Best Show About a Little-Known Denver Master 2010 | Paul Gillis: Curiouser | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

Paul Gillis is an artist's artist who toils away in his studio, creating quirky, cartoonish paintings and watercolors — but rarely exhibits them. Realizing that, Simon Zalkind, one of Denver's most gifted curators, mounted a show devoted to pieces that Gillis had done over the last dozen years, almost none of which had been displayed before. Although the works are nominally narrative, it's hard to say just what story Gillis is telling: His pictures include robots, animals and vessels of various types, as well as writings in imaginary languages, all of it set in weird, surrealistic settings that look simultaneously ancient and futuristic. His cryptic work was a fitting choice for the Singer, long a force in the Denver art world, but now facing an uncertain future at the Jewish Community Center.

Justin Criado

Sure, Eugene Carthen can sing the blues. Hell, dude's been honing his pipes since he was four years old, singing gospel through high school and performing with various R&B groups since then. While he regularly gigs around town as Eugene Sings the Blues, he also hosts a Wednesday-night blues jam at Herb's, where players join the listeners packing the bar's back room, waiting for the chance to shine with Carthen.

The Antrobus family represents all of humanity in The Skin of Our Teeth, Thornton Wilder's strange, 1940s play about the end of the world, and the playwright clearly saw Mrs. Antrobus as a conventional housewife. But in Billie McBride's hands, she was less a submissive helpmate than a woman intent on protecting her family, and so strong in her beliefs that she could withstand almost anything. She was also hyper-competent. "I can starve," she remarked calmly at one point. "I've starved before. I know how."

Scott Beyette's lisping, daft and desperate William Barfee was the highlight of the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, a sweet, silly musical about competitive kids. In this Boulder's Dinner Theatre production, Beyette (who's also been doing some excellent directing at BDT) pulled off the neat trick of being hyper-funny and completely over the top while still communicating all the teenaged angst and vulnerability of Barfee. That's Barfay, he kept exclaiming desperately.

Jeffrey Nickelson founded Shadow Theatre Company on a $500 gift in 1997, kept it going on a shoestring, moved it into a fine new home in Aurora two years ago, resigned abruptly last summer and, shortly thereafter, died of a heart attack. Since then, the company has dissolved in a welter of accusation and counter-accusation. Nickelson may never have been able to achieve the stability he wanted for Shadow, but that shouldn't distract Denverites from his profound accomplishments: his passion for black history and desire to teach through theater, his efforts to reach out and heal division, and, above all, the evenings of revelation, drama, heart-stirring music and sheer lighthearted comedy that Shadow provided for so many years.

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.

Best Of Denver®

Best Of