31 December 2006

my top music releases of 2006

My top eight 2006 releases, or in other words, the eight cds i've played over and over and....well, you get the idea. Plus, if you don't like my 8 darlings there are 80 more from 10 other writers in the article!

Here you may find the nicely edited version: www.superstarcastic.com

Here is my longer, unedited version:

Some 2006 releases that changed my life, at least a little bit.

It's a lot of work to get out of town, especially when the town you live in is Denver. I got out of here two times this year. In March I drove almost sixteen hours straight to get to Austin for SXSW. It took six cans of Red Bull, (shudders) and only a few stops for fuel and food. The music made it worth all the effort, but it takes a long, long time after you leave Denver before you get to anyplace else that doesn't look like a likely spot for aliens to visit. It made me drive as fast as I could (hence the only sixteen hours of driving). Thanksgiving I decided to not risk the speeding tickets and took the train back home to Kentucky. Again, hours and hours of vast nothingness before signs of life appeared. Point being, living in Denver can feel as isolated as living on an island.

Okay, I was trying to get somewhere clever with that intro but lost it. Probably because trying to get somewhere clever takes you off the path of where you really need to go. So, lemme start this over with as basic and honest a start as I can. Any music I've deliberately chosen to listen to countless times qualifies as life impacting, at least for a time.

These are the 2006 releases I've employed the repeat button on, repeatedly, this past year:

  1. Porlolo – Storm and Season. I have certainty that I will never ever tire of hearing this album. Certainty isn't a regular visitor to my life. This is a beautiful collection of songs. Beautiful.
  2. Neko Case – Fox Confessor Brings the Flood. I love Neko Case and bought this the day it came out. On first listen I liked it, but disappointingly only kinda liked it. The songs didn't immediately take to my ear. But I've loved so much other Neko I kept listening. It has grown on me. Like bindweed choking out mainstream radio crabgrass. Very pretty.
  3. Paul K and the Weathermen – Panopticon. This guy had Will Oldham listening at his feet back in the day. Me too, but that's a less interesting comment. This is an ambitious three disc project, all hand made covers. Love it.
  4. Twilight Singers – Powder Burns. I could do more back in the day references what with Dulli/Whigs and Lanegan/Trees citations. But I don't need to. This record's pretty good without reminiscing.
  5. Bright Channel – Self Propelled. The lady at the old hotel up in Fairplay said Jeff Suthers looked like a young Donald Sutherland, but that's only because she's never seen Thurston Moore. Bright Channel proves they don't need an Albini after all. Might be my favorite Denver band to hear…and that's saying a lot.
  6. Head Like A Kite – Random Portraits of the Home Movie. I arrived late and totally missed this Seattle band's show at the Larimer. I had gone to see them solely on a friend's rec and had only a myspace idea of what they sounded like. So I bought their disc. I put it on and about immediately started dancing even though I was stone cold sober when I pressed play. Whoa.
  7. Cowboy Curse – Nod Up and Down (To the Simulcast Singing). Best Denver pop band? Might be. Nod Up and Down is addition to the proof that pop songs can be much more elaborately crafted than their easy to listen to exterior first lets on.
  8. Tarmints – Toil Like Devils. Yes, these sounds are definitely coming from inside Denver, but they can travel anywhere. There's a fierce rhythm not to be fooled with, guitars to match and as if that weren't enough, there's the unflinching eye of a poet in there too.

So, I fell asleep at the keyboard at this point last night and had a nightmare. It was cold and dark. I appeared to be in a cave. There were dim lights in the background. I stepped outside and it was even colder and smoky so I stepped back inside and it smelled bad and…wait, this sounds a lot like hanging out in the Larimer Lounge. Aha, this dream I could analyze. And it ties back into my clever introduction. No, I didn't get out of town much. Not in a physical sense and admittedly not so much in a musical sense either. But I did see 2/3 of the bands that made the releases I listened to the most this past year actually perform some of the songs on them. And that made all the difference to me.

13 December 2006

I am the DJ

DJ night

Boyfriend/Girlfriend at the 3 Kings Tavern

11 December 2006

Everybody said, ah, you'll be fine. And I believed them, but still I was getting really nervous about my guest dj gig at boyfriend/girlfriend as Ricardo was explaining to me and Tom how to operate the equipment. It seemed a little complicated. I had never done this before and in the days leading up to Monday night I had developed a little bit of a recurring panic-thought about standing up in the dj booth and causing disjointed and abrupt transitions or worse, causing silence. As it turns out I was fine, only living my little nightmare once and only for no more than a second before I adjusted and got the music back in order. I kept it as simple as possible and just as I was assured, things went fine. Mostly I had a complete blast playing songs I had picked out for so many friends at once. And then getting to spin with three friends who have about the most exceptionally awesome taste in music…well, it's an understatement to say it was way cool.

