By Noah Hubbell
By Leslie Simon
By Brad Lopez
By Tom Murphy
By Noah Hubbell
By Inkoo Kang
By Dave Herrerra
By Josiah M. Hesse
It pretty much goes without saying at this point that this is going to be the best Showcase yet. Just take a look at this year's headliners. Your dance card will be full from the time the gates open at 11:30 a.m. until BoomBox leads Saturday into Sunday at City Hall. Find in-depth Q&As with each of these acts online at backbeatblog.com.
8:30-9:55 p.m. Main Stage
Formed in Austin in 2004, Ghostland Observatory has evolved its sound from the raw, noisy electro funk of its earlier releases into something more danceable. Equal parts electro, psychedelia and glam rock, the group's songs pivot on Thomas Turner's signature vocals, which resemble Freddie Mercury's voice fused with Cedric Bixler-Zavala's, and the sultry electronic treatments of Aaron Behrens, which recall the soundtrack work of Giorgio Moroder. With a spectacular live show that matches its music, Ghostland plays each gig like an arena-rock act, with a dazzling light show, KISS-like stage raps, histrionic antics and larger-than-life stage personas. With Ghostland Observatory, which releases all of its own records through its Trashy Moped imprint, it's all about giving fans a one-of-a-kind experience they'll remember.
7:00-8:15 p.m. Main Stage
Although never quite becoming underground-rockers-turned-superstars like R.E.M. or Pavement, Superchunk is nevertheless the band that truly embodies the term "indie rock." First with its sound, of course — which is part jangle and part edgy, with intelligent, thoughtful lyrics and tastefully quiet breaks between louder sections of music, all delivered with the defiant energy of punk rock — but mostly with its ideals. Rather than be taken in by the seductive lure of the majors long after Sonic Youth and R.E.M. proved it wasn't an artistic dead end, the North Carolina-based outfit opted to put its music out its own label, Merge Records, one of the most successful and respected independent labels of all time. Musically, the band made its mark from the beginning with the classic 1989 single "Slack Motherfucker," and with its new album, Majesty Shredding, Superchunk cements its legendary status.
5:45-6:45 p.m. Main Stage
Before performing as Dirty Projectors, Dave Longstreth put out his first album, 2002's The Graceful Fallen Mango, on Chris Adolf's (Bad Weather California) label, This Heart Plays Records. Longstreth's profile has increased notably since, thanks to his innovative approach to indie rock. Mixing in soul, R&B and various traditions from around the world, Longstreth has produced some of the most interesting hybrids of recent years. The Black Flag covers album, 2007's Rise Above, boldly took some of the most arch and intense songs ever recorded and turned them into tropical pop tunes without blunting the messages. For 2009's Bitte Orca, the Brooklyn band spliced zydeco and Indian pop with their own core sound. Quirky and idiosyncratic, Dirty Projectors is a modern-day Talking Heads.
4:30-5:30 p.m. Main Stage
Starting in Denton, Texas, in 2008, Neon Indian has already had its share of accomplishments. Now based in Brooklyn, New York, primary songwriter Alan Palomo, still in his early twenties, released the remarkably well-realized album Psychic Chasms in the fall of 2009 to positive reviews, with two of its songs being declared among the top 100 tracks of 2009 by Pitchfork. Although lumped in with the "chillwave" movement, Neon Indian writes songs that are warm, suggesting kaleidoscopic colors and sunny days. If you could make an animated video using mobile stained-glass images minus the austerity, it would fit Palomo's songs perfectly. With a live show reminiscent of the otherworldly vibe of a Black Moth Super Rainbow performance, Neon Indian is a refreshingly memorable and powerful electro-psychedelic act.
the Northern Lights
3:15-4:15 p.m. Main Stage
With the most recent wave of neo-classic rock coming to the forefront with the popularity of bands like Kings of Leon, there has been no shortage of acts emulating '60s and '70s hard rock in all its forms. Jonathan Tyler & the Northern Lights aren't exactly reinventing that music, but the group's particular take on emphasizing the bluesy edge of rock and roll sounds credible rather than like a punched-up Blueshammer. Hailing from Dallas, Texas, and fronted, of course, by Jonathan Tyler, the Northern Lights have been making waves since debuting in 2007, thanks to their fiery live shows and Tyler's magnetic stage persona. Topping off the bluesy hard rock with a touch of soul, this act is kindred to rock-and-soul acts like the Bell Rays and Earl Greyhound, but these guys bring a sharp Southern flavor rather than the smoky grit of Detroit. Brash, bombastic and youthfully energetic, this is a band to keep your eye on.
