See more photos from Fidel's at westword.com/slideshow.
Yerkish, 12 p.m. The crowd inside the cramped cantina is building slowly as Yerkish takes the stage, and the band wastes no time in laying out its frenetic, frantic rhythms. It's a dynamic complimented by lead singer Tim Kaminski's impassioned, insistent vocals and the clean, driving guitar lines of Nate Huisgen and Tony Brown. The group's sound draws from multiple sources at once, easily incorporating direct, speedy blues lines and hard rock acrobatics in a single song. Drummer Ryan Eschenbach recalls bebop cadences in his sycopation, while Kaminski shifts quickly from densely packed vocal lines to elongated, impassioned melodies in tunes like "X-Ray Specs" and "USS Jesus." As much as such musical fusions may seem incompatible on their surface, the band makes it work, and the rich musical structure fits Fidel's small, intimate space especially well. Playing the first spot in an all-day musical roster can present its own pitfalls, but Yerkish does a quick job of engaging the crowd and setting the tone for the rest of the day.
Verdict: While the relatively early hour of the performance dampened the energy of the crowd a bit, Yerkish manages to drum up some contagious energy and enthusiasm.
Wetlands, 1 p.m. Considering the ambiance of Fidel's, which has been set up to resemble a relaxed Mexican cantina, Wetland's in-your-face, old-school-rock energy seems a little out of place. Like Yerkish before them, the band isn't letting the relatively early hour dilute their energy or their volume. Kicking off the set with a song touting the power of "fucking rock n roll," the band lays down a raucous and noisy foundation early on. Buoyed by the acrobatic guitar of Cole Rudy and Mike Marchant, the band's set recalls the instrumental pyrotechnics of '70s rock heroes. The paean to the roots of metal find a complement in the songs' epic structures and gritty, growling vocals offered by multiple band members. While some of the tunes seem to lack direction and cohesion, Wetlands carry even their weaker tunes through a well-refined sense of showmanship and an unabated love for rock in its purest sense. It's a commitment that's clear in the group's energy, which seems to draw more and more audience members into the small club.
Verdict: Some of the noisier tunes went on a bit long for my taste, but the band definitely stayed true to their source material.
Action Packed Thrill Ride, 2 p.m.
By the time Action Packed Thrill Ride take the stage, I am ready for some subtle harmonies and suggestive guitar chords. After the unbridled energy and sheer volume of Yerkish and Wetlands, APTR helps to ground the day's roster with rich vocals, subtle structures and rich sound textures. The group's set features a smart mix of new and old material, and reveals some new and exciting directions for the quartet. Most notably, the performance includes a good deal of affecting harmonizing between Mark Cathray and Lucas Johannes, vocal textures that serve to expand the band's lilting, alt-country sound. The The song also saw Cathray contributing melodies on the keyboard, a new texture that filled out the group's backwoods, country sound base. The commitment to experimentation and growth has attracted a loyal cadre of fans, and Fidel's seemed more crowded than it had been at any other time during the day. Every APTR performance seems to incorporate new elements and hint at novel directions, and this 45-minute set is no exception. Indeed, the set made me eager for their next release.
Verdict: The group's softer tones and more folky structures serve as a boon after the volume and frenzy of the first two bands.
Boulder Acoustic Society, 3 p.m. Considering the size of the band, the Boulder Acoustic Society tout an epic sound. With a small drum kit, an accordion, an upright bass and a violin, the quartet boasts a sound that hints at the orchestral and the grandiose, all while retaining a down-and-dirty folksy sound. Perhaps it's because of the musicians' impressive polish; Kailin Yong's violin lines were speedy and subtle simultaneously, while Scott McCormick's accordion lines flow with an ease that almost defies the instrument. While these considerable skills make some of their recorded material seem a bit lifeless, they shine in a live venue. The band easily fillthe small confines of Fidel's with a sound that seems more appropriate for a music hall, even as they offer folky, backwoods versions of Dylan's "Maggie's Farm" and their own Appalachian-inspired compositions like "We Tried." While the presence of electronic drums seemed to go against the philosophy of the band's name, the group makes up for their technological indulgence with a stripped-down, unplugged song performed on the floor - a performance that seems apt for a hootenanny. But even as they deliver moments of down-home authenticity, the Society's performance adds a degree of grandiosity to the roster.
Verdict: I am much bigger fan of seeing the Boulder Acoustic Society in person than hearing them recorded.
Something Underground, 4 p.m. Something Underground establishes a quick connection to the growing crowd. As the weather outside the cramped space turns more and more threatening, the trio makes quick progress in pulling in spectators and engaging them in the performance. With clean, direct guitar and bass lines from Seth and Josh Larson, as well as solid backing drums by Trevor Mariotti, the group's straightforward rock tunes and easily digestible riffs resonate with the audience. The set includes guest performances by Boulder Acoustic Society violinist Kailin Yong and Demon Funkies guitarist Ryan Chrys, a feature that adds a communal feel to the performance. The songs are straightforward rock - tunes rooted in blues structures and classic rock guitar adornments. While the set lacks musical subtleties (this is a power-rock trio after all), the group hits all of its cues, demonstrates no small amount of virtuosity and gets the crowd hooting and hollering by the end. Indeed, even the players seem surprised by the mass outpouring of enthusiasm before they perform their last song, a cover of Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir."
"This is the most love we've felt ... This is awesome, guys," Josh Larson declares to the crowing crowd.
Verdict: Something Underground's set seems perfectly tailored for a rock festival -- a straight-ahead, approachable sound that can draw a diverse crowd.
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Demon Funkies, 5 p.m. By the time the Demon Funkies take the stage, the small room at Fidel's is bursting with people and it's difficult to move through the space. The Demon Funkies capitalize on the density, offering danceable funk riffs and simplistic, singable lyrics that the crowd takes up quickly. Guitarist Ryan Chrys revels in the atmosphere, taking a first-hand, participatory approach to the performance. In the midst of grooves that recall vintage Kool and the Gang and Parliament pieces, Chrys descends from the stage and mingles with the crowd. By the end of the set, when Something Underground's Seth and Josh Larson took to the already-packed stage, the whole performance took on a feel of a massive house party. Like Something Underground's set, the music is straightforward and simple, with extended song structures and lengthy guitar, saxophone and keyboard solos. But like the preceding set, the simplicity fits the mood of the moment. But, personally, the theatrics of the set grate by the end.
Verdict: While the music seemed geared purely and simply toward celebration, it fits the feel of the waning hours of the night.
Roe, 6 p.m. The rain stops threatening and starts meting out punishment. As Roe sets up their equipment, heavy drops are pounding the canvas roof of the room, and water drips in at several key places, one of which is right above the P.A. system. Soon after the band begins a set that seems almost entirely composed of covers (they start out the evening with a version of Bon Jovi's "Shot Through the Heart" and "It's My Life"), the keyboard and the lead vocal short out. The band makes up for the lack of amplification with 15 minutes or so of simple riffing. When the system is repaired, they take up their roster of cover songs mixed with original tunes like "Mayday." It's a solid pop sound -- a guitar and keyboard-heavy formula that summons countless parallels with well-known standards. And while the content lacks any notable departures from these well-trod formulas, it seems to please the crowd, which hasn't diminished for the P.A. failure or for the disagreeable weather.
Verdict: I could have done without the Bon Jovi and the Foo Fighters covers.