First let me say Ricardo and Nichole rock. No, wait, they rawk. And they are generous hosts. It is definitely a treat and even more than that, an honor, to be their guests. Even though both Tom and I wanted to play more than we had time for in the evening, I think we shared the time pretty nicely. No fighting about it anyway. Tom has astoundingly excellent taste in music and even more exceptional than that, probably one of the best and most comprehensive collections of Denver music around. Listeners Monday got a little taste of some of the best of it. Check his blog for the setlist. I was super happy to get one local band in there too. Much thanks to Jonathan Till for giving me a brand new Nathan & Stephen song, In the Air, to spin. Definitely the highlight of my set.

Oh my set…I went and overthought my set to a near absurd degree. But actually I do that sort of stuff anyway and it was fun stuff to think about and I don't care if it seems ridiculous. I took to heart the Lipgloss guideline of 2/3 familiarish music and 1/3 new or pushing-the-edges stuff. I also tried, in most cases, to pick music you could dance to if you absolutely had to at that very minute, though admittedly some of it was more danceable than others. I also let each of my three kids pick out one song for me to play.

Okay, my set list is sorta out of order because for all my meticulous planning I changed things around at the last minute and now I can't remember exactly how I played it. But just in case you were interested this is what I played:

Astral Plane – I heart Jonathan Richman. So very much.

Steady as She Goes – Raconteurs. Familiar, danceable, and good. And a fave of my son's. I didn't get around to his first pick, so this one counted as "his" song.

A Dime and A Cigarette – Head Like A Kite. I love Graig Markel's voice on this and this Seattle band plays some highly danceable stuff that's very cool and I hoped people would love it as much as I do, and judging by the dancing going on, I think at least a few people did.

The Letter – PJ Harvey. whoa, oh, oh, o-oh, whoo, oo, oo, oo. This song is evidence to my argument that you can't really, totally, write about music. Not exactly. And it's, um, yeah.

Here Comes Your Man – Pixies. Ultimate comfort in familiarity that never wears out. And Pixies were my daughter Alison's pick.

Seventeen Dirty Magazines – Modern Skirts. This song always makes me smile.

In the Air – Nathan & Stephen. As my pal Bosch would say, dripping ones and zeros. That new. So happy to play this.

Trash – New York Dolls. I had already decided on this before I heard Marky Ramone spin it at Lipgloss. Honest.

Toward the Waves/I'm Ready – Twilight Singers. Great song. Difficult to queue. I will complain to Dulli about this.

Haunt – Paul K and the Weathermen. Probably one of my favorite Paul K songs.

All I Want Is You – Roxy Music.

Come On Eileen – Dexy's Midnight Runners. Yes, my daughter's pick. But I like this near perfect pop song.

Safari – Breeders. One of the best Breeders songs and not played as much.

The Tide is High (Live) – Blondie. Fun.

I wanna be your dog – Stooges. Yeah.

Okay. I think that might cover it.

Thank you Ricardo.

Thank you Nichole.

Thank you Tom.

Thank you to everyone who came and listened.

04 December 2006

Show review: Margot & the Nuclear So and So's

Margot & the Nuclear So and So's / Dirty on Purpose
Category: Music

It was good to be back in town after a Thanksgiving week long trip back to my old Kentucky home. I still had to shed the sensation that I was moving on a train. I did not quite feel like I'd arrived. Not yet. I really wanted to get out to hear a good show and set things right again, so I was super happy to hear that Margot & the Nuclear So and So's were going to be pulling into town in their big black school bus again, stopping at the Larimer Lounge for another Denver show. And although this made the fourth time I've seen them this year, (and the third time at the Larimer) it was nothing old hat. I like this band. Obviously.

On tour with Margot & the Nuclear So and So's is Dirty on Purpose…that name makes me crack up. It is kinda funny in a simple and clever way, and that's fun. But I can't say I had more fun past the name. Listening to them wasn't that bad…they are not incompetent musicians or playing terrible music. But truth is I can't remember a single song. I only remember thinking that it seemed like they had listened to Joy Division or Franz Ferdinand maybe a lot and although I like those bands, this one wasn't making songs inspired by that stuff into anything I could begin to feel good about. Dirty on Purpose, and the first band of the evening whose name I totally forgot, both made me think about how very many bands there are out there, and how many guys have a Fender guitar in their living room and how many people are trying to make songs. And that's all cool with me. Really it is. People need to make stuff and be creative in the ways that move them. I get that. But like background chatter, nothing moving is added to the conversation. And sometimes I just don't want to listen. Yeah, I was tired and waiting for the band I wanted to hear to come on. But still, these openers really didn't make my night.

