Westword Music Showcase 2010: Backbeat scribes' travelogue
Here's our massive, multi-page report/travelogue of the Westword Music Showcase from (in order) Tom Murphy, Cory Casciato, A.H. Goldstein, Jef Otte, Jon Solomon and Brian Frederick. Let us know in the comments what you saw and loved, saw and hated, or missed and hated yourself for missing.
While walking to Vinyl in time to just miss Night of Joy, I ran into people who informed me that the Showcase had already sold out -- a fact that became more obvious as the day went on. On the rooftop of Vinyl, the hip-hop showcase was underway, and Extra Kool laid down some of his better songs -- mostly the sunnier material from Even's Dead. Joining Kool was lyrical wunderkind Chris Steele, aka Time, throwing in some phases and otherwise handling the electronics. Despite the swelter, Kool put in a spirited performance.
It'd been a while since I last saw Blue Million Miles, but it seems like those guys have tightened up their act even more. Jeff Shapiro's wide-ranging guitar gymnastics complimented Sam McNitt's rhythmic leads better than ever, and the newer songs, written since the act's last album came out in 2008, were haunting and uplifting at the same time. The band has always been good at writing songs that get under your skin, even going back to the time when McNitt and Shapiro were in Small Objects, but with Johnny Lundock and Ethan Ward fully integrated into the songwriting process, this Bar Standard show, so sonically lush and electrifying, hinted that the next Blue Million album will be its best.
Overcasters played a short set at Bar Standard, Matt Regan's last with the band, but didn't skimp on showcasing songs from its upcoming release this fall. Despite the heat and the restrictions of that stage, the band put in a fine set. Sure, the projections had to be scaled down a bit from its normally reality-warping colorings, but Overcasters didn't scale down on its indigo swirl of dynamic sound. Kurt Ottaway even treated us to some moves that accented the rhythmic shifts.
Although in the shoegaze category on the ballot because there aren't enough bands like it to merit a separate designation, Overcasters, on this day, were more akin to a band like Catherine Wheel (also lumped in with the shoegazers), who rocked too much to stare down at pedals. At least that's what it seemed like to the crowd of people down front who were more into the show than most things I saw the rest of the day.
The "Rhino-In-The-Round" at Mo's was a fairly crowded affair and five acts performing formed a semi-circle just inside the entrance. First up was Married in Berdichev pal Stephen Steinbrink from French Quarter. One of the best male vocalists in underground music, his soulful falsetto accompanying the gentle but strong melodies did a lot toward brushing away any concerns with the muggy atmosphere.
Married in Berdichev performed two songs that were more melodically atmospheric and gorgeously ghostly than some of her more noisy, organically inflected compositions. Milton Melvin Croissant III's performance of the drivingly expansive "Blizzaga" came as a pleasant surprise even after a promising new song for the first half of his set. Ryan and Kristi from Hideous Men wore what looked like what might be described as Tleilaxu chic. Nevertheless, the duo brought its futuristic, experimental electronic pop with conviction, especially "Talons."
Pictureplane closed out the round robin with his own variety of house-avant electronic songs. At this point, the charming awkwardness that characterized Travis Egedy's earlier shows is gone replaced with a humble confidence in his ability to execute the music and so he did, ending the show with "Trance Doll." -- Tom Murphy
After several false starts (amazing how many things you can forget and be forced to head home for...) I finally made it to the Westword Music Showcase around 12:30 p.m. My first stop was the patio at Bar Standard, where Alert was dropping some danceable sci-fi/horror movie soundtracks.
The early stages and time slots are always hard, since people's tendency to trickle in to Showcase throughout the day means the early shows are frequently sparsely attended. Dance music has it especially hard -- it's not really a core draw of the Showcase audience and it's definitely a genre that's at its best late at night. Alert's work is particularly suited to dark nights and late hours, but he didn't let that stop him from delivering a set of gut-punching bass and twisted, alien timbres over tricky dubstep beats.
