Highlights of the Underground Scene During Denver Music's Dark Ages

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Editor: Please see the Author's note on this new photo-driven series at the end of this article.

In this second part (read part one here) of the Underground Bands of Denver Music's Dark Ages, we're going to use a few bands of the era to spotlight some of the important venues. Not every band played every venue and as a band you often had to seek out new places to perform if you wanted to play to a different crowd or more than once per month. By November 2003, the hi-dive opened its doors and provided a place for bands playing original music. More venues with similar mindsets opened, and more bands formed to play them, effectively ended what is somewhat humorously referred to here as Denver Music's Dark Ages.

See also: The Underground Bands of Denver Music's Dark Ages: Part One.

Against Tomorrow's Sky was one of the most significant bands to have come out of Colorado Springs. Its music was in that late '90s emo vein, but the live show was a massive outpouring of sound and a palpable sense of joy. The group's only album, 2002's Jump The Hedges First, while an excellent representation of the songwriting, did not fully capture the sheer power of the band on stage. Few albums do.

Monkey Mania hosted all kinds of shows. It was where some of the weirdest bands could find an outlet as most of the other venues weren't really accessible to bands like White Mice, Caroliner Rainbow and Black Elf Speaks from Pittsburgh. Kind of like a psychedelic rock band akin to Gong or Hawkwind but with a more pagan aesthetic.

Sort of what might be called a stoner rock band, Black Strip Sonic was active for a short while. Wesley Willis even wrote a song about the band from his time living in Denver for his 2001 album Torture Demon Hellride.

Bright Channel was the band I ended up seeing the most of any Denver band (60 times). This was the first time and the band's second ever show, I believe. Guitarist Jeff Suthers and bassist Shannon Stein had been in Pteranodon, an ambient group in the vein of Stars of the Lid, who I had seen at Kurt Ottaway's old warehouse The Pinebox Construction Company on north Walnut St. It was beautiful stuff but pretty sedate. Bright Channel -- at this time -- was more mellow but the sound was colossal. Beautiful yet overwhelming. It became more of a rock band in late 2003 and into 2004, and that's when many people caught on to what a brilliant band it was.

This is a shot of a rare show at Gallery Sovereign in Boulder at 1537 Pearl St. For this performance Kurt Ottaway then of Tarmints sang vocals for a cover of "Shadowplay" by Joy Division. It was a special moment to be sure getting to see people from what, to my mind, were two of the three to five best bands going at that time in Denver.

Catatonic Lydia was a band where most of the members were under 21 for the larger percentage of its existence, and so were its fans. So the group ended up playing a variety of interesting venues and took shows many other bands wouldn't. This shot is from a place called Roll-O-Rama that held shows for a short while. It was a roller skating rink at 8370 York St. The sound was god awful, but it was a unique experience going to a place like that to see bands like Nightingale (later Moccasin), the Emmas and naturally, Catatonic Lydia.

Who plays in Fort Lupton except for maybe some old punk bands in the '90s? Catatonic Lydia somehow got a gig playing at this place whose name I could never figure out at the time but "Marabal" seemed to be it though someone said the name meant "The Explosion." But "marabal" doesn't mean "explosion." No one there knew how to operate the P.A. but some of us figured it out somewhat and Catatonic Lydia played the show. Pictured here is drummer Sophia Throop singing while her sister held the microphone. Keepin' it classy, Fort. Lupton.

It's unclear how or why Catatonic Lydia, a band with decidedly feminist lyrics and not really with the program for a Christian university, but the group played this show with Supply Boy, of all bands. Catatonic Lydia drummer Sophia Throop made some profane jokes about how Jesus was shocking her through the microphone and other such refinements. But neither band was asked to leave. It felt like seeing a show at a cult compound because even the people normally there were acting strangely. None of us "weirdos" drank any of the Kool Aid available for the event.

This and the following picture are of Catatonic Lydia performing at the Breakdown Book Collective. It was an anarchist book store/community space that I'd been going to since it opened in 2001 at another location. This space was a half a block north of 14th and Ogden. At that time I was somewhat involved in the first Lady Fest Out West and that was part of the reason Catatonic Lydia played there but many shows happened at this place while it was around including a Wolf Colonel show on the grass outside and Bad Weather California when Chris played solo. Also, the Denver police took pictures of people going in and out of the place as part of that spy file scandal of around 2003.

