Best New Public Art 2009 | "National Velvet," by John McEnroe | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
Like "Mustang" at DIA, John McEnroe's "National Velvet" has elicited a lot of public comment. But here the jokes have been accompanied by sniggers and smirks rather than shock and awe. Some have suggested that the piece, a contemporary take on an obelisk cast from piled-up sandbags — in the Platte River floodplain, no less — suggests either a penis or a stack of breasts. What really makes this sculpture fun, though, is the way McEnroe parodies traditional monumental sculpture by placing a glow-in-the-dark red plastic spire in the middle of an old-fashioned-looking town square.
Everything Absent or Distorted's strong debut, The Soft Civil War, should have been difficult to improve upon — a sophomore slump would have been acceptable, even expected, from Denver's resident bombastic pop big band. But somehow the group pulled out all the stops and delivered a second album that not only fulfilled the promise of its stellar debut, but flat-out obliterated it. Sanding off some of the first album's charming rough edges and streamlining the eclectic songwriting and sound, The Great Collapse is an accomplished, symphonic masterpiece that delivers its heartbreaking barbs and beams of hope in the form of a dozen perfect pop songs destined to become classics.
Since relocating from Denver to its new home in Aurora last April, Shadow Theatre Company has become a forum for much more than just drama. Artistic director Jeffrey Nickelson and the Shadow crew have incorporated a wide range of performing arts into the theater's programming, including the new "Soul Den" concert series mounted by DaJazz Records CEO Michael Hancock in January. Billed as a fusion of neo-soul, jazz, gospel and R&B, the event offers a meeting of local musical minds in an intimate, theatrical setting. The first round of shows in January boasted compelling and participatory performances from aspiring stars and established veterans of the soul genre, a dynamic that Hancock has promised will figure into future series in April and May.
Inside the spacious lobby, dozens of people chatted, smiled and sipped wine as they waited for the opening of Dinah Was — Shadow Theatre's first production in its brand-new home. Along one wall was a series of sculptures by Ed Dwight, and wandering through the crowd was artistic director Jeffrey Nickelson, beaming. For years, the company had performed at the Ralph Waldo Emerson Center, where audience members sat on folding chairs in a large, bare room and the actors had to prepare on the fire escape, since there were no dressing rooms. But then Shadow caught the attention of a developer who'd been working with the City of Aurora to develop a lively arts district on East Colfax. In 2008, Nickelson moved his company into this beautifully renovated building, complete with a comfortable 191-seat theater, and set the stage for years to come.
Formerly the Trilogy Lounge, the b.side is carrying on some of the musical legacy left of the former music venue and restaurant while carving out a niche of its own. Although DJs still frequently spin there, b.side has also brought in an eclectic mix of nationally renowned talent such as the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, Dirty Sweet and the Mighty Underdogs. The club has also recruited some fine local jazz talent on Sundays, as well as singer-songwriters, reggae and hip-hop artists. The b.side is especially kind to the electronic folks and electronic-centric groups and organizations like MFA and Communikey, which has helped make the venue a hot spot for electronic music as well.
When some of us would see the old Muddy's sign on the back of this building, we'd instantly remember the days when downtown Denver was both a scary place and one where interesting coffee shops and clubs could be found. When the building was renovated, a piece of Denver history was erased, and in its place was what looked like a slick extension of LoDo. Turns out the owners had more in mind, as the Loft has been hosting live music of all stripes in a room with surprisingly good acoustics and a spacious, well-appointed environment in which to enjoy them.
It's hard to believe that the formal Western art galleries on the seventh floor of the Denver Art Museum's Ponti tower were shuttered for five years. Sure, some Western pieces have been displayed on the second floor of the Hamilton building, but most of the collection had been in deep storage until recently, when curators Peter Hassrick and Thomas Smith teamed up to reinstall it. Among the treasures now on display is "Cowboy Singing," by Thomas Eakins, which the DAM recently acquired. The institution signed over half ownership of "Long Jakes," by Charles Deas, to the Anschutz Collection in exchange for half ownership in the Eakins. Times being what they are, this kind of creative financing is likely to become more common, something art fans certainly can't complain about.
Bars are great places for hanging out and imbibing with friends, but when alcohol isn't on the agenda, why not catch up over huge mugs of coffee, bowls of custom-mixed cereal and a couple of gourmet cupcakes? The Shoppe welcomes visitors until 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights; Tuesday through Thursday, you can grab a treat until 10 p.m. Not only are the cupcakes super-tasty, but the clean, mod interior is comfy enough for a long chat or a solo night out (there are shelves of zines, books and toys in case your friends don't show and you need to amuse yourself). Owners Tran Wills and Emma Skala are always welcoming, and the scene they've created on this little corner of Colfax couldn't be sweeter.
Courtesy Denver Art Museum
DAM's slate of lunch-hour events shifts with the seasons, but you can count on at least one Lunch Box Series a month and a Nooner Tour or three to energize your midday break. The Lunch Box features a curator, artist or visiting scholar focusing on one work from the museum's collection; recent talks have centered on conceptual artist Fred Wilson and recontextualist Rachel Lachowicz. The noon tours (generally offered Wednesdays and Fridays) are a brisk thirty-minute run through a particular topic, from the roots of impressionism to the Asian influence found in some Western artists, and permit the mind to wrap around one or two strands of the museum's tangled collection. Best of all, the nooners get you out of the box for a little while, physically and mentally, so that the rest of the day doesn't look quite so artless.
Aside from the worldwide fame of Vajra and Cysko Rokwel, DJ Chonz is probably the most famous of his brethren in Denver. He's on KS-107.5 every day, offering live mixes to listeners as they drive home from work; he's rocked a party at almost every club in town; and the ladies absolutely love the guy. But he barely gets to share his love of music through those avenues. So in February, Chonz set up his own channel on Ustream.TV and began spinning live Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to noon. The playlist includes everything from NWA and Black Moon to MC Shy D and Nemesis — basically, all the songs that radio doesn't play nowadays. And in case you miss a show, they're all archived on Chonz's channel.

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