Over the weekend: UMS Festival
Cowboy Curse (Tom Murphy)
Cowboy Curse, 7 p.m. Thursday, Hi-Dive
What it was like: Seeing a great power pop band showing you how it's done right.
Guitarist/singer Ben Bergstrand and bassist Tyler Campo wore a headband and a headkerchief respectively and narrowly escaped looking like they were goofing on Loverboy. Bergstrand seemed to be in high spirits and he moved about and otherwise rocked out throughout the set, throwing himself into every song. Some fundamental but often overlooked wisdom and observations coursed through the lyrics, not unusual for a band that has something poignant to say no matter its chosen topic. One line that struck me was, "You bomb someone, they'll never look at you the same way again." Within the context of a truly upbeat, bubbly pop song just made the lyrics seem all that more powerful. The Curse is no stranger to this sort of thing and it performed one of its classics, "Shoot A Boy," roughly halfway through its set.
Campos bell tone bass line for the opening of "Flowers" was unexpectedly lovely and melancholy at the same time while Bergstrand unleashed the closest thing to noise this band ever employs. The set closed with the excellent "Bought & Sold." Fiery and smooth at once, that song embodied much of the band's new direction in its songwriting. Erin Tidwell and Tyler Campo have always laid down the rhythms with flair and intensity but this time I think Bergstrand played freer than he ever has before.
Verdict: A solid show from one of Denver's most reliably tight and dynamic bands. -- Murphy
Widowers, 8:30 p.m. Thursday, 3 Kings Tavern
Mike Marchant's band of merry madmen kicked off and closed the set with new, unnamed tracks and wow, does the future look bright for this outfit. It's psychedelic rock and pop, kind of like if the original Pink Floyd lineup had stuck together and delved deeper into both the kind of "Interstellar Overdrive" and "See Emily Play" stuff Syd Barrett brought to the table. With a powerful, locked-in rhythm section, two talented guitarists that work well off of each other and Marchant's intense, brooding presence up front, they put on a great show. Oh, and the fact that the songs are dynamite, and that Marchant can really sing -- his voice is a smoky, hypnotic croon, kind of like what Jim Morrison would have sounded like if Morrison hadn't been such a douche -- don't hurt things any. The only real complaint is that it was way, way too short. But hey, leaving the crowd wanting more is never a bad strategy. And I cannot wait to hear the full, recorded version of the krautrock freakout jam they closed with. Awesome.
Verdict: Something special going on with this band, Denver. Miss them at your own peril! -- Cory Casciato
Snake Rattle Rattle Snake (Tom Murphy)
Snake Rattle Rattle Snake, 9:15 p.m. Thursday, 3 Kings Tavern
What it was like: Seeing a high energy post-punk band not miming what we've seen too much of already.
You can't assume a band is going to be good just because its members have been in other great bands before. With Snake Rattle Rattle Snake, such doubts are misplaced. With Doug Spencer and Hayley Helmericks, formerly of Monofog on guitar and vocals and synth respectively joined by Andrew Warner (Red Cloud, Bad Luck City) on drums, James Yardley (Pinkku, Hawks of Paradise, V-tech Orchid) on bass, Kit Peltzel (Space Team Electra, Joshua Novak, Mr. Pacman) on electronic and acoustic percussion and Wilson Helmericks on guitar, this band could have been something of a mess. But what I saw was a band that was performing striking and innovative music.
To be honest, it was good to see Hayley and Doug being really into their music again rather than trying to put on a good face but often going through the motions with that last incarnation of Monofog. With this band, they seemed to be having fun while being creative with their use of sound. The opening song, I believe called "Poison Pen," was dark with a thick layering of synth supplied by Hayley and Wilson. With Hayley's pointed lyrics, it sounded like Suicide gone rock and roll.
Warner kicked in what sounded like some great go go beats toward the end of the set and made the fairly edgy music danceable. The crowd demanded one more song at the end of the set as well and the band obliged though at an event like this it's always best not to. That having been said, the final number was a Cure-esque, moody song with palpably muscular rhythms that was as good as most of the rest of the band's already impressive performance. I definitely left a fan.
