This year has been a bad one for a lot of prominent Colorado bands: Foreskin 500, Roots Revolt and the 'Vengers are just three of the well-known acts to have folded their tents and gone home. And now, unfortunately, Baldo Rex must be added to the list.
The factors that contributed to the end of Baldo, a thoroughly odd and bracingly individualistic Boulder combo that lasted for a decade, are all too familiar. The group was formed by frontmen Ted Thacker and Phil Wronski in Boston in 1987, but it was not until the pair came to Colorado and teamed with drummer John Call and bassist Tom Sprenkle that the players began to get noticed. They netted good press clippings locally and in choice 'zines around the country, thanks to their sometimes funny/ sometimes creepy song fragments and an approach to live performance that existed just this side of anarchy. But despite their talents, national labels shied away from them. The eccentricities inherent in the two CDs the group managed to make during the mid-Nineties--Parilda eilgen Elmas, a Turkish phrase that translates to "Shine on, you crazy diamond," and I Eat Robots I'm So Sad--make the music industry's lack of action understandable; to put it mildly, the discs are not chock-a-block with hit singles. But the humor, the rawness and the off-kilter catchiness of the recordings make them sound great to this day.
After Sh-Mow Records, the company that put out I Eat Robots, crumbled, whatever momentum Baldo Rex had built up began to dissipate. Then, on August 3, 1996, Wronski and his girlfriend, Susan Payne, were involved in what he describes as "a terrible car accident. We were coming home from the Treblefest [at the Raven], and our car collided with another car. Whose fault it was is still in dispute, but we were in a hatchback, and we were both ejected out the back." In the crash, Payne suffered "a massive head injury and had to undergo what they call 'catastrophic brain surgery.' There were several times they thought she was going to die. They kept calling a priest to be there with us, and after that, they thought she was going to be in a coma for a long time."
Fortunately, the worst-case scenarios never came to pass. But although Payne's recovery has been, in Wronski's words, "miraculous," it has also been deliberate; more than a year after the accident, she is able to work only thirty hours a week and must constantly battle fatigue. As a result, Wronski found himself spending more time with her and less time on the band. Meanwhile, his cohorts were becoming restless. Call moved out of town in May (Wronski says he's in Minneapolis, while Thacker thinks he's in Austin), Sprenkle put together his own band, Aerosol, and Thacker, who had started a side project, Veronica, a couple of years back, began to get itchy for new challenges. He and Wronski discussed looking for a new rhythm section for the band, but, Wronski notes, "Ted finally changed his mind--which was kind of hard for me at first. I would have continued Baldo Rex indefinitely, because I'm a little fanatical about it. But everybody else had different ideas--and now it seems like the natural thing."
Since the Baldo split, Thacker has not let any grass grow under his feet. He continues to work toward a literature degree at the University of Colorado-Boulder, and in late August he played at the Fox Theatre under his own name. "It's just me and a four-track," he says. "I just play something onto it and then I play it back--that's my band. It's real drum-machine-oriented stuff. Kinda weird. I don't know what's going to happen with it, but I'm having fun."
Wronski, who points out that he and Thacker remain friendly, is less certain about what lies ahead. He's interested in putting together a new band, but he doesn't want to rush into anything. "I'm still really excited to make music and to get back up on stage," he says. "And I think it'll be nice to work with people who are really happy to be playing. It's one of those things that sounds easy, but it can be the hardest thing in the world. So I'm trying to look at everything positively."
Colorado Springs's Mark Junglen, who runs Big Ball Records, fronts his own rock group (Former Fetus) and frequently collaborates with the AUTO-NO, another Springs-based outfit, is heading back to Russia. He first visited the country two years ago, when the Volgograd Philharmonic debuted "Stalingrad--A Rock Concerto," a classical piece Junglen penned about a momentous World War II battle there; the performance coincided with the fiftieth anniversary of the war's end ("Rockin' to Russia," April 19, 1995). The folks at the Philharmonic obviously liked what they heard, because they've invited Junglen and the members of the AUTO-NO back to reprise the piece on October 3. "It's a concert of American composers," Junglen says. "I know one of them's George Gershwin, and I think one of them is Aaron Copland, and the other one's me." Junglen hopes to be able to get a complete recording of the opus this time around: During the initial show, a tape problem occurred, slicing off part of the music and sabotaging ambitious plans for a documentary about the visit that Junglen wanted to market to PBS. Documenting the work should help him in his efforts to get U.S. orchestras to consider performing it. "I've been trying to shop it to different symphonies in the U.S.," says Junglen, "but I'm a nobody."
Not in Volgograd, he's not.
For the (local) record.
