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Backwash

A very small child might well have been swept away by the wind that blew through downtown Denver around 4 p.m. Sunday. About an hour before the Westword Music Showcase was scheduled to begin (with an outdoor performance, no less), the city experienced a meteorological shift that bordered on biblical. As we are all reminded every so often, the kind of day John Denver wrote songs about (sunshine on his shoulder and all that) can turn into a slushy, sniffly mess in the span of an hour. The good, maybe difficult-to-believe news is that the weather didn't soak the enthusiasm of the 2,500 music fans who braved the elements. At 2:15 a.m. Monday, the late-night lingerers were finally convinced to leave the Soiled Dove, where DeVotchKa wrapped things up well after last call. It was a hell of a party -- one that, for the good of us all, should probably be attempted only once a year. And preferably on a sunny day.

Here are some of the meteorological and musical highpoints:

4 p.m.: I've just heard that snow is expected later in the evening and make a general dismissal of weather forecasting, opting for my own method: Simply ignore the gusting wind and foreboding masses of dark clouds now hovering over downtown, and meet friends for a beer. I discover that one of these friends has his own color-coded schedule of the bands playing the showcase. There are 25 of them, and strategy is required to see all or most; in some ways, the showcase is as much a sporting event as a music marathon. I notice with feigned disinterest that there is now so much debris flying around outside, it is enough to (almost) block the blue halogen of the Qwest sign. I see a woman using a bag of just-picked-up dry cleaning as a windbreaker. I admit this could be a bad omen.

5 p.m.: It is raining. Not just rain rain, but sleeting rain mixed with occasional little hail balls, and it is hitting the ground at a 45-degree angle. It reminds me of the kind of storm that used to strike Gilligan's Island just when they were getting ready to fly away in some millionaire's airplane; it's a tropical-style cartoon storm, and I'm half expecting frogs to drop from the sky. All of the bands scheduled to play the outdoor stage have been moved to other venues; the concessionaires have gone home, as have jazz/swing nominee (and scheduled performer) Lannie Garrett and the members of her big band who were able to reach downtown. No one knows what the hell is going to happen: Should we all go home, watch Scully have an alien baby and call it a night? No. Mr. Tree and the Wingnuts finally start playing in Market 41 and, hot damn, they've got good humor, like there's nothing weird happening whatsoever. This is show business, after all, and Ethel Merman made it painfully clear that the show must go on.

6 p.m. to 8 p.m.: Open Road gives a great performance at LoDo's Bar & Grill. All of the bandmembers huddle around one microphone as they sing, stretching their traditionalism to an impressive level of authenticity. People sometimes seem surprised to discover that a local band is really good, as this one is; I guess facilitating that realization is part of what the showcase is for. I get my fill, head to B-52 Billiards, contemplate the club's bar (it's the nose of an airplane, with a functional cockpit) and check out the Erica Brown Blues Band. Miss Brown sings a song about a lyin', cheatin', 375-pound ex-lover who "eats twelve sandwiches a day"; the band also woos the crowd with a fine cover of Al Green's "Love and Happiness." Miss Brown's got pipes, that's for sure; she's also one of the only people who can pull off an alligator lamé jumpsuit. I exit, out onto the freezing street where there is now real snow falling, and into the Soiled Dove, where Tarantella has just begun. I think vocalist Kal is staring at me as she sings; later, a friend reveals having the same feeling. It's a sort of facial ventriloquism that adds to Kal's generally mysterious stage persona. She sings in Italian, plays the accordion and wiggles her tummy. Legend has it that a tarantella is the dance a person does after being bitten by a tarantula, and the music does have an in-the-veins effect on the crowd; with a band composed of high-caliber local players, including violinist Kelly O'Dea and guitarists Bob Ferbrache and John Rumley (from Slim Cessna's Auto Club), it's certainly a sweet poison. Tinker's Punishment has been squeezed into the lineup next door at Market 41, where things are running a little behind schedule. In fact, some people mistake Tinker's for the Volts, a surreal mixup considering that the bands have about as much in common as Woody Allen and Allen Iverson. It soon becomes obvious that the Volts should never again be mistaken for a pop band composed of a bunch of nice young men.

"To tell you the truth, I don't really like you fucking people," screams vocalist J.R., cloaked in Truman Capote-sunglasses and a "Who the Fuck Is Mick Jagger?" T-shirt. "We just got back from Mexico, and those fuckers are poor and tired and they don't have shit, but they know how to rock so much harder than all of you." Making such comments, as well as spitting beer, wriggling about and climbing on amps, is the Volts' way of winning over audience members, some of whom try limply to start a mosh pit before being stopped by Market staff. Maris the Great does his ghoul dance in time with the Volts' palpitating beat, eventually succumbing to J.R.'s wiles, an exhausting thing just to watch. (Fortunately, he's given a break when he ventures over to Rachel & Andy's more slowly paced set at LoDo's.)

