SummerGrind at Gothic Theatre, 9/1/12

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The final performance on the outdoor stage was moved inside the Gothic Theatre -- presumably due to volume complaints -- which pushed the night's lineup back an hour, but this did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm for Leftöver Crack. Early in the set, Stza (aka Scott Sturgeon) dedicated a song in semi-reference to the reason the show was running late. "This one goes out to the Denver pigs," he announced. "It's called 'One Dead Cop.'" The entire area on the floor in front of the stage seethed with people surging forward and back and singing along, arms pumping and waving overhead.

See also: Blag Dahlia of Dwarves on kicking ass and not being old guys going through the motions

Stza's part-singing, part-snarling, part-screaming (in varying degrees to suit any part of any song) worked well with this music, which itself wove together the underlying threads of unity between hardcore and ska and whatever it was you'd want to call Crass. The music resonated so strongly that Stza didn't have to sing many of the words when he held the mike to the audience, as everybody knew the songs. Stza even complimented the crowd on how probably people there this night would get "Gay Rude Boys Unite" and said it was about unity in general and not just of sexual orientation, race or any other specific category.

About halfway through the set, Stza said one of his best friends ever was from Colorado, a Nick Philips, and it was to Nick that he dedicated "Ya Can't Go Home." For the choruses the crowd surged forward even stronger than before to join in with the singing. The set would have ended with "Crack Rock City," but the incredibly amped crowd got the band back on stage for a couple of more songs to end a night of unexpectedly strong performances and seemingly general good will.

It was an ideal capper to SummerGrind, a day that started off for us by catching King Rat at the Gothic. Anyone who has been to more punk shows than some narrow subset of that subset of underground music for more than a decade has probably seen King Rat at least once. For this show, it wasn't the roots rock punk of ten years ago, rather, it was kind of an embrace of a gritty melodic hardcore that was very much part of that band's best material. But whatever material these guys would have played, they played with an intensity and energy that sure made it seem like they hadn't been at this since the mid-'90s or longer. For its final song, Ant, the bassist, came to the front of the stage and let some people in the audience sing along. A little NYHC but all in the name of fun.

On the outdoor stage, Elway was definitely cultivating that late '90s, melodic hardcore vibe. But with it an irreverent attitude. You could tell that even though these guys had the music down, it wasn't exactly something they had worked out to the last detail, and that added an element of the unexpected to the set.

During Elway's set, Tim Browne thanked the Gothic and Danny Sax, acknowledging that SummerGrind took a lot of effort to put together, effort "that my alcoholic self couldn't accomplish. And thanks to people selling beer, checking IDs and selling you lighters with anarchy symbols." That bit got some laughs. And for their part, the members of Elway gave us a raw delivery of catchy punk that wouldn't be as compelling in more calculated hands.

Back inside the Gothic, Boldtype's set felt like traveling back a dozen years ago when pop-punk bands blurred the lines with emo in interesting ways. Mike Bold's kid was on stage with firing range headphones to protect him from the amps, shaking a tamborine and otherwise running around striking poses. The music was reminiscent of The Descendents or All, but with Bold's vocals, there was an emotional nuance that gave the music more depth than you'd expect.

Indeed, the usual themes of loss and working class angst were there, but the implicit theme of picking yourself back up and going on were there too, and each song had a Springsteen-esque anthem of compassion for self and your friends to them. During quiet instrumental sections, Bold's face shook with the force of emotion, and the rest of the band was good and creating dynamic tension in their own right.

Back on the outdoor stage, Skyfox was definitely in early Green Day mode with Johnny Hill's vocals making that impression stronger. And yet the guitar work, apt at setting up a texture with muted, clipped riffing set it apart. The lyrics were earnest and delivered in a way that embraced vulnerability rather than propping up some dumb tough guy stance. Singing about a mixture of youthful dreams cast aside but romanticized and fondly remembered with friends, deferred angry rants to slights from an ex-girlfriend and getting over life's little disappointments, Skyfox did it in a way that didn't get boring.