For several years there was a somewhat thriving Goth scene in Denver, where people were actually making music and not merely going to a dance night where music made after 1994 is largely verboten. Or if not, then more modern EBM tripe and the like rules the day. The de facto godfathers of that Goth scene were the guys in Caustic Soul. Today the band wouldn't have been part of such a scene, as its music was more industrial and its guitar work more in the vein of dream pop but too heavy at times for that. Singer Mike Atchley had a cavernous voice and a haunting stage presence. Its final album, 2004's An Absence of Warmth hinted at great things ahead but the band broke up or became inactive by 2007. Club Onyx was in the same building Bender's Tavern occupied later and most recently Quixote's True Blue.

The Cool Rays was fronted by Andy Hunt, former bass player of Twice Wilted. It was a lively, straight ahead rock and roll band with some touches of punk and garage rock in its sound.

Crash Orchid consisted of some former members of dream pop band Breathing Eve. It was more prog-oriented, or so it seemed, but maintained that atmospheric sound somehow. It existed for a handful of years and split up by mid-decade.

As friends and musical allies, The Czars and Space Team Electra had done shows where each covered a song by the other. A few years before this show, The Czars covered "Oasis" by STE and STE covered "Eyes Are Darker Now" by The Czars. This show Myshel just joined The Czars for a song and in this picture you can see Elin Palmer who was in The Czars for a period when she wasn't playing with 16 Horsepower, Wovenhand or Munly & The Lee Lewis Harlots.

Dark Orchid was one of the other active bands in the Goth scene at the turn of the century. It was more like Concrete Blonde and not so Goth. Though Dark Orchid, Caustic Soul and a band called eROTic were on the local Gestalt Imprint run by David Goff. Dark Orchid singer Tonja Nolan (now Yelton) had some serious classical chops and a powerful voice that could be heard next door in the bar over the loud music.

This is Dark Orchid performing at what could be called a kind of glam metal bar in Colorado Springs called Paradise City. All the locals involved in music in the Springs at the time remember that place with some sense of humor about it. This show was Dark Orchid, the Siren Project and Machinegun Symphony. All stuff that didn't fit in with the ambiance of the club. Between sets glam metal hits of the '80s could be heard over the P.A. It was odd, but the sound system was good.

Duncan Barlow had already made his bones, as it were, in the music world as a part of the Louisville, Kentucky punk scene with bands like Endpoint, Guilt, By The Grace of God and The Aasee Lake. He famously resigned from the hardcore scene via the Punk Planet letters section in 1998. He moved to Denver by the turn of the century where he was attending graduate school and he started D. Biddle which expanded to include friends like Jamie Smith of Danghead. Decidedly not hardcore in sound, it was more like a folk project. It later evolved into something darker and, well, better, by the middle of the decade.

The Emmas were a stable of the punk scene from 1998 through June 3, 2006 when it played its final show. The band's debut seven-inch received a review in Maximum Rock 'N' Roll and its flyers were humorously memorable. Going to an Emmas show, you knew what you were in for musically but the band often concocted some kind of costume or performance art aspect to the shows that were unusual or even profane. For instance, the infamous show at Lion's Lair where each member had a balloon under his or her shirt, including the bassist Ian "Pumpernickel," filled with red fluid that each later popped with a sharp object as a caricature of a simulated backstreet abortion. In this picture, the band is performing on Lisa's birthday. She wanted to get naked but settled for playing in her underwear at some point. In the foreground is sometimes guest singer Anne Schummer. Lisa now co-runs Truly Rejected magazine.

Friends Forever was basically the house band of Monkey Mania as it included Josh Taylor on bass, Nate Hayden played drums in the band and Jason Isaacs played keyboards. Ben Wolfinsohn's excellent 2001 documentary Friends Forever showcases the band on tour and at home. Friends Forever usually played out of its van but did a few club shows like this rare appearance at Larimer Lounge. When bands the underground of the underground bands like Friends Forever and Zombie Zombie started playing the more commercial clubs it seemed like the scene was changing toward what it is today. Josh Taylor also played in Debaser and numerous one-off bands at Monkey Mania and moved to Los Angeles in 2005 to help run The Smell. He now co-runs the music label PPM with Dean Spunt of No Age. Jason Isaacs sporadically performs as The Band of Special Purpose. Nate Hayden designs board games including Cave Evil.

Insider Spider was a kind of psychedelic pop/rock band that included Nathan Brazil and Greg Schoonmaker future/then current members of Mannequin Makeout, Pseudo Dates and Fingers of the Sun.

