Best Sound Man 2007 | Ron Gordon | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
Hearing a show at the Walnut Room is an audiophile's wet dream. There's no doubt that the room was "built for music," as the club's slogan claims. With over two decades of audio engineering experience under his belt, Ron Gordon clearly knew a thing or two about sound dynamics and acoustics when he helped design the club's sound system two years ago. But having a killer system is one thing; knowing how to make the thing sing is another. Needless to say, when Gordon's manning the faders, you can count on the mix being immaculate no matter who's playing. The guy knows how to make a drum kit kick you in the gut, a Stratocaster swim around your ears and keyboards soar -- all without pushing the volume to deafening levels.
Frontman/guitarist Luke Fairchild is a gnarly motherfucker when you put him in front of a mike. The seasoned musician, who has charmed crowds before in such stellar acts as White Dynamite and Sparkles, is now allied with equally formidable musicians drummer Devin Rogers (of Munimula) and bassist Joe Ramirez (another ex-Whitey). The trio commands the stage with a vehemence that induces riotous fist-raising and metal finger salutations. Like Bad Brains filtered through an Eyehategod guitar pedal, Kingdom is the perfect blend of super-heavy rock and energetic punk. Barely a year old, the Denver-based outfit has cultivated an ardent following of metalheads, hardcore kids, scenesters and rock snobs alike. Enter the Kingdom.
Pee Pee. It's hard to say out loud without giggling even a little bit. It's like a recession back to grade-school vernacular, and it's absolutely the silliest combination of two monosyllabic words since "wee wee." But who needs a clever, well-thought-out band name anyway? This Denver-based assembly of friends makes beautiful music that doesn't need to be weighed down by pretentious metaphorical bullshit. Pee Pee is an aural amalgamation of everything from horns and acoustic guitars to theremins and saws (yes, saws). Alongside sweet lullabied compositions, the ragtag orchestra often improvs on stage, resulting in down-home folk-rock jamborees that make show-goers gladly squeal for more Pee Pee.
At first glance, declaring Nathan & Stephen Denver's best new band looks like a misprint. But while Nathan McGarvey and Stephen Till initially began performing together as an acoustic duo, their project has blossomed into a bulging-at-the-seams nonet thanks to the addition of another seven players, including three (Jonathan, Matthew and Leanor) who share Stephen's last name. Moreover, another Till -- Anna -- contributes vocals to The Everyone E.P., which packs more hooky melodies into fifteen brief minutes than can be found in the average double album. Although tracks such as the aptly titled pop-gospel workout "Brothers & Sisters" and "Happier," replete with a chorus guaranteed to induce smiles, feature plenty of instrumentation (keyboards, brass and more), they are, at their base, rousing sing-alongs that brim with good feelings and camaraderie. No doubt these songs would charm in a stripped-down setting, too. Still, there's something to be said for a family affair.
Every once in a while, a great new band surfaces that seems fully formed -- like Athena, sprung from the head of Zeus. Greeley's Vitamins, which until recently stayed beneath the radar by playing mostly warehouse-type shows, is one such act. Taking an eclectic approach to songwriting, Vitamins' members wed latter-day no-wave guitar tones and textures with melodic song structures, and country music with experimental guitar rock, punk and whatever it is that Camper Van Beethoven was doing -- all without sounding like dilettantes. They play with wide-eyed enthusiasm, as if completely unaware that so many other like-minded souls exist, like they have to touch upon every style themselves. With a charming, theatrical live show, Vitamins are bound to be good for you.
To the Denver-centric, if you don't hail from the metro area, you might as well be from Mars. Maybe that's why the arrival of Louisville-based Tifah seems so, well, sudden and wonderfully foreign. It also probably has something to do with the fact that the group's members -- vocalist/organist Tifah Al-Attas, drummer Dann Stockton, multi-instrumentalist Reid Phillips, violinist Aubrea Alford and bassist Juli Royster -- make music that's so beautifully radiant and polished, it's hard to fathom why we hadn't noticed them before. But Tifah's registering pretty loudly now, and its sublime blend of piano-driven pop and self-reflective lyricism will surely stay on the radar.

Best Purveyors of Mile- High Honky Crunk


Pimp-limping on the fine line between stoopid and stupid, 3OH!3 just might be Ballerado's hip-hop Tenacious D. Sean Foreman and Nathaniel Motte rock DFA-style low-tech beats, punk attitudes and Ruff Ryder growls that manage to simultaneously lampoon and revere the well-worn signifiers of punk, electro and rap -- with as much interest in twenty-sided dice as twenty-inch rims. In the group's perpetual-motion live shows, trunk-rattling rhythms combine with rhymes that can only be spat with one's tongue burrowed deep in one's cheek: "You's a punk bitch if you don't know 'bout Boulder/Your girl's a freak 'cos that's what I told ya." And while it's easy to get distracted by the humorous side, resist the temptation to consign the act to the novelty ghetto. Smarts, chops and focus are the real reasons 3OH!3's rabid fans holler 'til they pass out.
On stage, the members of Heyday are like precocious four-year-olds trying to ride a bike: cute and determined, yet still wobbly and unsure. In time, though, their inherent charisma will shine through, and they'll become less stilted, more fluid and self-assured. Rather than speed through the arrangements, as they do now, they'll learn how to just let the songs breathe. In other words, once the training wheels come off, look out! These kids are going to be off to the races. Led by Randy Ramirez, whose songwriting chops are well beyond his years, the Heyday is poised to break out in a major way.
Gregory Alan Isakov has a unique, endearing presence that instantly sucks people in. Isakov has rendered us dumbfounded on numerous occasions with his ability to move audiences in a way that performers with much larger profiles would envy. With a captivating voice that evokes a rootsier Glen Phillips channeling Kelly Joe Phelps, Isakov sings rich pastoral songs that conjure long walks down dusty rural roads. Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, and raised in Philadelphia, Isakov moved to Colorado at the end of the last decade. Since then, he's released a spate of outstanding discs, including his fantastic debut, 2003's Rust Colored Stones, 2005's Songs for October and last year's Ghost Stories and Fair Weather EP. A new disc is slated for release this May, and we can hardly wait.
Watching Rachael Pollard perform at Chielle recently was a breathtakingly intimate experience. It was like being serenaded by a hummingbird from a windowsill. Pollard sang with a delicate hush that was barely above a whisper, and at one point, she even played her acoustic with her gloves on. It was almost as though she was afraid of disturbing the neighbors. As it turns out, her words speak loud enough on their own. With candid musings that can be unsettling, whether she's singing about waiting for her period to start or reflecting on the current state of affairs ("This country is going to shit/But you got what you wanted/Pretty soon it'll all be desert/'Cause you took what you wanted"), Pollard's a compelling lyricist -- not to mention a highly imaginative guitarist. But her most bewitching features, by far, are her angelic voice, which is equal parts Cat Power and Joanna Newsom, and the way she phrases her words.

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