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2011 Westword Music Showcase: Backbeat scribes' travelogues

Every year, we enlist our Backbeat writers to host various stages at the Westword Music Showcase, and in addition to their emcee obligations, we ask them to pull double duty and write up the acts that appear on their individual stages. Click through to read travelogues from Thorin Klosowski, Ru Johnson, A.H. Goldstein, Jon Solomon, Tom Murphy, Britt Chester and Cory Lamz.

Port Au Prince
Port Au Prince
Stephen Cummings

Things got started a bit late at Bar Standard due to some missing drums, but Port Au Prince ended up being a great way to start the day. The group's laid-back pop grooves got the audience ready for the rock that was soon to follow. A clear sound is starting to solidify from the band, and although there were a few hints of Astrophagus left in some of its songs, it's clear there's something new coming up here.

By the time FaceMan played, the crowd was already nice and warmed up and prepared to actually see a show in the early afternoon. The outfit wasn't able to bring in the giant head sculpture, which certainly takes away from the overall experience of seeing FaceMan, but the slower tone was a nice setup for what was about to come from the next few bands.

FaceMan
FaceMan
Stephen Cummings

Seeing Accordion Crimes in the middle of the afternoon is a bit weird, to say the least, but the band managed to kick the bar into overdrive pretty quickly with its Drive Like Jehu-styled rock. The crowd was totally into it, with a mass of people you wouldn't usually see at one of the act's shows getting their rock pants on and digging in. Still, people somewhat humorously kept a good distance between the stage and themselves.

To say Lion Sized destroyed it is a bit of an understatement -- they came ready to rock and delivered, and people responded accordingly. It can be a bit tough to get the energy to seriously annihilate a venue at two in the afternoon, but Lion Sized did it with style.

After a good old-fashioned name balk (thanks for being understanding, guys), Ideal Fathers delivered some serious rock in the form of short, fast songs perfectly suited for the mid-afternoon drinking binge that most of the crowd seemed to be taking part in. The band powered its way through the set and felt like a natural fit for everyone who stuck around to see them. There is something special about seeing people screaming in the afternoon, especially when there's a faux British accent mixed in there.

Gangcharger clearly takes a lot of its cues from Sonic Youth, which isn't a bad thing, and it was more transparent on some songs than others. That isn't just a statement on their overall sound, either; a lot of what the band was doing seemed to fit the ideal of '90s rock, from the whacked-out toys as instruments to the loops upon loops of feedback. The crowd seemed to appreciate it, too, with lots of head bobbing and a generally chill stage demeanor, which was a bit of a shock after seeing Ideal Fathers' energetic set.

Le Divorce
Le Divorce
Stephen Cummings

Almost out of nowhere, Bar Standard filled to the brim with people. By the time Le Divorce started, the venue was packed full of bodies sweating out a thick stench of a day full of booze. For its part, Le Divorce brought an energetic set that had people in the crowd bouncing around and even singing along to a few tunes. The band sounded solid, clearly reveling in the energy the crowd was putting out, which was, to say the least, exploding a bit.

Overcasters managed to play to a totally packed house and kept the crowd there. The group sounded solid, and a big portion of the crowd really appreciated the noiser rock they were dealing out. I half expected people to take off mid-way through for some reason, but people stuck around and kept the atmosphere alive and well -- and Overcasters were up to the challenge.

If you've seen the Photo Atlas, you know exactly what to expect, and the bulk of the crowd was clearly aware of what they were stepping into, because the second they started playing, Bar Standard sounded like a stadium show filled with screaming fans. It was rather impressive to see people summon the energy to dance at 6 p.m. after a day filled with music, and Photo Atlas was certainly into the idea of the whole thing and kept its energy up as well.

Snake Rattle Rattle Snake
Snake Rattle Rattle Snake
Stephen Cummings

This was Snake Rattle Rattle Snake's first real show with only one drummer, but it still managed to cull together an atmosphere that somehow evokes both witches in a forest and ass-shaking all at once. Thankfully, the crowded house at Bar Standard obliged and danced like it meant life or death. -- Thorin Klosowski

D'Girl
D'Girl
Stephen Cummings

At La Rumba, some of Denver's finest hip-hop artists danced, rapped and deejayed with all the passion and precision they could muster. D'Girl, a newer face in the scene, kicked things off just after noon. She breezed in wearing sky-high pink heels and gave it all she had with support from Jazmine Love and Myrical Child. A mix of sexy and street, she warmed up the stage quite nicely for Rie Rie, who blazed through her set with an offering from her young MC daughter.