Admittedly, no one was dancing -- it was damn hot and it's hard to keep the energy up when there are just six people there -- but no one was exactly standing still either. Bobbing, nodding and the occasional fist pump were in effect. Oh, and he despite the heat he played in a biohazard suit and surgical mask get-up that must have been hot as hell, which was definitely good for a few style points. It was an impressive set -- shame more people didn't hear it.
From there, I made my way to Broadways for Yerkish to find that the band has adopted the all-white matching outfits aesthetic once favored by Hearts of Palm (didn't Everything Absent or Distorted do it too?). They have not suddenly transformed to an indie pop act, however. The music was the same intricate prog/metal blend with touches of psychedelia thrown in.
Singer Tim Kaminski -- a natural showman, and one of Denver's best frontmen -- was in his element and had most of the crowd in rapture. Behind him the band whiplashed from influence to influence, evoking the Mars Volta, Tool, Jesus Lizard, Chrome, Rush and more. One day this band will jel those disparate influences into a truly unique sound. When it does, watch out.
Once Yerkish wrapped up I headed outside for a walk over to Sutra. By the time I made it over, Ideal Fathers had already started playing. Showcase sets starting early? What madness is this? Luckily I'd missed only moments of the first song, according to the set list affixed to the stage (well, the floor that was serving as a "stage").
The best Ideal Fathers shows I have seen have featured a lot of audience participation in the form of the spastic, twitchy dancing that their style of rhythmic post-punk seems to demand. In those shows, the band and audience seem to settle into a feedback loop that amplifies everything they do. Today, not so much. Their was one girl getting after it a bit, but mostly everyone just stood and stared. Stared appreciatively, mind you, since the audience seemed to be fully engaged, but not moving much. The heat? The time of day? Maybe everyone needed to be drunker?
The band's set was still solid, and they delivered a mix of songs from the first EP and new material that hews closely to the same style of herky-jerky rhythms and pointy, jagged guitar with Jesse Hunsaker growling and howling over the top. Good stuff, just not their best performance. Not bad by any means, just not stellar.
My next appointment was with Accordion Crimes at the very same venue, giving me some time to look around and have a drink. I chatted with a few acquaintances form local bands and noticed quickly that a lot of the people filing in to catch AC were in bands -- good bands. Various representatives from Lion Sized, Light Travels Faster, Everything Absent or Distorted, Jim McTurnan and almost the entirety of the Knew were present. The respect of so many peers is usually a sign of a great band, and Accordion Crimes turned in a set that was worthy of the attention. Driving, intense and seemingly hovering constantly on the edge of chaos, it was like a high-octane art-rock explosion. This has to be one of Denver's best live acts at the moment. Go see them at your earliest opportunity.
When I got to Mo's, I was relieved to see that Astrophagus was not playing yet, returning me to the usual festival timetable. Last time I saw Astrophagus, it had morphed into a almost purely electronic act, forgoing the drummer for machine beats but adding a full-time trumpet player. That performance was one of the more experimental and out there I'd seen from the band. This time out, a drummer was back in the fold and the band had reined in some of the more esoteric tendencies for a return to the engaging, electronic-infused indie-rock of For Boating.
And while I enjoyed the weirder, more experimental side of Astrophagus, the more indie-leaning style is a better showcase for Jason Cain's excellent songwriting, so it was a win. I wasn't alone in that judgment -- the capacity (or over-capacity) audience ate it up, too. It left me eager to hear a new album. Soon, guys?
Afterward, I grabbed a quick bite and then headed back to Bar Standard for Fell. Unfortunately, it struck me as something of a fish out of water set. Fell's brooding, atmospheric songs are twilight music, meant to be listened to on the side of a lonely road somewhere. But in a sweaty, beer-soaked club in the late afternoon heat ... it just didn't work for me.
Everything sounded fine, the songs were there, the playing was solid but it simply didn't jel properly. I just couldn't lose myself in their oceanic sound in full daylight while dripping with sweat, both my own and that of the drunk standing too close to me. I'd like to catch this band in a different venue, as I suspect they could be quite enjoyable live, but I found my mind wandering too much today.
