Good people of Denver, Backwash would like to reintroduce you to Mike Colin, the former leader of proto-punk/funk locals Phantazmorgasm (later Phantasmorgasm), who respectfully bowed out of the local scene roughly two years ago. Before doing so, the multi-instrumentalist and producer oversaw some of the area's more original and definition-defying works with bands like The Acoustifuxx, Cactus Marco, Lo-Tek and The Family of Noise -- a collection of projects whose disparate sounds excited some while confusing and pissing off others. (The Acoustifuxx's witty, rootsy tomfoolery, for example, had little in common with the roving instrumental jazzisms of Lo-Tek.) While the projects reflected Colin's own penchant for eclecticism, he says his sprawling body of work also mirrored a somewhat fractured psyche.
"Much of that work was fueled by an almost-seven-year binge where I was constantly messed up on drugs," Colin, now clear-eyed at 29, says frankly. "I realized one day that I was pissing people off and hurting their feelings. I realized that club owners don't really like it when you show up drunk and yell things at their crowd from the stage. But it was all part of a learning process. I like the music that we did then. It's all good. But I feel more stable now, like a fully formed person. I'm ready to take what I learned in the '90s and apply it in a more mature and focused way."
That's something Colin has apparently done with Oblio Music (obliomusic.com), an online record label that was officially launched with the fall releases of six Colin-centric recordings, one from each of the aforementioned bands, plus his self-titled Functional Skitzophrenia. Although he'd originally conceived of the project as a seven-disc set to be released as one genre-shifting whole (at one point, the working title was Big Mike: Anger and Heartbreak, 1991-1997), Colin decided to release the discs individually as both a concession to music-industry realities ("I shopped the idea around, but no one bought it," he says) and a way to explore the mechanisms behind online labels. Rather than pressing X number of copies of any one release, Oblio will burn individual CD-R copies for paying customers on demand. The effect, Colin says, works to keep costs down for both music buyers and producers while keeping the focus pure.
"The downside is that the packaging and all that is not very elaborate. We kind of skimp there," he says. "But how many times have you bought a CD with great packaging, and the music just sucks? I think our fanbase understands that. We're not trying to conquer the teen market. We're trying to make good songs available to people who want them."
Buyers no doubt understand economy. A typical Oblio CD release will cost $6, postage paid, with a cassette option for hardcore spendthrifts. And in coming months, Colin says the artist roster will extend to artists both in and outside Colorado; already tentatively slated for spring release are recordings by Vivid Imagination, Bob Tiernan, D-Town Brown, Colin's new project Empathy and Ratiocination (with whom he plays bass).
Welcome back, Big Mike.
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Neil Young's performances at Red Rocks last week had very little to do with emergent technologies (though the vibraphone setup was pretty impressive). Hell, Neil and his mates -- who included wife Pegi and sister Astrid on backing vocals and former Booker T. and the MG's (and Blues Brothers) bassist Donald "Duck" Dunn, looking like a cross between Bad Motherfucker-era Samuel L. Jackson and the beloved, departed painter Bob Ross -- could clearly not give a damn about playing anything other than the unapologetically unadorned rock and roll that Young has perfected over his long career. Which seemed fine with the audience -- a biomass so large that people were literally sitting in trees to gain the best view.
Backwash caught night two of the three-show series on the Rocks, the first two of which sold out shortly after tickets went on sale last month. Throughout the twenty-song set -- which included an electric "Helpless," an elongated "Words (Between the Lines of Age)" and a foreboding "Tonight's the Night," with Young on piano -- it was clear that while Young isn't the type to let audience desires dictate his choice of tunes, he fared best when he gave 'em what they came for. So, yes, it was a happy crowd, a singing, hugging, dancing crowd. (It was also definitely a stoned crowd -- an omnipresent swirling smoke cloud provided evidence that the hip-hop scene has not completely taken over the spliff market.) But the audience was at its happiest when the singer resembled the guy on the T-shirt: Neil Young, the wild, nearly Neanderthalic Canadian tearing it up in a blaze of rock-and-roll fire.
Predictably, members of the critical gallery wasted no time slathering all sorts of midlife-crisis rhetoric onto the show afterward, citing Young's ability to restore one's faith in music -- possibly employing the exact template used for Springsteen's shows at the Pepsi Center earlier this year. Yet "faith" implies hope for the future, not a reliance on great works of the past. Young is a legend, naturally, which sometimes gets in the way of honest discussions of what he's up to now. Silver & Gold, his full-length released in April -- which sold modestly and garnered lukewarm reviews -- is a fine record, but just that: a fairly middle-of-the-road offering that suggests Young has become content to rely on the pleasant, lilting formula he nailed on Harvest Moon. When Young did offer tunes from the record (the moderately shmaltzy "Buffalo Springfield Revisited" and "Razor Love"), it was beer time, pee time and chat time for many.
Young is still a vital performer. He can still sing and play. He's present and accounted for. He is still -- almost effortlessly -- one of the coolest people in North America. Yet to view him as The One who's gonna pull us out of some perceived musical quagmire is to do a disservice to the forward-looking artists whose careers are being defined by the music they are making now. Sure, Britney Spears may have some people fearing an artistic apocalypse. But they said the same thing about Karen Carpenter, who was stinking up the charts around the same time a young Neil Young was ripping the American musical consciousness a new A-hole. The hope, then, is that some kid left one of last week's shows, went home, wrote a song on his guitar, recorded it, stored it in his computer, and is just...about...ready to do the same.