Judge Roughneck's first CD--Rude One's Money Making Scheme, largely produced by bandmember Kyle Jones--is a first-rate package: The horns, which are such an important component of the combo's live sound, sound punchy and full-bodied, the rhythms percolate nicely, and Jonez veteran Byron Shaw is in fine voice. With such fine talents on hand, it's too bad that some of the material (like "Feelin Alright," "Goombop" and "A Toast to You") isn't up to their standards. But "Kaveh's Ska Suit" fits perfectly, "Hot!" truly is, "Angry Youth" and "Rude One" make for a killer combination, and "See Ya" snaps like a wet towel wielded by experts. Ouch (available in area record stores). Michael Layer, lead vocalist for Westminster's Bodragaz, says his group can be best defined as "Styx for the Nineties." Given this warning, I approached the outfit's self-titled CD with considerable trepidation--and my fears were well-founded. After listening to ditties such as "Is There a Chance," "Strange Fascination" and "Fate of the Winter," which includes the timeless lyrics "Like dust in the wind/I've blown away," I can say without fear of contradiction that Layer's description was accurate. Kansas references notwithstanding (Bodragaz, P.O. Box 6, Westminster 80030).
Alone We Stand, a CD by No One Man, is dedicated to the memory of bandmember Harry Bruckner, a longtime Colorado music scenester who died on Christmas Eve last year. The music, written mainly by guitarist/vocalist Michael McGuffey, is stuck in the Seventies: "Gettin' Around," complete with a flute solo, is one of several ditties that strongly suggests the Marshall Tucker Band, while "Never Learned to Dance" recalls Dan Hicks in an unexpectedly somber mood. To say the least, this doesn't have a whole heck of a lot to do with music in 1997, but folks interested in traveling two decades back in time will find Alone We Stand well played and sincere (No One Man, 2701 West 32nd Avenue #36, Denver 80211). Zamboni Man, an EP credited to Luh-Nay (Lynnae Rome joined by the members of '76 Pinto), is a novelty platter aimed at you Avalanche boosters out there. Included for your edification is "Zamboni Chant" (it's a sendup of the Gregorian variety), "Zamboni Man," a sloppy rock throwaway, "Zamboni Man: Resurfaced," a silly dance remix of--surprise--"Zamboni Man," and two quasi-serious songs ("That Girl" and "My Stalker") that don't have anything to do with hockey and are so different from those that do that they seem to have escaped from another album. Huh? (Mrs. Johnson Music Inc., P.O. Box 1544, Boulder 80306-1544.)
There's enough echo on The Shakes, a CD by, yep, the Shakes to make the Grand Canyon jealous, but that's not wholly inappropriate to the act's chosen style--sugary pop a la the Raspberries and the Shoes. The playing, by drummer Dale DeCesare, bassist Mike Dockery and guitarist Jeff Harrison, is somewhat slatternly, but their singing is wispy and charming, and their feel for melodies is sure: All of these eleven tracks are capable of provoking humming, and "Gwendolyn," "Spinning Around" and "Dear John" practically demand it. If you've got a sweet tooth, this is the band for you (Shattered Records, P.O. Box 395, Littleton 80160). Intense is a moniker that recalls the heyday of corporate metal, and the five songs on the act's Pure cassette do as well. These guys have the sound down pat: whisper-to-a-scream vocals by Greg Jacyszyn, plodding rhythms courtesy of drummer Scott Hogg and bassist Rich Toler, and melodramatic melodies straight from the guitars and keyboards of Michael Lee. "Roll Into Dust" and "On the Inside" are reminiscent of the Scorpions sans accents, and "Superstition" is a version of the Stevie Wonder masterwork that would probably leave the composer wishing he were deaf, too (P.O. Box 21738, Denver 80221).
Buzz Bomber and the M-80's, a band that originated in San Francisco, relocated to these parts last year. The act's cassette, A Grenade in the Bandstand, is a rollicking goof that suggests the Beat Farmers on nitrous oxide. Aural gags like "The T.V. Ate My Brain," "Hot Dog on a Stick" and the mock-tragic "Little Dead Surfer Girl" are twinned with covers of "Mr. Grinch" and "Helter Skelter" that establish beyond doubt that these guys don't take themselves seriously in the slightest. Sure, it's one-dimensional, but on those days when you are, too, it might provide a grin or two (607-9021). Coming up next: Two, two, two recordings from the world of Peter Tonks, whose Cowtown project has kept Denverites off balance for more than a decade. Chewing the Cud (1985-1995) is a compilation of tracks culled from albums like The Only Denver Band That Matters, At Home on the Range and Shit Magnet. Some of the songs (e.g., "Messengers of Lucifer") seem like private jokes that go on for too long, while others (the anti-Reagan "Smile When You Sieg Heil!," for instance) are political screeds that work best as period pieces. But at least Cud is eccentric enough to keep your attention. By contrast, Alien, which Tonks says was "recorded in 95-degree heat in July '97 on the anniversary of Roswell," is a collection of improvised acoustic-guitar-and-harmonica rambles in which the star of the show delivers examples of his oddball wisdom in a conversational mumble. Unfortunately, it's often difficult to tell where one ditty ends and the next begins, since they all flow, slowly, out of the same stream of consciousness. (An exception is "Down Wit Dat," but mainly because it's marginally offensive.) The results will likely divert those on Tonks's wavelength and puzzle pretty much everyone else (Cowtown Productions, P.O. Box 102335, Denver 80250).
