Once upon a time, Bob Seger urged, "Get out of Denver, baby, go, go." And for many years, if you were a musician in this town, that exhortation would have seemed sage. Today, though, the words sound hollow.
Because right now, it's all about Mootown.
Don't be surprised if a herd of musical expatriates starts stampeding back to town. Brace yourself for the Californication, folks. The rest of the country is finally getting hip to what we've known all along:
We built this city on rock and roll.
And Denver's hotter than ever. What started as a small spark last winter has blazed into a four-alarm fire. At the beginning of the year, Fear Before the March of Flames joined the Equal Vision roster, and Vaux was picked up by Atlantic. In March, Love.45 inked a deal with Rock Ridge Music, an imprint distributed through WEA. The Fray's currently in the process of firming up things with Epic Records. Meanwhile, Roper, the new outfit helmed by Five Iron Frenzy's Reese Roper and featuring ex-members of Divit and Black Black Ocean, just released its debut on 5 Minute Walk Records, which is being distributed by EMI.
And those are just the acts with major/semi-major deals.
Hot IQs' debut on Morning After Records, An Argument Between the Brain and Feet, continues to climb up the CMJ chart, eclipsing much higher-profile indie bands in the process. Although Rose Hill Drive has yet to commit to a label, it's just a matter of time: The band sold out the Fox Theatre for the umpteenth time a few weeks ago, soon after returning from a string of dates opening for Van Halen. Oh, yeah, and Rose Hill is also in the midst of recording with renowned producer Brendan O'Brien.
Wait, there's more.
The Swayback (which will appear at the hi-dive this Saturday, December 11, with Rose Hill Drive and Atlas) just returned from a short trip to California that included shows in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Reps from several prominent labels were on hand for the band's gig at L.A.'s Spaceland -- only its fourth out-of-state performance.
Still, Swayback frontman Eric Halborg downplays the gig's significance. "It was great, dude," he says. "It was great that anybody was paying attention to us at all. But nothing really came of it, to be honest with you."
Not yet, at least. Halborg and company recently hooked up with a Gotham-based entertainment attorney. Although Halborg is reticent to reveal the name of the lawyer, I can tell you that in addition to being a respected music journalist, the Swayback's new counsel helps oversee the affairs of such acts as Franz Ferdinand, Modest Mouse and Interpol -- pretty esteemed company.
"I don't really think too much about the term Œhigh-powered attorney' or anything," Halborg says. "He's definitely a respected kind of cat who has really nice taste."
And Halborg's lawman isn't the only one keeping an eye on Denver. Peter Distefano, Perry Farrell's former axman in Porno for Pyros, is making a special trip here this weekend to "check out the scene." Distefano will join Rexway -- a homegrown act that recorded its soon-to-be-released record with him at Westlake Audio in L.A. -- at Herman's Hideaway on Saturday night. The musician-turned-producer was also behind the board during Rubber Planet's latest sessions.
Distefano's listening not to the town's buzz, but to its music. "It's the energy behind what they're saying," he says of Rexway. "Besides the sound and the look, there's this thing that makes you get goose bumps and your hair stick up -- a power that you can't quite put your finger on.
"And the same thing with Rubber Planet," he adds. "There was that kind of mojo thing happening. And they're great songwriters."
No question about that. Both Rexway and Rubber (which will play a showcase for label execs at the L.A. Knitting Factory on January 10) are among the most tuneful bands in the current batch. And they could soon have company from some new talent I've stumbled on recently: Havok, for instance, a group of high-schoolers who played at the Blue Mule's big mock show not long ago, and were dead-on in terms of channeling Metallica, solos and all! So while I'm sure I'll have to sit through my fair share of shitty bands in 2005, just as I did this past year, it's heartening to know that for every Down 21 set that I sort through, there's a Matson Jones or Mustangs and Madras waiting to be noticed.
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So don't get out of Denver, baby. You'll miss too much.
Upbeats and beatdowns: Mark Saturday, January 29, on your calendar. That's when Rocket Ajax -- an aggro outfit that featured current ION guitarist Todd Schlafer, Eric Shively, former Carolyn's Mother bassist Miles Martin, drummer Craig Glisson and vocalist Dan Miller -- will reconvene for a final farewell show (with Martin's replacement, Ryan Morrow, on bass) at Herman's Hideaway. It's about time this band got the sendoff it deserves. Ajax, one of the most promising hard-rock acts of recent years, quietly disintegrated in early 2003 -- well before its time -- shortly after relocating to the City of Angels.
A big, wet sloppy kiss and smack on the ass go out to the members of Ben Park Drive, which was selected as a finalist in the 2004 Zippo Hot Tour. As much as I loathe this sort of battle-of-the-bands competitions, I can't help but pull for our homegrown talent to wallop its national counterparts. And so far, so good: Out of 1,200 entrants, Ben Park Drive earned one of just eight finalist slots. The ultimate winner will be the band that receives the most votes at www.zippohottour.com, and the victor will then be flown to the Big Apple to showcase for the suits at Island Records -- as well as get some free crap from Tama Drums, Washburn Guitars and Randall Amps. If you do your part, it could be Ben Park Drive taking New York City by storm. To paraphrase P. Diddy: Vote or die, kids.
Last weekend, Nik Lawhorn, ION's former axman who's now living in L.A. and playing with the Anix, was back in town long enough to get clobbered by a couple of drunk cretins. Friday night, as Lawhorn, his sister and a friend were leaving the Soiled Dove (where they'd caught a set by Starfuzz, More than Medium and Rubber Planet), they were accosted; fortunately, Lawhorn and his crew escaped with only minor injuries. As for the knuckle-draggers who doled out the beatdown, Melissa Lawhorn, Nik's sister, says assault charges are pending. Apparently the culprits were identified through a cell phone dropped during the melee. I guess it's true that you can't go home again -- at least, not during Let Out.