Mile High Makeout: Serendipity Happens

Mike Neff makes a stranger smile

In a town like Denver, you should never underestimate the power of serendipity. On more than one occasion, I’ve been out wandering the city, on my way to something or other and have ended up stumbling on a remarkable musical experience.

Such was the case last Friday night. All I was trying to do was meet up with a local singer-songwriter to get a copy of his new CD. After multiple texts and phone tags, we finally agreed to meet up at the Old Curtis Street Bar, a place I love, but haven’t visited in a long time. Since John Baxter fled town for warmer climes, Joe Ramirez has added booking to his usual sound engineering duties at the Old Curtis, and he’s been doing a great job, lining up some truly interesting and entertaining bills.

When I arrived – admittedly late and having missed Bad Weather California and Jen Korte – singer-songwriter Mike Neff was just taking the stage with his project, Los Dos and the New American Ramblers. I’ve heard of Neff, of course, but had never had the good fortune of catching him live. I’ve been meaning to, but haven’t gone out of my way to make it happen. As I’ve often admitted, I’m a sucker for a flashy performance and a truly original sound, and Mr. Neff brought neither of those things with his sincere take on Americana. However, with special help from Andy Wild on bass, the charismatic performer absolutely captivated me – as well as the rest of the well-lubricated crowd – with his honest songwriting, earnest emoting and beautifully tarnished vocals. Quoting Flatlander Butch Hancock, Neff’s MySpace page says he just wants to see some smiling faces on his friends. That night, he got some smiles out of complete strangers like me as well.

Next on the bill was Yuzo Nieto and the Hand that Rocks the Dreidel, releasing its first full-length CD that very night. This is another performer I’ve been meaning to catch, but just haven’t made a priority. A multi-instrumentalist you might know from his work with Pink Hawks or Pee Pee, Nieto takes a slightly different approach with his “solo” project. I can’t say that I loved everything he and his merry men played that night – they pretty much lost me when the show took on a reggae vibe that just felt too much like a college keg party to me – but the soul, courage and passion of most of Nieto’s set was positively intoxicating. Like Neff, Nieto has a stage charisma that draws audiences in, but he also has an edgy, experimental quality that lands him somewhere in the vicinity of a cracked Beat poet jazzman. Smooshing together freak folk, jazz, rock, hip-hop and a number of unrecognizable styles, this eccentric, irrepressible musician put on a thoroughly engaging show.

By the time I left the Old Curtis, I couldn’t get the stupid grin off my face, thanks to Neff and Nieto. Where else but Denver can you accidentally stumble upon two remarkable performers in one place in one night? I’d like to think the answer is, “in any city in the US,” but somehow I don’t think that’s true.

– Eryc Eyl

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Dave Herrera
Contact: Dave Herrera