I headed upstairs to the patio in time to catch the end of Ginger Perry's set and she seemed to be having a good time and getting a decent response from the crowd. But when Fresh 2 Death took over, the patio erupted into full-blown dance party euphoria. Soundwise, they seemed to have worked out a near-perfect formula that engaged fully with the electronic dance music world while pushing the indie-dance buttons hard.
It reminded me a fair bit of a stripped-down take on the Knife's iconic sound on Silent Shout or the song "Heartbeats." That's a great sound, and it's no surprise that Fresh 2 Death have found success with it. If you can get the dance-music kids and the indie kids to dance to the same beat, you have a license to print money. Fresh 2 Death seem to have figured that out.
That wasn't supposed to be the end of my night, but a questionable dinner choice turned on me and demanded I cut things short in order to spend more quality time in the bathroom. Ghostland Observatory and Boombox, I will have to catch you next time...
-- Cory Casciato
Brian Landis Folkins
I'm in a sedentary mood on the day of the Showcase, I guess. As soon as I see the lineup for the Curious Theatre, I'm pretty happy to stay seated in the quirky space and take in the Flashbulb Fires, Achille Lauro, Danielle Ate the Sandwich, the Ian Cooke Band, Hello Kavita, John Common and the Flashing Blinding Flashes of Light and, finally, Snake Rattle Rattle Snake.
The decision turns out to be pretty wise. It becomes clear almost immediately that the Curious Theatre is a unique venue in this year's Music Showcase, and I'm floored by the display of homegrown talent throughout the day.
As members of the Flashbulb Fires take their places on the tiered set of the Curious Theatre company's recently ended run of "Up," the performance quickly takes on an epic, Victorian feel. The mood comes from the stage's bright blue background screen, from the former church's ornate architecture and vintage balcony.
The Fires' soaring musical structures and rich musical sounds help, too. The crowd remains somewhat staid during band's opening set - during the Flashbulb Fires' energetic, vibrant performances of songs like "Rope and River," "Sleep Money Dawn" and "Et Lux Perpetua," the audience stays respectfully calm and quiet, applauding at the appropriate places and resting glued to their seats as if they were taking in a play.
It's a dynamic that doesn't escape the notice of the band members - at one point, lead vocalist, guitarist and keyboard player Patrick McGuire remarks that he's accustomed to dealing with the raucous antics of drunks during live shows.
"It's quiet in here, man," he observes.
The relatively sedate feel of the crowd doesn't throw off the band. The Fires' set boasts a rich blend of driving rhythms, expansive musical textures and well-plotted vocal harmonies. It's a mix that draws from everything from Fleetwood Mac to Eliot Smith.
Their mix of elements is imaginative and subtle. The percussion includes glockenspiel and wooden blocks. McGuire's duties on "Sleep Money Dawn" hop between dense acoustic fingerpicking, keyboard lines and falsetto-tinged vocals. Michael James adds some some killer Stratocaster slide runs and hypnotic delay effects on "20 Something."
It seems as if the crowd has started drinking. The audience is growing, filling the floor and the balcony at the Curious. The reserve and politeness that marked the crowd during the Flashbulb Fires' first set has all but disappeared - onlookers are yelling their approval from their seats as Achille Lauro breaks out with "Hard Pressed."
The band takes full advantage of the growing enthusiasm and abandon. As always, Matt Close delivers an infectious amount of energy and earnestness in his guitar, synth and vocal work. Luke Mossman's frenetic bursts of guitar lines spelled out high the neck are spot-on, and Ben Mossman and Jon Evans comprise a driving rhythm section.
