Syntax Physic Opera

The owner of Syntax Physic Opera, Jonathan Bitz, prefers the term "host" or "concierge" to "door guy," which tells you something about the attention to detail and ambience here. And indeed, inside you'll find medicinal herbs in the cocktails, portraits of frontier-era civil-rights heroes on the walls, pistols in glass cases and an eclectic array of offerings on stage. It takes a certain kind of patience and charisma to stand at the threshold of such a place, and Syntax's Yves Rhone has both in spades. You'll find Rhone there every Friday and Saturday night, stylishly dressed and setting the tempo. Finding himself with a sudden vacancy about a year ago, Bitz hired Rhone on the spot on the strength of some trusted recommendations, and Rhone has been all we could hope for in a host: conversational, unflappable, and more than capable of preparing you for what's beyond the atrium.

Grabbing the mike for karaoke is usually something that requires one more shot of tequila or the loss of a bet — unless, of course, you're at Armida's. The Mexican restaurant has been a Denver favorite for over twenty years, drawing huge crowds for karaoke seven days a week. While the more "professional" karaoke singers take the stage upstairs, patrons can expect drunken Salt-N-Pepa renditions and Backstreet Boys impersonators on the main stage. With two happy hours a day, Armida's provides the perfect atmosphere to let your hair down and pretend you're Selena — if only for one night.

Readers' choice: Armida's
The Buffalo Rose's exterior after its 2018 remodel.
Chris Cone
The Buffalo Rose's exterior after its 2018 remodel.

There really is no other place in metro Denver quite like the Buffalo Rose. Because the Rose is hidden away in Golden, you really have to want to get there — but on the plus side, parking is easy. The venue generally hosts either rhythm-and-blues gigs or hair-metal shows put on by local group Wolfpack Productions, and it's all perfect. The guy working the door looks like he's spent some time in biker gangs, the bar staff wears the same leather gear they wore in 1988, and there's a dude propped up against the wall in cowboy boots and leopard-print pants who just might have been in Pretty Boy Floyd. The place is a joy: The sound is spot on, and you get a good view of the stage from just about anywhere. And where else do you get to see bands like Faster Pussycat, Danger Danger and motherfucking Winger?

The thing about glammy, sleazy hair metal is that in 2016, it's just about the least-cool genre of music you can be involved in. Hell, in 1993 it was the least-cool genre of music that you could be involved in. That's why, in our book, the musicians who have soldiered on while trends have risen and fallen — all the while spraying that product into thinning hair and keeping that gut in check — should be applauded. Grind Cat Grind still opens for just about every former Sunset Strip idol that comes our way, and is still killing it night after night. Some of the members even moonlight in a hair-metal tribute band called Mr. Steak, offering double the fun. Shame on you for laughing: Grind Cat Grind's set is chock-full of excellent anthemic rock and roll, and the bandmembers don't give a crap about what's charting. Gentlemen, we salute you.

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At this point, everybody in Denver should know how talented Kalyn Heffernan is. The MC with the sharp wit and sharper tongue has got flow for days, and she's an artist first and foremost. Yet it's impossible to ignore the fact that the rapper's also got a keen eye for an outfit. We even ran a photo gallery in 2014 of every outfit Kalyn wore at SXSW, and each one was a head-turner. Whether she's rocking a glamorous dress, a pair of jeans with a tattered jacket and a porkpie hat or Adidas high-tops and a baseball cap, Heffernan makes it work.

With matching leather jackets stitched with "Denver Rock City, USA," songs about Kitty's South and lyrics like "We'll play the hi-dive until the day we die," there's no band that shows more love for its adopted home town than Bud Bronson & the Good Timers. The punk rockers are all too aware of Denver's bro-and-beer culture, and they manage to both embrace and mock it (see "Vapedemic" and "Beer Commercial") with love. Denver-centric songs may not be the path to national success, but then again, Bud Bronson has never wanted to win over the country — just the rowdy South Broadway crowds.

The best music video this year was also probably the bloodiest. Hard rockers the Yawpers released American Man this year, which garnered national attention and the insane video for the single "Doing It Right." The video starts with the main character slitting his wrists, and from there it goes to a cut-off penis, a car chase, and a cameo by Absolute Vinyl owner Doug Gaddy. It's violent and intriguing, and it perfectly represents the Yawpers' balls-to-the-wall attitude. Oh, and the song itself is top-notch, too.

Readers' choice: "S.O.B.," Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats

There were many amazing albums this year. But only one band — with its debut record, at that — managed to sell out Red Rocks, sing the national anthem at a Broncos game, tour Europe and play The Tonight Show...twice. This band of Denver musicians let the world in on a long-kept city secret this year: Nathaniel Rateliff and crew are seriously talented. This is the band that played on its own rooftop at a backyard party. That produced an album that had Denverites singing along months before it was released. That sold out Syntax Physic Opera and the hi-dive in under three hours, then heard a packed crowd chant along to "S.O.B." at both. Yeah, there were many amazing albums released in 2015, but Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats was the best, and now the world knows it.

Readers' choice: Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats

Best Nathaniel Rateliff Song That's Not "S.O.B."

"Howling at Nothing"

Every few months there's a song that becomes a cultural force and is played so often, you feel like you can't avoid it. For the past few months, that song has been "S.O.B.," by Denver's own Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats. It was performed on The Tonight Show, it was in an Apple commercial, and it even made an appearance in a strange Internet video in which Britney Spears writhed around seductively to it. (The response from Rateliff nearly broke the Internet.) While the song is a phenomenon and a carefully crafted pop gem, it could be argued that it's not even the best song on the Night Sweats' self-titled debut album. "Howling at Nothing" is at the other end of the soul spectrum and is a mid-tempo, Otis Redding-style ballad, capable of making existing and prospective couples hold each other close and dance long into the night. While "S.O.B." is what propelled the Night Sweats into the international spotlight, it's Rateliff's depth and diversity on songs like "Howling at Nothing" that should ensure his success long after the buzz dies down.

Luke Thinnes of French Kettle Station showcases songwriting that's almost cunning in its ability to traverse moods. Bitterness cross-fades with hope, and melancholy with an almost anthemic optimism, as his deadpan tenor voice counterbalances bright synth lines that twist through unpredictable but catchy melodies. Live, Thinnes lets his freak flag fly a little more freely, literally hanging from the rafters or screaming into the faces of his fans — poised, like the music itself, between confrontation and camaraderie.

frenchkettlestation.bandcamp.com
Readers' choice: Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats

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