Westword Music Showcase June 16, 2007 The Sutra Room Better than: Endless margaritas on the beach.
What a long, fucking amazing day it was at the Westword Music Showcase this past Saturday. Despite the outrageous amount of music that was spilling out of Golden Triangle, I couldn’t have been hunkered down at a better venue than the Sutra Room. A handful of singer-songwriters with a dash of country thrown in with a little ambient/electronic and some nice air conditioning made the perfect recipe for one of the year’s first searing summer afternoons.
The Hollyfelds got the ball rolling on a honky-tonk bend. The quintet was nominated in country/alt-country and it definitely follow that calling, with songs that were buffed and shined like a brand new pickup and sold like a slick salesman would – smooth. The act turned in an okay version of the White Stripes’ “We’re Going to Be Friends,” which was filled in with a lot more music than necessary. The rest of the set was on point with Katie Grigsby and Eryn Hoerig pulling off some nearly flawless harmonies.
Nathaniel Rateliff of Born In the Flood took the stage next and brought a crowd with him for the performance of his side project, the Wheel. Once he started playing, the new-coming audience quietly sat on the ground like an eager kindergarten class, and Rateliff awed them with the quieter side of his catalogue. Julie Davis and Brigid McAuliffe from Bela Karoli took Rateliff’s side for the set adding depth rounding out an already full sound. With Born In the Flood and the Wheel both nominated this year, Rateliff has emerged as one of Denver’s strongest songwriters.
Rateliff finished his set, leaving Davis and McAuliffe onstage to present the magic that is Bela Karoli. It’s hard to find words for this band, some things just escape description. Words like ambient or jazzy or soul-destroying all fall flat. They are just two-dimensional adjectives that don’t even begin to describe Bela Karoli’s shadow, which is massive right now. Davis’ vocals were eerie but comforting, and the stripped-down songs seemed fitting for a gin joint with a secret knock to get in.
Porlolo followed suit with both a packed stage and a packed audience. Once again, Julie Davis was a piece of the production, proving her versatility with that beautiful upright bass of hers. But the centerpiece of the well-arranged outfit was headmistress Erin Roberts, nominated in singer-songwriter category. Her songs grow with deep emotional roots that are simple and to the point, making Porlolo accessible and enjoyable as evidenced by the largest crowd that Sutra saw all day. She capped off her set with an amazing “experiment” of a new song, in which she asked Brigid from Bela Karoli, Ian Cooke and others up on stage to sing backup. After teaching the players the parts, she strolled through the new song with the impromptu members swooning behind her, a perfect ending for a near-perfect set.
Joshua Novak and Cooke followed, separately but in that order. They both did a thorough job of presenting their love songs enticingly and with conviction. The way Novak pours himself into every song broke every heart in the audience. And Cooke was equally impressive on the cello, mesmerizing the audience with his tricky digital loops making him into an instant one-man quartet.
At this point in the evening, everything began to run together. So I opted out of Gregory Alan Isakov’s set and headed over to the Acoma Center for a little power pop courtesy of Nathan and Stephen. But to my surprise, that act was nowhere to be found. Instead, The Omens were gracing the stage, but it may as well have been the Buzzcocks with the amount of energy the foursome was putting out. The outfit’s set was the only opportunity I had all day to dance, and shaking it up was just what I needed. A perfect way to end the day.
Overall, the Showcase was great, if not exhausting. There is so much raw talent just dripping from this city, I’m beginning to think it’s contagious. -- Taylor Sullivan
Critic’s Notebook Personal Bias: I totally have a crush on Bela Karoli, but it developed only after I saw them live. Random Detail: Finlandia and brisket do not go well together.