Best Historic Show — Solo 2012 | Sandzen in Colorado | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

For decades during the first half of the twentieth century, Birger Sandzén, a Swedish painter based in Kansas, spent his summers in Colorado recording the celebrity scenery in photos, drawings and, most famously, paintings. His signature style — characterized by wild flourishes of brushwork carried out in cotton-candy shades of thick paint — created a bridge linking post-impressionism to abstract expressionism, and in the process brought that heroic moment in the development of modernism right to our front door. Taking advantage of the fact that the Sandzén Memorial Gallery in Kansas was closed for remodeling, Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center museum director Blake Milteer organized Sandzén in Colorado, using pieces from the Kansas facility, along with loans from important Colorado-based collections, to put together the largest show ever devoted to Sandzén.

This building at 28th and California used to be inhabited by anarchist punks and folkies, some of whom were involved in Food Not Bombs. It was called the Pitchfork House back then, and you would see bands like the Fainting Fansies and others of that ilk playing there. Today the punk spirit remains, and the guys who live here now have, perhaps against their better judgment, thrown shows in their living room. Sometimes that means a completely obscure experimental or pop band from far afield, other times it'll mean a hardcore or metal show or something equally loud and hectic. House shows used to be a bit of an institution in Denver, and Mouth House is keeping that experience alive and well — in a welcoming environment, to boot.

Except for the fact that they are both well-established artists, the two men featured in I Gotcha Covered: Roland Bernier and Bill Vielehr have nothing in common. Roland Bernier's visual language is actually language — in this show, giant letters in alphabetical order — which he uses as found compositions for his conceptual pieces. Bill Vielehr, on the other hand, does welded aluminum in the form of abstract columns. To make them work in the same show at Walker Fine Art, gallery director Bobbi Walker put the Berniers on the walls and the Vielehrs on the floor, creating what could be seen as a solo within a solo, with each artist standing out on his own.

Evan Semón

Originally started a few years back by guitarist Cole Rudy, who was looking to re-create the backyard jams he enjoyed with music-school friends, the weekly Monday jazz jam at the Meadowlark is still the main place in town to catch some of the city's finest young players. While some jams might attract a lot of one particular instrument, here you'll see horn players, bassists, drummers, keyboardists and guitarists cycling through every few songs. Yep, they do standards, but they keep them fresh, fiery and exciting.

Sure, you've got thousands of songs at your fingertips on those Internet jukeboxes, but the old-school CD jukes just feel like they've got soul — or at least character. When you're flipping through the pages of 3 Kings Tavern's Rock-Ola Legend, which seems like it's at least a few decades old, the selection process is much more tangible, whether you're hunting for AC/DC, Crüe, Stones, Skynyrd, Big Black, X's Live at the Whisky a Go-Go, or one of the stellar mix CDs. And since a stream of local acts plays at 3 Kings, it's not surprising that the juke is also stocked with a fair amount of the city's finest punk bands, including King Rat, Frontside Five and such dearly departed icons as Planes Mistaken for Stars.

Readers' Choice: Sancho's Broken Arrow

If you're itching to sound off, the best karaoke nights in town are at a spot hidden away on a Westminster building's backside (thus the moniker, we presume). But with its elevated stage, overhead screen displaying the words from your choice of thousands of songs, and an enthusiastic audience of friendly, easygoing neighborhood regulars, the Rear Inn is way ahead of the rest of the karaoke pack. And since not everybody knows about this every-night-of-the-week karaoke night (yet!), you'll have plenty of opportunity to play the rock star that we know you are.

Readers' Choice: Armida's Restaurant

Before the Fray definitively claimed the title, Five Iron Frenzy was one of Denver's biggest success stories. The homegrown, Christian-centric ska-core band earned its renown the old-fashioned way: by building up a grassroots fan base through constant touring. When the band called it a day in 2003, playing its final show in front of a capacity crowd at the Fillmore Auditorium, its members never imagined that a decade later they would claim the distinction of being one of Kickstarter's biggest success stories. When Five Iron Frenzy decided to regroup to record an album, the band put out a plea to fans to help raise $30K. Astoundingly, the act reached that goal within one hour, and ultimately ended up raising just over a quarter-million dollars.

A gal can always use a good guffaw, and Ladies Laugh-In makes sure that she can get it at least once a month. Comedians Heather Snow and Chella Negro are the hostesses of the monthly showcase at Beauty Bar, and while the featured performers are mostly women — everyone from Lori Callahan to Nora Lynch to Alicia Jacobs — there are often a few men in the mix, too; both Adam Cayton-Holland and Ben Roy have joined the ladies on stage. Now in its second year, Ladies Laugh-In is not only a guaranteed good time, but it benefits a good cause: A charitable component has been added to the show, with suggested door donations going to various nonprofits each month.

Connoisseurs of live music will tell you that something is lost when an artist becomes popular enough to perform in an arena. While this may be true at some places, it's certainly not the case at Broomfield's 1STBANK Center, where the sound is pretty well dialed in virtually anywhere you sit. The venue, which sits halfway between Denver and Boulder, hosted a variety of acts in the past twelve months, from Radiohead to Portishead to Kelly Clarkson; the Black Keys will grace its stage at the end of April. At 1STBANK Center, shows of this caliber somehow feel far more intimate than you'd expect.

Xencs L. Wing brings new life to an old tradition: painting sugar skulls. She posts up at hip-hop shows with her crafts — she makes earrings and other items — and offers live demonstrations, mixing colors to the beat of whatever head-nodding hip-hop music is being played at the time and creating a masterpiece in front of the crowds. Not surprisingly, she's in great demand during Día de Los Muertos festivities and for other hip-hop-themed shows. And Wing doesn't limit her artistic expression to life-after-death depictions; she's also an MC.

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