Music News

The Beatdown

It's Saturday night, and the tenth annual Westword Music Showcase has just come to a close. I'm sitting on a ledge at Ninth Avenue and Lincoln Street, downing Gatorade and thumbing through my notebook. An old Journey song keeps running through my mind. "Why Can't This Night Go On Forever?" is about those fleeting times in your life, the moments you wish would never end, when everything seems beautiful and nothing hurts. Even though I'm ready to collapse and my feet feel like they have cinderblocks strapped to them, at this moment everything is indeed beautiful, and nothing hurts. For the past eight hours, there's been no heartache, no despair, no Iraq, no inflated gas prices -- just the healing, unifying power of music. Earlier today, thousands had converged on the Golden Triangle to witness firsthand what I've been writing about for the past year: the best of Denver's music scene. As I get to the front of my pad, I see that the rain has blurred my notes, but that doesn't matter. As some sage once said, "The good shit sticks." And today it was all good.

DJ Cysko Rokwel kicked off the Showcase with a flawless set on the outdoor stage. Flanked by mike stands and equipment covered with tarps to protect it from the elements, he was oblivious to the activity around him -- members of Wendy Woo's band preparing for their set -- and displayed segues and beat-matching ability second to none. With clinical precision, he took underground cuts from artists like Hieroglyphics and seamlessly faded them into more mainstream beats. Then, without warning or provocation, he'd drag the needle across the record, creating a shrill announcement of his disdain for the track. There's a reason this cat almost walked away with the regional DMC title this year: He's as dope as they come.

Wendy Woo brought her A-game, too. She wooed the growing audience -- "It's nice to play for such an intimate crowd," she said -- with songs from Walking the Skyline, her latest disc, and a set as easy and sultry on the ears as she was on the eyes. "It's gonna get bad before it gets better," she cooed. I was just hoping she wasn't talking about the weather, which by now had taken a turn toward the smooshy.

Midway through Woo's set, I headed over to the Acoma Center and one of the killer performances of the night. Reverend Deadeye and brother Backslider were doling out the rawest, most authentic Delta blues this side of Robert Johnson and Son House. Their stripped-down setup made the White Stripes seem downright extravagant. The pair sat in front of two drum kits and kept time as Backslider wailed, playing the slide like he invented it, and Deadeye crooned into his makeshift megaphone, a mike swathed in an aluminum soda can. The result sounded like a static-filled AM broadcast from the '30s.

Meanwhile, down the block at La Rumba, the Erica Brown Band was ripping through decidedly more modern blues. While Deadeye had turned the Acoma Center into a grungy Southern juke joint, Brown gave La Rumba the feel of an elegant Chicago supper club. I've seen her and her band at least a dozen times, but they have never been better. Unfortunately, the sound for Plastic Parachute, which followed Brown at La Rumba, wasn't nearly as good. But even though the band was plagued by feedback during the few minutes I caught, the 'Chute was in rare form. A few weeks ago, John La Briola compared this band to No Doubt, and that assessment remains pretty on point -- though frontwoman Deb Hooks, with her platinum mane and black streaks, still reminds me more of Deborah Harry than Gwen Stefani.

I spent the next couple of hours crisscrossing the Golden Triangle as I tried to catch every act, something I finally had to concede was simply impossible. But first I went back to the outdoor stage for Yo, Flaco!, which got its groove on not just with insanely gifted MCs, but a bunch of stellar players, as well. Then I dropped by the Church for a dose of Mootown metal: While Ion unleashed a sonic flurry in the bowels of the sacred venue, DJ Vajra was upstairs delving into deep funk. Then it was over to Dazzle, where Jack Redell was just finishing his set with a fiery rendition of "Folsom County Blues."

At one point, the Break Mechanics were tearing it up at La Rumba, Love.45 was rocking the crowd by the outdoor stage with its polished brand of power pop, and folks were worshiping Rogue at the Church. After months of sitting on the sidelines watching other acts play at Whiskey Bill's, his new bar, Bill Terrell was back with a vengeance: His vocals were amazing and his presence was commanding. And Rogue was still breaking in a new drummer, who'd been with the group less than a week.

Then things got even better. Rose Hill Drive and the Fray blew away countless folks who'd heard about both bands but had never seen either. If I had a dollar for every time I said, "Told ya," I could've bought one of those pedi-cabs that smart people used to shuttle between shows. I heard part of the Reals' set from the back parking lot, where I was talking about the state of the local music industry with consultant Mark Bliesener and Chris K and Danny Farias from Hapi Skratch. Judging from what we were hearing, it's very good indeed.

Toward the end of the evening, as I headed to Serengeti to catch the end of the Swayback's amazing set, I walked past a giant Coors Light inflatable that had fallen over and was now spread across the pavement. It looked exactly like I felt. But I couldn't give up. I had to see the Gamits, who rolled through a blistering set peppered with material from their brilliant new platter, Antidote. And then it was back up to Dazzle, where the line snaked down the block as folks tried to get into Rubber Planet's set. I watched as Rubber got the room bouncing, then headed to Opal to catch Apostle. But the show ended just as I arrived.

So now I'm at Ninth and Lincoln, kicking myself for missing not just Apostle, but the Hot IQs (formerly the Royal We) -- I hear they sounded better than ever -- and Hemi Cuda, which turned in a crowd-pleasing performance while dressed in Afros and skintight hot pants. But was it the best of the Showcase?

Find out Thursday, July 15, when we host the Westword Music Showcase awards ceremony at the Bluebird Theater. By then, I may be able to feel my feet again.