The range of sounds the band includes in their set is truly impressive. The blend of synth effects, danceable new wave riffs and bluesy growling vocals is ambitious, but it's also seamless. The band easily navigates temporary technical difficulties, busting out new riffs and snippets of new tunes. Older songs like "Friends War" and "No Brakes" sound as fresh as ever, and the echoes of bands like the Beta Band and the Tom Tom Club manage to pull audience members to their feet by the end of the 45-minute set.
Danielle Anderson's (aka Danielle Ate the Sandwich) performances always find a striking balance between heartfelt honesty and deadpan humor. She's skilled at flipping between the earnestness and seriousness of her music and a consummate talent at riffing onstage with jokes that start the entire audience giggling. Anderson is true to form in her performance at the Curious. Dick jokes and silly musings are peppered in between the searching, searing tunes from Things People Do and her new release, Two Bedroom Apartment.
"I'm funny, I'm beautiful, I write really good music," Anderson playfully boasts at one point. Her observations aren't groundless. The Curious is at capacity for Danielle Ate the Sandwich's entire set, and the crowd raptly follows each shift from musical weightiness to playful stand-up.
The inclusion of Dennis Bigelow on stand-up bass gives older songs like "Another Day" and "Bribes" from Things People Do more scope and dimension. Newer songs like "El Paso" and "Silver and Gold" offer the same type of poignant imagery, catchy riffs and expert vocals that made Anderson's debut album such a treasure. Her cover of TLC's "Waterfalls" inspires coordinated clapping from the crowd.
The performance also benefits from the venue - the Curious' theatric feel seems an ideal setting for Anderson's folk-based ukulele hooks and her intimate onstage presence. Despite the capacity crowd, Anderson recognizes old contacts from Fort Collins and Arapahoe High School from the stage; she jokes about making lasagna and buying craft supplies from Joann's Fabrics. The shtick works especially well on the stage and in the space of the Curious.
As in Danielle Ate the Sandwich's set, the Ian Cooke Band used Showcase as an opportunity to preview some new material and revive some older favorites. Newer songs like "Flipped" and "Havoc" don't veer too far from the formula that's made the band so engaging - Ian Cooke's plaintive vocals and classically informed piano and cello work still drive the songs. But Ian O'Doughtery's epic guitar lines and Sean Merrell's explosive drumming add some force to Cooke's source material.
The jarring musical fusion of classical sensitivity and hard-driving rock persists during the entire set, but it's a combination that works. Older tunes like "Vasoon" find new life with the added instrumentation, and Cooke is gifted at incorporating everything from ABBA to Joanna Newsom in his approach.
Hello Kavita's set sees Luke Mossman making his second appearance on the Curious stage during the Showcase, following up his impressive appearance with Achille Lauro. Mossman's signature guitar style, with its creative chord segments and riffs, complement Corey Teruya's acoustic runs and his subtle vocals. Together, the guitarists drive Hello Kavita's unique brand of folk rock during an enjoyable, if somewhat staid, set. Like previous acts from the day, Hello Kavita's easy cadences and finger-picked lead riffs seem ideally suited to the space at the Curious. It would be difficult to imagine the band's set, which is heavily informed by bands like Wilco and Neil Young, to seem as appropriate in a cramped bar.
Instead, the mood of the performance remains low key. The setting helps spotlight keyboardist and violinist Ian Short, who finds ample opportunities to inject some catchy lines. Indeed, songs like "To a Loved One" and "The Last Time" see perfectly tailored to the layout of the room.
Common musical elements are starting to emerge as the day winds down.
John Common and the Blinding Flashes of Light offers similar cues from folk, rock and blues traditions that marked earlier offerings from Hello Kavita and Danielle Ate the Sandwich. Here, the delivery is decidedly more epic. Common's voice seems designed to fill an amphitheater, and the input of his bandmates only deepens the impression. Bassist Casey Sidwell and drummer Carl Sorenson are explosive as a rhythm section, their input adds insistence to songs like "Can You Hear Me" and "Let's Go to the Library."