2:30-3:00 p.m. Main Stage
Tickle Me Pink released its first EP, If Only We Were Twenty One and Up, in 2005, when its members were just out of high school. The band became popular in Fort Collins and quickly gained a following all along the Front Range over the course of the ensuing three years. After gaining the endorsement of KTCL, Wind-Up Records picked up the band and released its debut full-length, Madeline, on July 1, 2008. In a cruel twist of fate, that same date marked the untimely passing of talented bass player Johnny Schou. In the wake of this tragedy, the bandmembers recruited Joey Barba (Brotherhood of Dae Han) to join them in time for their 2008 tour with Hawthorne Heights. Lumped in with the whole "emo" thing of the past decade, Tickle Me Pink is more akin to the melodic punk rock of Hot Water Music. Pink's recently released EP, On Your Way Down, proves this band is far more than a one-hit wonder.
1:45-2:15 p.m. Main Stage
Sloan Anderson and Chris Depew, who had been playing music together since middle school, formed Single File sometime during their high-school years, as they were growing out of an early swing phase. Single File is what happens when a bratty, melodic pop-punk band gets serious — writing songs you'd actually want to listen to past your teenage years without losing the heightened emotional colorings that make those years so significant. In 2006, Single File's star began to rise with the popularity of its song "Zombies Ate My Neighbors," which received extensive spins on KTCL. Although the band eventually landed a major record deal, it wasn't a question of waiting to be discovered. These guys put out their early releases themselves and garnered a slot on the Warped Tour on their own. Not content with being merely a local band, Single File has shown that it's possible to break out of Denver on your own terms.
Varlet featuring Lilly Scott
1:00-1:30 p.m. Main Stage
Lilly Scott was born in Houston, Texas, but she has lived in Colorado since the age of four. This year, Scott was a contestant on the ninth season of American Idol, making it to the semi-final rounds before being eliminated. For the show, Scott toned down her experimental leanings, something she doesn't need to do with her band. Varlet, which formed in 2005 when Scott was just sixteen, straddles the divide between the freak folk of artists like Devendra Banhart and the more haunted end of blues singers like Billie Holliday. Joined by, among others, guitar wizard Cole Rudy of Wetlands and Vaughn McPherson (formerly of Oblio's Arrow), Scott has been writing songs that sound like they could have come out fifty years ago or just yesterday, informed by the ghosts of musical legends. With a new EP, cheekily titled I Win!, Scott probably will.
Oh My Stars
12:15-12:45 Main Stage
Like a punky Better Than Ezra without all the angst, Oh My Stars came together with a mutual interest in making hook-oriented modern rock. Though technically still an unsigned band, Oh My Stars has made quite a name for itself by breaking singles in cities outside its home town of Los Angeles — including this one. An upbeat anthem of anger at romantic betrayal, "Bloody November" spent six weeks at the top of KTCL's chart at the beginning of 2010.
10:30 p.m.-1:00 a.m. City Hall
Anyone with more than a passing familiarity with the history of rock and roll and R&B knows the importance of the unlikely locale of Muscle Shoals, Alabama. It was only a matter of time before a band would emerge from that milieu, rather than a noteworthy visitor turning out a landmark album from its famed studio. BoomBox started in that town in 2004, setting out to not taint its creative output by trying to play a specific style of rock. Consisting of Zion Godchaux on vocals and guitar and Russ Randolph on electronic instruments and turntables, BoomBox manages to bring together elements of improvisational rock composition, hip-hop and jazz for a sound that would be welcome at a hippie club or a more adventurous dance club.