Christian missionaries have long believed that of the many requirements that must be met on the road to salvation, converting the savage masses is pretty high on the list. Slim Cessna's Auto Club -- whose lyrical preoccupation with the Good Book can be viewed as either a stern insistence on staying in character or a genuine spiritual reckoning -- seems poised to do some converting of its own with the release of Always Say Please and Thank You, which hit stores in Denver on Tuesday and goes nationwide next week. Please and Thank You comes bearing the stamp of Jello Biafra's Alternative Tentacles label -- as well as the Auto Club's trademark blend of Hank Williams ("In My Arms Once Again"), pseudo-spiritual hymns ("Water into Wine") and apocalyptic wailing ("Unto the Day," recorded live at the Bluebird), delivered with an equal mix of hillbilly abandon and exacting musicianship.
So while the Auto Club -- which in its current incarnation includes Dwight Pentecost, Munly, Dan Grandbois, Ordy and John Rumley -- has long been regarded as one of Denver's gems (despite the fact that Slim relocated to Rhode Island last year, he's still in town often enough to retain his local status), you have to wonder how the uninitiated crowds the band encounters on its current tour with 16 Horsepower will react to a curious group of country bumpkins with a punk bend singing songs about cigarettes and the end times. Apparently, Slim is wondering the same thing.
"We've never played outside of Denver," says Cessna. "We've been playing here for so long that sometimes I don't think people notice when we go through changes or whatever. The band is just playing together so well right now. We've had a few positive reviews of the record so far from publications outside Colorado. But it will be interesting to see how new people react to it."
Of course, the Alternative Tentacles endorsement can't hurt. Biafra offered to release the album back in January when it was still in the recording stage. Ironically, the offer followed a showcase of local bands for Capitol Records that Biafra attended and that Slim headlined. "We thought it was kind of funny because we knew there was no way we would ever get signed to Capitol," he says. "Instead, Biafra asked if he could put out our record. Of course, we said yes immediately."
Though the label has long been associated primarily with punk sounds, Always Say Please and Thank You has received an unusually vigorous push from AT, which secured its national distribution and hired the locally based promotions company Fanatic (which handles promo duties for pop labels like Kindercore) to mastermind the promotional campaign. So far, Cessna says, the band couldn't be happier with the relationship.
Judging by the thirteen-track disc, the good vibes are warranted. Let's hope the good people of America see the light.
Ted "Helmethead" Koppel clearly had no idea what he was doing last week. His thirty-minute late-night news program, Nightline, hosted a three-part series -- which combined for a whopping hour and a half, before commercial breaks -- to figuring out this thing called hip-hop and then explaining it to a TV nation whose cultural literacy comes courtesy of major media networks. Throughout the series, Koppel and ABC News correspondent Robert Krulwich (who seemed to feel he deserved some sort of military decoration after riding to and from a problematic club gig with Jay-Z and his handlers) said things like, "It's hard to imagine that this music has any long-term value" and "Many people find this music offensive, even terrifying" without the slightest inkling of the brilliant samples they were giving to the genre's more subversive DJs. No doubt it's only a matter of time before Koppel and Krulwich's square and superficial cultural musings -- delivered with a stiffness normally associated with flatulent corpses -- are wedged between the rhymes on the next Kool Keith record. Backwash, for one, can hardly wait.
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Locally, hip-hop's introduction to the TV airwaves has been a tad more smooth. Last week, DCTV Channel 57/AT&T Cable launched Mile-High-Livax, a new hip-hop show that will air every Thursday night from 10:30 to 11 p.m. The program, which is sponsored by the Colorado Hip-Hop Coalition and the Colorado Music Association, is produced by local A/V guru Joseph Lyon; Lyon describes the shows as an effort to "present expressions of the Movement by the Movement from within the Movement rather than the scrutiny-from-without approach as played by other media." (Take that, Koppel!)
Mile-High-Livax's premiere episode featured live footage of rapper Q-Burse working the crowd at the Calypso Beach Club in Five Points (which has begun hosting hip-hop events every Friday night). Future episodes promise appearances by Apostle, Future Reference, Koru and nGoma, as well as footage of local hip-hop heads in various modes of community activism. Though the audio on the footage is sometimes muddy, making it difficult to decipher the MCs' words, Mile-High-Livax is a nice piece of visual evidence for those who keep insisting that hip-hop in Colorado is no joke. Paired with Lyon's penchant for camera trickery (slow-mo, reverse negative imagery, intensified spectral effects), the program has a fluidity and an in-the-moment feel that captures aspects of hip-hop's essence in a way that an aged talking head never could.
Speaking of nGoma, the excellent duo of local MCs Robert Woolfolk and Maurice Smith releases its new CD, Do U Know?, on Friday, September 15, at Basura Restaurant at 14th and Market streets in LoDo. The choice of venue is not the gig's only unusual attribute: In addition to regular DJs G and Dijon, Smith and Woolfolk will be joined on stage by a live three-piece band, including a bassist, drummer and keyboardist. You nGo now...Also on the local-release front, United Dope Front releases Constant Elevation, its second full-length recording, in a special show at the Fox Theatre on Thursday, September 14. The recording shows a sophistication only hinted at on the band's debut, Sexual Chocolate Experiment, with a deft fusion of jazzy dance music for the head and the dance floor that is, dare we indulge the pun, pretty dope...Of course, if you'd prefer to remain seated, there's always Spinal Tap, which began a limited engagement at movie theaters across our great city last weekend. (The soundtrack, incidentally, has just been re-released by Universal Music Group.) Smell the love.