The Beatdown

It takes but a single spark to burn down an entire forest -- just ask Terry Barton. Here we are, barely two weeks into the new year, and I'll be damned if a few Cowtown musicians haven't tossed some Queen City-sized Molotov cocktails onto the drought-stricken tinder sticks that make up the music industry. I've been flapping my gums for months about how the local scene is simmering and about to catch fire; today I have proof. Two local acts are negotiating brand-new record deals right now, and a third has already signed.

I'm not about to play jinx-master, so the first two outfits shall remain nameless until their deals are finalized. But the third act is a done deal: Fear Before the March of Flames has committed to a three-album contract with the respected New York indie label Equal Vision Records. According to Adam Fisher, Fear's guitarist/vocalist, Equal Vision execs caught the band's act in New York and Boston and were interested enough to fly to Denver for one last set before inking a deal just before Christmas. Fear's spastic, incendiary brand of hardcore should be a perfect fit with a label whose roster already includes such ferocious luminaries as Coheed and Cambria, Converge and Give Up the Ghost.

Fear rose up from the ashes of Thirtysixflip, a mostly forgettable, generic-sounding, emo-informed quartet that released an EP in 2001 titled Sincerely, With Nothing Left to Say. But as it turned out, even after Thirtysixflip said its final words, the band's members still had plenty left to say; they just needed a new way to say it. So in July 2002, bolstered by the addition of lead screamer Dave Marion and armed with decidedly heavier material penned by Fisher and drummer Brandon Proff, the old band had a whole new set of marching orders. And thanks to a Rocky Mountain News column by Bill Johnson about the wildfire that had terrorized Conifer residents a year earlier, its members had a name for both their reconstituted band and its debut release on Portland's Rise Records, Odd How People Shake. "Yeah," Fisher says sheepishly, when pressed about the origin of the monikers. "We won't get sued for that...will we?"

Doubtful. But even if the News were interested in pursuing some sort of litigation, the paper would have to find the guys first -- a daunting task. When I spoke with Fisher last week, he was on a cell phone somewhere in the middle of Ohio, about to kick off Fear's fifth tour. And when the players return to Denver, at the end of February, it won't be for long: Fisher says the group will take some time to finish writing and recording material for a new record, then hit the road to join the Vans Warped Tour for ten dates.

Stop, drop and roll.

Clubbed to death: Keeping track of all of the movement in clubland is like shoveling your driveway in the middle of a March blizzard. Just when everything seems to have stabilized, a new joint opens up or an old one gets toe-tagged. So far this month, for example, two Cowtown clubs have changed hands and several more are about to start rockin' again.

Ethan Ruben, a 27-year-old entrepreneur who moved to Denver from New Jersey six years ago, is now el jefe at the Snake Pit. Ruben, who jokes that he "was mostly just taking up space" before he purchased the Pit, is still hashing out what he's going to do with the place. His immediate plans: "Keep it running, get some money in -- the obvious things."

So Ruben won't be making any drastic changes, and that means the name remains the same...for now. "If that changes, it won't be for a year or two," he says. "The place has a name, and I didn't want to ruin that." The few modifications will be minimal -- from an aesthetics standpoint, at least -- with maybe some fresh paint and a few pieces by local artists hanging on consignment. As far as the music's concerned, Ruben is evaluating the current lineup of resident DJs to determine what's working and what's not. Thursday's drum-and-bass night, Breakdown, with DJs D.Ecco, Fury, Contrast and Vortex, is definitely working. So is She Bop, Tuesday night's '80s-themed ladies' night.

Ruben's also considering bringing live music back to the Pit -- possibly a jazz thing on Wednesdays, with rock, acid jazz and hip-hop on Friday or Saturday. He says he'll have a more concrete idea of the club's direction in a few weeks. In the meantime, he's installed a suggestion box and welcomes any comments, feedback or ideas.

South Park Tavern, the club formerly known as 60 South, is also under new management and in the midst of a pretty massive renovation. Besides knocking down several walls to expand the game room and upgrading the sound and light systems, owners Jeff Piper and Mike Mastro have brought in Matt Stutz from Honkey Raunch to handle booking duties. The club will now offer live music on Thursday and Saturday nights, with a debut show slated for Thursday, January 15, featuring Paul Galaxy and the Galactics. On Friday nights, South Park will continue to host the ever-popular Brit-pop night known as Lipgloss, but other trademarks of the club -- including those pink triangles -- will disappear.

While Mastro emphasizes that everyone is welcome at South Park, regardless of race, gender or sexual preference, the place is getting something of a Straight Eye for the Queer Guy makeover. 60 South had been primarily a gay-oriented club, but South Park Tavern will focus on a "younger crowd, good drinks for cheap prices and great entertainment on the weekends," he says. Hmm, sounds similar to another place not too far away, in Capitol Hill. But even though Piper owns a 25 percent stake in that saloon, the Park Tavern, Mastro assures me that 60 South's new name is intended as an homage to the animated creation of Matt Stone and Trey Parker, not as a nod to the other joint. Still, within the next few months, South Park will be rolling out a menu of what Mastro describes as "high-quality bar food for $2.95 a plate," which sounds like the fare at Park Tavern, as does the promised two-for-one happy hour.

Rock is about to return to Rock Island, too. Mike Barsch of Soda Jerk Presents, which books mostly indie-rock and punk shows, became a man without a venue this past August when Boulder's Tulagi was unceremoniously shuttered for unpaid taxes. In the interim, he's been booking sporadic shows at Cervantes' Masterpiece Ballroom, the Bianchi brothers' main room, which he says he'll continue to do when appropriate.

But now Mr. Soda has found a space for his regular shindigs: Rock Island. According to Barsch, the club's been outfitted with a new P.A. system provided by Dowlen Sound, the cats responsible for the glorious sounds at the Fox Theatre and the Fillmore; since the space has two levels, bands will be booked into whichever room works better for them. Soda Jerk's first show at Rock Island will be this Thursday, January 15, at 7 p.m., with One Dying Wish (playing its final gig), Preacher Gone to Texas, Bailer and Grace Gale. Like most Soda productions, the show is all-ages, but grown folks need not fret: The upstairs bar has enough booze to make barflies like Bukowski smile.

Also look for live local music to return to Hollywood Legends, the Lakewood club celebrating its thirtieth birthday this month, on Tuesday nights. (Artists interested in being considered for a gig should contact Earl Blackheart at 303-517-3299.) And finally, the Buffalo Rose has hired Drug Under's drummer, Mike Crisler, to take over booking duties as well as sound and lights at that club. Crisler says he plans to revitalize the venue by bringing in more diverse acts; he hopes a new method of paying those acts -- giving them 100 percent of the door -- will provide bands plenty of incentive for promoting the shows. (See for contact info.)

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