Best Museum Exhibit 2009 | Houdon From the Louvre | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
Courtesy Denver Art Museum
Because it has a wide audience, the Denver Art Museum has to come up with a range of attractions, but certain kinds of shows are hard to come by, and expensive, to boot. That's what made Houdon From the Louvre, an in-depth look at the master of classical French sculpture Jean-Antoine Houdon, so memorable. Active before, during and after the French Revolution, Houdon was a super-realist who specialized in sculpting portrait busts of notable figures in Paris, including the visiting American ambassador, Benjamin Franklin. He also sculpted George Washington while on a trip to the United States. In celebrating rare works by an old master, shows like this remind us that museums are about more than just counting heads.
When Ground Fuse first appeared in the summer of 2008, it was pretty much just a stapled-together affair that you could only find at Wax Trax and Blast-O-Mat. Sure, it could have been better edited, but what made it important was the fact that someone was taking the time to write about bands that got little or no other coverage. Specifically, the grind/crust/hardcore scene was finally being documented by an informed and caring observer. But Olivia Ruiz, the zine's creator and primary writer, also took that rare step of crossing over into other sub-scenes and writing about them with the same love and dedication.
Woody Guthrie's was the voice of the people. And the songs we heard in Peter Glazer's eloquent musical — songs written by Guthrie in the 1930s — speak to us now: "I Ain't Got No Home in This World Anymore"; "The Jolly Banker" (who will help you out, then "come and foreclose, take your car and your clothes"); "Pastures of Plenty," which depicts the plight of migrant workers; and "Deportee," about Mexicans killed in a plane crash while being deported. Well acted and movingly sung, Woody Guthrie's American Song reminded us of one of this country's most important prophets, and of our obligation toward each other.
Other Denver musical collectives have smartly put together bills and showcases of like-minded acts at various venues. And while Hot Congress has a similar agenda, its roster is impressively diverse, including bands as decidedly different as Action Friend, Widowers and the Jim Jims. This more inclusive approach seems likely to succeed where past efforts have not, especially since the collective intends to release a series of compilations featuring its artists. By supporting bands both obscure and well known, Hot Congress appears poised to make Denver known for more than a small handful of musicians.
Amid the thunderous chords of "Come Look at the Freaks," the first number in Side Show, the cast formed a ragged circle at the perimeter of the stage. Although their expressions varied — blank or determined, resigned or defiant — they were all looking at us, the audience. You, they seemed to say, you, sitting comfortably in your plush seat, you whose muscles move smoothly over bone, whose voice emerges from your throat uncracked and whose body responds unhesitatingly to your barely conscious demands. Perhaps it's you who's the freak — because of what you don't know, and the blind, heedless way you move through life, complaining when the bus is late or your coffee's a little bitter. Defiance, rage, even a hint of exultation — they were all part of this fierce, powerful number.
It seems unlikely: an art museum in a Denver Tech Center office building. Granted, the Palazzo Verdi isn't an ordinary office building. It's a slick and handsomely appointed but understated structure blessed with a 55-foot atrium sporting an inset replica of the cathedral labyrinth at Chartres, an ethereal chandelier by Lonnie Hanzon and Todd Siler's monumental wall mural. It's also home to a cafe, Larry DiPasquale's Mangia Bevi. And, yes, it's got a museum, too, one dedicated primarily to showcasing works from the vaults of major art collector and Palazzo Verdi developer John Madden, which means its exhibits can be over-the-top eclectic and, just a little, a means to an end. But the Madden Museum is still more than a rich man's toy, since it offers us the opportunity to share a smorgasbord of works by the likes of Thomas Hart Benton, Robert Rauschenberg, Thomas Moran, Jackson Pollack and other strange but wonderful bedfellows — and to do it in the midst of the south suburban wasteland. And that fills a pretty tall order.
Dancers might have grace and good balance, but when it comes to taking a step up in the world, their chances are few and none. So when a local dance troupe gets a national pat on the back, it's reason to, well, dance for joy. And Ballet Nouveau Colorado really worked hard for this honor by constantly tweaking the range of what ballet is and can be, under the creative watch of choreographer Garrett Ammon, a gifted dancemaker. Featuring everything from the annual 21st Century Choreography Competition (with audience participation) to a season of programs inspired by rock songs or poetry, this ensemble's offerings constantly raise the barre.
Young Coyotes has been around for less than a year. In that short time, however, the act has released two EPs, embarked on several cross-country tours, recorded a Daytrotter session, been hailed on numerous blogs and attracted a high-powered manager in Blee Music's Brian Swartz (Rose Hill Drive). Seemingly milliseconds after forming, the band went from playing Saturday matinee sets at places like Lifespot last summer to garnering choice gigs at Monolith's VIP party and Hot IQs' annual holiday party — which led to discriminating music fans across the city howling for Young Coyotes. Why all the fuss? That's easy: The music, which is sparse but fiery and melodic, like Akron/Family channeling the best moments of the Shins with the vitality and conviction of Arcade Fire.
As a local rep for PBR, Alissa Anderson visited a quite a few bars in this town. The next logical step was to own a bar of her own. So last October, she and her husband bought the former Club Boca, which had been vacant for close to a year, did a quick renovation that involved moving the bar to the front near the window, and opened in a flash. Just as quickly, the bar was attracting regulars, especially service-industry folks, and Anderson started bringing in bands, DJs, art shows and a whole lot more. While the place still doesn't have a sign up, it's pretty easy to find: Just look for the neon beer lights and lots of people in the window.
After Brendan's closed up shop on Market Street and then unsuccessfully gave it a go at the spot where the Marquis Theater is now, a large hole was left in downtown's blues scene. Thankfully, Blues on Blake, which combined the former Laughing Dog Deli and Dugout spaces, stepped up to bring blues back into downtown. Modeled after the '40s and '50s supper clubs of New York and Chicago, with candles on the tables and steaks, fish and wine on the menu, the dark, cozy Blues provides the perfect backdrop for the fine local blues acts it showcases three nights a week. Just down the street from Coors Field, Blues on Blake has scored a home run.

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