SUN, 6/29 Do you remember that one time Alice Cooper was a guest star on The Jetsons? No? How about when your MC5 Kick Out the Jams eight-track got twisted up in your stereo and started playing backward, forward and sideways all at the same time? Not ringing any bells? That's because you have yet to hear Comets on Fire. The five members of Comets, from Santa Cruz, California, sound like they've been locked up in the garage for the past thirty years with nothing to live off except lead-based paint and greasy rags. On its eponymous 2001 album -- recently reissued on Jello Biafra's Alternative Tentacles label -- the group takes heavy classic-rock riffs and crams them through a vintage effects box called an Echoplex. What comes out the other end are bruised, bloody shreds of distortion that shriek and sputter with a Sputnik-like racket.
Noel Harmonson, whose sole purpose in the band is tweaking the knobs of the Echoplex, mutilates Ethan Miller's vocals until they sound like garbled transmissions from some parallel universe where human beings have liquid LSD in place of spinal fluid. The resultant sound is pissed, puke-stained, kaleidoscopic...and oddly soulful. Field Recordings From the Sun, the Comets' sophomore disc, is even more of a meltdown, with an orgy of guest musicians trading in their guitars and drums in favor of instruments such as "heaven bells," "goat knuckles" and "intercom control panel." In the midst of all the feedback and screams, you can almost hear the death rattle of brain cells. Twitching with psychosis, this stuff makes today's swarm of retro garage bands sound pretty lame by comparison.
Judge for yourself when Comets on Fire takes the stage at 10 p.m. tonight at the 15th Street Tavern, 623 15th Street. For more information, call 303-572-0822. -- Jason Heller
Sweet Competition Swallow Hill songwriters' contest cuts loose
By Jonelle Wilkinson Seitz
THURS, 6/26 You can witness a star being born at the Swallow Hill Cafe tonight, as amateurs and professionals perform their original works in a preliminary round of the Swallow Hill Songwriters Contest. Finalists chosen from tonight's preliminary will perform at the Hill's 2003 Folk Festival in August, where prizes, including an opening slot for a major artist's show, will be awarded to the winners. All a folkie really needs to enter the competition is an instrument, a voice, and a song or two. In past competitions, musical styles have ranged from "classic female angst" to classic folk and blues, but as Swallow Hill's Freya Lustie notes, "We obviously have to draw the line somewhere: No hardcore punk." Participants are judged on songwriting ability and a seven-minute performance.
Pre-registration is required to secure one of twenty coveted performance slots. Last year, "people just kept showing up," says contest organizer Ed McIlvaine. One reason for the large turnout could be the relaxed camaraderie at Swallow Hill: McIlvaine says that even though the judging is serious, a fun, supportive atmosphere surrounds the competition.
Those who think they might like to give it a shot have one more chance to enter the contest before the finals; call 303-777-1003 or visit www.swallowhill.com for contest dates and entry forms. Swallow Hill Cafe is at 71 East Yale Avenue; tonight's competition, which starts at 7 p.m., is free.
The hills are truly alive with the sound of music this summer at the sixteenth annual Strings in the Mountains music festival in Steamboat Springs. "I think people have the mindset that classical music is for the elite, but it's really not like that up here," says Strings spokeswoman Sheri Steiner. "It's a really intimate, inviting setting."
This summer's lineup, which runs through August 21, includes the Tokyo String Quartet, pianist George Winston and bluegrass legend Tim O'Brien. Ticket prices range from $5 to $100, and free concerts are featured every week.
"I can't think of a more romantic or relaxing way to spend an evening," says Steiner. For a complete schedule, visit www.stringsinthemountains.org. -- Julie Dunn
Street performers alight for Buskerfest
FRI, 6/27 With over thirty of the world's top buskers -- otherwise known as street performers -- coming to town this weekend for the eleventh Denver International Buskerfest, you'd better load your pockets with plenty of small bills. The event, which goes from noon to midnight today and tomorrow and from noon to 6 p.m. Sunday on the 16th Street Mall, will unleash fire juggling, unicycle riding, contortionists and more on spectators and passersby. And this year, everyone has a chance to get in the act: From noon to 6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, representatives of Meow TV, a new program for cats, will be on the mall, auditioning human performers.
The Buskerfest is free, but plan to throw some change into the performers' hats. "If people really like an act, they should definitely tip the busker," says Katrina Wright, a festival spokeswoman. Visit www.buskerfest.com for details and busker bios. -- Julie Dunn