As I was waiting for Margot to play I thought about how my neice Tina says Margot writes essential break-up songs, you know the stuff your best friend puts on a mix tape to help you get over it all. And she's right, you know, with lyrics like "I miss you less and less every day / it's true the whiskey's had to wash you away / and it's clear to see / you're nothing special / you're a skeleton key." But that's only part of it. Great break up lyrics are not why I like Margot. I like them because they write good songs. I listen to this stuff pretty often, and the eight member band plays them better every time I see them. This past Wednesday they were unfortunately plagued with some mysterious buzzing and crackling from the bass, which tested the limit of singer/songwriter Richard Edwards' patience. He kept his cool… kinda. But just barely. But while the sound guy was trying to fix the problem percussionist Casey (you gotta check the dance moves on this kid) and trumpeter Hubert and the violinist/lap steel player Jesse Lee filled in the down time gaps with some improvisational music and storytelling that showed big time professionalism and kept the technical difficulties from halting the show. Partly they just pushed through it and played over the trouble.

Margot has gotten a lot of good press this year. Although the Larimer Lounge was pretty full, I've seen it much fuller and I thought there'd be more people at the show. I saw them talked about in SXSW, saw them in Harp and Paste magazine (who had their video on their dvd sampler.) Locally I've seen them written up in The Denver Post and there's even more. So with all that big talk you wonder how it'll affect a band. Sometimes it makes pressure that crushes a band to the point where they seem afraid to make a mistake and they come out with some watered down version of what everybody liked in the first place and it's all disapointing. But sometimes a band's beyond that, and for whatever reasons they get better. And I was glad to see evidence of this on Wednesday.

The first time I saw them, just this past January, they only had four songs on a disc and Hubert had told me that they were about to release their full length "The dust of retreat" on Artemis Records. "They're new" he said of their label. In fact at that time J. Mascis was their only label mate. Which I thought was pretty cool. I also learned then that these people all live together in the same house in Indianapolis when they are not touring and although I am amazed that nobody has killed anybody else yet, the togetherness really shows. No, not in a cloying way but in way that they don't seem like they ever stop playing together and work together in a synchronous way. They look like they are playing for fun. The new songs were exciting in that they really seem to be getting even better. That one… I didn't catch the name but I think it is tentatively titled "Payphone" (click here for Denton TX vid by Christie) ...Richard pulled out his Gretsch for it and it blew more than just me away… I can tell you now that people will be wanting to hit the repeat button on that one. Yay. And you know the best part? I finally felt like I'd arrived home.

Currently listening :
The Dust of Retreat
By Margot & the Nuclear So and So's
Release date: 28 March, 2006

31 October 2006

show review: Calvin Johnson / Karl Blau / A Dog Paloma

One of my favorite ways to see a film is to go in knowing as little as possible about it save for the knowledge that people I trust like it. I'm totally willing to put up with the jeers from film snobs in order to gain this experience. The stigma of ignorance is a low price to pay for the treat of this sort of unexpected goodness. I don't get the same experience often with live shows. Someone is always filling me in with the dope before I get there. And that's cool too. But… unexpected goodness is what I got this past Wednesday at Chielle on Colfax Avenue. The Detroit Cobras were rockin' out in the Bluebird next door but the all the wall to wall people in the fab little store that made room for us knew we were in a great place for music that night.

I decided to go to the show in the first place because I wanted to hear A Dog Paloma. That was reason enough to go for me. Although I'd seen the lo-fi flyer on the bulletin board at the bookstore, I was too preoccupied with a week of speeding tickets, tow truck bills and other bad news and didn't pay much attention to who else was playing. Not yet anyway. I just knew that Joe Sampson and Nathaniel Rateliff could be counted on to counteract the crummy and melancholy October days that had gripped on tight. And they did make my week better. Joe and Nathaniel are great to hear on their own…but together…chalk it up to chemistry or creative competitiveness but either way they sound beautiful. I like Joe's songs and am glad to sit and listen anytime he sings them. The Wheel finished off the set solo delivering a single song with energy and intensity that probably was as loud as it got all night. And it was great.

Next up was Karl Blau. Watching Blau perform was like hanging in the kitchen while the best cook you know makes your dinner. He'd start out by making a vocal beat or backing sound and with the click of a pedal it'd be looping then he'd play over that and then add another sound or line and layer that on top and before you knew it you were surrounded with an array of sounds like a beautiful and tasty plate of food in front of you. Sometimes seeing how things are put together takes away from the magic of it, but Blau's approach was like a super cool sleight of hand…you thought you saw everything he was doing but near the end of a song, you're looking at him up there with his brilliant red guitar and you realize that there's so much more going on than the pieces you saw put together. I don't think I'm easily impressed, but this was one of the coolest performances I've ever witnessed. Low key, and it still blew you away. He makes a subscriber cd called KELP! monthly and I'll bet that stuff is like having Christmas twelve times a year.

