Rumors. Without them, there might be a lot of empty space in this column every week. But, as even I have to acknowledge, they're not always true.
Take the chatter surrounding City Spirit, a restaurant and nightspot at 1434 Blake Street that came to life in lower downtown twelve years ago, during a period when the neighborhood was about as trendy as the south Bronx. As soon as it became common knowledge that City Spirit co-owners Mickey Zeppelin and Susan Wicke were angling to sell the joint, musicians quickly came to the conclusion that they would never again have an opportunity to perform in its friendly confines; in fact, members of Jux County are advertising their appearance on Friday, October 24, as their last at the club. But in Zeppelin's opinion, the future of the venue is not so simply defined.
"We've been talking to some people seriously about a sale," he says. "And because of that, we didn't want to get too far into the music schedule without getting their input. That's why we haven't scheduled anything in November. But that doesn't mean the new owners aren't going to do music. If a sale goes through right away, I think we'll agree together what the music program will be and then go from there. But if the sale doesn't go forward like we think it will, we'll precede as we always have. And to us, music has always been an essential part of what City Spirit is about."
The initial idea behind the restaurant was for it "to be a community cafe--a place to meet that was accessible to all ages, all sexes, and people of all persuasions," Zeppelin points out. "We designed the menu to be accessible and cheap and the environment to be comfortable so that you could come dressed in whatever from eleven in the morning until 2 a.m." And while there's no guarantee that a new owner will take the same approach, Zeppelin is confident that there'll be a certain continuity from one regime to the next. "We've been looking hard to find someone who wants to retain a similar feel," he reveals. "It's not going to become a sports bar. And I don't think it's going to become a no-music thing, either."
In the meantime, Zeppelin emphasizes that City Spirit is still open and should remain so through October. Further, he believes that if there is a closure during a transition period, it will be a brief one. "After twelve years, the fire of doing what we've been doing day in and day out diminishes a little--and this is a business where you can't coast," he notes. "But I don't think anyone should be sad about the changes that may be coming. I'm hoping the next owner will maintain the spirit of what we have but add some freshness, which it needs."
If memory serves (and in this case, I know that it does), I've griped a time or two about the paucity of opportunities for local musicians to be heard on Denver-Boulder radio. This situation hasn't suddenly reversed itself; it's just about as bad as it's ever been. But on the odd chance that a little ink can help improve matters, here's a couple of paragraphs about exceptions to this rule.
Brian Pavlik is an engineer at Chancellor Broadcasting, one of the city's many radio conglomerates, but he's also a performer ("I played with a band in San Diego," he says) and a fan of Denver music. As such, he talked his boss into providing him and a friend, Bryan Mantelli, with two hours of airtime on KRRF-AM/1280 (Ralph) during which they could focus on Colorado sounds. The show, which can be heard on Sunday evenings from 8 to 10, debuted in early October with a program devoted in large part to the combo Red Yak. Shortly thereafter, Pavlik and Mantelli hosted an in-studio appearance by Chaos Theory--and although the October 26 episode has been pre-empted by the broadcast of a University of Denver hockey game, the Garden Weasels have agreed to drop by on Sunday, November 2. "Everyone at the station seems really pleased so far," says Pavlik, a broadcasting novice. He adds, "My main focus right now is to improve the quality so that we can maybe get some sponsorships that will help us stay around for a while. To me, bands around here don't get as much recognition as they should, but there's a lot of talent, and I think people would realize that if they got a chance to hear it."
Over at KTCL-FM/93.3, DJ Mike Makkay has been the station's most consistent local-music booster over the past couple of years; his primary vehicle in this regard is "Locals Only," a program devoted to area performers that runs Thursdays at midnight. (The Reejers and Sketch have been among his recent guests.) But the station has also started sponsoring local-band nights every Thursday at the Market Street Lounge, and Makkay, who took over KTCL's morning-drive slot from Bret Saunders, a recruit of KBCO-FM/97.3, has been pushing for this concept to be broadened. He's been beating the drum for local music to be added to the outlet's regular rotation as well. "We've been playing Opie Gone Bad, and it's doing very well as far as popularity in the market goes," he says. "That's why I'm pushing to give more spins to other local bands."
And speaking of local recordings, here's a boatload of them.
Chicago Skinny is a Denver blues quartet with a standard-issue demo that shares its handle with the group. Steve Chapek, Scott Johnson, Paul Hildebrandt and Loe LaDell can play, and they treat covers like "I'm Sorry" and "Two Time My Lovin'" with as much respect as they pay to a pair of originals, "She's Fine" and "Postman, Postman." However, surprises are few and far between. Generic bar-band music (2128 East 12th Avenue, Denver 80206). The Flow, from (I think) Fort Collins, specializes in college rock of the Gin Blossoms stripe. Its CD, Inside Out, overflows with unobtrusive acoustic strumming, lackadaisical tempos and earnest vocals by Scott Ladek, who favors coming-of-age couplets like "Looking in the mirror, I see a boy/Who's turned to a man right now" (from "Inside Out"). It's well-played, but after hearing minor variations on this style for years, I have to admit that it puts me to sleep faster than a fistful of sleeping pills. For undergraduates only (Indiego Promotions, 800-355-3132). Filmstrip's latest single, "Hymn"/"Grace," anticipates a CD due later this year. The former is an edgy industrial excursion, and the latter sports a deliberate, almost-Eastern flavor. They can be found on so-called "red tapes" that the band has been giving away for free. Call 782-9067 to find out if there are any left.