Cavem MOEtavation -- with a little help from his friends the HighTops (Babah Fly and Panama Soweto) and Ill 7 of Isolated Generation -- turned in a performance that ended up being one of the day's highlights. It was a mix of revolutionary stature (Soweto covered his face and head while prominently displaying a copy of The Final Call) while Cavem rocked the microphone.

DJ Ktone
DJ Ktone
Stephen Cummings

In between MCs, DJ Ktone brought the ruckus with his DJ set. He rocked with poise and had the crowd jamming to the songs he selected. Beyond putting on a show, Ktone also deejayed for Innerstate Ike and provided impromptu technical support on several occasions.

All of the DJs showed out and showed off, though: Prime Element's Es-Nine rocked a fly producer's set, while Cysko Rokwel brought everyone to the dance floor and kept them there during his time on the wheels. Vajra, meanwhile, did what he does best and had the crowd in awe of his skills and enthusiastic of his song choices.

Spoke In Wordz
Spoke In Wordz
Stephen Cummings

Midas, choosing to switch it up a bit, brought out a drummer whose swagger was turned up to a thousand as he backed Midas for hits like "Run My Town." Midas rapped and postured and had a very awesome set overall. DJ Chonz and Spoke In Wordz proved that once again, their chemistry cannot be denied, as Spoke charmed the entire place. Another DJ/MC collaboration that always rocks the house was Mane Rok and DJ Tense. Mane's voice could probably be heard from blocks away as he roared through his set and brought the house down.

Innerstate Ike
Innerstate Ike
Stephen Cummings

Innerstate Ike brought Wil Guice out for his performance, and the joint "I Luv My Hood" was another highlight of the entire day. Prime Element kept it super hip-hop as both Es-Nine and Cysko took the stage again joined by A.V.I.U.S and offered up the head-nodding, party-rocking sounds the trio is known for.

Haven, an MC who never disappoints, got busy on the solo tip and brought the noise before his fellow Jewell Tyme affiliate King FOE and Kid Hum closed out the night. This year's showcase proved that not only is hip-hop alive and well in Denver, but that these folks do it for the love of the game, and each and every one of them smashed it. Fucking swag. -- Ru Johnson

Glowing House
Glowing House
Brian Landis Folkins

The stage at Curious Theatre offered another dimension to this year's Music Showcase, both for its hosted bands and its intimate, immediate feel.

The duo Glowing House headed the lineup, kicking off their set at noon with paired harmonies, pleading vocals and plaintive guitar lines. Drummer Patrick Kline was absent, so the set was guided by the chemistry between guitarist Steve Varney and pianist Jess Parsons. They explained to the still small crowd that they were newbies to the Denver scene, but the understated folk dynamic and heartfelt lyrics of the group fit in well with the acts that were to follow.

The Radical Knitting Circle's following set at 12:45 offered a more frenzied, insistent take on the folky foundation set by Glowing House. The band's mix of styles and sounds was definitely ambitious - echoes of artists like Andrew Bird came through, as did hints of American folk and even some whiffs of polka. The band's gleeful use of distorted keyboards and crazed vocals added prog textures and crazed contours to these foundations, however. As the day wore on and more audience members begin to stream into the theater, the added volume and energy seemed fitting.

The Radical Knitting Circle's manic energy proved a good preview for Pink Hawks, a large ensemble that fused world-music cues with a punk-rock kind of energy. Songs with repeating horn lines and driving rhythms seemed to span ten minutes; the twelve-piece band's set had the feel of a tribal drum circle at times, as all of the players repeated short lyrical phrases over driving beats. The effect was contagious. Audience members started streaming to the front of the stage to dance, and the enthusiasm bled into the Raven and the Writing Desk's set, which started at 2:15.

Fronted by keyboardist and vocalist Julia Libassi, the band offered an expansive, rich sound that was full enough to stand up next to Pink Hawk's driving, compelling set. In place of the driving, danceable rhythms of Pink Hawks, however, The Raven and the Writing Desk offered a more meditative sound. Loping 2/2 cadences and measured, haunting lyrics replaced the driving dance party of the previous band.