Finally up walks Calvin Johnson, just him and his acoustic classical guitar. He stands there and looks at everyone. Patient as a mountain. I'm sorta thinking, like the forgetful dork that I can be…hmm Calvin Johnson…that name is so familiar. But it wouldn't be until the next day that it would all come back to me, and after being reminded by a friend. Um, K Records, Beat Happening, oh shit! If you don't know what I'm talking about, well, that's cool…you can just google that stuff and catch up. Or better yet ask your favorite indie rock music fanatic to fill you in. These guys live for that sort of talk. But back to the night. Calvin Johnson began to play and like a tremorous bass note filling a chapel Johnson's deep rumbling vocals filled the air and people got quiet and listened. He alternated between the mellow, sedate and the more rock n roll side of things. At times his voice reminded me of falling asleep in church, lots of hymnal tones and references, although not like things you might find in the psalm book. Songs about St. Peter and about busting holes in the wall of heaven to pull his girl on through had a dream like quality to them. And then the more up-tempo songs like Rabbit Blood would rattle me wide awake. All goodness. Love songs and all. You know the stuff. And if you weren't there, I hope this little description gets you outta the house next time a show looks interesting to you, but you are preoccupied and tired. Get out there. Your week will be better for it.


01 October 2006

show review: Mudhoney & the Geds, 15 September 2006

The Larimer has shiny new bathrooms upstairs. The infamous ones downstairs are now nothing more than empty space. Like any other girl who has had to use the LL facilities, I've dreaded the broken toilets, the door with no hinges and that damn useless curtain. Boys tell me that's nothing compared to the old men's room, um, scent. So no question that the new bathroom is a better place, but still, I kind of miss the old one now that it's gone because it took time for it to be the way it was. Gross, yes, but it also it had character with all those stickers and grit. There was history in there. And since there was no Las Vegas investor to preserve it, I suppose it's exclusive to the memory banks of those who were there.

Seeing Mudhoney felt kinda like that though. And damn if they didn't sound just like Mudhoney. They did! And they played the stuff the aging flannels and fuzzes remember from back in the day: You Got It, Touch Me I'm Sick, Mudride, Need, Chain that Door, and more, topping it all off with a raucous mosh pit pleasing encore of In 'n' Out of Grace and Hate the Police. I haven't spun Superfuzz Bigmuff lately. In fact, I lost my copy of it over a decade ago. Though I might have a tape with that EP on it somewhere. But I was amazed at how these songs have permanently imbedded themselves in my memory. At the first note of each, I realized these are songs where I can recall every word, chord change, break and thump of drum. Mudhoney's music really meant that much when Sub Pop first sent those records out into the world. And here in 2006 they filled the room with gigantic and still relevant sound.

Before the show I was trying to remember if I had seen Mudhoney perform before. I felt like I had to have, but couldn't recall when or where. After Friday's show I'm sure I never actually did see them and that it was a case of photo and and story induced fabricated memory. I would've remembered this. Yes, Mark Arm, Dan Peters, Steve Turner and Matt Lukin (or was that Guy Maddison?) played it like you, the Mudhoney fan that you are, would hope for and imagine. It's hard to think of what to say beyond that, not without getting my shoes caught deep in the swamp of overused to stale adjectives: fuzz, rock, distortion, scream, and all those others that skirt around the old G word. They were fun and loud and…wow.

But that said, here's my griping section that I usually delete before submitting a show review. Old school bands tend to bring out the I-don't-go-to-shows-anymore-but-I-used-to crowd that evidences their status by pulling their faded concert shirts from the late 1980s out of the bottom of their dresser. Which is okay. I guess. And then there's the baseball-capped Bronco-shirted frat boy type kids who are hitting their bi-annual rock show and both times they come out it seems it simply must turn it into an episode of minor alcohol poisioning or it just isn't a rawking night. Fine. Except pushing the monitor speakers into the middle of the stage with their moshing overspill sucks. Sorry, I do not enjoying your idea of a rock star persona. Besides you spilled beer on me and yes that sharp jab of my elbow to your stomach was my way of telling you to keep your damn hands off my back. Next time Scott Campbell decides to increase his bar prices for the night maybe he could give the alcohol prices even more of a jacking up (and let the regular folk drink normally at normal price.) Maybe it would slow down the rate of consumption on amatuer night. Just a suggestion.

Okay, now that the venting is outta the way I can get back to the music. I know this show review is backwards by getting to the opening band last, but that's just the way this one is. On the night I went to Mudhoney, the Geds were the opening band. I had never heard the Geds, and not having musically grown up around these parts, I actually hadn't heard of them until this show. But it didn't take more than a few songs to get an inkling that these three have been around and that they command no small amount of respect from other local talent. This I gathered from my own uninformed senses of observation. I confirmed it later by listening to what other people were saying. I probably should've researched before the show, then I'd have more substatial things to say, like what songs they played. My apologies to those who would've liked to know. But I can say what I do know; they were a great choice to open for Mudhoney, sharing sonic kinship but no mere mimeograph. Fuzz and volume and great songs and fun to see. I hear they don't play out too often, but next time you see they are playing I'd bet you might be glad to take the time to listen to them sans the historic Seattle headliner. I probably will.