Verdict: This is not Monofog Mark II or a branch of the extended Moonspeed family. It is, however, veteran musicians rediscovering their joy in creating music that they can get excited about performing instead of doing what's expected of them. -- Murphy
Julie Davis, 7 p.m. Friday, Michaelangelo's Coffee & Wine Bar
What it was like: Seeing a stripped-down, intimate version of a larger ensemble.
Bela Karoli's Julie Davis found a fitting format for a solo foray. Michaelangelo's intimate, coffee-house feel was a perfect forum for Davis' plodding, hooky bass patterns and purposeful vocals. Backed at first by a rhythm track, and later by guitar lines from Joseph Pope, Davis used the small venue to its full potential. With the set's minimal instrumentation and sparse structures, the smaller room was an ideal fit, and the close proximity offered an engaging view into a solo musician at work.At one point, Davis introduced herself as Bela Karoli, and while the rest of the ensemble may have been absent, the claim seemed apt. Seeing Davis at work alone -- both on a stand-up bass and on an electric bass - functioned like a view into the essential of the group. What's more, Davis offered a syncopated, bare bones version of the jazz standard, "These Foolish Things."Verdict: Davis' minimalistic approach would have been too sparse for a larger stage, but Michaelangelo's stuffed sofas and small tables felt like the perfect perch to take in the performance. -- A.H. Goldstein
Overcasters (Tom Murphy)
Overcasters, 10:15p.m. Friday, 3 Kings Tavern
What it was like: A much heavier Echo & The Bunnymen with a scarier singer.
Overcasters opened its show with a particularly majestic version of "Hey Hope." To accent the choruses, singer/guitarist Kurt Ottaway kicked out and pirouetted sideways. In fact, Ottaway danced, moved about and otherwise emoted in ways he hasn't in quite a long time. Possibly going back to his days in the middle-era Tarmints. If anything, it seemed like Ottaway and the rest of the band were having fun with the material. Not that this act was ever less than good, but it seemed as though the subject matter of the music demanded a respectful and reverential attitude. Obviously Overcasters, as performers anyway, has learned that fun and respect are not mutually exclusive and it made for a more enjoyable show. It definitely caught me pleasantly off guard.
One of the high moments of this show was the song about Overcasters' experience at the 2009 SXSW festival--"Vertigo." It had a clipped riff beginning before diving headlong into shining waters of guitar swirl and driving rhythms. In the background, Shane Williams used spiraling images and while it provided the perfect visual element to the song, I had to wonder if Shane was mixing in imagery from the promotional artwork from the Hitchcock movie of the same name. Overall it was one of this group's strongest performances and I wouldn't have wanted to be the band that followed. Lacking equipment snafus of any kind, Overcasters was able to focus on executing the music and there wasn't a dull moment.
Verdict: Overall it was one of this group's strongest performances and I wouldn't have wanted to be the band that followed. -- Murphy
Orangu-Tones (Sarah Myers)
Orangu-Tones, 11:00 p.m. Friday, Skylark Lounge
What it was like: The teen center on a Friday night fifty years ago, the coolest spot in an uncool Midwestern town.
Have you seen these guys yet? Doesn't matter what your taste is. Go see them. I thought we were in trouble when seven of the eight members came sporting plaid shorts. If I tell you what happened next, that they put on matching shirts that said "Drink Refill Repeat" in block letters and that three of them were playing the damn saxophone, you might be tempted to roll your eyes and picture a wedding band. Work with me. The saxophonists set up down in the crowd and the Corona started flowing. The music coming out of the pack of aging bros onstage wasn't covers, but it might as well have been. You've heard this stuff before, in 80s movies about the 60s. Think "Louie Louie" and "Build me up, Buttercup." Nothing extra, nothing edgy. But they know exactly what they're doing. They're aping the good old days with brazen charm, peddling concentrated fun. They turned the Skylark into a sock hop. They handed out canned ham and SPAM and I almost took a snack-pack of chocolate pudding to the head. One of the saxophonists climbed onto the bar and played from there. Their energy never flagged for a second.
