BEST MUSICAL REFUGEE 2006 | Henry Butler | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
Navigation 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.
Valiomierda has its priorities in order. Yes, the band delivers lyrics in Spanish and Portuguese as well as in English, but trilingualism is less important to cohorts Lance Julander, Val Landrum, Bart McCrorey and Igor Panasewicz than is rocking listeners to within an inch of their lives. Thanks to originals such as "Crucificados Pelo Sistema" (not to mention a crushing cover of Motorhead's "Killed by Death"), Valiomierda is lethal in any language.
First came Nightingale. Good band. But that name? Not so much. Fortunately for the world at large -- which surely would have assumed that Nightingale was some crappy goth-metal act and avoided it forever -- the group was inspired to change its name by one of the dozens of outfits that already claim it. So Denver's leading purveyor of psilocybin-spiked drone switched to a tag that had been a contender back when the group was formed: Moccasin. Of course, some might argue that Moccasin is just as bad, or maybe even worse, than Nightingale. Pshaw! Sure, moccasins are those dopey shoes appropriated by hippies and art teachers. But a moccasin is also a snake. A viper. A really cool water-type viper with heat-sensing organs and poison and fangs and stuff. Hiss.
Remember back when Mile High Stadium became officially known as Invesco Field at Mile High? All but on-air commentators stubbornly refused to refer to the facility as anything other than Mile High. That same sort of logic prevails here with the act originally dubbed Red Cloud (which counts Westword's own Jason Heller among its members). After discovering that a Christian MC had already co-opted the name, the band -- whose emotionally charged sets have made it one of the most compelling live groups in the scene -- simply slapped "West" at the end of its tag and called it good. Balderdash, we say: Whoever coined the phrase "Go west, young man" obviously didn't know what he was talking about. As our man Clarence the barber noted in Coming to America, "Mama call him Clay, I call him Clay -- Cassius Clay." Stick to your guns, boys.

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