21 September 2006

show review: Porlolo / A Dog Paloma

20 September 2006

Oriental Theater

Porlolo, A Dog Paloma - The super-group versions.

Porlolo is a rubber band. One person, six people, or any number in between and it sounds like an exact fit around the music. I'm always amazed at how that works out. And although hearing Erin Roberts solo with her Harmony is a pleasure, I like the bigger version of Porlolo even better. Last night's line up was about the same arrangement as appeared up at the South Park Music Festival a couple weekends ago; the only missing parts were Carrie Beeder on violin and Joe Sampson, who would follow up later in the evening with A Dog Paloma. Although I think there was only one new song performed last night, that was cool with me because I think could probably listen to Porlolo songs everyday for years and not get tired of them.

In case you haven't caught the new arrangement, I'll explain it for you here. Avoiding the argument of whether double or electric is better, Porlolo takes one of each by having both Julie Davis (Bluebook) and Jonathan Till (d. Biddle, Nathan & Stephen) brilliantly tending to the bass section. Steve Brooks (Nathan & Stephen) keeps the rhythm together while Tom Mohr and Erin Roberts (the central core of Porlolo) tend to the rest with grace and style. I recommend giving a listen soon. They've got shows coming up this month on the 26th at the Marquis and the 30th at the Hi-Dive. Go on, you'll be so happy you did.

Before last night I'd only heard A Dog Paloma's songs on the myspace. I love the myspace for checking out music, but you have to keep in mind that finding music this way is like looking at pictures postage-stamp size. That is, you can get an idea of what to expect, an index reference if you will, but it's only a partial representation of the whole thing. So, what I knew already was that Joe Sampson wrote pretty songs and that I wanted to listen to him sing them for real. And last night he sang them with Nathaniel Rateliff (The Wheel/Born in the Flood) to great effect. Very mellow and chill. The harmonies were on. And although Nathan McGarvey (Nathan & Stephen) and Ben DeSoto kept the rhythm together on bass and drums, poor Justin Croft had to give up on his out of tune keys. But even if all the parts didn't come together as perfectly last night as one might hope for in a performance, there was still plenty enough goodness in the songs and voices themselves to make me very glad I stayed to the end.


Sunday 3 September 2006 Bluebird Theater, Denver - Rainer Maria, Ghost Buffalo, Peña

It's the last of the three nights of Denver Fest and I'm walking up to the Bluebird Theater to hear the line up of Rainer Maria, Ghost Buffalo and Peña. It's almost nine and the Dfest flyer had reported the show starting at 7:00 pm. But I didn't believe that time for a minute and good thing too, because it was still kinda dead when we arrived and there was yet a note to be heard from the stage. No worries though, because I had a friend to talk to and the music started up pretty soon after that as the three members of Peña took the stage.

If you don't know already, Peña is an instrumental band. I'm really not one of those people who immediately get uncomfortable at the lack of vocals in a rock band, but that being said, I found myself wanting to hear a voice in their songs. I love the balance in a three piece outfit and Peña's sound filled the Bluebird nicely, but still it didn't feel like the sound was yet complete. But, that criticism aside, Peña sounded great: at times hypnotic and then starting you back to paying attention. When you see that they are playing you should go see them, love them, and write them some lyrics.

More folk started trailing in and filling up the place as Ghost Buffalo began. I hadn't heard them play before but had heard they were a good alt-country band. I know, that label has become as worn-out and useless as a month old Westword, but still, it gives you an idea if you haven't ever heard them before. Songs range from soft and quieter ballad like compositions to more robust rockers that filled the air with good sounds. Singer Marie Litton has a voice well suited to the songs she's singing. It was a surprise to find out that the whole rhythm section was a mere three weeks into playing with the band, both drummer and bass player being that recently replaced. You would never have guessed from listening. Nice sounds from Ghost Buffalo, and now you have another band to add to your list. Go on, write it down.

The venue started actually looking filled up by the time Brooklyn based (via Madison, Wisconsin) headlining Rainer Maria came on. When I first saw the name I thought, day-um, it's pretty bold to set the bar that high. Oh, sure it's cool to give a nod to the great ones that we follow, but it can seem awfully pretentious, so it's a tricky thing to do. I can't say anything too bad about the band Rainer Maria, but then I can't find much earth-moving stuff to say either. They could play, no doubt about it. Their songs were nice and polished and their presentation smooth and professional, down to the rock-star banter about how they just ate at a great local restaurant (Watercourse) and how good it was. They sounded sharp and sure, but the heart behind the music just didn't make it to my ears. But that's me.

