Things witnessed last night at the Ogden Theatre, in no particular order: Rosie the Riveter breakdancing with a samurai; a priest making out with Little Orphan Annie; Milli Vanilli's Rob and Fab sharing a smoke outside; and a drunk monk. On stage, funk bandleader Karl Denson, clad in butt-hugging bell bottom jeans and an Afro big enough to warrant its own orbit, stood in awe of this spectacle. Backed by what seemed like a hundred-piece band, Denson's first question to the audience, "Does anyone here like to dance?" That was answered with resounding, unrestrained shouts of, uh, yes!
Earlier in the evening, Los Angeles DJ Z-Trip's set began as the venue was still filling with volunteers for nonprofit New Era Colorado (a get-out-the-vote campaign focused on young people). They were guests of honor at last night's gig. Z-Trip was spinning his trademark mixes, a little Led Zeppelin mashed with Public Enemy.
A couple hours later Karl Denson and his massive band, featuring no fewer than three string players and four horns, plus a couple keyboardists, guitarists and backing singers, began their set in earnest. "Denver, I'm gonna take you to Funkytown," he informed us, smiling. What followed was a fantastic voyage through the disco-funk landscape of the 1970s. The Bee Gees' "If I Can't Have You" was an early addition, followed by Chic's 1978 megahit "Le Freak."
On stage Denson is not the center of the, uh, universe, so to speak. He took occasional turns in the spotlight to sing or play saxophone, but his role last night resembled more of an old-school bandleader's than that of a single-minded, limelight-hungry frontman. Which was awesome, since he had such capable help on stage anyway. Denson frequently shook a tambourine or gave little instructions to other bandmembers, never once breaking the smile on his face.
More hits. Blondie's two biggest contributions to the pop music canon, "Rapture" and "Heart of Glass" both received the Denson treatment. Ft. Collins-based Devon Parker stood out perhaps more than any other one of the Tiny Universe band members last night, for her frequent turns as lead singer and de facto voice of the group. She also tore up just about any material that came along. "Funkytown" (made famous by Lipps Inc. in 1980) featured Parker and her singing partners giving a standout performance.
The night was more about vibe than virtuosity, however. If the beat was well-rooted (and it always was; there was nothing half-ass about Denson's rhythm section), then the crowd would follow along. Tiny Universe could have decided to throw a funk beat behind "Frosty the Snowman," and everyone at the Ogden last night would've been shaking their asses.
Denson did take the microphone a few times, showcasing superb flute chops (how often do you hear that at a rock gig that's not Jethro Tull?) when he wasn't singing. Denson, goateed and resembling an extra from the film Boogie Nights, took a few turns on the mike as well, early in the evening with a cover of "Disco Inferno" and later with a rousing take on the Halloween-appropriate KC & the Sunshine tune, "I'm Your Boogie Man." Considering the full moon, the gig's auspicious date, and the costumes galore, it's hard to think of a better choice of songs to play for this mass of funked-up, blissed-out fans.
Personal Bias: Karl Denson absolutely dominated the stage at the 2012 Westword Music Showcase. The question was: Could he top it? I'm happy to report: he could, and did.
Random Note: Jesus. So many random notes to be found at a Halloween rock concert. How about this? There were at least seven Ninja Turtles in attendance last night.
By the Way: Z-Trip seamlessly mashed up Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust" with Metallica's "One." Ballsy move, but he pulled it off fine.