Adam Revell's organ work adds some refined blues textures to the tunes, while Jess De Nicola serves as the band's hypnotic siren, offering consistently forceful and captivating vocal lines. Wes Michaels rounded out the sound with expert work on the saxophone and cello. Common's set is folk rock at its core, but his enthusiasm and energy, combined with the well-honed contributions of his backup band, make it seem like something more.
Mere minutes before Snake Rattle Rattle Snake is set to start its performance, a woman rushes past, headed for the floor in front of the stage. "Snake Rattle Rattle Snake is a dance band," she explains hurriedly. "I have to be up front to dance."
It's quickly clear that she's not alone.
As soon as the band breaks into "Hastily," the entire audience on the Curious floor is on their feet, moving to the band's contagious rhythms and sinuous sound. Maybe it's the added percussion provided by the band's duo of drummers, Kit Peltzel and Andrew Warner. Maybe it's frontwoman Hayley Helmericks' constant movement and her contagious energy. Perhaps it's the driving feel of the band's tunes, a pace that summons the heady feel of ceremonial tribal dances. Whatever the cause, Snake Rattle Rattle Snake has an uncanny ability to make people move. Indeed, their set spurs mass participation from the largest crowd the venue has seen all day.
The group's seven-song set, which includes "Sineater," "Ornament," "Break" and "Kafka" filled the floor and the balcony. The capacity crowd laps up every moment of the performance, cheering on Helmerick as she wanders suggestively around the stage and Doug Spencer as he spells out hypnotic guitar riffs. Before closing out the set with "Kafka," Helmerick suggests that the Curious be used for music shows more frequently. Judging from the success of the venue during the Showcase this year, the suggestion seems more than reasonable.
-- A.H. Goldstein
The first set of the day got a late start, with a lot of milling around and setting up--due partly, no doubt, to the size of Aaron Collins's (A. Tom Collins) band, which featured a full horn section. It was worth the wait. Seated behind a beautiful white grand piano with wild beard and stringy hair hanging in his face, Collins both looked and sounded like a young Leon Russell, capturing that same vocal rasp somewhere between Lemmy Kilmister and Rod Stewart, while the band, as well, paid tribute. Subtracting guitar but adding the James-Brown jabs of the horn section, it was a similar mix of big-band largesse filtered through rock chaos. If it hewed too closely to Russell to be entirely original, well, who sounds like Leon Russell anymore? And the band pulled it off like gangbusters, bringing the short set to a close with a joyfully shouted, a-cappella chorus. It was a shame more people weren't around to see it.
Brian Landis Folkins
My next set was Achille Lauro at the Curious Theater, and I'll get it out of the way up front that I think Achille Lauro is awesome. Like, maybe the best band in Denver right now. The band sounds something like Peter Gabriel plus Passion Pit on the recordings, leveraging a mind-boggling amount of textures and tempos into every song--and yet it's far from inaccessible. In fact, probably the most disappointing thing about the set was that, due to the seating and the still-early-in-the-day crowd, nobody danced. And Achille Lauro is nothing if not dance music.
Live, the band is flawless, and the set mirrored the recordings note for note--which, good Lord, is a serious feat for just four guys. But each of those four guys played multiple instruments simultaneously throughout the set--even the drummer also plays a synth--and that plus the samples both guitarists ran from their laptops in real-time left nothing absent.
At Broadway's, after a delicious hot dog from a street vendor and a beer, Kingdom of Magic took such a 180-degree turn from Achille Lauro it was jarring. The band employs literally towers of amplifiers--and uses every inch of them--to create something like the soundtrack for a biblical plague, while Luke Fairchild's tormented vocals hover over the punishing drone like Jello Biafra commissioned to announce the edict of some old-testament God. Some songs are more urgently paced than others, but the best parts were the ones where the band slowed it down and let the amplifiers scream with the anticipation of the next crashing note, milking the suspense like the scene in a horror movie where--known to the audience but not the character--the killer is dangling a bloody knife just overhead.
