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There was agony and ecstasy at the third annual Westword Music Awards Showcase. And I should know: Of the 41 sets offered up by a like number of acts at various LoDo nightspots on Sunday, September 21, I caught 37 of them.

Being a glass-is-half-empty kinda guy, I was distressed when, after a week's worth of gorgeous late-summer weather, the weekend in question dawned cloudy, clammy and drab. Worse, the skies refused to clear. Late Sunday afternoon, lower downtown resembled a scene from The Hound of the Baskervilles; each time I rounded a corner, I expected a killer canine to lunge for my jugular, his fangs bared, his jowls aglow.

In short, I was afraid that people would hunker down next to their radiators in their cozy homes rather than confronting the elements, even if it was to experience some of Colorado's best music--and for the first hour of the Showcase (6 to 7 p.m.), my fears seemed to be justified. Stewart Lewis, the evening's first act, faced a packed house at McCormick's Fish House & Bar, Chaos Theory entertained a wild, boisterous crowd at Rock Island, and Tony Furtado, accompanied by a crack band and guest tabla expert Ty Burhoe, played brilliantly before a modest-sized assembly at the Skybox at Jackson's Sports Rock. But nGoMa dished out its intelligent hip-hop to a disappointingly small gathering at the Blake Street Baseball Club, and the members of Conjunto Colores, one of Denver's longest-lasting, most accomplished collectives, practically outnumbered the audience at the beginning of its stirring turn at the Great Room at Wazoo's. I'm told that by the end of Conjunto's time in the spotlight, the club was beginning to fill up, but by then, I was already looking for a gun to put in my mouth.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the weapons department at Wal-Mart: People started showing up. Hundreds of them, and then thousands. By the end of the night--which weather-wise turned out to be surprisingly pleasant--a bracing number of music lovers had learned firsthand that local artists can be just as entertaining as the national kind.

Examples, anecdotes and the like:
Last year at McCormick's, musicians appeared in a separate area just off the restaurant, in the Oxford Hotel. This time around, however, the stage was placed just a few feet from the bar. As a result, there wasn't a whole lot of elbow room for the performers. This wasn't a huge problem for Stanley Milton, who led his group, the Mean Streak, through a rousing blues workout, but it proved challenging for Electric Summer, a four-piece whose hyperkinetic lunacy threatened to shake the Fish House off its foundation. Lead vocalist Toshihiro Yuda, who left his shirt at home and wore his trousers so low that a gentle breeze could have sent them cascading to the floor, leapt about as energetically as if he were being electrocuted, and bassist Takakumi Toyoshima nearly put the neck of his bass through a window on at least three occasions. Fortunately, there were no casualties.

A block away, at Comedy Sports at the Wynkoop Brewing Co., things went from strange to stranger. The Foggy Mountain Fuckers all seemed to have a considerable buzz on, but their not-quite-all-there demeanor only added to the allure of their unhinged take on outlaw country. They were followed by Space Team Electra, a group that seems to grow more confident with time. Myshel Prasad was at her mesmerizing best, but the low ceiling and dark lighting at Comedy Sports seemed to accentuate the contributions of guitarist Bill Kunkel, bassist Greg Fowkes and drummer Kit Peltzel, whose music rolled out in enormous, all-encompassing waves. Boss 302, the outfit scheduled to succeed Space Team, would have provided an intriguing contrast, but the musicians canceled at well past the last minute. (According to the band's Tony Weissenberg, lead singer Rich Groskopf was struck on Sunday by a recurring back ailment that left one of his legs completely numb. "He might have been able to just stand there," he allows. "But that's not the kind of a show we do--and it didn't seem like we should take a chance with something like that.") To the rescue came Showcase nominee Baggs Patrick, who raced from emceeing an open stage at Cricket on the Hill to the Wynkoop in order to fill out the bill. Boss 302 fans were a bit taken aback when they arrived to see their faves only to find Patrick and his band belting out the loopy "Wet, Sloppy Kisses," but Patrick didn't mind. Because of him, the show went on.

The Blake Street Baseball Club had an ultra-eclectic lineup that left some attendees exuberant and others scratching their heads. Universo Dos put on a polished blend of romantic ballads and rousing Latin pop that not many wrist-banders bothered to check out (it was their loss), but Skull Flux, a combo that finally seems to be finding its own identity, reinforced the loyalty of a cadre of true believers; the Hillbilly Hellcats, supplemented by the propulsive pounding of new drummer Tim Theis, got a throng up and dancing; Marty Jones proved that he's more than just a writer by headlining a musical revival meeting alongside his band, the Pork Boilin' Po' Boys; and Judge Roughneck closed the joint in style with its ska-flavored originals. Next door, at the Sports Column, Pete Nalty and the Jinns reminded Denverites that good music never goes out of style; Lonesome Dan Kase enthralled listeners with his authentic solo country blues; Beth Quist went into the mystic while delivering her Eastern-flavored compositions; and the Minders produced happy pop that managed to engage your intellect even as it moved your feet. As for Slim Cessna, I'm inclined to slag him for blowing my cover and identifying me from the stage, but I have to admit that even without a drummer, his group, the Auto Club, remains one of Denver's treasures.