John Common (A.H. Goldstein)
John Common, 3:45 p.m. Saturday, Cartoys Stage
What it was like: Starting the third day of the festival with a calming, folky soundtrack.
John Common's approachable lyrics and engaging folk rock structures played as an easy-to-digest introduction to the third day of the showcase. While the songs tended to be a bit predictable in their patterns, Common and his band supplemented the basic core of the material with interesting instrumentation. In addition to Common's solid acoustic guitar playing, a quintet offered novel sound textures such as a clarinet, a cello and sharp keyboard tones. The result added a good amount of variety and diversity to the group's sound, and made up for the moments of musical familiarity.
Verdict: The presence of a larger backup band and novel instrumentation made up in part for the slower moments in the set. -- Goldstein
The program for the UMS billed the appearance as "Jen Korte and the Loss," but Korte ended up playing the slot solo. While the performance was sparse in terms of instrumentation, Korte dealt with the spotlight well. The tunes she spelled out in finger picking patterns on an acoustic guitar relied on basic structures, patterns that would only alternate between two chords at moments. But Korte found some interesting voicings for this basic approach, and her use of basic major and minor chords benefited from syncopated and energetic picking. What's more, Korte's smoky voice helped to carry the more simple guitar moments, especially during spates of vocalese improvisation. Like Julie Davis the day before, the performance seemed small scale, and ideally suited to the intimate setting of Michaelangelo's.
Verdict: The benefit of having several stages of differing sizes was clear in Korte's performance. While the stark structures and simple sounds would have seemed inept on a larger stage, they fit the small space of the coffee/wine bar well. -- Goldstein
The Slats (A.H. Goldstein)
The Slants, 5 p.m. Saturday, 3 Kings Tavern
I walked into this with no expectations, and was quite amused. The Slants are a kind of dancey rock band, something like a harder rocking Duran Duran. While the music itself was as derivative and ultimately run of the mill as the description "harder rocking Duran Duran" would indicate, it was also just as much fun as that would indicate -- more actually. The high-energy lead singer/frontman understood the importance of showmanship. He was down in the audience dancing with the one girl who started dancing on her own, he busted out some breakdancing moves, climbed on the monitors, and just generally rock-starred out. Add that to the stage props (a lighted mic stand, a bunch of strobes, the band's sweet outfits) and you have a genuine show.
Verdict: I'm sure the CDs are okay, but this is a band that's really in its element as a live experience. Super fun. -- Casciato
Fight Spider with Spider, Saturday 5:45 p.m., 3 Kings Tavern
Down in a dark, sweaty basement, lit only by weird film projections, Fight Spider with Spider seemed to be in their element. The droney soundscapes, tribal drumming and oddball excursions on trumpet, guitar and bass were perfectly complemented by the atmosphere of the pitch black basement. This kind of improvisational stuff can come off as meandering and pointless, but FSwS had the skills, drive and direction to keep that from happening. It was a little slow getting started but once it gelled the band's set flew by and all too soon it was time to crawl back up the stairs into the light, feeling drugged and a bit awe struck.
Verdict: I'd crawl into a dank, pitch-black basement with this band any time. -- Casciato
Astrophagus, Saturday 6:30 p.m. , hi-dive
This was my first time seeing the new, drummer-less Astrophagus lineup. Now consisting of two keyboard/synth players, a trumpet player and singer/guitarist, this band is continuing its evolution into Denver's version of Radiohead. Following that analogy the group is entering its Kid A phase in earnest, moving into deeper, more experimental waters while still maintaining an aesthetic informed by rock music. They played a mix of old material rearranged for the new style and new material written specifically, one would assume, with the new direction in mind. Both came off well, and in particular, new song "Raygun," available as a free download here, was much more engaging live than in its recorded version. That said, the mew approach seems to still be a work in progress. As interesting as it was, it didn't come off quite as powerfully as previous incarnations.
