When Devon Shirley left his post as drummer for the Photo Atlas, he could hardly wait to resurrect this project. Watching the baby-faced, monkey-limbed percussionist perform with guitarist Holland Rock-Garden of Machine Gun Blues and keyboardists Nick Martin and Kyle Gray, it's easy to see why. Shirley brings the same lightning-fast precision and grace under pressure that made his playing in the Photo Atlas so mesmerizing, but in Red Orange Yellow, he infuses it with jazzy subtlety, mathematical complexity and plenty of animal aggression. Gray comes unglued, Rock-Garden broods and Martin seems eerily calm, but all eyes are on Shirley as he treats the audience to an intricately woven and diabolically premeditated pummeling. The band's expiration date is imminent, as Martin plans to move to Japan this summer, so get your beating soon.
Performers are often said to boast natural talent when their artistry is neither heavy-handed nor overly self-conscious — and in that sense, John Common has plenty of natural talent. But a more literal interpretation also applies to his latest recording, Why Birds Fly. Throughout tunes such as "Moonlight" and "Unseen Things," Common weaves traditional instrumentation with the sort of found sounds heard in forests at night: the ambient noises of creatures that creep, crawl or take wing. These subtle touches make his work seem natural in every sense of the word.
Anyone who knows anything about perfumes knows that a horrible but incredibly powerful smell is mixed in with more refreshing and pleasant aromatics. Abracastabya is a bit like that: Its name sounds like it should go with a screamo or post-hardcore act, but its music is much more experimental and artfully nuanced, not at all abrasive and obnoxious. Geoff Brent and Willow Welter came up with the name when they were playing around with new words, and it stuck. Friends have urged them to change the band's name to be more in line with their eccentrically beautiful music, but when you have a moniker that magically memorable, why bother?
With three beautiful and golden-throated females singing sun-dappled melodies and gorgeous, nostalgic harmonies, and three rugged, musically gifted men providing accompaniment on banjo, guitar and trombone, Paper Bird offers plenty of crush material. But even if none of the aesthetically pleasing members of the act catch your eye, you won't be able to resist falling hard for their old-timey songs, which blend elements of folk, jazz and country and deliver them with impeccable grace. Whether you bring a date to fall in love with or go solo and pick a bandmember to crush on, the state's loveliest sextet has the key to your heart.
Putting punctuation, especially exclamation points, in a band name is always a bad idea. Right, Panic! at the Disco? (Uh, make that Panic at the Disco.) And no matter how you say We Are! We Are!, you end up sounding like a stuttering idiot who can't conjugate properly. Since this act is actually a powerful, hard-charging instrumental outfit capable of rocking faces off with wild abandon, We Are! We Are! thinking it's time for a name change.
A tub of ice-cold beer and a respectable payout at night's end is all that most local bands can hope for, and yet few music venues provide such simple pleasures for the men and women who toil on stage for our enjoyment. But ever since Jeff Campbell, Martin Killorin and Jim Norris — the three kings behind 3 Kings Tavern — opened their venue two years ago, they've not only treated bands right behind the scenes, but they've treated music fans right, too, offering reasonably priced drinks in a very welcoming atmosphere.
Plenty of musicians take umbrage if their group is called a bar band. Still, the finest acts with this label don't need open taps or drink specials to work their magic; their playing is intoxicating enough. Witness the Informants, which boasts killer brass, a driving rhythm section, a lead singer (Kerry Pastine) capable of starting any party, and songs such as "Stuck on You" (from the album Stiletto Angel) that sound just as good to a designated driver as the folks along for the ride.
Every coffee snob has his favorite barista; it's sort of like rooting for your hometown football team. But how do you determine who's actually the best of the best? The answer was the first-ever Mountain Regional Barista Competition, held in March in Thornton — though the results were a letdown for latte-loving locals, since they can't actually enjoy the efforts of several of the top contenders, who were either based in other states or didn't serve drinks to the public. It was sort of like a fantasy football team winning the Super Bowl. Thankfully, you can partake of one champion's work at a local coffee shop: third-place winner Heidi Bickelhaudt of Trident Booksellers and Cafe in Boulder. Bickelhaudt, who learned the ropes in such coffee hot spots as Chicago and Madison, Wisconsin, pulls a mean espresso and knows the secrets of roasting, too. Next time you get a cappuccino from her, you can tell your jealous friends you just had the best coffee drink around, and you won't be talking java jive.
If radio programmers, bloggers and hip-hop heads across the country react as favorably to Flobots as the folks here at home, this insurgent seven-piece hip-hop band could soon find itself the focus of nationwide buzz. There's certainly a lot to love about the outfit, which earned its local reputation by putting on massively entertaining shows featuring thought-provoking, message-driven songs. And the act puts its politics where its mouth is, engaging in community activism and urging fans to follow suit. With the Agency Group doing its bidding and a rumored record deal on the horizon, Flobots are ready to take on the world.
Reunion shows are generally intended as a celebration of days gone by for those who were there the first time around, a moment for grizzled old-timers to reflect on how good it was back in the day. But in some rare instances, these shows also serve as a primer for the new breed, showing them just how it's done. Such was the case this past September when three of Denver's fabled bands from the '90s — the Volts, Crestfallen and Christie Front Drive — got back together at the Marquis for Denverfest 3. Longtime fans were relieved to hear that their heroes hadn't lost a step, while others discovered these venerable acts for the very first time.

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