Dovekins
Dovekins
Brian Landis Folkins

The following two acts were highlights of the Curious lineup and fully took advantage of the theater's intimate feel and warm acoustics. The room was packed when Dovekins took the stage at 3 p.m., and the outfit's mix of folk and roots cues didn't disappoint. The group offered tunes from last year's album, Assemble the Aviary, as well as newer numbers that appear on a live album released earlier this month. Laura Goldhamer was as compelling as always on banjo and vocals, and Griff Synder's guitar work and lead vocals hinted at more compelling work to come from the group. The band's rapport with the crowd was solid throughout the entire set; dancers were a constant presence at the front of the stage.

The buzz in the crowd didn't dissipate with the end of Dovekins' set. As Achille Lauro took the stage, there was the feel of a pinnacle in the room. The rest of the day would offer some highlights, but it was hard to escape the feel that this was the acme of the lineup at Curious. Achille Lauro tapped into that energy to present new material, playing one tune from their EP Indiscretions before launching into a set of brand-new songs. The new tunes bore the trademark stamp of the group -- danceable, rich and intriguing. Matt Close's vocals seem to have evolved since last year's appearance on the same stage; the pithy phrases and vocal lines have gained in grace and effect.

Achille Lauro
Achille Lauro
Brian Landis Folkins

Following the high octane feel and audience participation of the Dovekins and Achille Lauro's sets, Caleb Slade offered a much more understated feel. Alone at his piano, Slade sang to a slightly emptied room, offering raw vocals and insistent piano lines. Between tunes that dealt with everything from heartbreak to the casualties of World War I, Slade chatted briefly with audience members, marveling at the intimate scope and layout of the venue. He also hinted that this would be one of his final solo performances, pointing to a new collaboration with a bigger band.

John Common & Blinding Flashes of Light helped pick up the pace following Slade's solo set. Like Achille Lauro, the band seemed to have developed by leaps and bounds since last year. Common's guitar playing sounded more refined and his vocals seemed more measured. Daren Hahn's drumming was consistently explosive and nuanced, while Wes Michaels's cello added a captivating texture to Common's forceful vocals and folky guitar. As always, Jess De Nicola served as Common's ideal vocal complement, punctuating vocal lines with a force and subtle beauty that added dimensions to the music.

A Tom Collins
A Tom Collins
Brian Landis Folkins

A. Tom Collins brought a level of zaniness back to the stage, picking up on earlier cues offered by the Pink Hawks and Radical Knitting Circle. Once again, folksy foundations found a supplement in driving beats and frenzied vocals. Following the more serious tone of John Common & Blinding Flashes of Light, an ambience that could have fit in a stadium, A. Tom Collins's energy and dynamism made Curious feel like a small venue again.

The Centennial's final set at 6:45 seemed to draw different elements from earlier in the day, mixing the more poppy sounds of acts like Common with the immediate, intimate feel of outfits like The Raven and the Writing Desk. Patrick Meese has come a long way as a vocalist since Meese. His plaintive vocals seemed less self-indulgent and more direct, and the rest of the band followed his example with a sound that seemed more honed and directed.

The Centennial
The Centennial
Brian Landis Folkins

While the atmosphere at Curious Theatre shifted from participatory to understated through the day, it stood as a unique forum in this year's Showcase. The former church and current theater's intimate feel and layout seemed to stand as a haven from the rest of the bars and outdoor stages of the festival. Whether the bands were playing raucous dance-alongs or measured, meditative solo sets, the stage and the room felt ideal. It made me wonder why the theater only hosts music once a year. -- A.H. Goldstein

Love Royale
Love Royale
Brandon Marshall

While there wasn't a huge crowd for Love Royale's set, which was the first of the day at Dazzle, it didn't get in the way of the band delivering a solid set of electro soul grooves. Headed up by singer Larrabee and bassist Kyle Jones, the quintet dug into some tunes from its latest effort, Love Letters, including the slinky, reggae-tinged "Give It to Me" and riding out the set with the steady rocking "Sundress." While the group's original material can no doubt stand on its own, Larrabee and company also busted out a spirited take on the Cee-Lo hit "Fuck You."

People started trickling in while Boa & the Constrictors were setting up for their 1:15 set. Fronted by singer and guitarist Erik Boa, the quartet delved into a thoroughly energetic set of blues. Boa introduced the second tune by saying it was about the meanest woman in Colorado that he read about in Westword. As with nearly all of the tunes in the set, both Boa and Dan Treanor, who's a hell of a harmonica player, tore it up during their solos. Later, the band turned out Jimmy Reed's "High and Lonesome" and injected some funk into Little Walter's "Tell Me Mama," before slowing it down on Jimmy Witherspoon's "Some of My Best Friends Are the Blues" and picking back up near the end of the set with Little Walter's "Up the Line."