Allout Helter, playing at Moe's Original BBQ, found that nice convergence of speed metal, hardcore and political punk in its sound. The guitarists, at one point, sounded like they were mining the first two Iron Maiden albums for inspiration -- but this worked for them. Each song seemed like an outburst of emotion and catharsis. Especially on a song where Ross Hostage said, "Now for a public service announcement. Let's thrash!" And so these guys did, and it was a bit like what you'd imagine a Discharge show to be like if you were there.

Inside the Gothic, Synthetic Elements played a set of music influenced by ska, but it was often in the rhythms, especially in the drums, that you could hear it. When the rest of the band wasn't obviously playing that style too, it made for an interesting dynamic, where the drum would throw in an off beat to give the rhythm a kick ahead here and there. At some point, the guys did a cover of "Amazing Grace," and did it well, even though that cover could stand a rest for a while at this point. Petty grievance aside, these guys proved you can be inventive with how you incorporate familiar elements to do something a little different.

At Moe's, Glass Delirium may not have fit strictly inside essentially a punk festival, but the way it performed sure did. Musically, the sound was definitely within the realm of prog metal but played with a passionate intensity. The music also went into moodier territory close to something you'd expect from some old gothic-industrial band -- like Lacuna Coil with a greater emphasis on atmosphere. And the guitar work was more imaginative and intuitive than you'd expect from even a metal band. The masterful finger tapping wasn't flashy, but it was just well-integrated into the songs.

Stolen Babies came highly recommended, and the five-piece did not disappoint. With most of the band wearing white make-up, visible when flashes from cameras were going off, and everyone dressed up like a character from an Edward Gorey illustration, saying this band traded in a kind of dark cabaret was obvious. But the music was an often dense, lush and ultimately electrifying metal with an experimental edge, sounding something like if Lovelife, Mr. Bungle and Sleepytime Gorilla Museum formed a band together.

Dominique Persi kept making humorous comments about how this was the first night of the band's tour and that she was sick. But at least she could laugh about it and make a quip about what echinacea sounded like. In addition to a talented drummer who triggered beats, the band had a keyboard player who pounded and clattered away on what looked like half an oil drum hanging from a pole by a chain. Surely the steam punks are into that sort of thing, but his band definitely wasn't gimmicky. Stolen Babies got such an enthusiastic reaction from the crowd that an encore proved to be in order.

Dwarves had the largest crowd of the day toward the end of the night. Beginning with "Dominator," Dwarves seemed to switch on something that made the crowd on the floor go berserk. It was a scene that you don't often get to see unless you were at those Warlock Pinchers reunion shows or, well, the most recent Dwarves show. At one point in the set, Blag Dahlia borrowed the glasses of one of the security guys and announced, "These are my emo glasses. We've gone emo."

Later on, Dahlia said, "This one goes out to Duane of the Derelicts -- old school Denver." Then the band played "Free Cocaine." The "Duane" in question is Duane Bodenheimer who played in an old Denver band called Psychodrama and who was definitely at the show. In a moment of classic onstage humor, Dahlia said, at the end of a song, "I knew I'd figure out what that song was eventually. Yeah, they all sound the same to me too." And later, maybe in reaction to the inevitable heckler, maybe not, "You ride the skateboard, we'll write the rock, junior. That's how we do."

"We are the greatest rock and roll band of all time," Dahlia declared. And while some people might disagree with this sentiment, everyone at this show got to see a band really go up and give it their all with energy and conviction. Not to mention, Dahlia can really sing, and even with all the aggression in the performance and outrageous lyrics here and there, Dwarves are one of the few bands around now that embodies the freewheeling spirit of pure rock and roll.


Personal Bias: Very much a fan of the Dwarves' live shows.

Random Detail: Ran into Steven Jackson and Michael Rouse of Ghosts of Glaciers outside Moe's.

By the Way: The cops came and shut down the outside stage because someone somewhere complained. Living near Broadway, one of the busiest streets in Denver. This has become a wearyingly common trend. Nonetheless, it didn't really slow down the festival.

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