Westword Music Showcase: How I saw thirty bands in five hours and lived to tell about it

For this year's Saturday's Westword Music Showcase, I told myself I was going to take it easy. No running around like an idiot, trying to see as many acts as possible. Instead, I would move at a leisurely pace, sampling and savoring instead of trying to gorge myself on as much music as I could stuff into my ears. But try as I might, I couldn't make myself do it. With so many artists representing so many different styles performing in such close proximity to each other, I simply had to keep moving. In the end, I wound up catching parts of thirty sets between 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. Here's a sampling of what saner Showcase attendees might have missed.

Hour One (1 p.m. to 2 p.m.): My wife Deb and I had planned to be at the Showcase by its noon start time, but our plan was nixed thanks to The Comcast Repairman Who Wouldn't Leave (our Internet access had gone down, and it took him a whopping two-and-a-half hours to get everything fixed). So the first act I caught was Westword cover band Pirate Signal on the outdoor stage: Yonnas Abraham got the crowd bouncing to an opus inspired by playing at the Warped Tour. From there, we caught the Magic Mice in the main room at Bar Standard, proving that what used to be called college rock back in the '90s still works in this millennium; Satan's Eighties Lovechild on Bar Standard's patio, serving up grooves and charisma in equal portions; Jen Korte at Mo's, dispensing lovely harmonies supplemented by a touch of brass (what in life wouldn't be improved by a little well-placed flugelhorn?); Spare the Legion at Broadways, growling and roaring like Hell's own spawn; and Wetlands at Fidel's Cantina, where one of the guitarists donned a "JC Saves" t-shirt (the "JC" in question being Jay Cutler) and an attendee wearing a Pink Floyd concert souvenir on his chest leaned his head against the wall and closed his eyes, blissfully absorbing the group's updated take on classic psychedelia. The trip continues.

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Hour Two (2 p.m. to 3 p.m.): The Northern Way, formerly Set Forth, offered keyboard-based pop to the gathering throng at the outdoor stage. Over at Bar Standard, The Still City made music that didn't quite correspond to the flannel worn by several members, but close enough; Overcoasters, led by a remarkably well preserved Kurt Ottaway, unleashed their throb at Sutra; Whygee got the maximum use out of the tiny stage at Vinyl; Action Packed Thrill Ride navigated Fidel's Cantina; and Black Lamb led the crowd at Broadways in a heavily metallic clap-along that deserved a round of applause.

Hour Three (3 p.m. to 4 p.m.): A Place to Bury Strangers proved to be a power trio with an acccent on the adjective: Oliver Ackermann's edgy, serrated guitar tones were positively lethal. Then, we were off to Bar Standard, to watch the members of Alan Alda differentiate themselves from their namesake; the Curious Theatre, where Hello Kavita triumphed over a dubious sound mix (the violinist might as well have been a mime); Sutra, to see Lion Sized get by with a little help from friend Magic Cyclops; Broadways, for a display of in-our-faces sonic aggression courtesy of Enemy Reign; and the Bannock St. Garage in time to catch the final notes of a Boldtype set that left the players and the crowd alike drenched in sweat. As it should be.

Hour Four (4 p.m. to 5 p.m.): The men of the Knew used their awkwardness to good advantage at Bar Standard; Git Some lead singer Luke Fairchild, sporting a trucker cap and a backwoods-rapist beard, absolutely shredded Sutra; No Plot Kill turned Judas Priest's "Breaking the Law" into a punk opus at Bannock St. Garage; Something Underground brought the old-school rock to Fidel's Cantina; Cursive sang about free HBO and Moby Dick on the outdoor stage (the song in question is called "What Have I Done?"); and Ian Cooke transfixed the masses stuffed into Mo's. At one point, he introduced a song that had never been heard by anyone other than his accompanists by hypothesizing that it would probably be a rough outing -- but his rendition of the ditty proved to be passionate, emotional and lovely. His music's better than his predictions are.

Hour Five (5 p.m. to 6 p.m.): The Swayback's inductees reminded the people jammed into Bar Standard why they have a rep as one of Denver's best live acts; the Photo Atlas turned Sutra into a dance party so manic that I only occasionally glimpsed the top of the players' heads; Demon Funkies induced noodle dancing at Fidel's Cantina; Tauntaun unfurled riffs built to withstand even the conditions on the ice planet Hoth; and ManeLine, at Vinyl, gave what for me was the single best performance I caught. They raised the roof on the club's rooftop stage to spectacular heights.

By the time the Fluid clambered onto the outdoor stage, the rains had arrived, accompanied by hail. (It was my second day in a row to be doused and pummeled by the elements; see my review of KS-107.5's Summer Jam, a Friday show that was delayed for the better part of an hour because of a fearsome thunderstorm.) The big crowd gathered to hear these local heroes reenact their exciting comeback of last year scattered, with plenty of people heading to tented areas out of self-defense -- and Fluid lead singer John Robinson had his own trepidations. "I'm going to try not to imiate Keith Relf and electrocute myself," he said, referencing the late frontman for the Yardbirds, who came to a shocking end.

Fortunately, Robinson lived to rock another day -- and so did the Westword Music Showcase, whose 2010 edition will have a tough act to follow.

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