Backwash

The skies opened up on the Westword Music Showcase. But the bands played on.

A very small child might well have been swept away by the wind that blew through downtown Denver around 4 p.m. Sunday. About an hour before the Westword Music Showcase was scheduled to begin (with an outdoor performance, no less), the city experienced a meteorological shift that bordered on biblical. As we are all reminded every so often, the kind of day John Denver wrote songs about (sunshine on his shoulder and all that) can turn into a slushy, sniffly mess in the span of an hour. The good, maybe difficult-to-believe news is that the weather didn't soak the enthusiasm of the 2,500 music fans who braved the elements. At 2:15 a.m. Monday, the late-night lingerers were finally convinced to leave the Soiled Dove, where DeVotchKa wrapped things up well after last call. It was a hell of a party -- one that, for the good of us all, should probably be attempted only once a year. And preferably on a sunny day.

Here are some of the meteorological and musical highpoints:

4 p.m.:I've just heard that snow is expected later in the evening and make a general dismissal of weather forecasting, opting for my own method: Simply ignore the gusting wind and foreboding masses of dark clouds now hovering over downtown, and meet friends for a beer. I discover that one of these friends has his own color-coded schedule of the bands playing the showcase. There are 25 of them, and strategy is required to see all or most; in some ways, the showcase is as much a sporting event as a music marathon. I notice with feigned disinterest that there is now so much debris flying around outside, it is enough to (almost) block the blue halogen of the Qwest sign. I see a woman using a bag of just-picked-up dry cleaning as a windbreaker. I admit this could be a bad omen.

5 p.m.:It is raining. Not just rain rain, but sleeting rain mixed with occasional little hail balls, and it is hitting the ground at a 45-degree angle. It reminds me of the kind of storm that used to strike Gilligan's Island just when they were getting ready to fly away in some millionaire's airplane; it's a tropical-style cartoon storm, and I'm half expecting frogs to drop from the sky. All of the bands scheduled to play the outdoor stage have been moved to other venues; the concessionaires have gone home, as have jazz/swing nominee (and scheduled performer) Lannie Garrett and the members of her big band who were able to reach downtown. No one knows what the hell is going to happen: Should we all go home, watch Scully have an alien baby and call it a night? No. Mr. Tree and the Wingnuts finally start playing in Market 41 and, hot damn, they've got good humor, like there's nothing weird happening whatsoever. This is show business, after all, and Ethel Merman made it painfully clear that the show must go on.

6 p.m. to 8 p.m.: Open Road gives a great performance at LoDo's Bar & Grill. All of the bandmembers huddle around one microphone as they sing, stretching their traditionalism to an impressive level of authenticity. People sometimes seem surprised to discover that a local band is really good, as this one is; I guess facilitating that realization is part of what the showcase is for. I get my fill, head to B-52 Billiards, contemplate the club's bar (it's the nose of an airplane, with a functional cockpit) and check out the Erica Brown Blues Band. Miss Brown sings a song about a lyin', cheatin', 375-pound ex-lover who "eats twelve sandwiches a day"; the band also woos the crowd with a fine cover of Al Green's "Love and Happiness." Miss Brown's got pipes, that's for sure; she's also one of the only people who can pull off an alligator lamé jumpsuit. I exit, out onto the freezing street where there is now real snow falling, and into the Soiled Dove, where Tarantella has just begun. I think vocalist Kal is staring at me as she sings; later, a friend reveals having the same feeling. It's a sort of facial ventriloquism that adds to Kal's generally mysterious stage persona. She sings in Italian, plays the accordion and wiggles her tummy. Legend has it that a tarantella is the dance a person does after being bitten by a tarantula, and the music does have an in-the-veins effect on the crowd; with a band composed of high-caliber local players, including violinist Kelly O'Deaand guitarists Bob Ferbrache and John Rumley (from Slim Cessna's Auto Club), it's certainly a sweet poison. Tinker's Punishment has been squeezed into the lineup next door at Market 41, where things are running a little behind schedule. In fact, some people mistake Tinker's for the Volts, a surreal mixup considering that the bands have about as much in common as Woody Allen and Allen Iverson. It soon becomes obvious that the Volts should never again be mistaken for a pop band composed of a bunch of nice young men.

"To tell you the truth, I don't really like you fucking people," screams vocalist J.R., cloaked in Truman Capote-sunglasses and a "Who the Fuck Is Mick Jagger?" T-shirt. "We just got back from Mexico, and those fuckers are poor and tired and they don't have shit, but they know how to rock so much harder than all of you." Making such comments, as well as spitting beer, wriggling about and climbing on amps, is the Volts' way of winning over audience members, some of whom try limply to start a mosh pit before being stopped by Market staff. Maris the Great does his ghoul dance in time with the Volts' palpitating beat, eventually succumbing to J.R.'s wiles, an exhausting thing just to watch. (Fortunately, he's given a break when he ventures over to Rachel & Andy's more slowly paced set at LoDo's.)

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