Courtney Love spent the better part of last week testifying on behalf of her band, Hole, arguing that bands that sign with major labels are often held captive by creatively stifling contracts. Love's own deal with Warner Bros., the one she's currently angling to exit, requires Hole to produce five albums in five years. (For that reason alone, we can only hope the jury sees things her way and spares us all the misery.) Love's argument centers on the notion that in these tempestuous times, in which just a few corporate behemoths control the majority of what the public hears and what artists do, musicians need to be free to explore other ways to make their living and their art.
Good ol' Courtney (a much more engaging speaker than singer, in many ways) talked a lot about opportunities created by the Web that allow artists to eschew the traditional route of living at a label's beck and call forevermore. But plenty of artists have taken things a step further, giving up the conventional music-industry trappings altogether -- including the notion that you must have a band in order to make music.
This week's Critic's Choice (page 112), for example, highlights the travails of Captured! By Robots, the adopted moniker of a poor soul who tried to forge a solo career only to become enslaved by the very computer equipment he'd acquired to fill the gap created by absent bandmates. Denver is already the proud host to one of the strangest one-man bands going: Trace "Rock" Christensen, who prefers to share the stage with tape machines and blow-up dolls rather than wrangle with unreliable bandmates. And then there is Man, aka Matthew McGuire, who just might be the area's first performer to earnestly tout himself as a one-man punk band. Armed with little more than a kick drum (stomped on, mostly, with his feet), a very loud bass and a microphone (to transmit McGuire's "distorted...existential rantings"), Man is a singular force of nature -- a sight to behold for the novelty, yes, but also an act worth listening to. Beneath the angsty, aggressive lyrics, there's a musical core of melody and rhythm -- elements that provide the foundation for most punk-rock songwriting but are sometimes buried beneath a wall of noise.
McGuire is a Denver transplant by way of Detroit; he did time with an outfit called Forehead Stew before dropping that "burdensome band" and starting his solo project. Back in the Motor City, McGuire recorded one full-length CD with producer Al Sutton (who's engineered albums for Big Chief, Don Caballero and Robert Bradley's Backwater Surprise) that has never seen the light of the CD press; the material can be downloaded via mp3.com/man. Although McGuire has been in Denver for roughly two years now, his local performances have been sporadic and often thoroughly odd -- partially because of the logistical difficulty of handling everything himself.
"As a solo act, it's not easy finding the time and inspiration to write songs, rehearse, book tours, promote, self-manage and work full-time to finance it all," he says. Not one to miss the silver lining, McGuire adds, "However, that frustration provides a good source of rage."
Man performs Thursday, May 17, at the 15th Street Tavern with Black Strip Sonic and the Prescription.
The time has come: The Westword Music Showcase takes over the 1900 block of Market Street on Sunday, May 20. Of the 57 bands that appear on our ballot, 24 will perform at one of the showcase's five venues, as will Leftover Salmon. You can find more information than you ever wanted in the showcase guide that appears in the center of this issue. If yours has been stolen by a raccoon or some other foul thief, check westword.com for showcase details.
Westword isn't the only entity hosting a local-music lovefest this month: On Friday, May 25, the Colorado Electronic Music Association will present the third annual Colorado Dance Music Awards ceremony. This time the techno-fete will take place inside the gorgeous Gothic Theatre and will feature performances by DJs Julius Papps, Fury, Ivy and Vitamin D.
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And because you can't get enough trumpet, Creative Music Works presents "A Celebration of Trumpet" performance on Friday, May 18, at the First Universalist Church (4101 East Hampden), an evening designed to christen Fanfare & Fiesta, the new release from local horn heavyweight Hugh Ragin. Ragin will be in good company at this fiesta: Westword Music Showcase nominee Ron Miles will join in on -- you guessed it, trumpet -- while Marc Sabatella mans the piano. Check creativemusicworks.org for more info...Also on Friday, May 18, Club Next serves up Deep Dish, the remix/producer team composed of D.C.-based dance-world kingpins Ali and Sharam. Sounds tasty...Ted Mentry, the man behind this year's Get a Life disc, will perform his "Orchestra of One" show at the Dairy Center for the Arts Friday, May 19, through Sunday, May 20; Mentry's performance will take place in the lobby before and during intermission sessions of "360 Degrees of Dance," presented by Boulder's GOE Productions. See get-a-life-productions.com for more.
Finally, hope springs eternal for Mike Barsch, formerly of the Cat, and his pursuit of punk-rock promotions in Denver. When the Cat closed in April, Barsch farmed out many of his scheduled shows to other venues while determining his next move. Now it appears he's reclaimed his game, as the schedule of Barsch-backed, upcoming shows at the Raven (the club he booked prior to moving into the Cat last year) is positively brimming. So far, every stinkin' one of the shows on the calendar is all ages, which suggests that some promoters are willing to continue hosting these shows, even if that means a potential loss of revenue from nonexistent bar sales. (As you will recall, it is now impossible for grownups to procure alcoholic beverages in small- and medium-sized concert venues if individuals under age 21 are present; rumor has it that this draconian ordinance is responsible for Denver losing the Boeing operation.) This weekend, the Raven hosts the Selby Tigers, the Honor System, Pinhead Circus and Contender in an early, all-ages show. Barsch does have some mixed-age events coming up as well (although they are all co-promoted, and hosted, by Tulagi in Boulder), including The Icarus Line, Eiffel, Shogun and Burnt Nothing will play on Wednesday, May 23.
Kiddies, c'mon down.