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Most evenings at the Climax Lounge, the game area in a back room is open to everyone. But every Thursday night, novices are advised to step aside and let the experts do their thing. Boasting one of Denver's only competitive p-ball competitions, the Lounge has become a sporting destination for indie rockers, punks and pinball wizards who like to ping and pong metallic balls around -- and who take said activity very seriously. Cheap beer, good music and free admission are among the attributes that make the Climax Challenge fun for spectators as well as players. This club's got game.


In 2002, Otis Taylor was named Best New Artist at the W.C. Handy Awards -- the Grammys of the blues field. Of course, Taylor is anything but a new artist, having been part of the Colorado music community since the '70s. But this acknowledgment, as well as a pair of nominations for the 2003 Handys -- including Acoustic Blues Artist of the Year and Contemporary Blues Album of the Year for his impressive disc Respect the Dead -- show that the esteem with which he's held in these parts is spreading far and wide. And deservedly so.


When Tony Furtado first moved to Colorado, he was known as a bluegrass banjoist -- but the tag soon proved far too restrictive for such a talented player. American Gypsy, Furtado's latest CD, is as eclectic as it can be, touching upon folk and acoustic styles from across town and across the globe.


Halden Wofford's authentic bray is a vocal time machine, a stirring, nasally joy that yanks traditional country fans back to the days of Hank Williams and other classic country singers. It sends chills down the spines of listeners and gives Halden Wofford & the Hi Beams a huge, genuine-article stamp. The bespectacled Wofford also yodels like the dickens and pens great songs, and his mule-kicking solo act is the best one-man twang show in town.


In the pre-O Brother, Where Art Thou? years, many bluegrass musicians felt that the music they loved would appeal to a wide audience only if they changed it in substantial ways. But Open Road, which calls Fort Collins home, makes no such compromises on Cold Wind, its latest release on the Rounder imprint, and thank goodness. These musicians make tradition exciting.


Now don't get us wrong: On stage, every member of the Risk (bassist Nick Anderson, drummer Greg Wildermuth and guitarist Nathan Marcy) burns more calories than Bush did death-row inmates. But this group's prince of perspiration is definitely singer/guitarist Joaquin Liebert, whose sweat glands could stand in for squirt guns as he leaps, writhes and howls his way through songs that are half Replacements, half Small Faces and 100 percent soul. If you've ever been to a Risk show, you know: Stand within ten feet of the stage and you're soaked.


Screw Audioslave. Featuring past and present members of celebrated Denver punk groups like Four, Deadlock Frequency, the Messyhairs, Crestfallen, Still Left Standing, the Facet, Contender and Pariah Caste, the newly formed Line of Descent has a Mile High pedigree a mile long. The group recently split a thunderously heavy and brutal release with the notorious Scott Baio Army, and its side-project status ensures that every Line of Descent show will be a rare and anticipated event. Now, if only the band could be talked into doing an S.O.D. cover.


Reverend Leon's Revival calls to those who believe that the Sabbath day should be reserved for peace, quiet, and reflection...in order to recover from Saturday night's hedonism and the inevitable hangover. The Revival offers a wicked, campy combination of sin and salvation that hasn't been seen since the days of Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and Jim and Tammy Bakker. Lots of Denver roots rockers profess a fervent love for the Lord; the difference here is that the gospel, rock and soul of the Revival is actually fronted by Paul Ramsey, a real, live preacher man.


Picking up influences from My Bloody Valentine and Swervedriver, Bright Channel plays the kind of music that was once called "shoegazer": melodic guitars buried under thick, swirling drones of digital effects and noise. Echoes swell and static rattles throughout every song, sounding for all the world like an orchestra of Hoover Uprights plugged into a wall of amplifiers. Underneath all the volume, though, are dark, elegant compositions on par with Joy Division or Sonic Youth. Bright Channel's music may sound like a vacuum cleaner, but it sure doesn't suck.


Think Denver's twang torch-bearers can't cut it next to those of, say, Texas? Pardner, soak up a set by the Dalharts and see the error of your ways. Singer Les Cooper and his mates are the best of Colorado's kingly country crop, a honky-tonk/Western-swing act that can rule alongside the best from any of America's roadhouses. Cooper's crooning, the mastery of steel-guitarist Tim Whitlock and pianist Mark Richardson, and the band's ranch-hand-solid rhythm section play rollicking, seasoned country of the finest grade.


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