High Plains Underground Archive

Denver Reunion Shows, Part 2: The Fluid

The Fluid is the focus of High Plains Underground Archive's second installment on Denver music reunion shows.

To start at the beginning: Matt Bischoff and Ricky Kulwicki had been members of the Aurora, Colorado-based Frantix, a great punk band with irreverent humor and incredible energy, which became known for its classic single in later years, “My Dad's a Fuckin' Alcoholic." After Frantix split, Bischoff joined White Trash, a group that included future members of The Fluid, guitarist James Clower and drummer Garrett Shavlik.

In 1984, Bischoff, Kulwicki, Clower and Shavlik formed a band called Madhouse with singer Tom Pop. Within a year, the band became The Fluid when a new singer, John Robinson, joined. Despite its roots and raw energy, it would be difficult to call The Fluid a punk band. Its sound was more like that combination of punk, garage rock and early post-punk that would be called grunge in its manifestation in Seattle.

The Fluid released its first album, Punch and Judy, on Rayon Records, but got a distribution deal through Glitterhouse, which subsequently released Clear Black Paper (1988). By 1989, the band's record Roadmouth was issued jointly with Sub Pop, making The Fluid the first band not from the Pacific Northwest to be signed to the imprint that would become synonymous with grunge, the most commercially successful wing of the alternative rock explosion of the early 1990s. The Fluid put out a 1991 split 7" with Nirvana, featuring live versions of "Candy" by The Fluid and Nirvana's cover of The Vaselines' "Molly's Lips."

The Fluid firmed up the long-term connection between Denver and the Pacific Northwest by playing shows in Seattle and sharing the stage with like-minded artists and influencing a generation of younger artists as well as their peers. Even after The Fluid split in 1993 following the release of Purplemetalflakemusic, its legacy — great live performances, as well as band members who were well-liked and respected — lived on in the punk scene for more than a decade.

In 2008, Sub Pop announced it was going to hold a twenty-year anniversary show. The Fluid practiced for months in a warehouse, with John Robinson and Garrett Shavlik coming in from out of state. I lived in the warehouse where the band practiced, and while I already respected the music, the band members struck me as real and low-key, people who acted as if their legacy was a privilege rather than a birthright.

Though I didn't photograph the Sub Pop anniversary show or the Larimer Lounge pre-show when the group performed as Mr. Blameshifter, the name of one of their songs. But I did make it the that first comeback show at The Bluebird and a series of dates in Hoboken, Brooklyn and Seattle in 2009. After that, The Fluid effectively disbanded again, and Bischoff and Kulwicki formed a Nuggets-style cover band called The Buckingham Squares as a nod to the now-defunct mall in Aurora.

On February 15, 2011, Kulwicki died at home at age 49. Even typing that fact hurts because I considered Kulwicki a friend. He was a sweet guy with a great sense of humor and heart to match. He remembered details of your life, and if you ask anyone that knew him, you'll get a good story. The remaining members of The Fluid performed in March 2011 at the Bluebird Theater as part of the Pure Sunshine show to benefit Kulwicki's sons Richard and Roman. On January 6, 2012, Mudhoney played another benefit show at The Bluebird with the Fluid, with Bischoff taking over guitar duties for Kulwicki, and Arnie Beckman of Choosy Mothers and Buckingham Squares sitting in on bass. Rarely has such an outpouring of support happened for any Denver musician.

What follows are some shots I took of The Fluid, one of Denver's best and most beloved rock bands, at the various reunion shows I was able to attend, as well as a shot of Shavlik's then new band The Press Corps. 

*Author's Note on the High Plains Underground Archive:
In the late 1990s, I started going to local shows on a regular basis. Growing up in the '70s and '80s, I didn't know there was such a thing as local music worth checking out. But I was drawn in after seeing a band called Rainbow Sugar (an all-female punk/hip-hop/experimental guitar rock extravaganza) opening for Sleater-Kinney's first show in Colorado at The Fox Theatre in October 1998. Next, I learned about a show at the now-defunct Rebis Galleries. From there I went to the first Monkey Mania show, and there was no looking back. Rainbow Sugar was the first local band I photographed at Herman's Hideaway in 1999. But it was in 2005 when I got my first digital camera that my extensive photo archive started. In this series, called High Plains Underground Archive, I will share a small fraction of the tens of thousands of those photos, focusing on specific venues, bands, time periods, movements and whatever else seems to make sense. The title of this series comes from the working title of my book on the history of underground music in Denver 1975 to the present.

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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.