BEST CELTIC FIDDLE PLAYER 2006 | Gina Lance Canned Haggis | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
There's no dearth of Irish bands in this town, from the staunchly traditional to those just taking the piss. What sets Canned Haggis apart is the catgut mastery of Gina Lance. Like the middle Dixie Chick and Nickel Creek's Sarah Watson rolled into one, Lance extends her talents well beyond Celtic and into country and folk traditions. Easing sorrowful, undulating strains, she draws the music out of her listeners rather than the stringed box resting on her shoulder. And on barn-burnin' numbers, her bow throws sparks with jaw-dropping, foot-stomping intensity.
A dime a dozen? Even adjusted for inflation, most solo singer-songwriters aren't worth the grain of salt you're forced to take them with. The one-man band, though, remains a rare and noble calling. Just ask Travis Egedy, who performs and releases music under the name Pictureplane. Whether he's appearing at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art or some dude's basement down the street, Egedy tweaks keyboards and fist-fucks samples into a thick puree of static, ambience, beats and beauty that flows between M83 and the edgier reaches of the Anticon roster. Yes, there's even melody and emotion burbling beneath it all. Just don't expect any sensitive-guy whimpering or Nick Drake covers.


Neil Keener

Neil Keener is a busy dude. He moved here from Chicago over a year ago with his band Git Some and has since picked up permanent bass duties both in Planes Mistaken for Stars and Red Cloud West, all while beating the hell out of the drums for both Angerthrone and Country Doughnuts. Keener also mans several scarcely mentioned off-shoot (and often one-time) projects with names that ought to be hand-scrawled onto a Trapper Keeper binder: Weed Problem, the Exploding Eye of God and Headbutt the Darkness. Keener's black-rimmed glasses have reflected the lightbulb glare of many a dimly lit basement practice pad, and his callused hands are ever ready to take on more. Looking for a bandmate whose influences include Eye Hate God, David Bowie and Neil Young? Call Keener -- he's got some free time. reports that at a late 2005 gig in these parts, Henry Butler told the audience, "I just moved to Boulder, and I'm freezing my ass off." The temperature in Colorado was only one of the shocks Butler has lived through during the past year. The gifted blues/funk pianist has long been one of New Orleans's musical treasures, and he's made a slew of fine recordings, including vu-du menz, a disc that teamed him with Denver-bred bluesman Corey Harris. But after Hurricane Katrina flooded his Ninth Ward home, Butler was forced to pull up stakes. Since his arrival here, members of the area's music community have embraced him, as well they should. Although his current digs are a long way from the Crescent City, Butler's still keeping the town's spirit alive.
Transplanted Yankee Vincent Comparetto has been making a name for himself in Denver for years as a stunning visual artist and graphic designer. But after directing a low-budget video for his friends in Vaux a few years back, his music-video workload began to snowball. Since then, he's picked up a knack for marrying film to local rock in a way that bears his own quirky and imaginative stamp -- and yet cannily channels the styles and souls of such varied local bands as the Gamits, the Maybellines and Planes Mistaken for Stars. But he really topped himself with his newest project, a video for Hot IQs' "Firecracker." With wit, flash and bang to spare, it's a miniature masterpiece -- and cements Comparetto's status as Denver's premier music-video auteur.


Karen Exley

If Nashville Pussy had been content to peddle its Nugent punk to the Southern-rock scene -- or Antiseen, as it were -- only burnouts still lamenting G.G. Allin's death would take note. But the bandmembers have shaken things up recently. First they cut loose Amazon junkie Corey Parks, then absconded with one of Denver's hardest-rocking bass players, Karen Exley of Hemi Cuda. The plan is for Hemi guitarist Anika Zappe to "focus on motherhood" while Exley does the trailer-park tour. Eighteen years from now, there's going to be one kick-ass reunion.
DeVotchKa deserves more awards -- and cash and Grammys and groupie-filled hot tubs -- than there are room or resources for here. It's never seemed, however, that this group's been in it strictly for the filthy lucre. After all, gypsy-tango-sousaphone rock hasn't climbed very high on the Amazon charts lately. And yet DeVotchKa's universal appeal is undeniable -- as is the arcane charm and fluttering lilt of leader Nick Urata. He swigs wine from the bottle on stage. He clangs the tambourine with impeccable savoir vivre. He sings in tongues -- four, at last count -- and moves like a matador conducting an orchestra of trained Miuras. Long after Urata's become rich and famous and embarked on a Sting-inspired world-jazz solo career, he'll still know how to slay the crowd with a smirk and a warble.
There's nothing about Monofog that doesn't rule. But the first thing that strikes you -- and the last thing that lingers -- is the voice of Hayley Helmericks. Part Patti Smith, part PJ Harvey and part Hurricane Katrina, Helmericks howls like a poetic force of nature, lending an almost asphyxiating atmosphere to the band's saw-toothed post-punk. But it's not all sound and fury. Her lyrics and melodies are at once cryptic, bruised, anthemic and complex, and they utterly humanize the mutant riffs slicing out of her bandmates' amplifiers. And on stage? Let's just say Helmericks makes Karen O look about as intense as Kelly Clarkson.
Go on: Just try to find a single soul who's seen Angie Stevens live and not been completely entranced. Backed by a stellar cast of musicians, Stevens engages audiences in a way that makes every performance feel intimate, like she's playing her songs just for you. The amiable chanteuse has shared the bill with a wide array of performers and had every audience riveted by the end of each set. Hell, she's so compelling, we're pretty sure that her earnest acoustic-based rock could win over a Cephalic Carnage crowd. Bolstered by songs that are often chillingly poignant ("Judy," for example, a song about her mother), Stevens makes the icicles form on your spine the minute she takes the stage.
To say that Vaux has a combustible live show is like saying Ashton Kutcher is sort of telegenic. With six equally virtuosic members, it's hard to decide what part of Vaux's frenzied, retina-searing sets to focus on -- the light canister wobbling back and forth on Ryder Robison's bass cabinet in time with his rumbling bass lines, or drummer Joe McChan whirling about so violently it seems his head will snap right off at any minute? Or should you watch frontman Quentin Smith, who, with mike in hand and veins pushing to the surface, often resembles a pit bull tethered to a stake? Add to that homemade strobe towers that flash on and off in sync with the music, and you are in the presence of a veritable powder keg.

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