In talking about Rock Island, the LoDo club he owns, David Clamage offers kudos to a such a long list of past and present employees and associates that he sounds like Sally Field on Oscar night. But his excitement is understandable. After all, on Thursday, October 31, Rock Island will celebrate its tenth anniversary--and in the fast-changing, trend-happy world of Denver nightspots, that's an eternity. "We've seen a lot of our competitors come and go," he says. "But we're still here--and we're enjoying it more than ever."
The idea for the venue was born in 1986. Clamage, who owns a variety of properties in the city, was looking for something to do with a building at 1614 15th Street. Back then, this address, only a few feet from a now-demolished viaduct, was singularly unpromising. When asked to describe the neighborhood where it was located, Clamage says, "In one word: the Bowery. It was a seedy, rundown area that had been abandoned by the city and the community. There were very few businesses down here. The Wazee Supper Club was here, and City Spirit had just opened, but aside from some light manufacturing businesses and abandoned warehouses, that was pretty much it."
Indeed, few folks felt safe even going near this portion of LoDo--but Clamage felt that clubgoers would brave the block if they were given a good enough excuse. "We thought that people into what we now call the alternative-music scene were an underserved demographic in Denver," he says. So after checking out several appropriately vivid spaces in New York City, Clamage and his design team (including Charles Callaway, Alfredo Garcia-Lucio and Wendy Watson) created a room with an edgier personality than that exhibited by other Denver clubs of the era. "We set out to make it raw and unpretentious," Clamage notes. "Our motto was that it was a place where 'you can dance as loud as you want.'"
The concept took off quickly, attracting a notably loyal clientele. Nonetheless, the operation suffered the usual ups and downs over the years that followed. Clamage points to 1989 as Rock Island's roughest year--and he takes much of the blame for the downturn. "At the time, we thought the market was going to go more upscale," he reports. "We'd been hit hard by the opening of 23 Parrish; we were seeing fewer and fewer bodies. And since lower downtown was just being discovered, we thought we'd come up with something new." But this variation, dubbed Club No-No, proved to be, in Clamage's words, "a miserable failure. Not enough new people came, and our core audience was extraordinarily vocal about not liking it. I got letters, postcards, phone calls and everything else from people who said, 'You've screwed up by drifting from the original vision.' And they were right. So we abandoned Club No-No after a six-month run and went back to what we'd been in the first place."
Although numerous live acts (including Skinny Puppy, firehose, Soundgarden and MC 900 Ft. Jesus) have created a ruckus on the Rock Island stage, the venue is best known as a dance club where fun-seekers of every color, gender and sexual persuasion are welcome. However, a handful of residents at Edbrooke Lofts, an upscale residential structure that was established in a building across the alley from Rock Island around the time that LoDo was just beginning to boom, haven't been so hospitable. Since the early Nineties, Rock Island has been a focus of their complaints, a fact that definitely gets under Clamage's skin. "A lot of people who moved down here like the urban feel, but they also want the quiet and cleanliness of a pastoral setting--like Parker," he says. "I think most of them have unrealistic expectations about what it's like to live in an urban environment."
Rock Island has also come under heat from self-appointed moralists who, according to Clamage, "see young people with spiky hair and nose rings and think they're all drug abusers and rapists." Several years ago an acquaintance showed him a video distributed by a right-wing Christian organization that included scenes shot outside and inside the club during a Warlock Pinchers appearance. "Anybody who's ever been to a Pinchers show knows that everything they do is all in fun," Clamage says. "This Christian organization had twisted what they saw into the implication that these kids were worshiping the devil. But the truth is, they were just good people trying to have a good time in their own way."
Annoyances like these would prompt most businessmen to try to sell such a controversial structure as soon as possible--and Clamage admits that of all of his investments, "Rock Island is the one that contributes the least to my wallet. We make enough money to pay our employees and keep the doors open, but that's about it." The reason Rock Island still exists, then, has everything to do with the amount of enjoyment Clamage derives from it. As he puts it, "If I didn't own the place, I'd be down here all the time anyhow. I just like it."
The extravagance of the club's tenth-anniversary celebration is an indicator of Clamage's devotion. A slew of DJs, including Paul Italiano, Michael Miller, John Chapman and John Chamie will be spinning late into Halloween night--but they're hardly the only attractions. "The theme of the evening is old slasher movies from the Fifties and Sixties," Clamage enthuses. "We're going to re-create the shower scene from Psycho, have wild costumes and do all kinds of other bizarre things. We're also going to have a huge mechanical spider climbing the front of the building--and we'll have fire-breathers and even a parade." When asked about the route for this assemblage, Clamage laughs: "We'll probably just parade up and down the alley--but we're going to have fun with it anyway."
Reviews from the bridge.
Sleepy Slaying Village, a demo tape from Denver's Lucid Haze, doesn't feature what you'd call state-of-the-art sound; it was recorded on a four-track using one microphone. So it's an indication of the band's promise that the recording is actually pretty enjoyable. A few of the tunes, such as "Caverns of Dusk" and "Star Me! Me!," sport an agreeable, Velvets-esque surface; others, like "Gen X Jock," go punk to good effect. There's even proof of some primitive production smarts: For example, "How They Will Stick" includes a semi-processed vocal that makes the tune. The DIY ethic lives (Lucid Haze, 4930 Tennyson Street, Denver 80212). The self-titled four-song demo from LD-50 is enjoyably nasty and noisy. The opening track, "NYC," samples dialogue from Midnight Cowboy in a suitably creepy manner; "Twinky" clomps along nicely; "The Box" fiddles enjoyably with the White Zombie formula; and NO2 uses a deliberate tempo to create just the right degree of tension. A promising collective that bears watching (LD50@usa.pipeline.com or 830-1488).
