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The Westword Music Awards Showcase--an on-site report.
At 6 p.m. Sunday evening, September 22, I strolled into a room adjacent to McCormick's Fish House & Bar and found Johnny Long peeling off blues licks from his trusty guitar while a drummer whose excellent posture would have been an inspiration to chiropractors everywhere matched him beat for beat. A few minutes later at the Sports Column, Chitlin dished up a heaping helping of grooves spiced with Javier Gonzalez's guitar riffs and Ben Senterfit's acid-jazzy sax. The scene was considerably weirder at Comedy Sports Theater at the Wynkoop Brewing Co., where Fatwater challenged early arrivers by spewing out enormous slabs of sound upon which vocalist Judson Harper rode like a surfer afflicted with Saint Vitus's dance. It was too much for some viewers, just enough for others (including yours truly). By contrast, the instrumentalists of Laughing Hands, at Jackson's All-American Sports Grill, concentrated on merging folk stylings from a dozen ethnographic sources into a satisfying whole.

And that was just the first hour. Between that moment and 1 a.m. the next morning, I caught portions of sets by 28 more area acts, for a total of 32 of the 39 outfits that performed as part of the event. Fortunately, there were plenty of highlights throughout the evening. The Hate Fuck Trio practically tore the Sports Column apart; I may be wrong, but I'm guessing that the moshing and body surfing that took place while the group was on stage were firsts for the venue. At one point, lead singer/guitarist Sam DeStefano leapt onto an amplifier in a satire of big-rock-star moments only to accidentally unplug his ax. After finishing the song, he told the audience, "I'm really sorry that happened--I hope that's not going to cost us any votes," then cheerfully accused Chaos Theory frontman Mike V., who was in attendance, of stuffing ballot boxes. That's entertainment. Space Team Electra, which also played the Sports Column, was equally impressive, but in an entirely different way: Singer Myshal Prasad has developed into an utterly mesmerizing presence. Like Prasad, Willie Lewis, rockabilly icon and boss of the Spuddnicks, drew every eye to him; if Carl Perkins had walked into the room while Lewis was at the microphone, he would not have been one iota more authentic. As for Teresita Molina y Su Grupo, the band was wonderfully appealing; Molina's dancing, spinning, shaking and shuddering was undeniably infectious. And Baldo Rex put on a show to remember. Singer Phil Wronski, clad in a halter top and leather skirt, was quite fetching--he was a dead ringer for Gwyneth Paltrow--but what truly distinguished the performance was guitarist Ted Thacker's decision to set his guitar on fire using a bottle of Everclear for fuel. "It was completely contained," Thacker insisted afterward. "Really."

A thumbnail sketch of the other mini-gigs I witnessed:
The Dalhart Imperials, resplendent in vintage cowpoke regalia, transformed the folks at Rock Island into participants at an unlikely barn dance. Celeste Krenz showed off her folkier side, delivering delicate material with grace and class. The players in Sympathy F blended scorching psychedelia and harmony-based ballads with a skill that would have been beyond them five years ago. The String Cheese Incident gave country and bluegrass genres that ever-so-popular neo-hippie makeover. Monkey Siren overcame early sound problems to deliver a slew of pleasant, light-fingered world pop. Hazel Miller worked a sizable crowd like the ambassador of soul that she is. Sponge Kingdom turned out airy Boulder alterna-songs that went down easy. Slim Cessna's Auto Club twanged with a vengeance. Art Lande, playing drums rather than the piano, led a tight trio through a bracingly jazzy series of tunes. Lord of Word and the Disciples of Bass concentrated on the smooth, sophisticated side of its hip-hop oeuvre, to the delight of one of the evening's largest and most enthusiastic throngs. Jux County jumped back and forth between elliptical rockers and country-tinged changes of pace. Jetredball's Rex Moser gave roots rock a sorely needed jolt of electricity. Kizumba gyrated through a highly danceable set of salsa, merengue and soca. Boss 302, whose members wore matching black shirts that left them resembling extras from a Sixties-era episode of Batman, pounded out captivating rock and roll that needed no frills. The Apples played mainly new material in a display that re-established them as the area's most charming pop combo. Munly baited a smallish gathering during his fascinating but extremely idiosyncratic moment in the spotlight. Nueva Imagen made the fashion statement of the evening--bold red-and-white suits--while slaying a gaggle of late-nighters with its enthralling take on cumbia. The 'Vengers presented checkerboard ska that made its own party. Sherri Jackson and her band stretched out their compositions with impressive violin and guitar solos. The La Donnas put their version of punk verities over the top with sheer nerve and moxie. Roots Revolt switched back and forth between straight reggae chording and hip-hop vitality. And the Perry Weisman 3? Well, I arrived at Flat Pennies, where the unit was ensconced, only thirty seconds before the set's end. But that thirty seconds sounded great.

Truth be told, not every aspect of the Showcase went perfectly. Performances at the Wynkoop were consistently late, which was annoying for anyone trying to see as much music as possible. It was also depressing that bows by Munly, Art Lande and a couple of others weren't better attended. But for every glitch (like watching the words "Jux Country" superimposed over video images of Jux County), there were more than enough good moments to compensate. Several of the best took place during the last show of the night: Foreskin 500 at Rock Island. As Diggie Diamond and his minions (including special guests the Sugar Twist Kids) engaged in disco decadence of an especially delicious sort, an incredible variety of viewers, ranging from cowboy-hatted Dalharts to hardcore punks, soaked in every ounce of it. At that moment, questions about whether Denver has a cohesive, supportive music scene were moot. And it sure felt good.

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