Jason Cotter was a notorious promoter of this time who booked shows at 15th St. Tavern for years and he was part of the group that got Climax Lounge going with Kurt Ottaway, Brent Burkhart and David Nellis. He was also in the band the Family Men. There are plenty of colorful stories about Cotter but he did know how to do booking and he had enough connections and professional acumen to get Matson Jones connected with the Sympathy For the Record Industry.

Love Letter Band appeared in part one of this set. Here the group is performing at Lost Lake, which was a DIY venue at the time that occupied the space formerly called the Pinebox Construction Company. Artist Kate Davis and Mike Moran lived here and often the later era indie pop bands played at this venue. It felt like seeing a show in someone's living room yet was big enough to accommodate a large-ish group.

Machingun Symphony from Colorado Springs was something like a late '90s EBM band. Mark Musa now performs in Synapse.

Maraca 5-0 was an instrumental surf rock band. What separated it from most other such endeavors was how dark and brooding the band's atmospherics could be as well as the usual bubbly, lively sounds.

Monofog was a band from Fort Collins that started in 2001. At that time, Fort Collins was a bit of a hotbed of exciting bands. This is a photo from the early era of the band when it felt like a lot of passion and anger fueled the urgency of the music. You couldn't help but see the band in this period of its existence without finding it fairly inspiring. Sort of noise rock, sort of punk, it wasn't much like anything else around here at the time except for maybe the then defunct The VSS.

Munly & The Lee Lewis Harlots was the band fronted by Jaysun Munly. He'd been a solo performer in the folk world as well as a performing member of Slim Cessna's Auto Club. But his best work has always been in the projects where he does most of the songwriting. This was for something of a Halloween show. Pictured also are Elin Palmer and Kelly O'Dea. O'Dea currently plays in Bad Luck City and Munly is still involved in the Auto Club as well as his band with The Lupercalians.

Navy Girls was a little difficult to pigeonhole. Pop band, noisy rock band, psychedelic. All of it and not firmly in any of that. Which meant it was one of the most interesting bands of its time. Sam Cooper had been in Annik. Adam Baumeister went on to play in Bad Weather California as well as his solo project Lil' Adam. He now also runs the lathe cut imprint Meep. Cooper plays in the band Pharoahs.

Nippon Cha Cha Cha was something of a post-punk band that included Claudine Rousseau formerly of Sin Desires Marie, Toshimi Ichiki formerly of Rainbow Sugar, Natalie Winslow and Holly Dorr. This picture comes from one of the shows the group played at The Wheelbarrow, which was in the same building that now houses Rhinoceropolis and Glob.

Planes Mistaken For Stars started in 1997 in Peoria, Illinois but by 1999 it had relocated to Denver and became an integral part of the punk and post-hardcore scene. Though now something of a legendary band on the national and international level in the punk world, Planes' sound evolved into something more metallic by the time of its 2001 album Fuck With Fire. Never boring, a Planes show made you feel like you were in the struggle with those guys and it projected an inviting presence even as it exorcised its collective inner demons. Catch a reunion show. They happen every once in a great while.

Red Cloud was a country rock band that was also part punk, post-hardcore and psychedelic. Singer Ross Etherton had a way of conveying the deepest sadness in the most economical and evocative manner possible. Former Westword writer Jason Heller had been in Crestfallen and Blue Ontario. Andrew Warner had been in The Take and was also in Bad Luck City. Jeremy Ziehe had been in See Cities From Space and Mr. Madonna. Etherton had formerly been a member of The Last Man On the Moon and The Mighty Rime with Kerry McDonald of Christie Front Drive.

Red Headed Yetis from Fort Collins was a punk band whose name was a bit of a gimmick but it worked and the band had a lot of energy on stage and the group frequently played Denver.

Reverend Dead Eye is Brent Burkhart, he was the charismatic frontman of experimental rock bands Soul Bender, Nahum and The Bedraggled. While the latter was still together, in 2001/2002 he started performing as Reverend Dead Eye. It was a mixture of tent-revival gospel rhetoric and performance, blues and country. This is from one of the earliest of those shows. Reverend Dead Eye continues to tour nationally and internationally.

Seraphim Shock started in the mid-'90s and quickly became one of the leading bands in the local Goth scene. That is in the same sense that Marilyn Manson could be called Goth, which clearly isn't a universal sentiment. But Seraphim Shock in the 90s was much more industrial and spooky than it was in the 2000s when it became more of a glam rock thing. Though that isn't my thing I became a huge fan upon first seeing these guys open for Switchblade Symphony at the Aztlan in 1998 because the rock theater of the band has always been compelling. This picture is from a New Year's Eve show at Club Onyx, one of the smaller shows this band played even back then. A lot of fog at this show.

