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Alan Baird Project, 12:00 p.m. It's never easy being the first band to play at an all-day event. Typically, bands that are booked to perform early in the day have to work a lot harder to get the word out and rally crowds to come see them. Thankfully, the Alan Baird Project was up to the task, and had a surprisingly big crowd (despite the band's under-21 fans being turned away at the door due to La Rumba's liquor license restrictions). From the opening chords of the band's opening song, "Blood", the Alan Baird Project left no doubts they intended to prove they belonged on that stage. Juggling between power pop guitar-driven power ballads such as the heart rending "Letters to Virgina," to the eight-minute closing song "Highway" (which sounded a lot like Wilco in parts), the band delivered a pretty polished set. It is pretty obvious that this band is still young and a bit green on stage, as evidenced by a few awkward moments between songs, but I suspect that will change as the band plays matures and plays more shows. What impressed me most with this band was their three part vocal harmonies and incredibly tight rhythm section.
Verdict: Fans of radio-friendly pop rock should check out this young band.
Life In Electric, 1:00 p.m. Life In Electric is definitely a band I thought would pack La Rumba for the 1:00 p.m. set, so I was dismayed that they ended up playing to a mostly empty house, save for a contingent of hardcore mini-skirted female fans who sang along to almost every song. Life In Electric is a five-piece band -- four guys and the band's iPod, which played back all of the band's trademark synthesized drum loops and keyboard synth samples (with no hiccups or sonic trainwrecks). When this band turned on the rock-and-roll switch, they did the hard rock thing as good as bigtime bands like Breaking Benjamin and Three Days Grace. The dance-rock songs didn't resonate with me as much, but their fans loved them. The singer and drummer switched places for a song at one point. It sounded fine but appeared gimmicky and clumsy to me.
Verdict: I wasn't a fan of the lead singer / drummer switching roles on stage thing, but you can't argue with the band's gaggle of admiring female fans. They're doing something right.
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Speakeasy, Tiger, 2:00 p.m. I don't think I've ever met a more infectiously positive and charismatic group of people than the band members of Speakeasy, Tiger. And wow, this band knows how to pull in a crowd. La Rumba was pretty filled up by the time the band stepped on stage, with a steady stream of people filing in throughout their set. Rarely was the band in tempo with each other. Rather, the band played with a ragged looseness throughout their set, in a punk-rock sorta way. You'd think this would be a bad thing, but the rough edges added more honesty and grit to their high energy music. There were so many highlights of the band's set, but I will say that seeing a Keytar solo (!!) that actually rocked has to be one. Hardcharging frontwoman Kyle Simmons' confident command of the stage during the band's anthemic closing song "Limbs" also had the crowd singing along.
Verdict: Sometimes you see a band and just know you've just seen something extraordinary. Believe the hype.
Aloft in the Sundry, 3:00 p.m.
While the Fray has built a solid career on piano-driven ballads that are heavy on pop and short on rock, piano-fronted bands like Aloft in the Sundry thankfully dig a little deeper and bring the rock. Aloft in Sundry's live sound mixed that piano with a little 70s R&B on the bass, a little Freddie Mercury & Queen through vocals and lead guitar, and a whole lot of pop rock through the drums. And it got people dancing. If the piano is the two all beef patties in the Aloft in the Sundry musical Big Mac, then the soaring three-part vocal unisons and harmonies are the special sauce. And we all know a Big Mac just ain't a Big Mac without special sauce.
Verdict: While no songs stood out as memorable, they sounded great and had a lot of people coming up to them after their set.
The Epilogues, 4:00 p.m.
All day long, from 11:30 a.m. until 20 minutes before they went on stage, the members of the Epilogues marched proudly from one end of the sprawling festival site to the other wearing home-made sandwich board signs proclaiming their 4 p.m. set time. It worked. By five minutes after 4, La Rumba was even more packed than for Speakeasy, Tiger. Perhaps no other band in Denver stitches together dance music with guitar rock than these gyts. And perhaps it's also worth mentioning that no band in Denver is more animated and funny on stage. Throughout the sweaty dance-rock set, the band was firing on all cylinders. But the highlight, musically and comedically, has to be the band's take of the early '80s Hall & Oates hit "Maneater." The members of the Epilogues are well known for their on and off stage hi-jinks, and their retelling of a recent meeting with John Oates was quite unflattering but seriously funny.
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Verdict: An Epilogues show is always a good dance party, and this show was no exception.
The Rouge, 5:00 p.m. The Rouge has been around about a year now, and in that short span of time have cultivated a buzz among fans who are always in search of new music. The band has a couple of infinitely catchy songs that bring to mind Kings of Leon, and they played a clean set. Highlights: The cocky strut of frontman Joshua Vaught across the stage (much to delight of the assembled female fans), the floating Fender Rhodes tones of their song "Tangerine," and the ever-present beaming smiles of all four members on stage.
Verdict: The Rouge write great songs, are solid live, and are always smiling on stage. What else do you need?
Strange Condition, 6:00 p.m. It's good to switch gears on a festival stage. Closing the day out here was one of Denver's most successful pop-rock bands, Strange Condition. The band presents an imposing appearance on stage, and easily took up every inch of the relatively small La Rumba Stage. I've seen them perform a few times, but was unable to stick around for their Showcase set as I had to hightail it to wedding across town. If you were at Strange Condition's set at 6:00 o'clock at La Rumba, feel free to post a comment and tell us how it went.