Over the weekend: Nathaniel Rateliff & the Wheel Variety Show

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Nathaniel Rateliff & the Wheel Variety Show
Saturday, December 12, 2009
Bluebird Theater

Better Than: The V Ultimate Variety show featuring Wally Eastwood.

An estimated 48 musicians took part in the third annual Nathaniel Rateliff and the Wheel variety show on Saturday night. All of them played brilliantly, some of them played for only fifteen minutes, four of them were responsible for bringing the fire department to the show.

After members of Paper Bird, who donned fake mustaches under the guise of Harpoontang, left the stage, Denver's favorite chamber pop star, Ian Cooke walked unassumingly to his post behind his cello. It's a pity that Ian has still yet to break out of this town and be recognized for his talents on a national level. His pitch perfect falsetto tucked neatly into a maze of cello patterns, while audience members watched in awe as he masterfully soloed over root patterns that he'd played previously and looped through a pedal. Watching this feat, it's hard not think about the logistics involved. Those who know Cooke have to realize it's something he doesn't have to think about at all; he just does it. Cooke only played two songs but remained on stage to accompany Bela Karoli.

Since May, Bela Karoli has only played two shows, as front woman Julie Davis has kept busy playing in the Wheel. Vocalist/accordionist Brigid McAuliffe appears to be keeping busy these days, as well, as she was absent from the performance. Because of this, the band seemed slightly out of synch as Davis and violinist Carrie Beeder looked back and forth at each other sheepishly a few times during the set. Regardless, Davis' charisma and voice were enough to pull them through, playing a short set that could easily serve as the soundtrack to a Raymond Chandler novel set in outer space.

If TaunTaun, who would close out the night's festivities, were the odd band out this evening, Bad Weather California was not far behind. Guitarist Adam Baumiester chopped out looming and slightly off key slide guitar parts while vocalist/guitarist Chris Adolf bounced around like a preacher possessed, raising his hands towards the heavens in between mildly-maddening shouts at the audience. At one point, Adolf made the 3OH!3 symbol with his fingers while singing "this world is not my home." (It should be noted that Adolf is from Grand Junction and therefore pledges allegiance to the 970 area code.)

Bad Weather California, whose latest album was entitled Young Punks, may indeed have been the punkest band on the bill. But follwing the mellow and feel good sounds of acts like Houses and Joseph Pope, this was not a hard feat to pull off.

The buzz behind Snake Rattle Rattle Snake is a loud and resonate one. On this night, several people, including Gregory Alan Isakov's manager, Sarah Levin, expressed their desire to witness it first hand. The band did not disappoint and played thirty minutes of macabre dance rock that pulsed and swayed behind Hayley Helricks deep and smoky croon. It's rare that a bass player can define a sound, but James Yardley (also from Grand Junction) may be the most important piece in giving Snake Rattle Rattle Snake that urgent throb that gives the band its second rattle. Halfway through the set, members of Houses, Wetlands, Big Timber and others joined the band on stage, each sporting a tambourine and shaking it in their own unique way. Mike Marchant was clearly head and shoulders above the rest if them in this department and not just because he is freakishly tall.

Nathaniel Rateliff appeared without the rest of the Wheel for their first song of the night and hoped to calm the audience back down after they had just been whipped into a frenzy by Snake Rattle Rattle Snake. This proved to be harder than initially hoped as Rateliff, at one point, let out an exasperated sigh due to the murmured chatter of the audience. "Shut the fuck up back there," one guy exhorted. "You don't have to say that," Rateliff offered. "It's just me." The rest of the Wheel joined in at that point for the excellent anthem, "Early Spring Til," in which Rateliff and Julie Davis passionately sing the refrain of "Are you tired?"

After this many bands, it was a valid question.

Before the show, members if TaunTaun were concerned about their role in the night's festivities and were worried that most people would leave before they played as they were following the night's main attraction, The Wheel. Chris Fogal and company appeared unfazed by this, though, by the time they took the stage in a bath of light and fog so thick all that was visible on stage was the band's silhouettes. It is an effect that, at smaller clubs, would look downright silly, but on the expansive stage at the Blue Bird the band looked Maidenesque.

The audience, who had remained polite and reserved throughout the night, gave into TaunTaun's spectacle and began pumping their fists and banging their heads. In front, a "hipster pit" erupted, which was cute, safe and featured more hugging than thrown elbows. Like when two kittens fight, onlookers watched with adoring smirks on their faces, standing back and hoping not to get scratched.

Towards the end of the set, a strange sound could be heard just above TaunTaun's shredding; constant and annoying, it couldn't be placed at first. When more of the fog cleared, we realized the fire alarm was going off and had been for some time.

Members of the Denver Fire Department showed up only to discover that there was no fire and that the cause was TaunTaun's smoke machine. TaunTaun tried to play through this, but were unceremoniously cut off halway through their encore as Bluebird staff simply faded out their music with no warning to the band, putting a sour end on an otherwise triumphant night for the Denver music scene.

Personal Bias: My body was at the Bluebird, but my heart was at the hi-dive watching Brain Hammer
Random Detail: TaunTaun's Matty Clark held up a toy TaunTaun as he took the stage. I used to have one, I want it.
By the Way: My first show I played with my band in college was in Chris Adolf's basement.

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