Supply Boy was an indie rock band that included former Anne Frank On Crank drummer Bryan Kaufman, former Infinity Waltz guitarist Sarah Lucey and Suzi Bromfield who was then still in Catatonic Lydia. Lucey was something of a guitar hero and seemed to be able to jokingly lay out a classic rock riff at will. But this band had intelligent lyrics and was playfully socially critical. As a touchstone think something like Team Dresch. Kaufman now plays in Hey Lady!, the B-52s cover band.

Tarantella was something like an Americana band but had a sound like some Spanish gypsy folk thing. Kal Cahoone fronted the band (possibly still does from time to time) and in this photo you can see the legendary Denver-based recording engineer Bob Ferbrache playing guitar and wearing that helmet that has straws coming out of the two cans. This was a Halloween-themed show with Munly & Lee Lewis Harlots.

The Lavellas appeared in the previous set of photos. Here the space rock band is playing a rare live show at La Rumba. Singer Robert Green all but religiously attended the Lipgloss event which then had a residency at La Rumba.

The New Idols was a punk band that included former Pin Downs guitarist Sara Fischer and John Henry, former drummer of The Rok Tots, '57 Lesbian and The Speedholes. Fischer later co-ran a DIY venue called Unit B or The Fishtank, depending on who you ask. She was also a longtime bartender at Gabor's and Lion's Lair.

The Omens were the psych-garage rock band that formed as something of a continuation of Down N Outs when drumming phenom Jim Chandler left the scene and played drums for The Cramps for a bit, among other things. Bassist Matt Hunt had been the genius guitarist behind some of Twice Wilted's best musical moments and Michael Daboll is one of the few local garage rockers of this time who could pull off a convincing animalistic wail. The Omens still technically exist.

The Prids were/are a Portland, Oregon-based band that got its start in Saint Joseph, Missouri before moving to Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska prior to relocating to Oregon. The group had friends throughout the west including The Faint and For Against but it also seemed to play Denver often and cultivated some friendships among local post-punk bands including Monofog and The Swayback. Its shows always had a sense of momentum amid melancholic atmospheres that made them powerfully compelling.

The Risk was an explosive rock and soul band fronted by Joaquin Liebert. Even the group's not so great shows were fueled by raw passion. Liebert is now in The Reckless Nights and he's been known to do some acting. Nate Marcy now plays in Hiraeth.

The Siren Project still continues with Malgorzata Wacht and Alex Seminara though it rarely performs live shows. Seminara had been in the experimental rock band Rorschach Test before teaming up with Wacht and others in 1998. Wacht had migrated to the USA from Poland as a teenager and one of the first bands she saw in Denver was Twice Wilted in the early 90s, which had a big impact on her. This band was one of the most important bands in the Goth scene at the turn of the century but really its music was more akin to dream pop and it still is.

The Wind-Up Merchants were a power pop band clearly influenced by Bob Mould's various projects. It didn't really fit in neatly with the underground scene back then into some subgenre and it played a lot of different venues including Ball's Sports Saloon, which was on west Colfax in Lakewood. The place hosted many different kinds of shows during its short run of showcasing live music. Singer Josh Schacterle had been in the Boulder-based straight edge band Belljar and he was also the roommate of local concert promoter Scott Campbell when both were attending CU Boulder.

Three Lines of Blur was a punk band that seemed to draw some inspiration from the likes of Bikini Kill, Huggy Bear and X-Ray Spex. Fronted by both Darnelle Apodaca (now Eggert) and Ryan Hurd (who also playd guitar), its shows were an exhilaratingly raw emotional experience. Apodaca went on to be in Assfault. Hurd also played in an early incarnation of my post-punk/shoegaze band Tornado Alley. Drummer Shane Hartman went on to play in Black Lamb and Burn Heavy. Here the band is performing in the garage of the anarchist punk house Villa Villa Kula. In the next two years, that house would be watched by the FBI and its denizens harassed when it was suspected that someone involved in plans to disrupt the Republican National Convention in 2004 lived there. No good deed goes unpunished.

*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 - Seven of Denver's Most Underrated Bands - You'll Never See Another Show Like The One Chimney Choir Has Planned - 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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