As the sun set, things began to heat up at both the Soiled Dove, which featured Wendy Woo, Opie Gone Bad, Preacherman and the Congregation and Blister, and the Great Room at Wazoo's, whose bill included the Healers, Hamster Theatre, Hazel Miller and the Caucasians, Lord of Word and the Disciples of Bass and the Psychodelic Zombiez; probably the only folks who didn't have a good time were claustrophobics. Things were spottier at Rock Island, but even though the Czars and Petrol Apathy did not draw as well as Kingdom and the mighty Hate Fuck Trio, which is threatening to turn into the world's funniest band (witness Sam DeStefano's impassioned argument in favor of drinking for minors), the collectives did strong work. Meanwhile, at Skybox at Jackson's Sports Rock, Apostle preached the hip-hop gospel to the collected masses, Brethren Fast churned out guitar riffs and craziness before a beyond-capacity mob, and Old Bull's Needle stuck its brand of punk and metal to its willing suppliants. Capping the night were the Throttlemen, whose fans included a wedding party, complete with a tuxedoed groom and a bride still in her formal gown. No word about whether they consummated their marriage at the bar.

Was the bash perfect? Nope. A handful of groups wound up at incompatible venues, and ultra-annoying technical problems (especially at McCormick's and the Sports Column) caused a slew of shows to start far later than scheduled. (For example, the Zombiez went on forty minutes after they were supposed to have started.) Moreover, the weak attendance at the first shows suggests that they simply were slated too early. But the good news is that year three confirmed that there are a lot of you out there who care about local music as much as we do.

A great many readers were wowed by "Amazing Feet," Marty Jones's September 19, 1996, profile of Jeffrey Marshall, a musician who overcame birth defects by learning to play the bass guitar with his feet. However, few have gotten a chance to see him work his magic live. That situation will be amended this week thanks to Very Special Arts Colorado, a nonprofit organization dedicated to "enriching the lives of people with disabilities and making the arts in Colorado fully accessible to people with disabilities." On Tuesday, September 30, the group sponsors ABLExpressions, an event that takes place at three South Pearl Street locations: Hugh's New American Bistro, Stella's Coffee House and the Vogue Theatre. Channel 7 meteorologist Pam Daale is the emcee for the show, which also includes a performance by comedienne Geri Jewell and a silent auction of various items, including a sculpture donated by noted artist Ivan Schlutz. For more information, call Price Daniel Communication at 904-1820.

Wil Masisak, who is both the owner of Broken Records, which released the latest disc by Wojo (see the article on page 74), and the leader of recent Westword profile subject You Bastard ("Bastardized," August 7), has yet another item to place on his resume. He recently was chosen to provide accordion, guitar and backup vocals on the current tour of acclaimed singer-songwriter Dan Bern ("Let It Bern," April 17). He'll be traveling with Bern for the next three months, and some of the gigs in which he'll participate are rather tony: For instance, the third date finds Bern opening for Ani DiFranco in New York's Central Park. Garth Brooks, eat your heart out.

The annual Summit Jazz weekend takes place from Friday, September 26, to Sunday, September 28, at the Hiatt Regency Tech Center. Among the acts scheduled to appear are the Hot Antic Jazz Band, which hails from Nimes, France, the Jim Cullum Jazz Band, based in San Antonio, Texas, Denver's Alan Frederickson Jazz Ensemble and the Jim Galloway All-Stars. To receive details about times, ticket prices and other assorted factoids, dial the Summit Jazz Foundation at 670-8471.

The Christians among you have a couple of interesting shows from which to choose this week. The Call, fronted by Michael Been, performs outside the secular arena, appearing with the Pasty White Blues Boys at Crossroads Church in Wheat Ridge on Sunday, September 28. The following night, Monday, September 29, the Supertones, a ska act in the Five Iron Frenzy tradition, joins Stavesacre and Ghotti Hook at the Aztlan Theatre. They'll be working at cross purposes.

Below: more show info, accompanied by the requisite number of bad jokes. On Thursday, September 25, Freak Hungre gets hungry for freaks at the Cricket; the Savoy Orchestra swings at the Mercury Cafe; and Skin burns at the Boulder Theater during a party tossed in honor of the new disc Don't Buy the Man Another Drink. On Friday, September 26, Robben Ford motors to Herman's Hideaway (Ford also drives to the Fox Theatre on Saturday, September 27); aerosol attempts to destroy the ozone layer at Seven South, with volplane and Mini Series; and Richard Dean, Karen Capaldi and Ellis Paul team up for a "Writers in the Round" session at Swallow Hill Music Hall. On Saturday, September 27, Ava Pele and the Kama Sutra tout a new CD, Salome's Dance, at the Bluebird Theater, and Craobh Rua, accompanied by Andy M. Stewart and Gerry O'Beirne, causes nightmares for copy editors at Cameron Church, 1600 S. Pearl. On Sunday, September 28, Ben Stevens hypes Reservation Blues, a fresh disc of his own, at the Mountain Sun Brewery in Boulder, and Velvet Chain wraps up Blues-Flux-Delux at CU-Boulder's Club 156. And on Wednesday, October 1, singer-songwriter Greg Garing infests the Bug Theater, and Faith No More plays for believers at the Ogden Theatre.

One more thing. On Sunday, September 28, at the Bluebird Theater, the winners of the 1997 Westword Music Awards Showcase will be announced at a bash hosted by KTCL-FM's Mike Makkay and Bob Rupp of the Galactix. Also on tap is a special acoustic performance by A&M Records signees 16 Horsepower and a jam session featuring lots of the state's top musicians. Past ceremonies have been private affairs, but this one is open to the public. Join us, won't you?

--Michael Roberts

Backbeat's e-mail address is: Michael_Roberts@westword.com. While you're online, visit Michael Roberts's Jukebox at www.westword.com

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