See you at the next show.

11 September 2006

South Park Music Festival

I know, I know. The late summer days of music festivals are long gone by now. The smell of winter is around the corner. And what with immediate blog postings and weekly gossip dishes, the idea of reporting on an event that happened two months ago might seem distant and irrelevant. But I don’t think so. There was some really great music at the third South Park Music Festival this September 2006 and a lot of interesting and substantial talk about music and things going on in the music scene. I say good music and talk about it doesn’t grow stale. So here we go.

Music festivals are fun, but are overwhelming. And there’s other elements of them I could live without. I was at an after-party near Fairplay, Colorado late, late…late on Friday night of the festival weekend. I had already been to two nights of rock shows and a day of panel discussions on things like “What’s Next: The Current and Future State of Independent Music” and “Podcasting: The Hottest Thing in Radio?” I had spent a few hours walking around in a drizzly cold rain, and I was nodding towards exhausted. Wondering how I was going to make it through another full day and night of music without at least a few hours sleep I went downstairs to check if ay of those party goers had gotten off the couch I had claimed. They hadn’t. I didn’t feel like kicking everyone out, but I was getting damn close. At the bottom of the stairs I saw a few members of some fine Denver bands, sipping their beers and shaking their heads. They looked almost as tired as me. They were talking about how nobody comes to these things for the music, you know, it’s more the sex and the drugs than the rock n roll. Now I was about ready to cry. I didn’t want to think that. I wanted to think that people made the trip, not only for free PBR and the like, but for the great treat of being surrounded by a lot of music and hoping to catch the best of it. Well, I know a number of people who wanted to make it to South Park for the music, but couldn’t. I also know a number of people who were disappointed to find mostly side shenanigans of the weekend reported on and not so much of the music.

It’s an impossible challenge to distill the nearly three days I was there into a coherent and relevant synopsis. First of all, there is just no covering it all. It’s impossible. But even so, much like looking at the festival schedule and knowing I wasn’t going to get to every show I had an interest in seeing, I resign to the fact that I’m not going to be able to write about everything I heard. My first explanation on omissions is that I stuck to the venues in Fairplay, so if it the band played in Alma, I just didn’t hear it. I didn’t want to drive and even though there were shuttles between the two towns, I stuck to where I could walk. Even so, a lot got passed over on my schedule.

The Fairplay Hotel was where I kept getting pulled back in...even when I wasn’t volunteering at the check-in table, I somehow kept finding myself there. The stage was set up in the old hotel dining room. It was a little surreal to see rock bands in front of the old-timey lace curtains, but I liked it. And to further the image of disconnect, I was told that earlier at the Thursday night VIP party the hotel staff was scrambling to take down antique tea pots off the shelf because they were rattling off the edge. Kind of out of place, but in a cool sort of mixed up way. The town outdoor stages made tiny Fairplay just big enough to put on the festival. I can’t imagine it being any bigger and still being manageable. But I like that it’s a smaller scale than the bigger fests. And I love the exclusive indie band set up. Major label bands are already getting attention in lots of places and even though we all are smart enough to know that numbers of records sold doesn’t have a sincere correlation with quality or importance, it sure seems like a fact that is easily forgotten. Besides, South Park is really a pretty place to be.

But, enough explaining the general atmosphere. I went to South Park to listen to music. And so, here’s my account of the best stuff I got to hear:

Born in the Flood. Possibly one of Denver’s most talked about bands right now. I got to hear them twice in Fairplay actually. Once, Thursday at the VIP kick-off party at the hotel and then again at the Bender’s Tavern outdoor stage where they took the spot of an Ohio band that I guess just didn’t make it. Thursday night, in the hotel dining room I was listening to them sing “Low Flying Clouds” and when Nate got to the part where he sings “give it to the hippest cats to spread by word of mouth” I shouted in the ear of my friend something about that line being perfect music festival words. Not missing a beat he replied “aw, that’s some myspace shit.” And it’s all true. But this is the thing, I had heard so many good things about Born in the Flood before I saw them play that it actually took a few times of listening to them before I could hear them with my own ears and begin to like them. The first time I saw them was in Denver and when someone asked me what I thought of them that night I couldn’t really answer, I could only shrug. But getting to hear them twice in three days cleared a lot of the cotton of “they will make you cry” descriptions out of my ears. I still have a slight echo of Coldplay comparisons to clear out of my head but I’ve only heard Coldplay in passing, so it’s not quite as bad. Born in the Flood can be a great band and I think their listeners will grow with them. Joseph plays bass lines that hook you in and Mike nets you in with the drums. People will get caught up in sounds like that. The guitar and noises alternate between addictive pop rhythm and an edgier sound that reminds you this is a rock band. But best of all, Nathaniel sings lyrics so pretty and strong it wouldn’t matter if the words made no sense, the sound of him singing them carries them far.