Singer-songwriter Bradford Robinson receives help from some famous friends on his CD, It's Ironic...But So Is This: Sara Hickman croons in the background on the title track, and Boyd Tinsley, of the Dave Matthews Band, fiddles on "Stray From Suit." The latter has that rolling beat with which Matthews is associated, and "Please Bring Me My Wine" rocks in a manner of speaking, but many of the other compositions are hushed, overtly sensitive airs that make David Wilcox seem like Shecky Green by comparison. (Sample lyric from "Yesterday's Door": "Too many doors and only one key/All of the rest are for others, not me.") The playing, singing and production techniques on the disc are thoroughly accomplished, but there's not a lot on Ironic to differentiate Robinson from the pack (5795 East Hinsdale Place, Englewood 80112-1502). The title of Frank Mortality's CD--Raw Sweat--creates certain expectations that the music does not quite reward. "Downside" has a synthesized dance beat, but it's too bland to do its work--and Mortality's tentative singing and fairly uninspired words ("So you're being quite nasty and just devouring/Like scratching and grabbing and getting some action") don't help matters much. "Picture for Plus" and "Baby Dream" suffer from similar weaknesses, while "The Industrial Difference" is an array of purposeless racket. How modern (7081 Canosa Court, Westminster 80030).
Jimi D'Andrea, who fronts Hank & the Hankstirs, spent some of his fifteen minutes of fame earlier this year when he was chosen as one of the winners in a Paul Shaffer look-alike contest and appeared on Late Night With David Letterman. He's looking to win more spotlight time with a new EP titled Hank & the Hankstirs: Vol. 1, but the four songs he offers up are not grabby enough to turn the world on its ear. "Turn Back the Clock," "The Proof's in the Pudding," "I'm Fallin" and "One Bad Apple" are sincere in a Dylan-esque sort of way, but they're fairly interchangeable and a bit dull. A little more variety next time would be welcome (234-9788). The blues icon named Robert Johnson has been dead for more than half a century, but the Robert Johnson whom Denver audiences have known as a member of the 17th Avenue All-Stars is alive and well, and his latest album, Richard the Third, finds him sounding stronger than ever. He's capable of getting funky/soulful, as he demonstrates on "The Way You Do the Things You Do" and "Brother John," but his forte is the insistent, pleading tone he uses on "Save Me." The unadorned musical settings on the disc keep the focus firmly on Johnson, and he does not disappoint. He possesses a formidable pair of lungs, and Third gives him a chance to use them (available in area record stores).
If you haven't done so already, be sure and fill out the Westword Music Awards Showcase ballot on page 114 of this issue. It's not just a right; it's a responsibility. And be sure to look for the Showcase guide in next week's edition. Featuring profiles of all 65 nominees, it will be the year's most extensive, most up-to-date look at the wide range of Colorado music--if I have anything to say about it.
Folks into a road trip might consider heading to Colorado Springs for the Southern Colorado Roots & Culture Festival on Sunday, September 14. Judge Roughneck is part of a bill that also includes California's Amandla Poets and the Tejano sound of Los Jalapenos. Camping is available for the daylong event; call 719-549-2414 for more details.
A note: The Friday, September 12, show at the Acoma Center that features Venus Diablo (see page 86) serves as an album-release party for the Czars. Their debut CD is titled The La Brea Tar Pits of Routine. It's Paleolithic!
Between rock and a hard place. On Thursday, September 11, Bile Geyser spews at the 15th Street Tavern, with Hell's Half Acre, and Dirty Pool is cleaned at Cricket on the Hill. On Friday, September 12, the eternal Sugar Hill Gang provides a rapper's delight at the Fox Theatre; Willie Nelson entertains for the benefit of KBDI-TV/Channel 12 at the Auditorium Theater; the Rok Tots, the La Donnas and the Emirs are as subtle as a flying mallet at Area 39; Laughing Hands shake at the Dickens Theatre, 300 Main St. in Longmont; Logical Nonsense uses its noggin at CU-Boulder's Club 156; and Scotland's Old Blind Dogs have a devil of a time finding the Bluebird Theater. On Saturday, September 13, Pete Wernick's Live Five displays plenty of pluck at Cameron Church, 1600 South Pearl; the Baggs Patrick Band opens up for Blind Dog Smokin' at the Cricket; Acrobat Down and the Blast-Off Heads perform for free at the 15th Street Tavern in honor of their new split seven-inch; and Swine wallows at Seven South, with Mutant Sadface. On Sunday, September 14, Flowers of Aphrodite bloom at Boulder's Chautauqua Community House in honor of the group's new CD, Grace. On Monday, September 15, Tony Rice leaves you hungry for more at the Boulder Theater, with Norman Blake. On Monday, September 15, Modest Mouse squeaks at the Bluebird, with Red Star Theory, and Sub Pop signee Damien Jurado slinks into the Lion's Lair. And on Tuesday, September 16, Ten Foot Pole will touch you at the Ogden Theatre, with Guttermouth; Auntie Christ, led by once-and-future X woman Exene Cervenka, headlines at the Mercury Cafe; and Brand New Unit shows itself off at Area 39, with Casualties and John Cougar Concentration Camp. Sounds like a good place for him.
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