The Aakash Mittal Quartet
The Aakash Mittal Quartet
Brandon Marshall

The Aakash Mittal Quartet opened its Eastern Indian-tinged jazz set with "Billu," from Mittal's debut album, Possible Beginnings. While somewhat slow and meditative for the most part, with drummer Josh Moore playing the snare with his hands at times, there were sections where Mittal and guitarist Matt Fuller played fast unison lines. In the few years since Mittal released the disc, the alto saxophonist has really refined his chops and grown as a player. Mittal and his quartet have recently been working with trumpeter Ron Miles as a quintet. While Miles wasn't at the gig, the group played four new songs, including "Dissymmetry," which featured a stellar solo by Fuller. Bassist Jean-Luc Davis also did some fine work on the following cut, which started out as a ballad and then blasted off into a vigorous odd-tempo groove.

While some members of Greg Harris's quintet couldn't make the Dazzle gig, Harris brought the outstanding percussionist Ido Ziv and guitarist Matt Fuller, who ended up playing with three groups in a row. Starting off with a guitar loop, Fuller then played some African blues licks a la Ali Farka Toure, while Harris played the box drum and Ziv played the djembe. After playing the next tune on a gyil -- a type of West African xylophone with gourds underneath -- Harris explained that the instrument was not tuned to Western tuning, which is why Fuller played percussion on the song. While the percussion-heavy West African-tinged set was quite different than the Vibe Quintet's jazzy grooves, the trio definitely had the packed room engaged.

Ninth and Lincoln
Ninth and Lincoln
Brandon Marshall

Lead by Tyler Gilmore, Ninth and Lincoln closed out the Dazzle stage with Gilmore's arrangement of the World War II-era standard "I'll Be Seeing You," from the group's latest effort, Static Line, which was just released nationally last week. With a twelve-piece group, which is sometimes larger on some shows, the modern big band performed a number of cuts from the new album, including Gilmore's stellar arrangement of the standard "We'll Meet Again," with superb soprano solo Wil Swindler, and Gilmore's composition "Aachen," which featured trumpeter John Lake. While most of the songs were taken from the outstanding Static Line, the group also did a captivating take on Norwegian singer-songwriter Hanne Hukkelberg's "Do Not as I Do." -- Jon Solomon

Sauna
Sauna
Stephen Cummings

Apparently the heroic show schedule Sauna has kept up the last few months has paid off, because the act seemed incredibly confident and tight as a group. Its charming surf /garage rock blended with spiky lilting pop structures was reminiscent of early B-52's or even Pylon, when the band used staccato vocals and short, stabbing guitar riffs. The real surprise, in terms of songs performed in the set, came with a new song in which Molly Barton and Samantha Davis did a duet on lyrics that articulated a tender yet delicately defiant heartsickness that went beyond anything like a typical pop song.

The Safe Boating Is No Accident guys couldn't do their usual comedy/performance art thing alongside the music due to time constraints, but they made up for it with a lively performance. Alex Trujillo put in some great, tasteful, bluesy solo work on electric guitar, while Leighton Peterson, Neil McCormick and Zay Alejandro Dicamara Rios played and sang like their lives depended on it. Toward the end of the set, Peterson put on sunglasses and looked a bit like a young Hunter S. Thompson as he sang a song that we were told took its lyrics from spam bots. But those lyrics had nothing on the band's originals, which, for the most part, contained some of the mostly wrongly dark words being put together with music today.

Vitamins
Vitamins
Stephen Cummings

Matt Daniels had to be out of town for this show, so Vitamins recruited Luke Mossman and Jonathan Evans from Achille Lauro to fill in on guitar and bass, respectively. No one could replace Daniels, but Mossman and Evans did their level best to shine as the rest of the band performed songs from its last two releases, as well as some newer material, including a song that was akin to the "Würm" section of "Starship Trooper" by Yes, but not as tripped out. Late in the set, Evans was screaming, clearly swept up in the moment, as Crawford Philleo was the entire time. Evans's cries made the whole show seem that much more exciting, and even Ryan Ellison, normally calm and collected on stage, joined his bandmates in the frenzy of the freakout section of the final number.

