I return from the warm and open arms of the Denver Post Underground Music Showcase this weekend with an invigorated and genuine excitement about the music that is being made in this fine state. I heard some incredible stuff. Even if you live nowhere near Denver, take a listen to what my weekend was like because there are acts that I feel could be nationally noteworthy right now out of the Denver scene.
The festival was a screaming success on the sweltering hot streets. Even after going to about a jillion large-scale music festivals, I’ve never yet been to one that was so cohesive, well-constructed, and uniquely local. The model for this weekend should be recreated at cities around the world who don’t already have something like this in place. As they say, “because your life needs a soundtrack, and because your life is richer and more rewarding when that soundtrack reflects where you live.”
Just a few of the most vivid Fuel/Friends highlights of the weekend:
Young Coyotes at Indy Ink. The buzz on the street after this trio performed with no mics in a small independent print shop was deafening. Tipped by some as having the potential to be the next huge band out of Denver, the Young Coyotes were everything I’d hoped for and more, with their ferocious primal drum backbone (two guys playing), chimey melodies, and shout-out-loud vocals that made my blood pulse hot and happy. I was singing this song for the rest of the day:
When I Was In The Fire – Young Coyotes
Chain Gang of 1974 at the Rule Gallery of Contemporary and Modern Art. In a starkly cool setting, this duo transformed the room into a dance party where our biggest concern became trying not fall into the artwork. I’ve never danced in a gallery before, but this stuff was absolutely irresistible. The drummer from Young Coyotes reprised his awesomeness for this set too. Make sure to catch them at Monolith.
The Dirt – The Chain Gang of 1974
Hearts of Palm at the Hi-Dive. I was struck by how passionate and vocal a following this collective has, obviously due to how enthusiastically they give back to us all. The Hi-Dive was humid and electric, echoing along with everyone singing at the top of their lungs, “We have no water here and everybody knows it!!” That may have been the first time I’d seen a local band with that degree of communal singalong support. They played most, if not all, of their newest free EP and blew us all away.
No Water – Hearts of Palm
Everything Absent Or Distorted (plus friends) at the CarToys outdoor stage. Although it was a bit of bad news for my friends trying to coordinate this fest, the cops were called on the noise levels for the outdoor stage shortly before the Everything Absent Or Distorted collective came on with some additional members. But maybe it’s not really a party until someone calls the cops. EAOD played their widescreen, angular indie rock, those fluid melodies mixed with an on-edge sensibility. They then tantalized this cover-loving girl with a handful of great ones, including early Arcade Fire (a sound not too far removed from their own) and “Glad Girls” by Guided by Voices.
The Exit Parade – Everything Absent Or Distorted
Aaron Collins @ Rock The Cradle. A boutique that hawks Johnny Cash onesies, retro board games and Nine Inch Nails lullaby cover CDs, Rock The Cradle caters to the hip parent crowd. One of the first shows I saw on Friday afternoon was Machine Gun Blues’ Aaron Collins performing (clothed, so as not to scare the younguns) a melodic and charming solo set. His unselfconscious use of repeated words to underscore a kind of vocal percussion, along with his elegant and shimmering keyboard melodies made me hope that he continues in this vein even if Machine Gun Blues is almost defunct.
Rachael Pollard and friends at the Kabal Rug Kilm. Speaking of Nine Inch Nails covers, a highly unlikely one (“Down In It” done like a 1930s flapper?!) popped up at the most gorgeously cool venue of the weekend. This loft-like Persian rug gallery was temporarily converted into a singer-songwriter stage for solo artists and some fantastic collaborations, such as this one with Pollard, Gregory Alan Isakov and Julie Davis from Bela Karoli. While we lounged around on stacks of $35,000 rugs (don’t spill that beer), a steady stream of Colorado musicians plucked, strung, and hummed their lovely songs. It all took on a near-mystical air in that setting. The festival did an exceptional job of lining up original groupings of artists collaborating with those from other bands, which lent a great spirit of local pride and the making of something unique together.
Crazy For You – Rachael Pollard (charming little song)
Stop Making Sense flickering on a brick wall. Very late Saturday night, you could hear David Byrne’s voice ringing up and down the boulevard from the parking lot of an otherwise dark bank, forgotten at that hour of fiscal irresponsibility. The folks at the Denver Film Society arranged a guerilla screening of the Jonathan Demme classic, and it was simply beautiful. Until the sprinklers came on, and then everyone just moved back and it was still beautiful, just wet.
Burning Down The House (Stop Making Sense live version) – Talking Heads
Everyone who played in the South Broadway Christian Church. This was another gorgeous venue staffed by incredibly cheerful and kind church members. I almost expected a covered-dish potluck. The acoustics were crystalline, the surroundings divine. Using the church was a great idea, and I hear God totally didn’t even mind.
Sputnik Motown brunch and the Velvet Elvis pancake breakfast. A good festival loves you from the time you arrive until the time you leave, especially when you are at your most vulnerable. When the morning comes with its dreadfully bright light, you need a greasy breakfast — and you don’t want to have to work for it. Both days we ate like royalty, first at Sputnik with the DJ spinning a vast and amazingly impressive collection of Motown 7″ records, and then Sunday at 3 Kings with a live Elvis cover band, bottomless mimosas, and fresh-made pancakes from a little griddle behind the bar. O, that I could have my breakfasts soundtracked every morning by “Hunka Hunka Burnin Love” and “Hound Dog.” [pic via]
And as is always the case, there were dozens of bands I didn’t get a chance to see, and some I’ll be featuring in greater depth at a later date (many are playing the Meadowlark Fest Aug 21-23). Whew! I’m exhausted.
Let’s do it again next weekend.