The indefatigable David Booker, known for his work with Captain and the Red-Hot Flames and the Alleygators, does that solo thing on Six Pairs of Bloomers, a cassette release on which he sticks to the acoustic format. The lead track, "Good Evenin' Everybody," kicks off the package with just the right dash of showmanship, and it's followed by numerous charmers, including the not-as-rude-as-it-sounds "Shoot My Baby" and a bluesy rendition of "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35." No revelations here, but plenty of solid music played clean and true (758-4819). Another never-say-die local is Colorado Springs's Mark Junglen, whose band, Former Fetus, checks in with Former Fetus 4: A Rock Opera. Briefly explaining the opus's plot is all but impossible: Suffice it to say that it involves a fetus who finds both tragedy and triumph outside the womb. But even if you don't have a clue as to what Junglen's trying to say with his tale, you'll likely be impressed by his music, a passionate, driving take on hard rock/post-punk. "I'm Free" and "Under the Bridge" sound a bit familiar, but they're raucous enough to compensate, and "I'm a Mom" captures hysteria so well that you're tempted to call up Junglen after the number's conclusion to make sure he's okay. Idiosyncratic but impressive (Big Ball Records, P.O. Box 1949, Colorado Springs 80901-1949).
The Denver-based Tommy Bolin Archives has been putting out Bolin-related product for a couple of years now, and the organization's obsessiveness is obvious on Zephyr: Live, a CD that captures a much-bootlegged performance that took place at Art's Bar & Grill, a Boulder nightspot, in 1973. The beautifully designed booklet gives you loads of information about the combo, and fanciers of Bolin's bluesy runs will be thrilled by the lengthy workouts on "Cross the River," "Somebody Listen," "The Creator Has a Master Plan" and "Hard Chargin' Woman." The Janis Joplin-like vocals of Candy Givens are often buried in fuzztone, but listeners should still be able to get a sense of this outfit's indulgent, jam-happy approach (available in area record stores). Cab driver/singer-songwriter Baggs Patrick wants you to laugh at him--or at least at his music, which values humor above all else. Circus in My Head, his latest long-player, can't be accused of subtlety: "Bein' Poor Sucks," "Please Don't Take My Penis (When You Go)" and "Wet Sloppy Kisses (The Cindy Crawford Song)" spew jokes at a rapid rate, and Patrick's affected delivery underlines the gags in a manner that's too obvious for my taste. I preferred the clever "Speaking in Suzanne" and "Heart of Mine," in which Patrick seems within spitting distance of sincerity. That's a new bag worth exploring (1445 South Cherry Street, Denver 80222).
The self-titled disc by the aforementioned Opie Gone Bad, issued by Denver-based Celsius Records, is nothing if not professional: The production, by bandmembers Kirwan Brown and Randy Chavez, is uncommonly crisp, nicely capturing the appeal of their playing and the accessible singing of Jacob Schroeder IV. As for the music itself, it sticks like Elmer's to a pale but funky groove that should appeal to you Herman's Hideaway habitues. The pairing of "Sympathy for the Devil" and "Livin' for the City" was a bad idea, but tailfeather-shakers such as "Whereyouwannabe," "Sellin' Myself," "Late for Dinner" and especially the aggressively brainless "Could We Please Have Sex?" are disposable party music for the Nineties (available in area record stores). On Journey, its three-song cassette, Concentrated Evil puts distorted guitar to R&B beats à la Rage Against the Machine. This will not be confused with the freshest approach to popular music to come down the pike this decade, and "The Jazz Thing," on the tape's flip side, meanders more than it motors. But "Journey" and "Duhn Duhn" are aggressive enough to make them decent time-passers (Concentrated Evil, P.O. Box 441322, Aurora 80044).
Some of you ska junkies out there may shy away from Upbeats and Beatdowns, by Five Iron Frenzy, because of the Christian beliefs espoused by its members. But if you do, you'll be missing one of the more enjoyable offerings to emerge from the genre's current boom. The brass section (Jeff Ortega, Nathanael Dunham and Dennis Culp) is punchier and more substantial than is the norm, and songs such as "Old West," "Milestone," "Combat Chuck" and "Where Zero Meets Fifteen" (about the intersection of Colfax and Broadway) find an effective balance between pop melodies and skacore acceleration. The words, meanwhile, are generally thoughtful and eschew preachiness; "Our assurance comes from God," from "Cool Enough for You," is about as overt as things get. I'm completely sick of ska at this point, so if Upbeats struck me as enjoyable, you can bet that it's pretty damn good (available in area record stores). On the biography that accompanies the self-titled three-track recording by the Slewhounds, an anonymous scribe states, "Their songs are clearly influenced by legendary artists such as Kiss, Van Halen, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Alice in Chains, but with a spurt of testosterone added to the mix." (Yeah, like Van Halen and Led Zeppelin were testosterone-free.) What's not mentioned is that the tunes conform to pretty much every hard-rock stereotype in existence, from the grating, high-pitched wailing of vocalist Michael D. Kelly to the casual misogyny of the lyrics to "I Need You" ("...like a hole in the head"). Rock on, dudes (Slewhounds, care of Michael D. Kelly, 2710 West Park Place, Denver 80219).
