The Curtain Rises
At first blush, the decision by the members of Isis Curtain to throw a CD-release party at Antropolis, a new art gallery, seems strange. After all, standard rock-scene etiquette calls for such bashes to take place at the Bluebird or the Ogden instead of a spot more accustomed to displaying paintings than guitar riffs. But for Isis Curtain vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist Chad Smith, the space is an appropriate one. "Music and art are really meant to be together," he says, "and the Antropolis event is a great opportunity for us to play in front of an appreciative audience, as well as to showcase the work of members of the Denver music scene."
The show's setting will also give attendees an opportunity to experience the scope of Smith's creative enterprises. In addition to his work with Isis Curtain (previously known as Mutant Sadface), he co-owns Antropolis with significant other Summer Sawyer and creates giant, putrescent sculptures that are not wholly unrelated to the songs he writes. Like his artwork, Smith's brooding, quasi-metal music, made in conjunction with drummer Jim Walker and bassist Chris Haslock, can be bleak at times, but it doesn't shy away from confrontation. Because "the most extreme reaction is the most pure reaction," he says, "the three of us in the band are not afraid to stick it in your face, lyrically and musically. We're not trying to shock people, but we deal with some of life's iffier subjects, and we want to elicit a response in an audience."
That's not a problem for Smith, who, like Jim Morrison and Lou Reed before him, is a talented, perverse soul trapped in the body of a nice-looking white boy. He's at his best when exploring his dark side, as he does on "Tammy Wasn't Allowed Out on Weekends," a track from Mutant Sadface, the new Isis Curtain disc. His voice is an added bonus. This compact lad owns the biggest set of pipes this side of the Czars' John Grant; no matter how loud the music around him becomes, he can make himself heard.
Walker is an ideal foil for Smith. Thanks to his infinite knowledge of rock and pop music, he can identify even the most obscure drum pattern or solo, thereby opening up a wide range of possibilities in his own work. "Isis Curtain is the perfect situation for me," he points out. "Our music allows me to explore and push myself behind the kit. I'm not a big fan of your standard, .38 Special drum beat--that old two-four/high-hat/snare/bass formula. It's necessary sometimes, but this outfit leaves me open to stretch myself beyond that."
As for Haslock, he has an exceedingly disparate background: He's a musician with roots in the Detroit punk scene, a former Olympic skier and one of the men behind SwingSet, an in-house studio whose up-to-date gear was partially financed by proceeds from a Juicy Fruit gum commercial in which he appeared. Because of the time required by his studio gig, he gave up playing bass for a while, and when he was ready to pick up the instrument again, he had difficulty locating performers with whom he was in tune. "I had been trying to find a band to work with and was just about ready to start up one of my own when Jim mentioned that Mutant Sadface needed a bassist," he recalls. "So I set up a recording session for them and told them, 'Hey, if you need a bassist, I'd love to try out.'" Haslock fit in perfectly: His throbbing, bottom-heavy grind and Walker's aggressive timekeeping combine to anchor Smith's occasionally daft meanderings.
Mutant Sadface finds all three musicians playing to their strengths. The disc, cut at SwingSet during a series of extensive and arduous sessions this past summer, also benefits from the contributions of area folk-rock hero Adrian Romero, who co-arranged all eight tracks on the CD, co-wrote two stand-out numbers, "A.M." and "The Morning the Sun Collapsed," and added electric sitar to "She Lets Me Down." According to Smith, "Adrian really expanded our ideas about putting songs together, and his advice in the studio was invaluable."
Once the recordings were in the can, Smith focused his attention on Antropolis, a gallery that departed locals Amber Tripodi and Andrew Watson had previously operated under the moniker Planet Off. Smith and Sawyer, who used to sing with Mutant Sadface and can be seen on the cover of Isis Curtain's debut, reopened it in October with a show that featured several of Smith's David Lynch-goes-goth pieces as well as works by Smith's brother Max and other contributors. A November exhibition featuring efforts by Gianni Lyle, Chris Albert and David Alessi also turned heads--and Smith hopes that the Isis Curtain gala will further establish Antropolis as a nexus for non-traditional artists. Walker, for one, is excited about the event. "We put everything on the back burner to make this CD, and now we are ready to play live again," he claims. "We wanted to come out with a bang, and this is it."
Smith speaks of the celebration in even grander terms. "We want to merge art and music, and we want to promote the alternative arts--and show the scene that the opportunities are there to take your passion one step further into the void."
Isis Curtain, with Space Team Electra, Kids, and an art exhibition featuring Bill Amundson. 9 p.m. Friday, December 12, Antropolis Galeria, 2021 West 32nd Avenue, $3, 480-9781.
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