Killing your last remaining brain cell with another episode of “American Idol Rewind”
The 3 Kings Tavern has a made a name for itself by hosting some of Denver’s hardest rock shows. Black Lamb has played the dive so many times that the ceiling over the stage is speckled with lead singer Brian Hagman’s infamous lung cookies. But the 3KT takes much more than metal and punk under its blessed black wings, and Friday night’s bill is a prime example of the venue’s willingness to take risks with diverse talents and eclectic line-ups. When the production schedule for Friday’s show finally jelled, it looked like a nightlong version of a Pixies song – loud, soft, loud, soft, loud.
Los Angeles gutterbilly trio, the Goddamn Gallows, kicked the show off early and loud, playing fiercely, yet unremarkably, for a mostly-empty club. You know what to expect when you see three heavily tatted dudes take the stage with a hollow body, an upright, and a bare-bones drum kit, and the GG delivered exactly that predictable product. The distinguishing factor for these boys is Classic’s impressive baritone, which even managed to grab the attention of a few of the bar’s disinterested drinkers. Still, the music mostly draws a cult following, and those weren’t the early, just-rolling-in-from-First-Friday folks trickling in. In fact, many sought refuge downstairs at the Phoenix Gallery or outside.
Mercifully, Nathaniel Rateliff (pictured above) was next, in his achingly beautiful incarnation as the Wheel. Joined by a violinist and pianist, the singer-songwriter played a brief but affecting set, taken mostly from his self-released album, Desire and Dissolving Men. Combining the endearing swagger of Jacques Brel, the moody mysticism of Leonard Cohen and the pastoral plucking of Nick Drake, Rateliff’s potent songs and rich voice grabbed the audience by the heart and the throat. His lyrics are simultaneously confessional and enigmatic, yet still have the power to move even casual listeners. More than one misty-eyed person approached me during his set to ask, “Who the hell is this guy?”
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Without swinging the mood too far, Widowers turned the volume back up. This relative newcomer to the Denver scene just keeps getting better. With one eye on 90s shoegazers like Ride and Spacemen 3, one on the radio-friendly indie rock of the Shins and their ilk, and a third eye (that’s right) zeroing in on the psychedelic pop of 60s groups like It’s A Beautiful Day, the quintet offered a little something to everyone and was a clear crowd pleaser. While two guitars, a bass, a Rhodes and one amazing drummer occasionally swirled off into space, Mike Marchant’s catchy, colorful and relatable songwriting kept the sound firmly anchored to a reliable rock.
With very little fanfare, Paleo, a.k.a. David Strackany, followed Widowers. This nomadic singer-songwriter gained attention last year when he completed his Song Diary project, writing and recording a song a day for 365 consecutive days (all are available for download from the artist’s website or on a 17-hour DVD). Last night, Strackany traded in his trademark Wal-Mart toy guitar for a slightly more robust axe, but his understated, introspective songs still retained their minimalist – almost ascetic – quality. The singer’s idiosyncratic vocal style and consistently mellow vibe proved a little trying for a few of the Tavern’s more lubricated patrons, but Paleo took the heckling with an Sphinx-like smirk and a monk’s imperturbability. Like the missing link between Bob Dylan and Daniel Johnston, Strackany performed his manic, morose, poetic and personal pieces as if he were alone in his bedroom, but more than a few of the bar’s denizens were drawn in. Unfortunately, the set was a bit too long for the marathon bill and the setting, so a number of folks drifted off to other locales before he was done.
Kudos to the 3 Kings Tavern for having the courage to book a bill of such disparate acts. Though I had to leave before the great Mothership played their closing slot, I was already impressed with the pacing and diversity of the night’s show, and hope to see more such lineups in the future. – Eryc Eyl
Critic’s Notebook Personal Bias: I’ve been hooked on Paleo’s weirdness since I first caught him by accident at the Catacombs. I wrote a profile on him for Westword last spring. Random Detail: During the Wheel’s heartbreaking set, I caught David Strackany lurking inconspicuously at the side of the stage, entranced by Nate Rateliff’s naked performance. By the Way: Mike Marchant promises Widowers will unveil new songs when they play the Bluebird on the 27th of this month.