The Theives. Also saw them twice, but just a little of each set. Once at the hotel party and once at the high school. First look and listen at these guys hitting the stage with their Frampton hair and flaired jeans and I thought, okay, so nobody told these guys that rock, and especially Southern rock, is dead. But that’s cool. These guys hail from across the pond, Oxford, England no less, so I cut them some slack. But after a listen I don’t account their style to ignorance but their choice to play the stuff they like. And they do what they do rather well. If you wished the Kings of Leon were a little more wild and crazy, and British, you’ll probably want to check these guys out.

Playing at the the Denver Post “South Park High School Prom Party” I thought about how I might’ve actually gone to prom in high school if the Hot IQs had been playing instead of…well, I guess I don’t know what was played at my high school dances because I never went to any of them. But the Hot IQs on a school stage delivered enough for everybody in what might’ve been the most eclectic prom crowd ever to have a good time. The school cafeteria/gym/theatre sound had the unmistakable quality of sounding like it was in a…school cafeteria/gym/theatre. But even though the high sounds cracked off the cement walls and everything else kind of swirled around in an incredibly loud muddy middle sound they still seemed to sound good to the happy dancers. But sound quality aside, it was a fun set with another one of Denver’s funnest. Hooray for the Hot IQs!

Saturday the music started really early. I was running on fewer hours sleep than I wanted, as explained earlier, but sleep would just have to wait because Porlolo was up on the Bender’s Tavern Front Street Stage at 12:00...noon! Much to Erin Robert’s amazement too, as she couldn’t recall ever playing quite that early a show before. Thankfully the drizzly rain from Friday was gone, and the sun shone down, but it was still a rather chilly day for anyone silly enough to travel to Fairplay in September sans a jacket (yeah, like me.) But super sounds from a super-group sized Porlolo made me forget I was cold for a little while. This was the first time I saw them with their larger line up of Steven Brooks on drums, Jonathan Till on bass and Julie Bluebook on double bass, Carri on violin, in addition to Porlolo base of Tom Mohr on guitar and of course, Erin Roberts herself. All of them talented and great performers. I’ve never left a Porlolo show disapointed, and their South Park appearance didn’t break the trend. It was not surprising, but amazing nonetheless to hear how flexible Porlolo’s songs are that they work equally well with an acoustic guitar and full electric line up, evidencing solid songwriting that stands on its own without need of props and references and lame descriptives of sounds like… It doesn’t need to. Porlolo is.

If you saw Scott Biram walk with guitar in hand, all by himself, up on the stage and expected a sedate acoustic set, you didn’t get what you were expecting. I had met the Bloodshot Records artist from Austin earlier at the hotel check in. I handed him his band badge and freebie bag and asked him if he needed anything else, but all he really wanted was directions to where he was playing because right after that he was headed back down to Denver to play a show at Bender’s that same night. I thought, this is a hard working musician. But anybody within earshot of the Front Street Stage could’ve told you that if they were even half-listening. Biram plays as if there were four or five of him. All that sound and energy coming from one man. The Bloodshot Records site describes how he “lashes together blues, hillbilly and country precariously to raucous punk and godless metal.” Than don’t make no sense if you only read it, you got to hear it. And he will knock you over when you do.

Feeling bad about not taking many stretches outside of my element, I took a walk over to the Hip Hop Takeover Skate Park Stage. It was enough of a walk to feel a little dizzy from the altitude, though not so very far. When I got there it a Denver outfit called Pirate Signal was onstage. I need my friend Judy to write about this stuff because I am no hip-hop student and lack the vocabulary to begin to talk about it. Mostly I stood and watched the skaters and thought about how big a concussion I’d have if I tried to skate that stuff. But it was a really cool set up to have the hip-hop stage right next to the skate park and although the crowd was smallish, it seemed like everyone was having fun.

Heading back to the Bender’s stage made me feel a little more at home. We got back in time to listen to Munly and the Lee Lewis Harlots. Although I’ve been hearing this band play the same songs off their self titled cd for a while now, I’m not tired of the songs yet. The sound sounds like Munly and the Lee Lewis Harlots. And if you love them, you are never sorry to hear them again. I was surprised to see them performing the show sans their bass player, but was later told it was only because Paul couldn’t be there that day. Cellist Rebecca Vera worked double time filling in the string space left by the absent bass. She’s exceptional, as are Elin and Frieda. And Jeff Linsenmaier, sporting a serious mountain man beard, held the rhythm together as solid as ever. Munly sang and played like only Munly does. MLLH has a strong sense of what they want to sound like and they never shortchange you with a lackluster delivery of their sound, whatever you want to label it. That commitment has always made for a good performance, and South Park was no exception.

