Highlights From the Late, Great Old Curtis Street Bar (Part Two)

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Old Curtis St. Bar has given way to The Curtis Club. Before shutting its doors in 2012, Old Curtis St. Bar was a host to an eclectic schedule of shows starting around 2003, when Kosta Razatos brought live music regularly into the long-running family business. An anecdote that serves as the seeming guiding principle of the booking: John Gross and Todd Novosad talked to Razatos about having Denver Noise Fest there and, due to other noise events the two had put on at the venue, Razatos is purported to have said, "I don't get this stuff but I trust you guys." Punk, metal, Americana, experimental music, rock and whatever seemed welcome at Old Curtis St. Bar.

As mentioned in an earlier part of this photo series, Ikey Owens played his first show with Free Moral Agents at Old Curtis St. and Dark Castle played one of its earliest Denver shows there. It was a bit of a community space and you could get good food there whether the regular faire or vegan food when a vendor was on hand. It was one of the hubs in that part of town along with Carioca Cafe (aka Bar Bar). What follows are some scenes of several shows I attended and had a camera on hand -- you can see more in the first part of this retrospective.

See also: Some of the Most Memorable Shows at Old Curtis Street Bar (Part One)

Red Glow Aviator (see photo above) rose from the ashes of alternative rock/not-so-Goth-but-in-that-scene outfit Dark Orchid. Singer Tonja Yelton and drummer Taj were the core of the group. At the time this photo was taken, Ed Marshall played guitar (he is currently in Forests of Azure) and Sean Boyd played bass (Boyd also played in Blue Blooded Girls with former Acrobat Down keyboardist Jamie White and former Maraca 5-0 guitarist John Gray as well as in the Skivies).

Sara Century and Valerie Franz booked a weeknight at Old Curtis and a lot of strange stuff flowed through on those nights. Here Century is performing a solo show. She now weirds people out with her dark, experimental music in Seattle when she's not plotting her next musical or engaging in other amusing, yet thought-provoking projects.

Spellcaster was the guitar-no-vocals project of Warren Bedell, co-founder of Rhinoceropolis. He now performs in a solo electronic project called No Funeral as well as in the noise-jazz/no wave-esque Deep Satisfaction.

Spokeshaver was an excellent rock/R&B band that should have been bigger shakes locally, because it had a visceral power along with its solid and inventive songwriting.

The Amicable Splits was a strange punk band that was also influenced a bit by stuff like Big Black. Sara Century later went on to her solo project and Night Nurses.

The Haters are a legendary and notorious noise band that made this rare live appearance in Colorado at Denver Noise Fest.

The Legendary River Drifters were a gloriously bombastic Americana project. Suzanne Magnuson had and has a powerful and vibrant voice and her husband Curtis Wallach was/is a fine musician in his own right but also one of the true comedians in underground music in Denver. Both were later members of the now sadly defunct Dudebabes.

The Manxx was a garage-psych band that included Sara Fischer formerly of Pin Downs and numerous other noteworthy groups since the 90s.

The Skivies were, musically-speaking, like Denver's Butthole Surfers but with more space rock elements from guitarist Zahari Tsigularov. DJ Von Feldt used a multi-effects device called The Brain inspired by Gibbytronix to manipulate his voice as a kind of fourth instrument. Always entertaining and refreshingly weird.

The Somnambulists was a short-lived, Magazine-ish/Captai Beefheart-esque band that included Sara and Rick from The Amicable Splits as well as Will Schiesser (later in The Governors) and Dave Cantor.

Thrifty Astronaut was just Nick Jones and his guitar and some other sound devices and occasional collaborators. He was so idiosyncratic in his methods and songwriting, it would be difficult to compare Jones to much of anyone but Casiotone For the Painfully Alone or Half-Japanese but not rock.

This was Tripp Nasty when his performances were unusual stories from his life or posing a question to the audience and going on extemporaneously for several minutes. He is often confrontational in these performances though looking like an English professor from the 1960s. It weirded some people out and that was part of the point. He still performs solo and tells stories and sometimes plays music. He also fronts noise/jazz band CP-208.

This is Turner Jackson, one of the best MCs/rappers in Denver at the moment whose poetic storytelling you have to see for yourself because there's no easy way to describe it.

Woodsman was a sort of post-rock/psych/drone band that was making waves outside of Denver even before it relocated to New York. Former drummer Eston Lathrop stayed in Denver and performs as Paw Paw. Trevor Peterson still runs Fire Talk Records and Woodsman is still a going concern that released an excellent self-titled album in February 2014.

Yuzo Nieto & The Hand That Rocked the Dreidel was a project that included free jazz/afrobeat genius and educator Yuzo Nieto (formerly in Pee Pee) as well as members of Josephine & The Mousepeople, Neil McCormick (Safe Boating is No Accident) and Adam Gildar who runs, of course, Gildar Gallery.

Zombie Bite is the imaginative noise project of Alex Kmett. He was living in Denver, or at least staying in Denver, at the time and truly became a member of the local music community. He was and is currently based out of Minneapolis.

Zoologist is the collaborative project between John Gross of Page 27 and Todd Novosad of Novasak. These guys were truly the godfathers of noise in Denver by organizing and providing the infrastructure for Denver Noise Fest and other noise shows. For this project they appropriated animal sounds and processed them in always interesting ways that transformed recognizable sounds into something otherworldly. Novosad now lives in Florida and does AV work.

*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.

• BACKBEAT'S GREATEST HITS • - Review: BLKHRTS at Old Curtis St. Bar, 8/6/11 - Seven of Denver's Most Underrated Bands - Why DIY Venues Are Vital Are Vital to the Health of the Entire Music Scene - DIY or Die: Why Denver Need Under-The-Radar, All-Ages Arts Spaces

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

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