A weekend at Mutiny Information Cafe, Denver's most unexpectedly great music venue

Mutiny Information Café may be ground zero for the next generation of Denver's music scene.

The shop sits on the southeast corner of Broadway and Ellsworth. Its modest but inviting exterior hasn't changed too much since Matt Megyesi, Joe Ramirez and 3 Kings Tavern co-partner Jim Norris took over operations in February 2013. In the window, a neon sign indicates "Books," but for the last several months, the storefront has not only made available an increasingly solid selection of music to go along with those -- it has hosted a wide variety of concerts. Mutiny is filling a need for a truly all-ages venue and an easy-to-find location central part of Denver. It's not a symbolic role, either. We spent three consecutive days there over Memorial Day weekend and saw a trio of very different shows.

Norris envisions Mutiny as an all-ages host that operates completely legally, as opposed to the many DIY venues that must exist as quasi-legal endeavors. In coming months, the bookshelves will be modified and some of the stock will be culled to essentials and local publications, and the space will be able to host over a hundred patrons. Norris and his partners want to cultivate the room as a community space, where the next generation of musicians -- those who can't bring their young friends into a bar like 3 Kings -- will have a place to showcase their musical wares.

The first night of the weekend featured a lineup of mostly experimental electronic acts, beginning with Sleepwalk Cinema: One guy with banks of synthesizers he uses to create the kind of dark, moody pop songs reminiscent of late '80s and early '90s EBM. His music has a dark, undeniably expansive feel.

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Victoria Lundy followed up with a rare solo show -- she's better known for her more going concern, The Inactivists, and her collaborations with synthesist Mark Mosher and other members of The Boulder Synthesizer Meetup. With her Theremin and some backing beats, Lundy was Clara Rockmore-esque in her precision and nuance in performing what sounded like modern classical music for strings. It was a beautifully eerie performance that drew genuinely curious looks from onlookers walking by on the sidewalk. And that was one of the most fascinating aspects of at least the two evening performances of the weekend -- the intentional and un-intentional people watching from the inside. seeing people walk by the big windows and reacting with everything from amusement to fascination to mockery to excitement and even inspiration. Many walked inside to hear a few songs. This is not something that often happens at bars -- few are so visibly open and inviting.

Captain Howdy's brief excursion to flowing, deep, shadowy, dense ambient was augmented by Morlox's knack for casting the textures into greater contrast either by providing his own or through his expert ear for tone and how to play counter to that or in harmonic complement. People walking by didn't seem to know what to make of Captain Howdy, but not a lot of people outright ignored it.

The scene hearkened back to shows at Rhinoceropolis, before the decade turned, when it would be a handful of people going to check out an excellent band no one much knew about. You showed up hoping to get into something a little weird, a little innovative and certainly an antidote to whatever trends dominated the more obvious venues. The crowds were largely the friends of the bands, but the mix of ages and styles spoke to a casual and relaxed feel, one that helps introduce people to challenging and unconventional music.

Our weekend continues on the next page. It had stormed on and off the next night before Ross Etherton and the Chariots of Judah headlined, with David DeVoe and Sweet Spirit opening. It was mostly a crowd of people one might have seen at punk and post-hardcore shows over a decade ago. They were enthusiastic, yes, but not out right rowdy until Etherton himself went into a highly spirited moments, as in the fiery, Neil Young-esque "Roomful of Folks." That enthusiasm extended to the openers, particularly Sweet Spirit, playing its first show of largely mathy instrumentals akin to A Minor Forest and The For Carnation. Its sparkling melodies and fluid dynamics inside angular song structures conveyed a sense of wide open spaces and movement. This night, yes, it was more a rock and country vibe, so the crowd walking by seemed to know more what to think of the music. There were more genuine smiles and pleasantly surprised reactions than with the night before. Likely, some people witnessed Etherton going into a micro-trance, swept up in the moment or in his typical outbursts of joy and catharsis, like a performance artist/shaman, and got to enjoy the show as much as those of us who have been lucky enough to see Etherton and his various collaborators make magic with seemingly prosaic elements from everyday moments writ large. It felt like a show where friends showed appreciation for friends from the "stage" and the warmth that comes out of that was tangible. The following afternoon, Mondo Obscura got going at around a quarter after two and didn't finish or take much of a break before finishing up around 4:30. Such a sustained, live ambient set doesn't happen much, and it was perfect for this storm-haunted afternoon. The duo of Evan Brown and Ryan Peru had set up what looked like a mosquito net covering the area. They were performing music on banks of synths and beats and later with drum pads and a ukulele that, when put through effects, sounded more like some kind of small steel drum. Both had on conical hats that looked like something rice farmers have worn for millenia in Southeast Asia, and that added to the alien, yet organic feel of the show.

Since it was a rainy Sunday afternoon, there weren't a lot of people watching, and those that did peek in were hurrying along to not get as wet. But inside, families of the band, including children, were there along with Wesley Davis, aka DJ bios+a+ic Sounds and member of ambient/experimental project Entropic Advance. At about the last third of the set, the flow of sounds and textures was reminiscent of the soundtrack that Tangerine Dream wrote for that great William Friedkin movie Sorceror. With the rain going on outside not seeming to let up, only lessen at times, it seemed like a perfect sound for the day. It was one that definitely calmed moods and provoked post-set conversation between everyone in attendance.

In one 72-hour stretch, Mutiny hosted a rock show, an experimental electronic one and an extended ambient set. The venue proved itself capable of providing an outlet for a wide spectrum of what Denver has to offer, without big pressure to count heads or to have the music sit within anything like strict boundaries. Sometimes, Mutiny hosts big, extreme metal shows like when Thou from New Orleans played there with Primitive Man. It has hosted folk shows, as when Emily Frembgen graced its stage recently. It really is one of the only places in town where anyone of any age could go and check out a great show. It's also a host for local authors like Ken Arkind and Charly Fasano, to name just two. With a far better than average sound system, especially for its small size, it seems clear Mutiny is poised to be not just a major all-ages venue, but also a place where wierdos and the not-so-weird can mingle and potentially increase the creative energy in the Mile High City right now.

Critic's Notebook

Bias: Jim Norris has been one of the most interesting and engaging people I've met in the Denver scene. Also, I'm a fan of the musical acts that played each day that I knew about and became one of Galacticat and PBLC.

Random Detail: Picked up a copy of the debut Ken Arkind book, Coyotes. Highly recommended. The guy's work and his contribution to the youth in Denver is a real cultural treasure of the city.

By the Way: Guys from the Hi-Dive/Sputnik came over to check things out. Everyone is on the same team in all of this.

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If you'd like to contact me, Tom Murphy, on Twitter, my handle is @simianthinker.

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