Photos by Soren McCarty and Jon Solomon.
The Fluid, Boss 302 and the Omens Friday, June 20, 2008 Bluebird Theater
If terrorists had wanted to rob Denver of its most devoted music lovers in one fell swoop, they should have targeted the Bluebird on June 20. Virtually anyone who's worked at a record store in the city over the past two decades squeezed into the sold-out hall. Hell, I think half the crowd members have sold me 45s at one time or another. It was like a reunion of people who never let The Man tell them to cut their hair or dress responsibly or get a real job -- and they were undeniably in their element. After all, the Fluid, the subject of much ballyhoo on this site, was playing its first official gig in nearly fifteen years, and given the acclaim that greeted a warm-up show at the Larimer Lounge several days earlier, expectations were running at what seemed like an impossibly high level. But nothing seemed impossible on this evening -- not when the Fluid was onstage, anyhow.
The good times got underway with the Omens, a gleeful throwback to the original garage-rock days, and the band went all out for the occasion. Sixties-style projections dominated by, appropriately enough, colored fluid illuminated the stage's backdrop, and a pair of good-girl-gone-bad go-go dancers clad in tassel-fringed bikinis straight out of the Blue Velvet Catalog shook their naughty bits to the rhythm. As for the music, lead singer Michael Daboll and his throwback compatriots indulged in clangorous riffery that would have sounded as good in 1968 as it did in 2008. They made a glorious noise that was built to last.
Next up was Boss 302, a '90s-era favorite whose players were indulging in a reunion of their own; this March 1999 Feedback column previewed what was advertised at the time as the group's final show. On this night, the players were as energetically sloppy as ever -- proof that some things never change, and thank goodness for that. Toward the end of the raucous set, lead singer Rich Groskopf declared, "We're not drunk. We're old. That's our excuse." A beat later, he confessed, "We're drunk, too," and the crowd was as well: drunk on vintage punk served up loud and joyous.
Still, the Fluid was the main attraction -- a fact acknowledged by Magic Cyclops, a Denver scenester who recently won acclaim as the city's undisputed air guitar champion, when he ventured to the microphone to pimp upcoming shows like the return of Candlebox (be still my throbbing bowels). The assembled masses waited patiently through his recitation before reacted with unalloyed glee at the subsequent arrival of the Fluid five: drummer Garrett Shavlik, bassist Matt Bischoff, guitarists James Clower and Rick Kulwicki, and singer John Robinson, wearing an unlikely jacket with a lapel flower, a vest, a dress shirt and a tie.
Clearly, the years had wrought changes on all five both physically and experientially; Kulwicki's twelve-year old twin sons, who were running around the Bluebird throughout the show, all bright expressions and flowing blond hair, weren't even miniscule cell masses when the Fluid folded its tent. (As Kulwicki notes in a Backbeat online Q&A, the boys have their own band, dubbed the Purple Fluid.) But as soon as the music cranked up amid showers of glitter and enough Silly String to stretch from the Bluebird to Uranus, none of that mattered.
The sound wasn't just an approximation of the original racket the outfit churned out during its heyday -- one that required grading on the curve and a generous application of nostalgia to appreciate. It was the real thing, undiminished by a decade and a half of silence. Shavlik's inventive beats, always the foundation of the group's style, were as spot-on as ever. Bischoff's muscular thumping and exuberant background vocals worked their usual magic. Kulwicki's giant guitar patterns and Clower's Ron Asheton-esque fuzztoning proved typically delectable. And miraculously, Robinson had lost none of his onstage charisma. He was always something of an anomaly among his fellow Sub Poppers back in the day -- a strutting rock god operating in a genre that eschewed showboating. But such distinctions mean zero today, and that's good news for Robinson, whose onstage flamboyance served to channel and magnify the band's sonic power.
The quintet's recorded work is highly variable in terms of production quality, but live, the tunes killed with unvarying lethality. Highlights included "One Eye Out," which Robinson introduced with a reference to the guy who inspired it -- a homeless man who once walked Larimer Street behind a shopping cart covered in hub caps; an absolutely gripping "Black Glove;" a smoking hot "Cold Outside"; an appropriately desperate "She Don't Understand"; and "Saccharine Rejection," which sports one of the best guitar parts of the era. Clower topped it with a wah-wahing solo that couldn't have sounded sweeter.
As the show wore on, Robinson slowly but steadily shed clothing -- first the jacket, then the vest, then the tie. After that, he unfastened one button at a time of his shirt, which was drenched in sweat and beer hurled by the hyped-up throng. He was clearly dying to strip to the waist, as he did perpetually during the Fluid's first run, and when he finally did, what could have been the sort of mistake forty-something men should never make didn't prove frightening at all; the man has abs a college-age jock would envy. As he flung himself into the roiling pit at his feet, he didn't look ridiculous. Rather, he seemed to be wholly in a moment that he could never have imagined even a year ago, and his delight was contagious.
The audience seemed ready to stay at the Bluebird all night. After an encore, pre-recorded music started playing through the speakers and the lights came up, but the folks in attendance didn't move an inch, clearly wanting to extend the event for as long as possible, and the Fluid rewarded them with one more beautiful blast. Record stores may be going the way of typewriter-repair shops and more totems from the past are falling by the wayside with each tick of the clock. But on this night in Denver music, time stood still.
-- Michael Roberts
"Cold Outside" from the Fluid Video Archive
"Human Mill" from the Fluid Video Archive
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