If you don't already love the Hate Fuck Trio, the band's self-titled four-track demo should make you a convert. "Lizard Named Muffy," "Fucked Up Monkey," "Bob's Lawn Service" and "Trucker" are full-bore fun, and they represent a loony take on alterna-punk that freshens up the genre quite nicely, thanks. Start praying now that the act's upcoming long-player, made in conjunction with Seattle's Shaky Records and due in stores soon, is this swell (Greasy Chicken Records, P.O. Box 6698, Denver 80206). Nnett King would like to be thought of as zany: Why else would its members pose on the cover of their CD Magic Moon with their drawers to their knees and their cheeks to the camera? I could try to avoid using the term "neo-hippie" to describe the music, but it's perfectly appropriate. Tracks such as "Love Your Papa," "Peace" and "Genuine Southerness" stick to the pop-oriented, Spin Doctors side of this style and are generally more endurable for it; by contrast, "statement" songs like "Touch the Earth" ("Holy mother earth/the trees and all your nature/Are witness to your thoughts and deeds") go straight into the tank and stay there. Just thought you'd want to know (447-2581 or 650-3331). Beefcake, by Grimace, reached me many months after its early 1996 release, but I'm glad it finally arrived; it's a pretty damn strong piece of work. Since its days as the Nixons, the band has sometimes had a tough time establishing a sound of its own, but that's not a problem here. Andy Menconi and company roar through Kirby Orrick-produced numbers such as "Bouncing Ball," "Ha!" and "Splintered Soapbox" in a singular manner; you're unlikely to mistake the cuts for the work of anyone else. They're not getting older--they're getting better (available in area record stores).
On her demo tape, Follow Me There, Ashley Arrison comes across as just the type of vocalist that Nashville types embrace these days. Her singing is clear and crisp (and not very twangy), and her taste in material (exemplified by "Any Day Now," "All I Need" and "Stop the Train") waters down C&W conventions just enough to widen their appeal. The tape doesn't rate high on the authenticity scale, but it's so slick that it probably won't matter (Insync Productions, 683-1314). Playing Live at Akashic, the latest recording from eitherIgo, is like tuning into the Peak's new music file; the various tracks sound so much like something from the Gin Blossoms/Dog's Eye View branch of modern "rock" that you'll think you've heard them before. "Mama" includes some throaty emoting from Andrew Kavanaugh, and "Explain" contains the kind of guitar work that's often described as "tasty." But overall, Live is competent but generic (528-6998).
Chic Street Man, currently appearing at the Auditorium Theatre in the production called It Ain't Nothin' but the Blues, will celebrate the release of a new CD, beau-ti-ful, at the Mercury Cafe on Monday, November 4. Joining him will by Mary Flower and Chris Daniels. Thought you'd want to know.
Mark Steinhauser of Sparkie Sounds found a way to leap ahead of the hundred or so local performers who have submitted recordings for review ahead of him--by writing a tune that's time-sensitive. His new single, "Election Day," is a bouncy little ditty with a Soft Cell feel, and while it probably won't become an early November standard (it's a bit bland), you won't feel too guilty casting your vote for it--which is more than I can say for most of the people on this year's ballot. If you'd like a copy of your own, contact Steinhauser at 10920 Omaha Lane, Parker 80134.
It will no doubt startle you to discover that a number of acts are scheduled to perform live on Halloween. Try to see each of the following: DJ Keoki, hosting a special Disco 2000 night at Boulder's Club Mecca; the fabulous Ralph Gean at the Lion's Lair; another recent Westword profile subject, Denver Joe, with Grandma Jukes and Bobby Peru at Cricket on the Hill; Cold Blue Steel, continuing a multinight run at the Little Bear; the Vermicious Knids and Zeut at Herman's Hideaway; Kingpin, the Hate Fuck Trio, the Hectics, Acrobat Down and 3:5:7 at the 15th Street Tavern; World Separation at the Bug Theater; the Receders at GreenFields, 3355 S. Yarrow in Lakewood; the JGB Band at the Ogden Theatre; the Itals and Andrew Bees at the Fox Theatre; and the 'Vengers at Boulder's 'Round Midnight. Afterward, check yourself into the Betty Ford Clinic.
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And once you dry out? On Friday, November 1, Hammond B-3 expert Eric Scortia begins a two-night run at Vartan Jazz; My Blind Alley leads to the Skyline Cafe; Carl James provides the sounds at Carol Mier Gallery, 1408 Wazee; Steve Owen joins Slim Cessna's Auto Club at the Lion's Lair; and the Nields stand tall at the Mercury (the band also visits the Fox the next night). On Saturday, November 2, Shawn Strub showcases material from her upcoming CD, Cat Dreams, at Planet Off Gallery, and Wrath of Sharon is felt at the Cricket, with Evie's Edge and Mister Woodman. On Tuesday, November 5, Tool pries open the Mammoth Events Center. And on Wednesday, November 6, Chaos Theory is proven at the Boulder Theater, with the Reejers, and Mighty Blue Kings are crowned at the Bluebird. That's got to hurt.
Backbeat's e-mail address is: Michael_Roberts@ westword.comMichael_Roberts@