Verdict: Currently, it's extremely intriguing and quite good. If they reach what they seem to be grasping at, it could be awesome. -- Casciato
Dressy Bessy (Kiernan Maletsky)
Dressy Bessy, 7 p.m. Saturday, Cartoys Stage
What it was like: Hanging out with the cool kids, only to find out they're just as boring and even more self-conscious than everyone else.
That's harsh. The circumstances were unkind to Dressy Bessy this weekend -- they played an early set at the sort of bizarre outdoor stage. The sound was still a work in progress at this point, and Dressy Bessy was rewarded with muddy lead vocals, inaudible backups and too much bass. Even so, it was never quite ballsy enough or weird enough. Little section of shouted rock gibberish were shouted away from the mic and sort of quietly. Drum fills were tame. The look is there, the 'tude is there, they just need to let themselves go a little more. That's all trifles, however. The tunes are plenty of pop and they've got the look down pat.
Verdict: Not the best show for a variety of reasons, but Dressy Bessy is a band to keep an eye on anyway. -- Maletsky
Danielle Ate the Sandwich (Kiernan Maletsky)
Danielle Ate the Sandwich, 8:15 p.m. Saturday, the Hornet
What it was like: Being turned into an eager kindergartener at story time.
She's wearing a purple skirt and a white blouse and holding a ukelele. Oh, and rapping. Specifically, she's rapping "Waterfalls" by TLC. Which is funny, yes, but that's only one of the reasons the past-capacity and growing crowd in the Hornet is smiling and wide-eyed and eating out of the palm of Danielle Anderson's hand. When she responds to the cheers at the end of the verse by mocking herself, saying, "I know, it was really good," that's funny too. But that sort of shtick only gets you so far, and the real reason she's giving our web editor goosebumps is what happens on the chorus, which is that she starts actually singing. Her voice defies metaphor. Suffice it to say it's successfully making a cover of "Waterfalls" not just entertaining but impressive. As for the originals: Her pen is as mighty as her voice and her sense of humor, which is just unfair.
Verdict: I strongly recommend Danielle Ate the Sandwich to anyone with ears and a beating heart. -- Maletsky
Ideal Fathers, 8:45 p.m. Saturday, Skylark Lounge
This set almost ended in disaster before it even got started when guitarist Adam Rojo blew up his amp. As the band scrambled to find a replacement (Singer Jesse Hunsaker offered sexual favors to anyone who could come up with one) the tension ratcheted up and a few people slipped out. Those poor bastards bailed too soon -- once a replacement was found the Fathers blasted out the most intense set I've seen from them yet -- which is saying something for a band known for its high-energy playing. Apparently the tension that was built up during that interminable delay ratcheted everything up to eleven, because the set just exploded. The crowd responded and locked into the band's wavelength and it because something special. By the time they played "The Tendrils of Unreason" (second to last, due to the delay-shortened set) they had pretty much everyone in front of me -- the first three rows -- moving in time with every beat. Hot, sweaty, frantic and almost out of control, it was the very essence of rock.
Verdict: Exactly the kind of set I knew they had in them all along. Awesome. -- Casciato
Mike Marchant (Tom Murphy)
Mike Marchant, 9:15p.m. Saturday, Indy Ink
What it was like: Seeing a talented songwriter stripping his songs down to their core and reinterpreting his own material in an equally compelling manner.
Before starting into his short set of songs, Mike Marchant told us, "This song is a bummer." Marchant's songwriting, even in its most upbeat moments, contains elements of melancholy sounds, but the song with which he started off the set was inspired by his recent tribulations with being violently mugged, being body checked by a hit-and-run driver and a life-threatening robbery. All horrible experiences but Marchant has a way of piecing them all together and making them into something beautiful and cathartic, even in his acoustic music. Like any great songwriter, Marchant has a real knack for bringing together his sensitivity, powers of observation and reflection and from the first song of the show, the guy was instantly compelling.
