UMS 2015: A Guide to Things You Won't See Anywhere Else

The Underground Music Showcase launches on Thursday, July 23, and runs through Sunday, July 26, in various venues, from as far north as Sixth Avenue to Alameda. The yearly festival, originated by the Denver Post, brings together a huge array of local and touring bands, and the event as a whole is well worth checking out. But some sets are more unusual than others. What follows is a selection of nine shows or showcases that you aren't likely to see again anytime soon.

40th Day at Irish Rover, 8 p.m. on Friday, July 24, and at 3 Kings Tavern, 3 p.m. on Sunday, July 26
From its 1986 inception to its dissolution in the mid-'90s, 40th Day was one of a handful of popular Denver bands that never quite broke through to the mainstream of even the alternative-rock world. But like many of its peers, it had an enduring impact on the local scene. One wouldn't call 40th Day dream pop, because it was too rock for that; not industrial, because it was more organic than that; and not metal, because its music wasn't as aggressive as that, and it was far too ethereal and possessed of an almost otherworldly beauty. 40th Day was simply one of the most powerful and evocative bands of Denver's alternative-rock era. Its 1992 album, Lovely Like a Snake, is a Denver music classic. As nearly half the band lives out of state, it hasn't played many live shows since its first reunion performance in nearly two decades in 2013. In some ways, it's an even better band today.

A Shoreline Dream at Illegal Pete's, 7 p.m. on Friday, July 24 
This long-running shoegaze band used to perform regular shows throughout the year, but in recent years, it has cut back its local performance schedule drastically.Shoreline Dream shows immerse you in soothing yet heady sounds, shutting the mundane world out, which sounds perfect for a Friday evening at a bustling music festival.

Baby Birds Don't Drink Milk at the hi-dive, 10 p.m. on Thursday, July 23 
BBDDM used to be based in Lawrence, Kansas, and made Denver a regular stop on its seemingly regular tours. A few years back, Drew Gibson, the band's singer and one of its guitarists, decided to uproot the band, and the guitar noise/psych/pop group was without a permanent home. These days, Gibson and BBDDM call Brooklyn home, their latest album, Kill The Fuzz, released in 2015, is the most focused and powerful release of an already impressive career. BBDDM makes music that is hypnotic and entrancing in recordings and even more so live. These guys don't come through Denver often these days and are always worth catching.

Bad Luck City at Gary Lee's Motor Club and Grub, 11 p.m. on Sunday, July 26 
A staple of the Denver underground scene of the first decade of the 2000s, Bad Luck City now plays about once per year. Its beautifully brooding songs build an unparalleled level of tension and intensity throughout, and singer Dameon Merkl's riveting stage presence puts him among the best frontmen in town. And since frontpeople are a rare commodity these days, here's your chance to see one of the best, alongside a band that gives those stage antics the proper context to shine, with songs that evoke like Nick Cave and Cop Shoot Cop with an exquisite sense of humor.

Boise Day Party at The Skylark Lounge, 1-5 p.m. on Saturday July 25 

Little known to much of the world, Boise, Idaho, is currently home to a fairly rich music scene, with bands that should be widely known, even if only in the national underground music world. At this showcase, you can see some of Boise's finest. Sun Blood Stories is a blues-inflected psych band, but not one that is so obviously bluesy; its songs stretch the boundaries of the genre considerably. Thick Business mixes psych folk, chamber pop and the avant-garde, and there's little quite like it going. Street Fever is a bit like Daft Punk in miniature, but the band still manages to have a colossal electro dance sound. Magic Sword is a be-costumed outfit that plays music that, coupled with the visuals, feel like what it must be like to inhabit an '80s video game.

DIIV at Main Stage 9 p.m. on Friday July 24th
When DIIV released Oshin in 2012, it proved that one could synthesize post-punk, dream pop and modern electronic pop music and not have it sound stale and like it was trying too hard. It was a breath of fresh air at a time when indie rock in general was getting pretty stale. Since then, Zachary Cole Smith has gone through some real-life trials and tribulations, and DIIV all but disappeared. But in October, DIIV is expected to release its follow-up album, Is the Is Are, and one can only assume that some of that material will be played live at this show.

Force Publique at Blue Ice, 11 p.m. on Saturday, July 25
Before Force Publique moved to Portland a few years ago, it garnered a good deal of local attention for its dark, synth-based post-punk. But at that time the community that would have supported Force Publique's style of music didn't really exist. Coming back for the first time since relocating to the Rose City, the duo's sound has been honed and refined, emphasizing even more the electronic side of the dark pop confection represented on its 2015 release, Bloom.

Jux County at the Irish Rover, 7 p.m. on Friday July 24, and at 3 Kings Tavern, 4 p.m. on Sunday July 26 
Another classic Denver band from the '80s and '90s, Jux County has been mixing punk, country and post-punk in always interesting ways across four decades now. The current incarnation of the band is especially focused and intense, with the bandmembers seemingly having discovered a renewed passion for the music they make together.

Rowboat at Brendan's Pub, 7 p.m. on Saturday July 25
Sam McNitt was once in the late, great space-rock band Blue Million Miles, but his songwriting was always grounded in writing on acoustic guitar and folk-music ideas first. His experience in doing both kinds of music informed the moodily gorgeous melodies and soundscapes of his then-side project but current main project Rowboat. McNitt's gift for reaching into the deep recesses of the human psyche with his words and emotional vocal delivery is quite something to witness, and these days you pretty much only get to see McNitt at the UMS or during the rare summer gig. 

If you'd like to contact me, Tom Murphy, on Twitter, my handle is @simianthinker.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.