Deidre Sage told us this whole event felt like the beginning of summer. Then she and the rest of the Kissing Party went into "Commit a Tiny Crime Together" and sounded better than ever. One of the things that makes this band so entertaining is Sage's often hilariously awkward and occasionally transgressive stage banter and the playful in-fighting at the beginning of songs. Even when they seem like they're falling apart as a band on stage, with Gregg Dolan's sometimes Lou Reed-esque inscrutability and Sage's girlish bluster, there is a core of unmitigated purity to the songwriting and the lyrics that can't be diminished with mere stage antics. And for their part, Joe Hansen, Lee Evans and Shane Reid are good at holding things together while Sage and Dolan provide the drama.

Amazing Twin started its set with a song that sounded a lot like something Elvis Costello might have written had his career started twenty years later and he'd never heard anyone like him beforehand. But the band went well beyond any kind of power-pop sort of thing with its use of noisy electronics and dynamic intensity.

Although Hindershot shared much of the lineup of Amazing Twin -- switching out Chris Durant for John Fate on drums, adding Spencer Alred on guitar and Jesse Livingston on synth and keytar -- the songwriting is driven by lead singer Stuart Confer, who at one point joked about how they were transitioning into a cover band to make some real money. When the band played "Lipstick," by Alesha, its version was legit, but Hindershot's originals -- which put a more experimental spin on technicolor psychedelic pop -- sounded every bit as good, if not better, particularly on tunes like "It's Only Blood."

Lil Slugger
Lil Slugger
Stephen Cummings

Lil Slugger's Joey Wiley started the show wearing a yellow hat with the word "BUTT" sewed into the front with white letters, as the band got going into its sometimes jittery, often fragmented hybrid of off-kilter, Beefheartian melodies. The absurdity of such a sight somehow made sense, even amid Wiley's non-melodic, staccato and shouted vocals. Fundamentally, music like this shouldn't work, unless the players have learned how to play truly bizarre music together, and these guys have. The rhythms were like something out of free jazz transplanted uncomfortably but perfectly into pop songs. Lil Slugger never ended any song in a conventional manner. Each tune often culminated with frayed ends rather than trying to tie things up neatly.

Even though the band looked like a bunch of goth/black metal scene exiles with the black face paint, Night of Joy played music that recalled an even more savage Gang of Four. On "John Candy" and the Dead Kennedys-esque "Marge Simpson," two densely constructed, dark but bouncy post-punk numbers, the outfit made it seem like that style of music hadn't been done to death in New York a decade ago. Along with the rest of the band's material, Night of Joy had a great balance of the harrowing and the buoyantly melodic, pushed into hectic territory by the group's rhythm section and Valerie Franz's frenetic, freewheeling guitar style.

Night of Joy
Night of Joy
Stephen Cummings

This wasn't the full lineup of Hot White. With Tiana Bernard and Darren Kulback unable to make this show, Kevin Wesley showed up, borrowed the guitar being used by Valerie from Night of Joy and played a surprisingly unironic set of originals and covers. Wesley has a real gift for edgy melancholia and stream-of-consciousness lyrics, and those abilities were on full display here. And his ability to absorb music and reconstitute it to suit his aesthetic was impressive, as heard in his covers of Flipper's "(I Saw You) Shine" and Weezer's "El Scorcho" and "Jamie." A set that was a testament to what you can do with just your voice and a guitar if you have the imagination, talent and intensity.

Kristi Schaefer started off Hideous Men's set with some humorously awkward stage banter, which was matched by cohort Ryan McRyhew. But it's the kind of awkwardness that makes you forget to watch yourself so much. It's a nice trick, and an appropriate intro to a duo that makes experimental electronic music accessible without losing any of its outsider edge. It's music created to remind people not to worry so much about fitting in and embrace the core of their existence instead. The shifting soundscapes in "Tangled" and Grey Eyes" and all of the band's songs bubble with effervescent textures even when taking on melancholy topics. The Arabian Prince-esque electronic bass filled the room and made you feel like you were in a world with denser air than what you're used to, but not uncomfortably so. When the set ended, it felt like we had all come back to earth cleansed of the little demons that plague us all, even if only for those moments righter after the music ended. The day at Broadways couldn't have ended on a better note. -- Tom Murphy

Whiskey Tango.
Whiskey Tango.
Photo by Britt Chester.

