Every year, for the Westword Music Showcase, we enlist our army of Backbeat wordsmiths to host various stages, and, in addition to their emcee obligations, we ask them to pull double duty (or triple-duty in some cases) and also write up the acts that appear on their individual stages. Mark Sanders hosted the Rooster & Moon stage. Page down to read his thoughts and see some photos.
The monkey noises over programmed beats should've made it clear to anybody within earshot that Alphabets, who got things started at Rooster and Moon, makes challenging music. The set was full of Space Invader accents, looped tribal beats and plain-spoken lyrics about Satan, death and getting paid.
Kevin Costner Suicide Pact -- with a name like this, you know shit's gonna get weird real quick. KCSP didn't let the tiny afternoon audience here down, either, interspersing samples of god-knows-what with gently strummed electric guitar and a truckload of reverb. This is meditative music, something best enjoyed in, say, a very dark room with a glass of red wine: It's slowcore music for fans who are burned out on their Mogwai records.
Men in Burka is a three-piece with a mutual flair for Bollywood melodies. As the crew bounced around, they were clearly having a blast. Odd as the setting was -- they were playing in the middle of the day at a coffee shop, whereas the music would've been better suited for late night in a club -- Men in Burka pulled it off well. No singing here, though the heavy synth-bass more than compensated for the sparseness of the set. The set ended much like it began: all mid-tempo and pulsating.
The third and final electronic set of the day was provided by Iuengliss, led by Tom Metz, whose love for hip-hop genius GZA was apparent throughout the half-hour performance. Metz's samples were tastefully chosen, weaving in '90s R&B hooks with snippets of hard-to-identify rhymes that seemed to come from the hull of a large oil tanker.
Randy Ramirez of the Heyday is a songwriter with a capital "S." The mid-afternoon set was a (perhaps unconscious) ode to great '70s singers like Jackson Browne. Ramirez's demeanor came across well, and could have made even the most cynical listener's heart melt a little. "Good Old Days" was especially well done, and Ramirez's singing and solo acoustic guitar-playing was flawless.
The late afternoon sets by Mouthful of Thunder and Safe Boating is No Accident were the best attended. Mouthful of Thunder played to a near-capacity audience and was perhaps the most outspoken, raucous set of the day. The band played breezy, straightforward '70s rock that sounded straight out of Brian Wilson's lost songbook, and was filled with plenty of Beach Boys hooks to match.
The crowd responded; a few people were finally dancing. Singer Stephen Till is at the center of all this. The veteran songwriter whose previous work with countless other local bands (see: Black Black Ocean, Hearts of Palm) is the perfect frontman for the quartet, as he airs an effortlessness that matches the confidence of the songs themselves. If this band is playing anywhere near you, go see them.
If the Black Lips blew the doors off the nascent hipster frat party genre a couple years ago, Safe Boating is No Accident is perfecting it. By the time these guys took the stage at Rooster & Moon, fans were being turned away due to the capacity crowd inside. Leighton Peterson yukked it up for the audiences, at one point introducing a tune with, "This is a song about the kind of girls I like. It's called 'Library Girls'." Soon after, he name-dropped Judy Blume.
Drummer Zay Alejandro Dicamara Rios was bouncing around like a coked-up squirrel behind the kit, executing perfect vocal harmonies all the while. Fourteen minutes in, Peterson announced they had played their entire set. The band then proceeded to bust through a few more numbers. Jokers.
Lizzie Huffman and her band received a warm welcome after Safe Boating is No Accident's set. Huffman was backed by a full band for most of her thirty minute performance, though her strength was in solo numbers that showcased her confessional and highly stylized vocals.
There was plenty of lap steel guitar to go around as well. The elements of twang here, paying homage to Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris, were convincing to the point of making you think Huffman was raised on cornbread and dirt track racing. Huffman is a recent Seattle transplant, however, and Denver is better off for it.
As the afternoon turned into evening, Coles Whalen took the stage. It is tough to emphasize how lush and powerful this woman's voice is. Those in the audience who had not heard her before were awestruck, and those who already had were mouthing the lyrics to her songs.
The crowd thinned a bit for Whalen's set, but those who remained more than made up for the absence -- this was a dedicated gathering of fans. At one point, she asked to have her stage monitors turned up so that she could hear herself over the applause. Whalen, like Randy Ramirez before her, wrote songs that were best performed with just an acoustic guitar and an attentive crowd. The heart-on-her-sleeve confessions and diva-esque vocal embellishments could have made Patsy Cline smile from her heavenly perch.
The Rooster & Moon's final performance ended not with a bang, but with a single dude singing his everloving heart out. Patrick Dethlefs looks like just another tall skinny white guy with an acoustic guitar, but he's been at this for a while -- since a seventh grade talent show, at least. Dethlefs' dedication to his craft was apparent, too, during his too-short performance.
As evidence of his anti-macho persona, Dethlefs at one point said to the thin-but-rapt crowd, "Are the clouds still over the sun right now? 'Cause that is awesome" (who else asks his audience about clouds?). His vocal style, borrowed perhaps from Rufus Wainwright (even if just a little), dodged traditional songwriting structures, opting instead for folksy storytelling. Dethlefs may not have been the guy to get audiences prepped for Girl Talk, but, damn, the guy's voice is what you want to hear when you're coming down from a post-party high.
-- Mark Sanders
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