Bulleit, I watched Champagne Charlie’s horn section tune up, a band who claims to be “a drinking man’s music” and delivers. In what was a set of gypsy punk/folk and soul, the band was a surprise of pure fun who are definitely worth seeing live. Frontman Ryan “Peepers” King brought an energy to the stage that spread to the audience, who was soon jumping and shouting to CC’s tunes. The group brought an element of raucous fun that continued to vibe until the venue closed.
The crowd grew as the openers packed up their gear, and soon it was time for the headliner. Shawn James & The Shapeshifters came out strong, as a high energy rock band with the precision of metal and the sensibility of southern rock’n’roll. The Arkansas trio kicked off their tour missing a few members for this Denver show (those who add the banjo, fiddle, and slide guitar, to be exact), and so, they went metal. In what several audience members told me was a “harder, grittier” version of the typical Shawn James show, the three piece ripped through their set like a pro wrestler tearing a phonebook in half: enthusiastically and without remorse.
Frontman Shawn James, who has worked in a number of capacities (solo singer/songwriter and in various group projects), sang with gospel-like pipes, belting his songs over thumping rhythms and heavy guitars. The Shapeshifters made use of their namesake, moving in and out of their songs one after the other while slyly subverting genres.
The crowd ate up every moment: they moshed, they howled, and they screamed every word right along with James. And the trio fed the audience’s enthusiasm right back to them: they expressed their love for their Colorado fans as they pulsed the room with heavy sounds, streaming through everyone’s heads. And yet, with all the attention (many people we talked to traveled to all of the band’s shows in CO, and had seen them several times over the years), the men on stage could not have had a more humble and gracious quality to them. They thrived off of the crowd’s adoration, all the while doing what they do best: making great music.
All photos per Hannah Oreskovich for BolderBeat. To see more of this show, follow her on Instagram. This feature was edited for brevity and clarity by BolderBeat.