Back at South Park High School Lion Sized started up the evening with a sonic fight against the wide open space in the gym. It was loud, and they won. Listening to them I remembered that I don’t go see Lion Sized often enough. They’re a for-reals rock band. And I love love love that stuff. You too? Rock.

By now, the sun had just set and it was hard to believe that there was still a whole night ahead. It seemed like there couldn’t be room for more. As much fun as I already had, I didn’t know that the best was yet to come. Looking over the schedule I kept trying to make myself move from venue to venue, but on Saturday the bands I wanted most to see were conveniently located in one place. Yeah, the Fairplay Hotel. It was a serious line-up at The Onion Showcase and I was gonna stay put for this one. Things started out great with Pee Pee and this was the first time I’d heard Monofog. And I’m going to have to hear them again real soon.

But, Holy Cow…boy Curse! Giving more energy to their performance than you’d think possible in the thin mountain air Cowboy Curse played one of their best sets I think I’ve ever seen them play. Not that they don’t usually play a great set. They do. It’s just that this one was seriously memorable. Not just knit up tight and solid, but such energy and heart all put out there that I worried if they were getting enough air to breathe. This band plays it like they mean it. And I believe they do. When you weigh recorded sound and live show performance together, this trio is hands down the best indie pop band in Denver, and who knows how much farther. And like the best of them, they make the songs look easy even when you know how much they are not. Bop bop bop ba da da bop bop, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh… Evidence that words are not, never have been and never will be enough. Thankfully.

So, for sure the night couldn’t get even better. Or could it? It could. And it did. Bright Channel was yet to play. This was the very first time I had seen Bright Channel live. I’d heard good things from the very few people whose musical opinion I trust with little questioning. So naturally I’d checked out the mp3s on their myspace player. But this was a lesson to me that really wasn’t news but nonetheless a wake up. Hearing some music on the internet is kind of like looking at a postcard of the Grand Canyon and deciding, yeah, looks pretty cool. Some things…there’s no way to capture without actually being there in front of it. And this is the way I felt listening to Bright Channel for real. I was wide awake, and after less than ten hours sleep in the past sixty. They make the cliché “wall of sound” alive and pertinent. They could’ve woken up the ghosts in the hotel. And perhaps they did. I can’t wait to see them again. Even though there was more music to get to if I wanted, I was content and super happy I’d been there and heard all I did. In spite of all their overwhelmingness, annoyances and worse, that great feeling of being there and having the chance to see so much music in one place at the same time is why music festivals, and specifically this time, the South Park Music Festival, is always worth it.

21 August 2006

Like Bookends to the Summer

originally appeared in Japan Implosion

The first review I wrote for Japan Implosion was the 24 May 2006 show at the Tar Shack. I won't re-hash the review here, but suffice to say I thought it was one of the best shows I had been to in Denver yet and it kind of marked the start of my summer. So, now that school supplies are being bought and temperatures are dropping just enough for me to wonder where I last left my jacket, I feel this summer disappearing fast. But it's cool that I can index the close of the season with a second show at the Tar Shack. Sadly I missed half the bands and cant deliver a first hand account of Absolute Zero or The Hot House. Though from reliable sources the words I heard are that it was great stuff.

I did get there in time to catch all of Cowboy Curse's set. Last time I saw them was just before they set off to the west coast to let as many people as possible know there is some great pop music coming out of Denver. I hope those people were listening well because this band has some really fantastic songs, the type of songs that make your repeat button look a little more worn than the rest. I hope they make more of them. And you'd never have guessed that drummer Erin Tidwell had just played a full set with her other band (Hot House) because there was absolutely no dragging or lagging going on. Impressive. And just to mesh the two bands together a little more, Allie added some perfectly in tune keyboard sounds to the mix. Yay.

And that left the Tarmints to top the night off with their songs. And top it off they did. Tarmints are a great band to see anywhere you can, sending raw and beautiful sounds and energy (from god only knows where they mine it) out there and having it fall on your ears like an unexpected gift. It's energetic punk rock, yes, but that falls short of describing it. And seeing them anywhere is a treat, but seeing them in the Tar Shack is something even better. It's an unspoken genuine hospitality, a feeling of you being there as a guest, whether or not you really know the people who live there. And if you ever get a chance to go to a show at the Tar Shack, you oughta behave like a guest. As they began to play Kurt made some mention of it having been kind of a grouchy day up to that point for a lot of people. I could relate. But as the Tarmints dove into their set I couldn't help but let go of all traces of crabbiness and even as I write this days later, I'm still feeling better. That's a rarity that should never be ignored. That's powerful stuff and when Kurt ran to the back and jumped up on that table and played in front of the giant spirally Tarmints banner--well I just wished someone was faster with the camera so I could show you a little better what this show was like. But if you were there, you'll remember it.