The trio of cuts on the self-titled demo by Hotwater Music can be described as swinging soul--sort of like mid-period Earth, Wind and Fire with female vocals and lots of electric piano. A version of Stevie Wonder's "I Wish" is lacking in surprises, but "Coral" and "Black" are both worthy R&B offerings. The tape's sound quality is crummy, but the music on it displays some promise (Scott Seeber, 458-3764). New Country Boy checks in with 4 Songs of Love, Heartache & Being Broke, a good-humored mess of a cassette. "Differentia" is not different enough from the standard-issue punk grind, but "Revolution" is a tongue-in-cheek Clash rip, "River Song" is an a cappella goof, and "One Eyed Jack" goes in so many odd directions that even players like ex-Babihed member Bill Houston seem confused by it. Which, I suppose, is a good thing (World Entertainment and Management Group, 1873 South Bellaire Street, #915, Denver 80222).
You'd be hard-pressed to find a more commonplace Boulder band than Mucis, whose cliche-ridden cassette is called Epicurus. "Cup of Change" is aimless noodling that makes Dave Matthews seem concise by comparison, "The Last Drag" is fake Phish of an extremely tiresome sort, and "Elephantiasis" takes forever to go nowhere. I'm glad I have no idea how many recordings exactly like this one I've heard over the years, because if I knew, I'd probably kill myself (Mucis, P.O. Box 4024, Boulder 80306). The Vermicious Knids have a sound overflowing with hippisms too, but on Live, their latest CD, they're fairly tolerable because they go to the trouble of actually writing songs. The faux-Blues Traveler of "Which Way to Go" left me colder than a mackerel, as did strum-alongs like "Miscellaneous Who Ha" and "Salvation," but "Shitkicker" and "Smokin' Cigarettes" are bouncy enough to compensate for their dearth of fresh ideas. I now return you to your regular programming (Vermicious Knids, 1750 South Kearney Street, Denver 80224).
Clark ov Saturn, of LD-50 fame, is among those putting together Lunar Lodge, which he touts as "the definitive secret society of electronic-music aficionados." This week's meeting takes place on Friday, October 24, at 2200 Champa Street (the old Muddy's location) from 10 p.m. until 6 a.m. and is set to include bows by Aquatherium, Moth and Fritttz, Dubaholic, Oto and DJs Vitamin D and Fury. The information number is 575-1700.
Bobby Marchetti, accompanied by the Belmar Orchestra, performs on Saturday, October 25, at the Arvada Center for the Arts in a benefit for the Ronald McDonald House of Denver. Marchetti was inspired to put together this show by Audrey Kimsey, a twelve-year-old who has survived two heart transplants and a cancer scare. For more information about the event, phone 438-2175. On the same night, Moore raises funds for the Gateway shelter at the Ogden Theatre.
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The indefatigable Neil Haverstick, whose new CD is called Acoustic Stick, brings the third annual Microstock Festival to the Swallow Hill Music Hall on Saturday, October 25. For the event, Haverstick and his band share the bill with Los Angeles guitarist John Schneider, another instrumentalist with an interest in alternative tunings and tonal experimentation. The event is all acoustic and, hence, environmentally friendly.
As for myself, I'm biodegradable. On Thursday, October 23, Plop Squad splashes down at the 15th Street Tavern, with Backspackle and Mad Man Munt; 100 Grand adds up at Cricket on the Hill, with Leaving the Trees and Street-18; the Tannahill Weavers get Celtic at the Boulder Theater; and Chicago's Roots Rock Society holds court at Jimmy's Grille. On Friday, October 24, dance-scene heavyweight Joi Cardwell finds the beat at the Elle; Corey Stevens frets at the Buffalo Rose; High Plains Tradition begins a two-night run at Niwot's Left Hand Grange Hall; and Dick Hyman and Ralph Sutton finger their keyboards for the first of two evenings at the Adam's Mark Hotel's Majestic Ballroom (details are available at 674-4190). On Saturday, October 25, Ron Miles and Mike Vargas provide "A Feast for the Senses" at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art; Austin's 8 1/2 Souvenirs can be purchased at the Bluebird Theater; Brand New Unit pops up at Area 39; Shallow digs deep at the 15th Street Tavern; Jonathan Fire*Eater throws sparks at the Lion's Lair; and Tony Furtado picks at the Boulder Theater. On Monday, October 27, Bruce Cockburn and Jonatha Brooke amble into an E-Town taping at the Boulder Theater, and Winona Righteous takes part in the Musex Bloody Monday Halloween Celebration at the Bug Theater. And on Wednesday, October 29, Hamster Theatre runs wild at the Mercury Cafe. Aren't they just the cutest things?--Michael Roberts