In addition to a song about Cañon City and a certain denizen of the prison system, which Marchant jokingly told us was not actually about him, he performed, with the aid of Grant Israel and Maria Kohler, a soulful version of the Widowers song "Space Never Strays" and, at the end of the show a Houses song with help from various members of that band. That rendition of the song gave me a better appreciation for Houses and it served to lighten the mood of the "bummer" songs. Which is kind of a joke in itself because the engaging and charming Marchant seems to make every show he performs something of a celebration of life minus the phoniness of such things in other contexts.
Verdict: Mike Marchant is a popular and well-liked songwriter because he's talented and not just because he can make you laugh and feel good about yourself.-- Murphy
SUNDAY, JULY 26, 2009
Houses (A.H. Goldstein)
Houses, 5:15 p.m. Sunday, CarToys Stage
What it was like: Getting to the real meat and potatoes of the showcase.
With Mike Marchant's eloquent guitar solos and the entire ensemble's flair for live performance, Houses' set was easily one of the most driving and captivating performances of the four days. The group's catchy and driving tunes served as an ideal aural canvas for engaging and consistently interesting solos, especially from Marchant. What's more, songs like "Be the Woman," which offered a more basic structure, saw solid vocal delivery and backup instrumentation from the entire group.
Verdict: A captivating and energetic way to wrap up the four days of music. -- Goldstein
Wetlands (A.H. Goldstein)
Wetlands, 4:30 pm. Sunday, Floyd's 99 Barbershops Stage
What it was like: Taking in kick-in-the-gut metal early in the day.
Wetlands didn't let a rickety stage or an outdoor venue dilute their energy, or their hard rock theatrics. While the group's UMS set offered many similarities to their appearance at the Westword Music Showcase, the difference in forum seemed to play into the outcome.
While Wetlands played in the smaller confines of Fidel's Cantina during the Westword showcase, the UMS saw them playing on an open-air, mobile stage in the open expanses of a skate shop parking lot. The freer, open-air forum seemed a bit more fitting for the ensemble, who alternated between acrobatic guitar solos and driving, distorted riffs.
Verdict: Even during the group's lengthier tunes, the group maintained an engaging level of showmanship and energy. -- Goldstein
Iuengliss, 6 p.m. Sunday, hi-dive
Live, Iuengliss is a Tom Metz, a microphone, a laptop, a floor tom and a snare. The results were a little mixed. The live arrangements exposed Metz's voice a little and some of the songs suffered for it, but the drumming added a nice element. The drumming worked especially well on the intense instrumental he played early on and his closing number, a weird, intriguing song (new? or rearranged?) that was just almost a funky, whiteboy R&B thing halfway between Justin Timberlake and an electro Ween. Electronic music can be tricky to perform live, especially in a rock show context and Metz could use some more something -- perhaps a cape? -- to punch things up. Verdict: I wasn't blown away, but there were some strong moments. It works a lot better on CD. -- Casciato
Bowerbirds (Kiernan Maletsky)
Bowerbirds, 10 p.m. Sunday, hi-dive
What it was like: Hangin' with the hip crowd in a forest full of mythical creatures.
I thought Bowerbirds were pretty pedestrian live two years ago. I liked the music, but I was ready for a nap by the end of the set. Since then, I'd forgotten about how I felt at that show and only remembered how awesome the songs were. Such unexpected craftsmanship. Melodies dive and rise in hairpin turns. The bass drum is played with a cloth mallet and the songs get reverberations instead of thuds. They have two of the best voices in pop these days. It's stunning, beautiful music. But you know what? Their live show still sucks. I spent a few songs enjoying their sound and a few more trying to figure out why they remind me of nymphs and fauns (It's because they've got this woodsy folk sound to their music and they're sort of short and keep these cunning looks on their faces like they're going to beguile me out of my valuables). All the while, they barely moved. For a little while I tried to convince myself not to be bored, and by the end of a sloppy set I'd given up on that, too.
Verdict: I should have trusted my instincts the first time around - wonderful music and the live show doesn't even come close to doing it justice. -- Goldstein
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