STIR FRIED at DONKEY O.T. | 11/8/13 Deadhead bars and Denver go hand in hand, and Jay Bianchi's new bar/venue, the Donkey O.T., near Mile High Stadium in the space of old club Atmosphere, is one of the swankier deadhead bars you'll step foot in. It's clean, big and connected to a great burger joint called New Speedway Burger next door (try the wings). Best of all, the whole back wall is glass windows, giving an amazing view of the Denver skyline and the Ferris wheel. This weekend for their grand opening party, Stir Fried was on hand and brought some high powered guest musicians, including Steve Kimock and John Popper from Blues Traveler.
Bianchi and Stir Fried also go hand in hand, as he helped them out in the beginning, booking them for three nights, with another show in Breckenridge when the act couldn't afford to come for just one show. Based out of New Jersey and New York, Stir Fried is a long beloved group that have been bringing its version of jazzy swamp grooves to a dedicated fan base for about twenty years, give or take a hiatus.
Bianchi also booked perfect guest artists for this special night; Grateful Dead loose connections galore made them a fitting main event for the new Dead bar's Grand Opening. Keyboardist Mookie Siegel from Bob Weir's project Ratdog dominated throughout the night, and Steve Kimock from Phil Lesh and Friends traded musical lines with Blues Traveler's John Popper, like tennis players lobbing the ball over the net and never missing.
Stir Fried, meanwhile, is filled with well-seasoned veterans itself, and their colorful history has always been embedded with collaboration. Here, John Markowski sang vocals and played rhythm guitar, while stepping back to let Jan London take over lead and Kimock take over the flashy parts. With Buddy Cage from the New Riders of the Purple Sage on pedal steel, they created intricately melodic themes, as well as almost deafening pulses of a wall of amplified strings.
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The night started off fast, furious and funky, as the guys powered through many Stir Fried originals. Popper immediately gave the crowd what they were hoping for, showering the room with beautiful trilling notes high and low, to which Kimock immediately reciprocated with fast fretwork of his own. Siegel had the organ blowing full blast, showing the crowd that Donkey O.T.s has pretty great sound system, and whirling them into a frenzy.
Seamlessly moving right into "Hey Pocky Way," the band stayed high tempo, as did the crowd's energy. Shakers were rattling, harmonicas were pushed to their full extent, until a sweet breakdown came in, allowing Kimock to play with a perfect, clear tone that made everyone pay close attention. A beautiful extended piano solo ended with chords driving the song harder, as a swirling rhythm added to the build from Kimock.
Kimmock was using a new pedal called the Tru Tron 3X, designed by the maker of the Mutron, the auto-wah envelope filter that Jerry loved. The sound created psychedelic swirls around the heavy and steady percussion until it reached an almost ear piercing peak. Popper followed every curve and swerve thrown out there. The crowd swirled in a more loosey-goosey way than has been seen recently, and the floor was an elaborate hands free do-si-do that had everybody dancing front row one minute, then back of the crowd a few seconds later.
The second set opened with "Don't Let Go" ala Jerry Garcia Band, with female vocalist Joanne Lediger taking the lead, full of soul and invoking a little Janis spirit. Slide guitar lazily strolled through the call and response tune and Vin Warner on stand up bass walked everyone through with aplomb. The tempo was brought down a little as the jazzier side of Stir Fried was shown.
A standout moment in a night of almost non-stop stellar music came when the band played "Smack" from its self-titled album. Jimmy "Foot" Blackford was on drums and Vince Lorenzo was on percussion, and the two made the song sizzle with slithery shimmers from musical chimes and tremors from the high hat, while Popper was trilling on the harmonica like a songbird. About then, a poet named Frank Messina came out and began to recite, the essence of the Beat generation in the air. Having never seen poetry and jazz combined outside of How I Married an Axe Murderer, I thought it was awesome.
The set sped up toward the end with punkish overtones at times courtesy of Kimock's distorted tone and assault of barre chords and some long sustained notes from Popper that just reached higher and higher until you thought your eardrums would pop. When the set ended, everyone stood around excitedly chatting, waiting for encore until an awesome, grizzly bearded older Deadhead yelled "YOU GOTTA CLAP!" causing everyone to remember their manners and burst into applause. (Thank goodness for the veterans, watch and learn from them.)
Local Denver improvisational reggae favorites Rastasaurus played on the other side of the venue at New Speedway Burger before the show and during set break to a boisterous audience that even included John Popper and his friends sitting around a table. Their brand of stomping reggae is unique, the band taking a solid dub sound and suddenly swirling into psychedelia and building into incredible peaks. Their cover of "Iko Iko" particularly raised the energy of the excited crowd, setting the tone perfectly for the night.
Personal Bias: As a Deadhead who doesn't mind things a little grungy, my definition of swanky may vary from most. Random Detail: A woman was selling 3D Grateful Dead and Pink Floyd bandannas that you will purchase instantly if you look at them through the 3D glasses, look out for her in the future. I need to figure out what to with all these bandannas, now. By the Way: Kind Recordings was on hand to record the event and were nice enough to send over the link to listen.
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