Music News

Radio Fee Boulder

A person could get worked into a state trying to find something new on the commercial radio dial in this town. After all, how many times a day does a person really need to hear the Joy Drop's "Beautiful"? (Many local programmers place the number at about thirty.) And while there may yet be regions of the world where hearing "Brass Monkey" is indeed a new rock-and-roll adventure, fans looking for new music this side of the tundra are likely to regard most local playlists as maddeningly repetitive and laughably retrograde.

Fortunately, KVCU, at 1190 AM, is neither. The Boulder station has received much attention in its first year -- not just for surviving, but for kicking serious ass. Life as a public station with a relatively limited broadcast range and comparatively low power is a delicate existence. The CU affiliate has hung on via university funding, student fees (approximately 26,000 CU students pay a mandatory $1.57 per semester) and listener support. Radio 1190 is a multi-directional marvel of a station, with DJs who know their stuff and sound like human beings, whether they're talking about Jon Zorn or Master P or Neutral Milk Hotel. But powering up for an audience of about 10,000 ain't cheap, and the inevitable must come to pass. In other words, Fund Drive Alert! Roughly one month before the station celebrates its first anniversary, the station will warp into money mode October 4 through 14.

"We're trying to make it different from other fund drives," says station general manager Jim Musil. "It's more of a celebration. It's a Watt Attack -- you can literally buy our watts." Sure, Musil and the all-volunteer DJ staff will, from time to time, ask listeners to cough some cash, but the two weeks promises an even better than usual platter from the station. Just as PBS busts out the goods during its fund drives, listeners can expect KVCU to raise the bar -- and the roof. With that in mind, you'd be wise to tune in. And as for pledging, it may not be as noble as a blood donation, but a livable radio station is a damn good cause.

Local producer David Fox is probably vacuuming the floors of his studio right this minute. It's not that he doesn't have anything else to do; as the head of Alley Studios, he's got his engineer's fingers in a number of projects and mini-companies. No, Fox is tidying up his space because he's expecting quite a few of his closest friends in the music scene to happen by on Wednesday, October 6, and Thursday, October 7, for the second in a series of live recordings dubbed Studio X. Fox hopes to release the results of these sessions in a compilation later this winter.

Here's the idea behind Studio X: Fox invites a gaggle of bands and other folks to the Alley, buys a keg or two of beer and lets each band have three shots at recording a live song. The best tracks are used on the comp, which comes together as a fair sample of some of Denver's music. Fox says he has the modest goal of creating a vibe not unlike that which led to Jimi Hendrix's Electric Ladyland sessions in the Sixties, where crowd participation and the feeling of a party in process make their way onto digital analog along with the raw music.

Fox held the first event a little over a month ago, and while it was no Ladyland, it wasn't a bad showing. Brethren Fast, Love .45, The Wigfarmers, Petrol Apathy, Blister66 and Emilio Emilio were among the bands who showed up to drink beer, talk shop and lay down the tracks. (At one point, Blister66 frontman Philo was reportedly moved to strip to his underwear, which inspired his bandmates to do the same.) A few technical glitches pushed the whole evening into the wee hours, something Fox hopes to avoid in round two. Interested parties are invited to join Fox and company on Wednesday and Thursday night at Alley Studios. Call 303-433-1967 for more information.

Last week, truck-selling mullethead Alan Jackson happily broke up the tedium of the Country Music Awards by launching into a seemingly impromptu and unrehearsed version of George Jones's "Choices," then unplugging his guitar and walking off the stage in a huff. (Jackson was apparently dismayed with the show's producers, who told Jones he could perform the song, but only if he cut it considerably short. The country legend declined.) Though nothing quite as eventful occurred during the Westword Music Awards Ceremony Sunday night at the Gothic Theatre, Master of Ceremonies Matt Need provided enough wry humor to add an element of subversiveness to the local-music lovefest. "I'd like to thank [showcase sponsor] MGD for making these bands seem talented," Need said, adding that he hoped to engage in some Sinéad O'Connor-esque shenanigans. "I'd like to tear up a picture of [promoter] Barry Fey," he said. "As the years go by, he looks more and more like an egg on a toothpick...If I disappear tomorrow, you all know what happened." Need, who books for the Gothic and moonlights as a stand-up comic, acknowledged the more serious notion at the heart of both the showcase and the awards ceremony: that despite whatever goes on in the business side of local music, it's the bands and their efforts that often get overlooked. Hell, no, it ain't the Grammies, but for the groovy, pimped-out crowd, it was a chance to be a rock star for one night at least.

And the winners were: five-time pick Hazel Miller, who accepted the award with her supporting All Male Orchestra, in the Blues category; String Cheese Incident in Country/Bluegrass, though if crowd response had dictated winners, Slim Cessna's Auto Club would have won by a landslide; Blister66 -- whose members did their best Limp Bizkit impression on the way to the stage, which included thrusting their pelvises in the air to the delight of screaming girls -- in Hard Rock/Punk; Kingdom in Hip-Hop; Dotsero in Jazz; Opie Gone Bad in Rock/Pop; Brethren Fast in Roots; Nina Storey in Singer/Songwriter; the Hot Tomatoes Dance Orchestra in Swing; and Irish outfit the Indulgers in World. The ceremony was short, sweet and over faster than you can say "I'd like to give props to my people." Following the announcements, the crowd, for the most part, dispersed. Which is too bad, considering that a live set from DeVotchka was the highlight of the evening. The Boulder six-piece consists of a cello player, an upright bassist, a violinist and a Latin-style percussion and drum section. The band was led by the considerable, quizzical talents of guitarist Nick Urata, who played with Munly de Dar He. Urata resembles a well-dressed Desi Arnaz having a seizure, and his vocal style sometimes borders on a yodel -- both good qualities. The band offered a full-bodied mixture of styles that might be described as Latin Slavic circus music with rock and classical undertones. (Both violinist Thom Hangerman and upright bassist Steve Pang have played with the Boulder Philharmonic.)

DeVotchka's performance wasn't the only surprise of the evening -- who woulda thunk, for example, that Opie Gone Bad would have eaten the Apples in Stereo in best Rock/Pop or that most of the winners would be acts that didn't participate in the live showcase? -- but it was a pleasant one.

And finally, because it's always amusing to make fun of those who don't speak English as well as we do, a little story from the 15th Street Tavern: Last Friday night the club was packed for a show from Thee Michelle Gun Elephant, a Japanese outfit that's a curious and explosive combination of visceral garage rock and pissy Japanese 'tude. (The band's self-titled CD, by the way, is nothing short of excellent.) According to Tavern booking manager Scott Campbell, the band turned the club into a veritable sweat lodge, and the show took its toll on one bandmember in particular. After the show, Campbell was approached by Michelle Gun's translator. "We must go to hospital," the woman said. "Guitarist has hot fever." Campbell and the woman escorted the guitarist to Denver Health Medical Center, where he was treated for nausea and, yes, hot fever. What good is a rock-and-roll show if it doesn't leave you feeling a little woozy?

Got local music news, gossip, praise or complaints? E-mail Backwash at [email protected].

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Laura Bond
Contact: Laura Bond