I made it my goal to keep sets as eclectic as possible throughout the day, and the Greg Harris/Kingdom of Magic dichotomy proved probably my most successfully eclectic combo that day. Down several members of his normal "quintet"--which actually features a rotating cast of musicians that has been known to grow to 10 or more--Greg Harris' band played as a trio that focused on African rhythms and chants.
Generally a vibraphone player, Harris stuck to gyil, a type of West African xylophone made out of wood (which he studied under Ghanaian masters of the instrument), and a couple of shakers, one of which he tied around his leg. Harris is a mellow performer with an easy smile and a laid-back charisma, but that didn't stop him from ratcheting up the tempo in the last number, whipping the band into a frenzy of ultra-fast percussion and getting a good chunk of the crowd to sing along to something in what sounded like Swahili that--guaranteed--nobody there understood a word of.
Probably a little drunker than I should have been, considering I was technically working, I was wearing down when I went to see Neon Indian at the Main stage, but the set proved to be just what I needed. The band played less a set of songs than a set of reverb and delay and random samples crashing on top of each other like the waves of an oncoming tide with some songs surfacing in between--but oh, what songs they were.
Like Depeche Mode but much spacier, composer Adam Palomo's backing band provided a foundation of rhythms that spanned from the pulsing-heartbeat aesthetic of Sade to full-on disco, while Palomo's cloud of synth-generated effects sparkled on top like a flock of stoned hummingbirds. The odd dichotomy between spacing out and grooving down was the perfect antidote to an urge for afternoon naptime, and I was sorry I had to leave the set early.
But not that sorry, because John Common and Blinding Flashes of Light's set at the Curious Theater was no disappointment. It's probably been remarked before, but I'll chance it to say that Common's name suits his music, a classic and unpretentious strain of mellow rock that recalls laid-back popsmiths like Carol King or post-Beatles George Harrison. Which is not to say that it isn't interesting. Coming off what is probably his best record yet, Common filled his set with Latin-tinged grooves that brought no lack of dancability--his Tom Waits cover, in particular, was faithful enough to bear the original's sinister overtones but different enough to bear Common's signature--yet betrayed a certain mournful sentimentality in the wings.
I had to leave that set a little early too to catch Dirty Projectors on the main stage, which was the set I was probably most excited about--and the band did not let me down. Let's say that it was in the top two best sets I saw that day. It's hard to describe Dirty Projectors' music. In one way, the band is like Talking Heads at David Byrne's most angular, disjointed and punctuated by shards of jagged guitar, taking unexpected turns of tempo and time signature with Neil Peart-like rigidity. In another way, it's like African-era Paul Simon, with gospel-like vocal harmonies and the kind of delicate guitar picking that could be in a lullabye, all of it adding up to a complex but incredibly pretty mix of technicality and unabashed sweetness. It's some of the most intriguing music out there right now, and the band pulled it off without a hitch.
In the interest of being eclectic, I figured I should catch at least one hip-hop set, so after Dirty Projectors I went over to Vinyl to catch the latter half of Cobraconda's set. Following in the footsteps of 3OH!3 (frontman Spencer Foreman is actually the older brother of 3OH!3's Sean Foreman), Cobraconda picks up the crunk train where that band left off to pursue techno-cum-pop-punk, sounding something like Hello Nasty-era Beastie Boys except with blippier, more D&B-influenced beats. It's party music that doesn't pretend to be anything smarter than that.
Even though the lyrical content is mostly silly, the band brought both relentless energy and the kind of classic hip-hop posturing that's funny coming from white boys to the stage and there were flashes of cleverness ("The front is where you ride and the back is where you fuck/It's kind of like a car and it's kind of like a truck"--see if you can guess what that song is about). It was probably the slightest set I saw all day, but by that late hour and level of intoxication, heavy was definitely not what I was looking for.
-- Jef Otte
Brian Landis Folkins
It has to be tough getting up for early afternoon gig after not getting home until 4 in the morning, but frontman Al Chesis and guitarist Jeremy Vasquez, who played with the Delta Sonics in Wyoming the night before followed by a midnight duo gig, didn't let that get in a way of a powerful set. It's easy to see why Muddy Waters' son Big Bill Morganfield and Bob Margolin tap the Delta Sonics to back them up when they come to town.
