Best Indie-Rock Elder Statesman 2010 | Aaron Hobbs | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

Singer/guitarist Aaron Hobbs isn't any older than many musicians who started making their mark around town in the '90s. But his first band, Small Dog Frenzy, crafted an indie-rock racket that's undergone many reincarnations since, an unbroken string of excellence that includes the projects Acrobat Down, Hobbs NM and, currently, Popwreck. Hobbs's raspy, catchy anthems have served as a model for great songcraft and, yes, even integrity for over fifteen years now — a lifetime in terms of music trends. Through all of indie rock's ups and downs, he's remained true, sure and full of soul. Listen up, kids, and learn how it's done.

Best Place to Catch an Emo Version of "Wonderwall"

The Key of D

A few years ago, video whiz Tony Shawcross and his merry multimedia pranksters took over Denver's public-access TV channels and re-branded them Denver Open Media, in an attempt to revolutionize what had become boring and bland. There's no better proof of their success than The Key of D, an interactive music show that Shawcross hosts on Comcast channel 56 every Tuesday night at 9:30 p.m. As part of the program, viewers text in song requests which Shawcross, his co-hosts and special guests (such as celebrated local musicians Laura Goldhamer and Tyler Potts) do their best to accommodate with off-the-cuff, often unrecognizable renditions. So far, the show's received more than 3,000 requests from hundreds of viewers. Aqua's "Barbie Girl"? No problem. "Loving You Sunday Morning," by the Scorpions? Sure thing. "White Lines (Don't Don't Do It)," by Grandmaster Melle Mel? Why the hell not? The key? If you text it, they'll mangle it.

In a crowded field of standout releases from some of the city's finest MCs and DJs, The Format, a mixtape by FOE and DJ Awhat, quickly rose to the head of the class — and that's saying a lot, because many of those mixes are hot as hell. Gliding on top of dense electro backdrops fashioned from borrowed beats put together by Awhat, FOE (Father of Enemies, aka Bobby Rogers) spits with a velvety-smooth, unhurried cadence, offering the kind of languid delivery that sounds like it was crafted in a dispensary for, ahem, medicinal purposes. Add to that cameos by Karma, ManeRok, Trouble, Yonnas Abraham from The Pirate Signal, Haven and 800 the Jewell, and you have a mixtape that shows just how high hip-hop in the Mile High can go.

Air Dubai, which began life as a hip-hop duo and showed tons of potential right out of the gate with its debut long player, 2008's The Early October, has made an absolutely stunning transformation. From the sounds of the act's latest tune, "I Know How," recorded at Coupe Studios with studio time the group earned through a recent University of Colorado battle of the bands victory, Air Dubai, now a seven-member crew, has kicked things up a few notches. Recalling the classic soul flavor and musicality of cuts like "Break You Off," by the Roots, this new tune is instantly entrancing and offers a promising glimpse of what's to come from this act — which is clearly no cookie-cutter rap-rock hybrid. Air Dubai is currently in the studio working on its next album, due out sometime later this year.

Many bands are content with learning the chords and melody of one of their favorite songs, then getting up on stage and pumping it out. The so-called faithful cover song is often a cop-out or just plain filler — but not in the hands of JT Nolan of the Lovely and Talented. He decided to put a hot-jazz spin on his nearly unrecognizable rendition of the Pixies' "Subbacultcha." It's such a radical reinterpretation, Nolan even gives himself co-songwriting credit with the Pixies' Frank Blank on the liner notes of the Lovely and Talented's latest disc, The New American Fable. That takes some chutzpah — but one listen to Nolan's version is enough to make you realize he's earned it.

Mark Antonation

Good karaoke bars need several things: cheap booze, a thick songbook, a DJ capable of inflating your ego, a no-cuts-no-butts-no-coconuts method of choosing singers and, perhaps most important, a loyal following of wannabe Axl Roses who will sing along to the lyrics of almost anything and cheer you on while you do the Vanilla Ice dance during instrumental breaks. Charlie Brown's has all this and more. The cheap booze flows from morning until night, and you can keep your pipes primed during the five-times-a-week piano sing-along. That way, when the karaoke starts at 9:30 p.m. on Sundays, you'll be ready to join in with the rest of the appreciative audience, encouraging every intoxicated rendition of "Ice Ice Baby." Word to your mother.

Evan Semón

When guitarist Cole Rudy started his every-other-Monday Jazz Expo nights at the Meadowlark, he was looking to re-create the backyard jams he'd enjoyed with his music-school friends. Some of those friends are now part of a rotating cast that includes gypsy-jazz guitarist M'hamed El Menjra, trumpeter Gabe Mervine and alto saxophonist Matt Pitts. Whether they're burning through standards or collectively improvising, these Jazz Expo musicians make some of the most exciting music you'll find in town — especially on a Monday night.

Yes, there was a man on stage in Calamity _ a musician supposedly hired by Calamity Jane for the crazed, disorganized Wild West show with which she attempted to eke out a living later in life — but he served primarily as a foil for the drunken, obscenity-spewing, self-pitying, self-destructive creature Jane had become. This was essentially a one-woman show, and Ethelyn Friend was unstoppable in the role of Calamity: singing, staggering, insulting her musician and the audience, cradling her bottle, and filling the small theater with gust after gust of insane energy.

Tony White

The tiny, intimate Ubisububi Room, in the basement of the Thin Man, has quietly become home to the best free film series in town. Curated by Gio and Carmela Toninelo, the Ubisububi has turned Wednesday nights into a chance to see programs featuring everything from sci-fi classics to indie romances, frequently with a seasonal twist (expect to see horror movies come Halloween). The siblings' deep appreciation of cinema and eclectic tastes keep the selections fresh and engaging, balancing must-see favorites with more left-field fare. And since the series is free, you can spend those last few dollars in your wallet at the bar upstairs, which is bound to help your enjoyment of any movie.

Residents of the Denver Women's Correctional Facility have a lot of time to think — and they show that they've put that time to very good use in Captured Words, a collection of poems, stories and essays that they wrote in the fall of 2009, when a group from the University of Colorado Denver visited the facility every week to work with the women. As Erika Baro wrote: "The skies are dark and gray/The rain won't stop falling/The lightning throbs and screams/Looking at the turmoil in my soul/I realize I'm not the only one/Who feels this way/The world also hurts/It just broke before I did."

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