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Some of you ska junkies out there may shy away from Upbeats and Beatdowns, by Five Iron Frenzy, because of the Christian beliefs espoused by its members. But if you do, you'll be missing one of the more enjoyable offerings to emerge from the genre's current boom. The brass section (Jeff Ortega, Nathanael Dunham and Dennis Culp) is punchier and more substantial than is the norm, and songs such as "Old West," "Milestone," "Combat Chuck" and "Where Zero Meets Fifteen" (about the intersection of Colfax and Broadway) find an effective balance between pop melodies and skacore acceleration. The words, meanwhile, are generally thoughtful and eschew preachiness; "Our assurance comes from God," from "Cool Enough for You," is about as overt as things get. I'm completely sick of ska at this point, so if Upbeats struck me as enjoyable, you can bet that it's pretty damn good (available in area record stores). On the biography that accompanies the self-titled three-track recording by the Slewhounds, an anonymous scribe states, "Their songs are clearly influenced by legendary artists such as Kiss, Van Halen, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Alice in Chains, but with a spurt of testosterone added to the mix." (Yeah, like Van Halen and Led Zeppelin were testosterone-free.) What's not mentioned is that the tunes conform to pretty much every hard-rock stereotype in existence, from the grating, high-pitched wailing of vocalist Michael D. Kelly to the casual misogyny of the lyrics to "I Need You" ("...like a hole in the head"). Rock on, dudes (Slewhounds, care of Michael D. Kelly, 2710 West Park Place, Denver 80219).

The trio of cuts on the self-titled demo by Hotwater Music can be described as swinging soul--sort of like mid-period Earth, Wind and Fire with female vocals and lots of electric piano. A version of Stevie Wonder's "I Wish" is lacking in surprises, but "Coral" and "Black" are both worthy R&B offerings. The tape's sound quality is crummy, but the music on it displays some promise (Scott Seeber, 458-3764). New Country Boy checks in with 4 Songs of Love, Heartache & Being Broke, a good-humored mess of a cassette. "Differentia" is not different enough from the standard-issue punk grind, but "Revolution" is a tongue-in-cheek Clash rip, "River Song" is an a cappella goof, and "One Eyed Jack" goes in so many odd directions that even players like ex-Babihed member Bill Houston seem confused by it. Which, I suppose, is a good thing (World Entertainment and Management Group, 1873 South Bellaire Street, #915, Denver 80222).

You'd be hard-pressed to find a more commonplace Boulder band than Mucis, whose cliche-ridden cassette is called Epicurus. "Cup of Change" is aimless noodling that makes Dave Matthews seem concise by comparison, "The Last Drag" is fake Phish of an extremely tiresome sort, and "Elephantiasis" takes forever to go nowhere. I'm glad I have no idea how many recordings exactly like this one I've heard over the years, because if I knew, I'd probably kill myself (Mucis, P.O. Box 4024, Boulder 80306). The Vermicious Knids have a sound overflowing with hippisms too, but on Live, their latest CD, they're fairly tolerable because they go to the trouble of actually writing songs. The faux-Blues Traveler of "Which Way to Go" left me colder than a mackerel, as did strum-alongs like "Miscellaneous Who Ha" and "Salvation," but "Shitkicker" and "Smokin' Cigarettes" are bouncy enough to compensate for their dearth of fresh ideas. I now return you to your regular programming (Vermicious Knids, 1750 South Kearney Street, Denver 80224).

Clark ov Saturn, of LD-50 fame, is among those putting together Lunar Lodge, which he touts as "the definitive secret society of electronic-music aficionados." This week's meeting takes place on Friday, October 24, at 2200 Champa Street (the old Muddy's location) from 10 p.m. until 6 a.m. and is set to include bows by Aquatherium, Moth and Fritttz, Dubaholic, Oto and DJs Vitamin D and Fury. The information number is 575-1700.

Bobby Marchetti, accompanied by the Belmar Orchestra, performs on Saturday, October 25, at the Arvada Center for the Arts in a benefit for the Ronald McDonald House of Denver. Marchetti was inspired to put together this show by Audrey Kimsey, a twelve-year-old who has survived two heart transplants and a cancer scare. For more information about the event, phone 438-2175. On the same night, Moore raises funds for the Gateway shelter at the Ogden Theatre.

The indefatigable Neil Haverstick, whose new CD is called Acoustic Stick, brings the third annual Microstock Festival to the Swallow Hill Music Hall on Saturday, October 25. For the event, Haverstick and his band share the bill with Los Angeles guitarist John Schneider, another instrumentalist with an interest in alternative tunings and tonal experimentation. The event is all acoustic and, hence, environmentally friendly.

As for myself, I'm biodegradable. On Thursday, October 23, Plop Squad splashes down at the 15th Street Tavern, with Backspackle and Mad Man Munt; 100 Grand adds up at Cricket on the Hill, with Leaving the Trees and Street-18; the Tannahill Weavers get Celtic at the Boulder Theater; and Chicago's Roots Rock Society holds court at Jimmy's Grille. On Friday, October 24, dance-scene heavyweight Joi Cardwell finds the beat at the Elle; Corey Stevens frets at the Buffalo Rose; High Plains Tradition begins a two-night run at Niwot's Left Hand Grange Hall; and Dick Hyman and Ralph Sutton finger their keyboards for the first of two evenings at the Adam's Mark Hotel's Majestic Ballroom (details are available at 674-4190). On Saturday, October 25, Ron Miles and Mike Vargas provide "A Feast for the Senses" at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art; Austin's 8 1/2 Souvenirs can be purchased at the Bluebird Theater; Brand New Unit pops up at Area 39; Shallow digs deep at the 15th Street Tavern; Jonathan Fire*Eater throws sparks at the Lion's Lair; and Tony Furtado picks at the Boulder Theater. On Monday, October 27, Bruce Cockburn and Jonatha Brooke amble into an E-Town taping at the Boulder Theater, and Winona Righteous takes part in the Musex Bloody Monday Halloween Celebration at the Bug Theater. And on Wednesday, October 29, Hamster Theatre runs wild at the Mercury Cafe. Aren't they just the cutest things?--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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