Old Curtis St. Bar has given way to The Curtis Club. Before shutting its doors in 2012, Old Curtis St. Bar was a host to an eclectic schedule of shows starting around 2003, when Kosta Razatos brought live music regularly into the long-running family business. An anecdote that serves as the seeming guiding principle of the booking: John Gross and Todd Novosad talked to Razatos about having Denver Noise Fest there and, due to other noise events the two had put on at the venue, Razatos is purported to have said, "I don't get this stuff but I trust you guys." Punk, metal, Americana, experimental music, rock and whatever seemed welcome at Old Curtis St. Bar.
As mentioned in an earlier part of this photo series, Ikey Owens played his first show with Free Moral Agents at Old Curtis St. and Dark Castle played one of its earliest Denver shows there. It was a bit of a community space and you could get good food there whether the regular faire or vegan food when a vendor was on hand. It was one of the hubs in that part of town along with Carioca Cafe (aka Bar Bar). What follows are some scenes of several shows I attended and had a camera on hand. We'll have more highlights from the venerable spot in a future installment of this series.
See also: Denver's Ten Best Small Venues
In the early days the P.A. wasn't much, but after 15th St. Tavern shut down in July 2007, you could see some of that equipment at Old Curtis St. This gave Old Curtis St. a bit more credibility in my mind, because the Tavern had an excellent sound system for a dive bar.
BLKHRTS was pretty much impossible to pigeonhole. Early sort of a hip-hop project but its music and aesthetic was more like some ritualistic Goth band. This show was very theatrical, and it reminded me more of a live performance of an early Slayer photo shoot, with a fake but still creepy human sacrifice somewhere in the middle. Confrontational and transgressive in the best way, it may not even be the weirdest thing to have gone down at Old Curtis St. Bar, and that's one of the things that made it special. Yonnas Abraham has since relocated BLKHRTS to Los Angeles.
Burn Heavy might be called a super group if anyone but Haraldo Mardones (of Catheter and Dodsfalla among others) was in a band widely known outside of Colorado. It included, in addition to Mardones, Natasha Craig (born Fortis) formerly of the Bedraggled (currently Hi-Strung and Toi et Moi), Shane Hartman (former drummer of Three Lines of Blur and Black Lamb), Joe Nerud (former guitarist in The Outer Neon and Wicked Phoenix), John Gross (currently in Page 27, Zoologist and other projects) and Renata Castagna (of Black Christmas and Samothrace). It was doom metal but more experimental, considering Craig and Gross were in the band, and it lived up to its name live.
Matt Anderson's project Crank Sturgeon has played every (or seemingly, at least) Denver Noise Fest. Part noise and part magician-esque performance/mobile installation art, you never really know what you're in for except that it'll be weird and one of the best things you get to see that day. For this performance he had on the outfit above and later stripped down at various stages to what looked like a fake animal pelt codpiece covering his junk. No one can say Anderson doesn't commit to a premise.
Dark Castle is a death metal band from St. Augustine, Florida. Heavily influenced by Death, especially the middle era, Dark Castle has definitely colored outside the lines and its music can be psychedelic and atmospheric beyond the expected use of that in death metal proper. Guitarist and vocalist Stevie Floyd has mentioned that Denver's Woven Hand has been an inspiration for her songwriting. At this show I had a migraine headache and Floyd offered me an herbal remedy and took care of me a little. Not everyone does that, especially on tour, but Floyd is not your average person.
Disease Called Human is (on hiatus now, apparently) heavy band that didn't bother trying to fit in with a specific punk subgenre beyond the grind and crust thing.
Entropic Advance is an ambient/experimental electronic project that includes organic sounds including trumpet, which Wesley Davis processes through effects. Davis is the host of the monthly ambient showcase Textures the last Sunday of the month at Mutiny Information Cafe.
Eyes Caught Fire, the legendary dream pop band from Colorado Springs, only played a handful of shows in Denver, unfortunately, but one of those was at Old Curtis St. Bar. The band broke up in November/December 2009. Singer Kellie Palmblad and drummer Joel Brown now play in Water Bear.
Gangcharger was a short-lived noise rock band with some elements of shoegaze. Ethan Ward had been in the shoegaze/post-punk band Mansfield Ghost for a few years before forming Gangcharger and playing for a time in Blue Million Miles. He has since moved back to New York. Inventive and talented former guitarist Adam Rojo also played in Ideal Fathers.