City Hall Amphitheater hosted more bands than any other venue at the Westword Music Showcase this year. The street-level stage saw the likes of Wheelchair Sports Camp, the Food Chain, Air Dubai, Fresh Breath Committee and more, while the amphitheater held down the acoustic side of things with an open roof and three tiers of seating.

Whiskey Tango was the first band to take the stage at City Hall at noon. The doors had barely opened by the time they started, so the staff got an intimate performance from the six-piece group.

Diamond Boiz.
Diamond Boiz.
Photo by Britt Chester.

Diamond Boiz were bringing the heads in at street level, but their set didn't have the same pizzazz as their Thursday show at the Otherside. Dyalekt and the guys were just as energetic, but the filling venue hall was just getting acquainted with early-afternoon beers and loud hip-hop.

Potcheen.
Potcheen.
Photo by Britt Chester.

Potcheen's lead fiddle opened up its set a few minutes late, but for the most part, things stayed on track in the amphitheater for the entire day. Some small delays occurred up on the main floor, but again, most of the bands and artists played when scheduled. The amphitheater filled with the fiddle and folk music coming from below the street, with the second and third balconies starting to see some people. Potcheen played a low-key set after the first track, a memorable melody, but the name escaped me at the time.

Something Underground was definitely the wake-up call at City Hall, raising the eyebrows of everyone who was walking past and entering into the venue. The guitarists took the opportunity to speed things up, getting people on their feet and pulling more and more bodies down to the floor.

Wheelchair Sports Camp.
Wheelchair Sports Camp.
Photo by Britt Chester.

Wheelchair Sports Camp tore up the street level stage around 1 p.m., but the sound in that room seemed a little hit-or-miss -- and they were missing on the first portion of Kalyn Heffernen's vocals. B Money was scratching on the tables, and the drums and saxophone were spot-on, but the vocals were difficult to separate. The intense heat was soothed by the saxophone, which, to me, stole the whole set.

Back down below, the Big Motif were keeping things steady, playing off the energy of previous set from Something Underground. At this point, the sun was directly overheard the open rooftop amphitheater, and I felt like an ant under the magnifying glass of some torturous punk kid. Waters from here on out. After this beer.

The Foot.
The Foot.
Photo by Britt Chester.

The Foot took over the stage around 3 p.m. and absolutely raged the thirty-minute time slot. A suit-clad, fedora-sporting redhead was wondering around the crowd at this point, only to walk up on stage and introduce himself and the band as Musketeer Gripweed just after the Foot finished. They didn't need much introduction and got off quickly into a fast-paced jam. The fedora'd front man sat next to box full of harmonicas, but alas, I didn't get to enjoy them, because I was making my way up to the street-level stage to witness the Pirate Signal and BLKHRTS.

The street-level stage was about 3/4 full by this point thanks to the MTHDS and BLKHRTS was about to take over. There was some sort of delay at this stage -- it seemed some of the later artists were a few minutes behind those scheduled simultaneously in the amphitheater -- which was good for me. BLKHRTS were all over the stage, and Yonnas Abraham was hanging the microphone above his head in no time.

Boulder Acoustic Society.
Boulder Acoustic Society.
Photo by Britt Chester

Making my way back down to the acoustic stage, Boulder Acoustic Society was finishing up and the Kinetix were about to come bring the sound. I was scheduled elsewhere at the venue -- specifically, over at the main stage to cover Del the Funky Homosapien -- but I heard Pirate Signal and the Kinetix both played their hearts out. From then on, I caught Del and then headed to Red Rocks for Bassnectar. -- Britt Chester

My Body Sings Electric was one of many bands to play Stoney's on Saturday.
My Body Sings Electric was one of many bands to play Stoney's on Saturday.
Eric Gruneisen.

Bigwheel Electrosoul kicked off the Westword Music Showcase at Stoney's Bar & Grill. Letting their instruments speak for themselves, Dameion Hines and crew killed it with their set -- which, despite no live vocals, was two parts funky, one part fresh and with a whole lotta soul thrown in for good measure. Although their first few songs were showcases of musicianship, it wasn't until their last song, a cover of Michael Jackson's "Rock With You," that the guys in Bigwheel Electrosoul really found their groove. Too bad most of the Showcasers didn't start making their way to Stoney's until the end of the set.

