The Toad Tavern Is an Unlikely New Haven for Unusual Music

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The Toad Tavern is located, as Formant's Charles Ballas put it last night, at the corner of Federal and Federal: Boulevard and Circle. That fact alone made it seem perfect for a show that featured some of the most prominent acts/artists in local experimental music. Unfortunately, on a rainy night when there were other shows in Denver proper that drew the kinds of people who might venture to the Toad Tavern for an event like this meant that only a handful of people made it out. But the performers made the best of it in a place that normally hosts far more mainstream music.

The Toad is a place where there is a back area for pool and a traditional bar to the west of a partition, over which patrons can check out the live music and/or converse with each other away from the stage. And even on this quiet, Thursday evening there were a few people on hand who sure weren't there for the show, but a few people seemed to stick around and get into sounds that don't often make their way out of the City and County of Denver regularly.

What some people that didn't know the bands at all didn't know, and perhaps didn't or don't care about, was the fact that it was likely Sterile Garden's last local show before Jacob DeRaadt moves to Portland, Maine. DeRaadt and his Basement Tapes label have been an important figure in some of the most adventurous music from Denver and Fort Collins for several years. He even fronted an early incarnation of the hardcore band Civilized. In Sterile Garden, he, Erik Wangsvick and David Mead looked like they were using leftover pieces of human civilization hobbled together to recreate the sounds of the ghosts ancient industry. More an experience and an environment, noise, than strictly music, Sterile Garden, also employing live tape tracks and loops, performed a kind of tour-de-force of musique concrète and because it flowed together well and was captured well in the mix by the Toad's sound guy it was one of the group's best shows. A fine farewell performance by one of the stars of the Colorado noise scene.

Before Sterile Garden closed out the night, Animal / object put in its usual fine spontaneous composition with its four of its principles and with a guest appearance by Gordon Gano of Violent Femmes fame on violin. Kurt Bauer has been getting better at the throat singing and that gave what could be abstract yet organic sounds a grittiness and a relatability like Captain Beefheart rooted in non-western music.

Charles Ballas has performed in some of the best synth-based projects in Denver and Boulder. In the 2000s, he was a student at CU-Boulder and was in the later incarnation of the legendary Multicast, which often played for hours live on Radio 1190 into the early morning hours. Since then, Ballas has been more known for being a part of the analog synth duo Dyad, Ships & Fog with David Mead of Animal / object and another solo noise effort, Kos. Formant, his current musical outlet, only existed as a recording project until this night. With his usual imaginative beats as a foundation, Ballas played guitar that he used to trigger MIDI as well as using some cheesy 80s rock sounds in a way that came off more like what might happen if Aphex Twin got into jazz fusion—a shocking display of technical prowess and creativity that garnered Ballas some attention from the people at the bar who weren't really there for a noise show but were probably hanging out with friends getting a drink and perhaps something to eat.

Maybe the suburbs aren't ripe yet for Denver's most adventurous music but you have to start somewhere and maybe someone there got a glimpse into a world he or she didn't know existed, had no prior experience within general and got to experience some of the best of that firsthand and got inspired or had his or her interest piqued. One can only hope.

Critic’s Notebook
Bias: More than a casual fan of all these bands and of Randall Frazier, who clearly booked this show.
Random Detail: Ran into the artist Whitney Stephens at the show.
By the Way: Sometimes lots of people go to see Animal / object. Sometimes Sterile Garden has a good crowd. While this wasn't that night it's pretty remarkable that a show like this can happen outside of a DIY space or a really cool coffee shop and on the great system at The Toad it was nice to hear what all the projects tonight should sound like for a change instead of through a system with not a lot of power or none at all. Beyond that a sound guy (or whoever) who pumps Air, Bjork and Dandy Warhols between acts is okay in my book.

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- Why DIY Venues Are Vital Are Vital to the Health of the Entire Music Scene
- DIY or Die: Why Denver Need Under-The-Radar, All-Ages Arts Spaces

If you'd like to contact me, Tom Murphy, on Twitter, my handle is @simianthinker.

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