Dazzle's main room was about a quarter full when the Delta Sonics opened with an instrumental jump blues tune, but the place filled up rather quickly and by the time they closed out their set with a fiery cover of Smiley Lewis' "Real Gone Lover," where Chesis playing fiercely on the harmonica while going from table to table, the place was nearly packed.
By the time the Informants kicked off their set at 2:15 p.m., it was standing room only. While there were a fair amount of folks drinking, and the band usually does pull in its share of drinkers, it was still a bit strange to see the band in the middle of the afternoon. It just seems more natural to see them after 10 p.m. or something, but the group still kicked out an energetic set.
Singer Kerry Pastine was enthralling as hell sporting a slinky red dress and fishnets, opened with the high-energy surf rock of "Crawl" followed by the "Chain of Fools"-esque "Nothing But a Bad Break" and the title track from the band's latest effort, Crime Scene Queen. After Kenny Plum delivered some great harp playing on the blues of "Roll It Home," the Informants rode it out with another surf-tinged cut, "Ukulele Johnny."
While the Informants really got down on few blues cuts often get tagged as a blues band, it's clear that the band is capable of a whole more. Whatever they were playing that afternoon, the crowd was eating it up.
After vigorous sets from the Delta Sonics and the Informants, Greg Harris came on next with sort of an augmented version of the Greg Harris Vibe Quintet, as some of the members couldn't make the gig. Instead of brigning his vibraphone, he brought his gyil, a type of West African xylophone with gourds underneath. While set might have been quite different from the spacious jazz and grooves of the Vibe Quintet, Harris showed that his skills go far beyond the jazz realm. With percussionist Ido Ziv and bassist John Grigsby, the trio dipped into an outstanding set of West African music with Harris singing, which he doesn't do in the Vibe Quintet, and playing percussion as well.
Harris' set was ideal to lead into Matt Skellenger's set, which borrowed from world music and jazz. With a set comprised of Skellenger-penned originals and some help from trumpeter Ron Miles, pedal steel player Glenn Taylor and drummer Dave Miller, the quartet dug into a set made up primarily of cuts from last year's Parentheticals. On "Astrocyte," Miller's tabla playing gave the tune a bit of an Indian feel while Skellenger and Taylor held down a groove while Miles played the melody. One of the set's highlights was "Makeda," which felt like it could have been written specifically with Miles' lyrical playing in mind as sections of the tune almost felt like a Miles original while other parts drew from Middle Eastern and African highlife music.
While Skellenger's band stretched out and improvised on sections, the Bottesini Project's set was completely free improvised, as are all off the group's shows. While some players are constant in saxophonist Paul Riola's project, it's a rotating cast of talented players, some of whom might sit in a for just a set or recording project. Whatever the case, it's usually some extremely compelling music that's all improvised collectively on the spot, and Saturday's set was no exception. Since the set featured some Bottesini regulars like pedal steel player Glenn Taylor, alto player Mark Harris and bassist Doug Anderson, there was a cohesiveness and focus throughout each piece with each player feeding off the other.
Take the opener, which started off with fast swinging cymbal play by drummer Jay Ellis that morphed into a groove. There were sections where Harris and Riola fed off each other and other times where piece might build up and then change instantly. There was some brilliant interplay and dynamics throughout the set that ended on a piece that vaguely recalled "The Drum Thing" from John Coltrane's album Crescent.
Although the Bottesini Project delivered a thoroughly compelling set, there were times where I wish the members of the audience would have paid more attention to the music rather than talking to one another. What those cats were doing was a lot more than just background music.