Flashbulb Fires, a more mellowed-out rock outfit, then took over Stoney's and changed the atmosphere entirely -- switching the tone to rock for the remainder of the day. The sometimes folky-, sometimes country-tinged rock Flashbulb Fires offered up garnered even more of a crowd, and by the end of the set, the guys really fed off the audience's energy -- not surprising, since it was lunchtime, after all. Late lunch bonus: Showcase was the first time Flashbulb Fires had played a show since November 2010, and the band's new stuff was spectacular.

Traitors to the Queen, a brand-spanking-new Denver band who graced Showcasers with its first performance ever this weekend, had really generated a buzz before their set. More people were pouring in to Stoney's by now -- I'd say upwards of seventy or so -- to hear history in the making. Traitors to the Queen's performance was strong, and the songs had a harder, rockier edge to them than their Stoney's predecessors. The only disappointment was that the vocals just weren't loud enough to be audible for the thirty-minute duration (thanks, in large part, to a fried stage amp).

Trader secret: Take to the Oars almost didn't make it to Stoney's in time for their set. I was physically preparing myself to go on stage in the band's place (leg, arm and neck stretches), plug some sponsors (as was my duty as emcee) and do an Irish jig to keep the crowd around. Thank god TTTO showed up, though, because these guys really know how to perform -- they engaged with the crowd better than any dance or stand-up I could offer up. Take to the Oars' "Learning To Breathe" was the standout, but each song held its own.

By 3 p.m., the people just kept pouring into Stoney's. Even so, the place still didn't feel cramped like some of the other venues (I managed to check out a few other bands ever so briefly at other locations in between emcee duties and rocking out to the bands at Stoney's). Even better, the sound carried throughout -- above the buzz of conversation -- despite the stage's location on the northernmost side of the venue. It seemed like those Showcasers who came to rock were as close to the stage-side as they could get; those who came for the drink specials or to mingle went to the opposite side of Stoney's; and others yet spent their time on the sidewalk patio. Luckily, Stoney's managed to cater to everyone. Props to Stoney and crew for doing so well in covering such a large area and making sure everyone -- and I mean everyone at this point -- was either enjoying a drink or an order of Stoney's Sliders.

Vices I Admire.
Vices I Admire.
Eric Gruneisen.

The on-stage amp was still struggling to function at this point, as was one of the stage monitors now, but neither seemed to affect any of the following band's performances, particularly Vices I Admire. "Kiss Kiss" was especially memorable, and it was clear Vices I Admire was on a mission to melt the still-functioning amps with their heavy riffs and snappy drums.

Imagine a harder version of "Mr. Brightside"-era the Killers and you have Young Cities, the next band that absolutely destroyed it at Stoney's. By Young Cities' second song, Stoney's was flooded with people. The open floor space was suddenly no longer so open -- you had to weave in and out of clusters of people just to go a few feet. Maybe it was the happy-hour specials, but I will testify that it was Young Cities' guitar and drums interplay that really drew the crowd.

It was now 4:30 p.m. and hundreds of people were in attendance, the temperature within Stoney's was considerably higher (thank you, body heat) and the bands were in no need of an emcee. I would go on stage, mention the sponsors and a few drink specials and then let the bands play as long as their time slot allowed, minimizing my time on stage and maximizing theirs. Give the people what they want, I always say.

The sassy, punk strut of the four-piece band Boys subscribed to a similar philosophy. Stoney's turned into a full-blown rawk fest when Boys' performance of "Gossip" hit the chorus; nearly all of the northern stage side of the venue was fixated on one thing: the thrilling rush of Boys' set. Brash, loud and awesome, it was hard to believe that Boys -- fronted by a girl, mind you -- got its start in the Denver music scene just a year ago. The great thing about Kyle Simmons was her captivating on-stage persona vocals, and oh, that voice -- equal parts sugar and spice, it was as if Cherie Currie and Gwen Stefani were duetting on the stage.

Della.
Della.
Eric Gruneisen.

Also fronted by a female, Della thrilled the hordes of people at Stoney's. With vocal stylings both gritty and feminine, singer Amanda Hawkins pulled on your heart strings in all the right ways. What sucked, though, was that when Hawkins was finished pulling, it seemed like a lot of people left Stoney's for the main stage instead. Oh, well. They missed quite the performances from My Body Sings Electric and Monroe Monroe, two more local bands poised for a big future -- and I say "more" because I would bet that, with the right promotion, all of the bands that performed at Stoney's on Saturday will be bigger than Denver someday. Here's hoping. -- Cory Lamz


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