A few weeks ago, a radio host likened the Westword Music Showcase, which took place this past Saturday in the Golden Triangle, to a " mini-South by Southwest." And aside from the binge drinking, BBQ, industry glad-handing and how damn hard I have to work on the Showcase, he's right. Like SXSW, the Showcase generates a sizable buzz -- a metro buzz rather than a regional buzz, but that's still sizable -- about the acts to keep an eye on in the coming year. And with more than sixty acts on this year's bill, there's plenty to be excited about.
Although this was our biggest Showcase ever, I personally saw the fewest acts: Due to my duties as hype man on the outdoor stage, I ended up missing more than I caught. Even so, watching the awe-struck expressions that came over so many faces as they discovered artists such as Melissa Ivey, Hot IQs, Matson Jones and Born in the Flood for the very first time -- artists featured in these pages as the hottest emerging talents in town -- more than compensated for the disparity. One of my fellow Westworders, IT guy Sean Sullivan, raved about DJ Sara T's main-stage show, assuring me that he'd "make a point to get down to Cervantes'" later this month to check out Danceotron, Sara's lauded, no-bullshit dance party.
More feedback came Monday morning, when the armchair quarterbacks over at DenverMessageBoard.com validated many of my thoughts about local acts. "The best band I saw was Born in the Flood," enthused BigMo of Big Mo productions. "They simply blew me away, and should win. I've seen them before, but they had tons more energy last night. They brought their ŒA' game for sure."
Big Mo was not alone; quite a few people on the board agreed that Born in the Flood was this year's break-out act. The Flood, helmed by Nathaniel Rateliff, has taken a quantum leap since I first caught the group a few years ago at the Blue Mule. Back then, the band was still trying to define its sound, which infused the swagger of the Stones with the sneer of the Clash into something closely resembling the Strokes. With Born in the Flood's stunning set at the Acoma Center Saturday night, it was clear that the group's sprawling arrangements have matured into full-blown arena rock epics that earlier material had only hinted at.
"I agree with Big Mo," posted Keith Swami of Kelli*Said. "Born in the Flood blew me away. I can't remember seeing a local band getting a standing ovation. They killed. Can't wait to see them again. Tons of dynamics and energy that was very contagious."
John Caballero from Ten Feet Tall concurred: "Born in the Flood was incredible from start to finish! Definitely the best act of the day (that we saw)! Great songs, great passion and energy. I had never seen them before and have marked their CD release party in July on my calendar. They rocked and I agree should win best of Westword." (The release party is July 15 at the hi-dive.)
Other posters cited Melissa Ivey as the sleeper hit of the day -- and I don't disagree with that, either. Playing early in the day with nothing but daylight in front of you can sometimes suck the wind from your sails, but Ivey performed as if she were the main headliner. It's easy to see how this petite chanteuse has garnered such a strong grassroots following; with her powerful voice and strong grasp of melody, she stands out from the pack of local singer/songwriters.
Although there was lots of love for the bands at the Showcase, not everyone was bowled over by everything. "The sound was certainly suspect in some places," wrote poster Steve-O, echoing a common complaint. But "the majority of the bands came to play, for sure." Another anonymous naysayer thought some acts "try too hard to keep up their shtick with the '60s clothes, trying to look alternative." Writing about Matson Jones, he added, "Guess what? If you are doing the same alternative stuff everyone else is doing, it's not really that alternative at all. Just see the Westword cover if you don't believe me."
BadFan was much more supportive. After extolling the performances of Born in the Flood, Black Lamb, Hot IQs, the Swayback and Love Me Destroyer, he wrote, "Only caught a bit of White Girl Lust's spin as I was walking between venues, but I thought the PiL/Franz Ferdinand mashup was excellent." BadFan obviously has refined tastes -- because as I wandered through the crowd during DJ Tyler Jacobson's set, I overheard an older cat whine, "I don't understand what the big deal is with all these DJs."
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No? Our curmudgeonly friend should try to read a crowd and keep a dance floor alive all night. It's hard work, and it takes true talent. We recognized this when we added several DJ categories to the Showcase ballot this year -- but we didn't do so at the expense of any other genres. Instead, we went from fourteen divisions to seventeen. I would love to pit Mr. Killjoy's turntable skills against DJs Vajra, Cysko Rokwell or Shake -- consistent DMC finalists -- on the ones and twos. Whether my man realizes it or not, the DJ community in Denver is every bit as vibrant and noteworthy as the rest of the scene, which is exactly why we made it a big part of this year's event. And the DJs returned the favor by broadening their horizons. "I definitely saw bands that I'd heard of but never heard," Jacobson e-mailed me.
Like the local scene, the Westword Music Showcase is constantly evolving. What started as a humble Sunday night gathering at a handful of LoDo clubs twelve years ago has grown into the biggest event of its kind in Colorado. We consider it a work in progress, making improvements such as this year's addition of an all-ages venue at Scooter Joe's, as well as turning the main stage into an all-ages spot.
But the event will only thrive with continued support and input from everyone in the scene. So if you'd like to weigh in on this year's Showcase, or offer suggestions for the next, feel free to punch the link below. Otherwise, come to the Bluebird Theater on Tuesday, July 12, for the Westword Music Showcase Awards -- our annual popularity contest for bands nominated for the Showcase. Doors open at 7:30 p.m.
Upbeats and beatdowns: One of my favorite local acts, Vaux, couldn't play at the Showcase but will stop by the Fox this Wednesday, July 13, for a rare performance. The show is free -- so be there or be talked about. And finally, heartfelt condolences for the family and friends of Pete Jewel -- formerly of Tipper Gore, Orderly 13, Bitter, the Quiet Room, Burn and Beyond Reason -- who passed away Saturday, June 25. A benefit for his wife and son is being planned; check Beyond Reason's website (http://www.myspace.com/ 11310472) for details.