-- Jon Solomon
I felt it was far too early in the day to be seeing a grown man hopping around in his underwear. It was only fifteen minutes into their set and Bret Bertholf, of the Mighty 18 Wheeler, had already managed to fit in two wardrobe changes. It's not like 12:30 on a Saturday afternoon is that early, but let's face it; not many have this amount of dirty rock and roll thrown at them with such fierceness during this part of the day. But then again, this wasn't an ordinary Saturday brunch time in Denver; it was the beginning to the sold out Westword Music Showcase.
As with any festival, time constraints and overall excitement to see as much as you can tend to butt heads. After getting an oddly comfortable wake up set from TM18W at Broadways, myself with crew in tow took a short jaunt to the newly renamed Chique nightclub. Now, I don't really now how to pronounce Chique, let alone what it means, but from what I could gather it probably has something to do with the lack of AC. No matter what the conditions, however, Aloft in The Sundry supplied a good amount of piano-led alt-rock. "The Swamp," was an aptly titled anthem for the day and again proved to be the highlight of what I saw of the set, also my cue to continue about the day.
In this industry it's good measure to pay attention to the length of the hair of some of the artists. Why? Because it allows one to know how long it's actually been since you've seen them live. Both with Sloan Anderson of Single File and Stefan Runstrom of Tickle Me Pink, I saw just how long it's been. Time flies, but it's equally as impressive to see them continue to progress and strengthen their hits, much to the pleasure of the heat laden fans.
2:15. Now what? I knew early on in the week that this part of the day would constitute a problem. There were at least six bands I wanted to attend that started around this time. To those I missed, I apologize for the empty promise, to those I saw, thanks again.
I drew mental straws and found myself at Mo's. Eleanor was on deck, but not all of whom I thought I'd see. After a few songs lead vocalist / guitar Ryan Brasher admittedly shared what seemed to be one of the worst weeks of his life. His pedal board on stage was malfunctioning. He was using this alternate board on stage because a few days earlier his main setup had been stolen from his car. On top of that he had lost his backup singer, Chelsea Latimer, for unknown reasons. He held his head high, however, and claimed it was all for the better and that he was glad to be taking it back to the basics.
Bannock St. Garage was next in line. Speaking of those lines, the place was jam packed with Lola Black fanatics. No room to stand, no room to sit, so I enjoyed a few "hey I haven't seen you since this mornings" and headed back out to join said crew at City Hall.
City Hall seemed to be the place to be during the day. It seemed so shut off and unassuming during Artopia that I hadn't given much thought to hanging out there for most of the day. Unbeknownst to me, in the summer they have large doors that open up to a bottom level alfresco. I'm guessing the lack of coverage is due to one of the many late season snowstorms we've had in the past?
This is a gem of a place for sure, but with an unfortunate misuse of the lower level stage. This, however, didn't detract from any of the high tide that was flowing in from the street. Air Dubai, aside from the late main stage crowd, had by far the biggest and most attentive crowd of the day. Followed by aggressive and unrelenting sets from the Pirate Signal and the Chain Gang of 1974, City Hall was most definitely alive in the city of Mile High.
(I should also take mention to one of the most attractive restaurant staffs in Denver at The Hornet. They provided us a brilliant breakfast base to continue about the day as we did, followed by the bar staff at City Hall in which I heard nothing but high remarks for, and to Taste Of Philly for putting up with our incoherent lunch orders.)
Then Main Stage. For those who were there, you know. For those who weren't? It was a cooled down, heightened sense of positive anxiety that only brought out the best in people. Sure, we can blame it on the booze, but really why take that away from the creators and staff of the showcase? The lineup was by far their best yet, obviously reflected in the amount of presale tickets (all of them) and maintained a sense of festivalism that isn't ran by the Benjamin's.
Where does Westword go from here? It's hard to say. Multiple days? Bigger venues? Personal escorts to make sure nobody loses phones, dials exes or steps on that piece of glass in front of the shady hotel on Broadway? Perhaps. But one thing's for certain, the festival has taken on a new kind of complexion and that's all thanks to the fans and artists that share the day with all of us. K Thanks.
-- Brian Frederick
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