8 p.m.: Erica Brown is back on stage at B-52, this time in a blazing red Falcon Crest gown and matching wig, as part of the Cherry Bomb Club. People are simply freakin' out in the crowd -- and on stage. Co-vocalist Legendary, sporting his trademark yellow jumpsuit, is one of the most energetic performers in town; he's like a hyper-talented little boy who likes to show off. During the course of the Club's set, he demonstrates about ten different dances (the Scorpion is a particular hit), stands on his head (sort of) and generally hops around making funny faces. This might sound annoying; it's not. You get the sense that when the Cherry Bomb Club plays live, its members are so excited, they almost can't contain themselves. This is the mark of a great live act -- as is the ability to inspire a crowd of people who have never seen a particular band before to dance with total abandon. They do, in fact, rock the body. Afterward, riled-up revelers consider climbing into the bar's aforementioned airplane cockpit. Instead, they leave and are soon covered in a light dusting of snow. At least it's not sticking. At LoDo's, the Orangu-Tones have ditched their trademark matching suits for togas, but the vibe is more Animal House than ancient Greece. Maraca Five-O races through a set at Market 41, but -- what's this? -- bassist Theron Melchoir is playing in an arm sling. He reportedly suffered a nasty spill on a local mountain and spent the entire ambulance ride muttering incomprehensibly about Shirley Temple. Melchoir toughs it out for the benefit of the cocktail-consuming crowd. If you drink too much, ooh, ooh, you'll awake with a tummy ache.

9 p.m. to midnight: As 9 p.m. approaches, so does a flurry of a certain type of music lover -- and these earthy fans sure as hell aren't coming for Burn Circuit. The Soiled Dove is suddenly the most desirable destination in town, as a line forms outside for the chance to see Leftover Salmon, which had agreed to move inside when it became clear the cold front had no plans to retreat. Inside is a chaotic, congested cluster of humanity as people clamor for views, brews and dancing space. The band sounds great, the audience is just digging it, and it's hard not to appreciate the opportunity to see such a big band in such a small room. The set is punctuated by the unlikely, spontaneous guest rapping of Apostle (who bumped his own show back in order to accommodate the Salmon fellows). Also joining the band on the mike is Scott Stoughton, vocalist for Sucker. I get my jam on as much as possible, inhale the body odors of others, then leave after having the somewhat uncomfortable experience of seeing co-workers get down.

From here, the night becomes something of a blur. Marty Jones and the Pork Boilin' Poor Boys offer some of the best lyrics of the evening in their set at B-52, the band's first with Mr. Tree guitarist Soapy Argyle: "You let another penis/ Come between us/And that's why I'm over you," from "I Got Over You (When You Got Under Him)." Nina Storey follows with a far less plucky set, a moment of reprieve in an increasingly chaotic night. At LoDo's, Eric Shiveley mans both vocals and drums (rather than his usual guitar) during his show, although all eyes are on bassist Chuck Hwang, who's outfitted in huge plastic ears and a blue cap. It's positively Smurfy.

12:30 a.m.: Clearly, the showcase is going to run into the wee, wee hours: Because of all the schedule changes, the final acts probably won't reach a stage until 1 a.m. or later. Still, there are plenty of kids on hand to mosh along to Rocket Ajax, to get down with Apostle and his band, to check out Burn Circuit and its surprisingly docile nun. When it comes time for Otis Taylor to take the Dove stage, however, many of the hangers-on seem more interested in swilling than listening. Too bad, as Taylor and guitarist Eddie Turner rip through a stripped-down set that really illuminates both players' skills. At one point, they engage in a sort of staring contest/ playing match that simply smolders. Next door, nGoMa displays plenty of good musicianship and sportsmanship, considering the band's been bumped back more than an hour. In a similar scheduling situation is DeVotchKa, which spent the day returning from a regional loop of live shows. Bandmembers are tired, they want to go home, it's clarinetist/violinist Tom Hagerman's birthday. Still, when it's their turn, it's hard to get them to stop. The set is brilliant, highlighted by Jeanie Schroeder on standup bass and sousaphone. Schroeder, a classically trained musician, has never played with a rock-and-roll-type band before -- never mind spending more than a week in a cramped van with a bunch of boys. She rocks like a pro, though, and is a delight to watch. The crowd does some drunken dancing (who knew Phil the Fan could tango so well?), and the band plays on. But the music must end eventually, and when it's past 2 a.m., it's time to go home. Probably well past time. Goodnight, Denver. See you next year.

Unless, of course, you're planning to attend the Westword Music Showcase Awards ceremony on Thursday, May 31, at the Bluebird Theater, where winners in each category will be announced live. Then I'll see you next week. Won't I?

Read more about the bands and find out who the winners are in this year's Music Showcase 2001