A lone orange wristband lies in the gutter outside of Dick's Last Resort. On an eerily quiet Monday morning in LoDo, with a blanket of fog hanging over the mountains, and in the heads of the previous night's revelers, the plastic strip is the only hint of what took place at the fifth annual Westword Music Awards Showcase. Despite a gloomy afternoon in which the sun failed to make an appearance, a solid showing of local-music supporters braved the elements and stormed the five venues serving as a sprawling host to the event.
The Music Awards Showcase is an exercise in sensory overload. For music people, it's akin to a large sporting event, or a circus, or a multi-headed monster that must be slain. And like true seasoned fans, some took very seriously the task of sampling at least a snippet of each of the 25 bands on the platter, an impressive feat accomplished only through astute strategizing. But the event is also a good excuse to do some heavy-duty bar-hopping, an activity accommodated more easily at this year's event because of the proximity of the venues to one another. Sure, it's about music, a chance to sample and support those considered to be among the best at what they do. But it's also a chance for normally well-mannered folks to enter the amnesia-inducing world of heavy drinking: The lines at the bars were often as long as the lines out the doors of many venues. Monday morning, you could just envision showcase attendees phoning their bosses with manufactured maladies, then strapping on ice packs and scooting back into bed.
Whatever motivated people to vacate their domiciles and head downtown in search of the mighty wristband, it appears a good time was had by most. There was clearly an overall feeling of subduedness to the evening, though, both in the performances and in audience reaction. Despite the fact that the requisite conditions for a truly rowdy evening were in place, many seemed stricken by a certain blasé-faire. Maybe the blame can be placed on the weather and a day of collective Vitamin D deficiency (it comes from the sun, you know). Or maybe some were feeling the psychic effects of the Broncos' defeat earlier in the day. Who knows? Happily, though, while events of this size invite a certain level of logistical chaos, the evening was surprisingly snag-free: Some murky sound mixes here and there, a broken snare drum or two and a possible sprained wrist were among the few casualties.
The Hate Fuck Trio was one of the first to offer the goods at Dick's Last Resort, and though the members of the band had ditched their matching fake Elway jerseys, they hadn't shed any of their sarcasm. The crowd bottlenecked near the stage as singer Sam DeStefano cracked wise about everything from the importance of highway improvement (vowing that the band would personally bankroll an additional lane on I-25) to football to the gig itself. Fans didn't seem to notice that the sound emanating from the stage was pretty sloppy -- they were too busy dancing and ordering Buttery Nipples from the oh-so-amusingly rude bartenders at Dick's. (The restaurant, for those who haven't had the pleasure, adheres to a certain theme inspired by its name. There's nothing like someone saying "Here's your fucking beer" to make you want to leave a generous tip.) The Hate Fuck Trio, though at times a little too funny, seemed to be having a good time on stage, and its members exuded the kind of energy that made the audience have a good time, also. The band's free-for-all version of "My Dad's a Fucking Alcoholic" was a dysfunctional crowd-pleaser as well as a nod to those Denver bands who preceded the trio in Denver's punk rock and hardcore tradition; the song was originally a staple of the Frantics, which morphed into Fluid, then '57 Lesbian and then Spell, which eventually morphed into the Geds (nominated this year in Hard Rock/Punk).
Elsewhere, the 7 p.m. slot veered far from such raucousness, as torch singer/Denver diva Lannie Garret provided at Sing Sing the first act in what one Westword staffer affectionately termed the "old-lady schedule," a combination of showcase acts most appealing to those who wanted to hear good music but just didn't feel so much like rocking out or didn't want to deal with venue-hopping. (The old-lady schedule, by the way, also included the Latin and jazz ensemble Conjunto Colores, a well-seasoned band whose performance earned uncontested praise, singer/songwriter Wendy Woo, and the impeccable chanteuse Hazel Miller.) Bluesman extroardinaire David Booker found favor with those who wanted to shake their swing thang with a performance at Sevilla, a new showcase venue that managed to convert a basement-like space into a relatively cozy alcove for music.
The LaDonnas took the stage at the Soiled Dove at 8 p.m., and a few things about their set were likely to strike regular LaDonnas fan as slightly unusual. First of all, the immaculate Soiled Dove stage was a departure from the band's usual, less sparkling haunts (especially the 15th Street Tavern, in all its run-down glory). Second, 8 p.m. was pretty damn early for a LaDonnas show, as the band normally reserves its punk-rock goodness for well after the witching hour. Perhaps strangest of all, the band was uncharacteristically reserved -- polite and even sober. But these elements didn't combine unfavorably: The band injected a much-needed jolt straight into the crowd with a tight and aggressive set. The aforementioned broken snare drums were busted at this point in the evening, as LaDonnas drummer Graham Haworth broke his own drum, then one that Jason Segler of the Hate Fuck Trio had loaned him in a moment of musical fraternity. Haworth's relentless aggro-pounding led to the property damage, but it also heightened the showcase vibe considerably. Vive LaDonnas!
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The strange, enigmatic person who is Cindy Wonderful and her all-female hip-hop band, Rainbow Sugar, provided one of the evening's undeniable highlights. The band's10 p.m. slot at the Sky Box at Jackson's All American Sports Rock (where shmoozing and boozing were in full and equal force), proved that Wonderful and crew recognize the importance of a good entrance. Resembling a character from HR Puffenstuff, Wonderful greeted the crowd in a massive floppy hat that bordered on the ridiculous but which one male fan described as "strangely sexy." The band was tight, a humorous and groove-inducing act with as much sass as talent.
Also at the Sky Box, Acrobat Down assaulted the largely bespectacled, geek-rock crowd with inventive, aggressive-as-hell emo-power pop. Unlike some showcase participants, the band seemed very much present, and the packed crowd responded en happy masse. Part of the appeal of the Down sound is the multi-layered approach the group captures beautifully on recordings, and though the result was quite different in a live setting, the bandmembers still proved they'd found creative things to do with their instruments. Plus, you gotta like a band in which even the keyboardist finds ways to jump around and rock out -- Down keyboardist Jame White appeared to nearly sprain a wrist while attempting a brave but curious semi-handstand on his board.
Brethren Fast was in particularly saucy form as it closed the house at Sing Sing, with a diabolical rendering of its dark roots music and a minor protest against corporate America. The members of the band, famous for their matching spaceman silver and straight-from-the-auto-shop jumpsuits, were adorned in Midway-approved auto-racing jumpsuits bearing numerous patches for Budweiser, a beer company that "sponsors" the band. No doubt the band's members were all too aware that Westword's primary showcase co-sponsor was none other than Miller beer. Now, that's punk rock!
And for those who are eagerly awaiting the voting results, recall the old adage about patience being a virtue. Winners in the ten categories, chosen from 55 total nominees, will be announced in the paper next week. Those who just can't wait or who savor the visceral thrill of a live announcement should come to the Music Awards Ceremony at the Gothic Theatre on Sunday, September 26. Doors open at 8 p.m., and the festivities begin at 8:30 p.m. Devotchka will provide a musical backdrop for the victors, as well as us regular folk.