Gloam was something like an experimental rock band but with R&B-inflected vocals. Impossible to pigeonhole but with its own consistently compelling aesthetic. Siblings Fletcher Williams, Olivia Perez and Michaela Perez formed the band with friends Brenden Schutt and Fernando Guzman and it sure sounded like something that had a secret but inviting musical language. Guzman, of course, plays in Fingers of the Sun and Tjutjuna and was a member of legendary noise rock/psych/post-rock band Fissure Mystic and the post-punk-ish Night of Joy. Among several other projects.
In the Age of Terminal Static is a noise project from Seattle. His sets are always different and interesting he that strange outfit is part of his act as well and it gives an added layer of the otherworldly to already transporting sounds.
Last Eyes is Valerie Franz's noise/experimental guitar project. Franz is better known as the talented guitarist and singer in Night of Joy but she was long a champion of noise and experimental music in Denver both as someone that booked shows (including at Old Curtis St. Bar) and as a host of the Meadowlark Bar's open mic night where some of us weirdoes went and tried out experiments on a P.A.. Sound person extraordinaire, she currently lives in Oakland and performs in various projects including Between Youth and Aja Vision.
Los Dos and The New American Ramblers was a one of the great Americana bands of that period.
Lust-Cats of the Gutters was (still is) Alex Edgeworth on drums and Robin Edwards on guitar. Both sang. Edwards was a Westword contributor for years and is currently located in Seattle, where she has a current project called Lisa Prank. Alex Edgeworth now lives in Los Angeles. Lust-Cats made a major impact on the underground punk and garage circuit in America in certain circles and had a playful but very sharp social critique built into its songwriting and the way it conducted itself as a band encouraging other, often younger, musicians including Sauna, a high school band of some local acclaim.
Married In Berdichev is Brittany Gould whose project with Eva Aguila, Caldera Lakes, was declared by Byron Coley and Thurston Moore to be one of the top ten things of the moment in Arthur Magazine in 2010. Here Gould performs with brilliant avant-garde sound artist Isaac Linder at Denver Noise Fest.
My Sister Outlaw was an excellent indie rock/alternative rock band of that period. Suzi Bromfield now performs in Fingers of the Sun, Salads and Sunbeams and sometimes with Napless. Jocelyn Holst, in the forefront, married former the Swayback drummer Martijn Bolster and moved to the Netherlands.
Something betwixt Tad's fuzzy outrageousness, Unwound's tender yet electrifying brooding and Public Image Limited's early urgency, you'd find Night of Joy. The aforementioned Valerie Franz displayed a gift for channeling the buried emotions of any sensitive person that has had to protect his or her psyche from the jerks and idiots of the world. It was eruptive, inspiring stuff. Westword scribe Bree Davies and Fernando Guzman were the dynamic hinge off which Franz was able to fly. This performance at Old Curtis St. Bar was the final show that I saw there.
Offthesky is a still extant ambient band that you can still catch if you know where to look but chances are it won't be at a conventional venue.
Raven Chacon is one of the godfathers of noise in Albuquerque. Long a friend of the noise scene in Denver he has frequently played shows in Denver including Denver Noise Fest.
*Author's Note on the High Plains Underground Archive: In the late 1990s, I started going to local shows on a regular basis. Growing up in the '70s and '80s, I didn't know there was such a thing as local music worth checking out. But I was drawn in after seeing a band called Rainbow Sugar (an all-female punk/hip-hop/experimental guitar rock extravaganza) opening for Sleater-Kinney's first show in Colorado at The Fox Theatre in October 1998. Next, I learned about a show at the now-defunct Rebis Galleries. From there I went to the first Monkey Mania show, and there was no looking back.
Rainbow Sugar was the first local band I photographed at Herman's Hideaway in 1999. But it was in 2005 when I got my first digital camera that my extensive photo archive started. In this series, called High Plains Underground Archive, I will share a small fraction of the tens of thousands of those photos, focusing on specific venues, bands, time periods, movements and whatever else seems to make sense. The title of this series comes from the working title of my book on the history of underground music in Denver 1975 to the present.
• BACKBEAT'S GREATEST HITS •
- 50 Photos That Prove Red Rocks Is the Most Beautiful Venue on the Planet
- Photos: Musicians Buying (Legal) Weed in Denver
- The Ten Most Underrated Guitarists in the History of Rock
- 50 Ways to Support Your DIY Music Community
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!