Westword Music Showcase 2008 @ the Golden TriangleBy Ricardo Baca | June 16th, 2008 | No Comments »
Saturday’s Westword Music Showcase exhibited a wide range of quality local music, from folk to hip-hop to punk. Photos by Doug Beam.
I’ve been to my fair share of music festivals, including six of the last seven Coachellas. So I’m familiar with the routine.
You get the schedule ahead of time. Out comes the highlighter, and you make the tough choices — seeing this band over this band, and trying to catch half of that group before heading across the way to catch that singer-songwriter everybody’s talking about. Of course it’s a lot cleaner on paper. Once you’re at the festival itself, nothing works out like it’s supposed to. And that’s part of the beauty of the music festival. It’s random. You get a recommendation, and you stray from your plans. You see something new. Your mind is blown.
As great as Coachella and Bonnaroo and Monolith are, there’s a spirit and camaraderie those big festivals lack – it’s the kind of vibe that rushes down the street at a solid festival of local music. You’ll certainly find that proud, communal vibe at the Denver Post Underground Music Showcase on Aug. 1-3 this year, but it was also present at the Westword Music Showcase on Saturday.
The annual event took over 10 stages throughout the Golden Triangle neighborhood, and it was a solid showing of some of the best talent Colorado has to offer. In years past, we’ve broken our necks trying to cover it all, so this year we took a leisurely stroll through the festival, catching up with old friends and also checking out some not-so-familiar bands. Reverb photographer Doug Beam saw more acts that I did, so enjoy his pictures. Meanwhile, here’s what I caught:
The Overcasters: This is one of those bands that needs to be seen to be understood and felt. They started playing out last year, and I was constantly running into people who were surprised by “what they sounded like.” Now I can see why. The Overcasters play the kind of music that could score your dreams in those deep hours of rapid eye movement sleep. Peek through the gauzy guitars and all those instrumental effects and you’ll hear a familiar voice — singer-guitarist Kurt Ottaway — although you’ve never quite heard this side of him before.
Ottaway is best known as the man behind Twice Wilted and Tarmints, the latter of which broke up recently. His new project — with Erin Tidwell, Jeremy Ziehe and John Nichols — is decidedly a more psychedelic and emotive, layered, pop-oriented rock outfit that’s as pretty as it is spooky. It helps, too, that the band played against a video wall of projected psychedelia at their Bar Standard set on Saturday — something that may seem like an indulgence, but it’s actually more of necessity, given the symbiotic relationship of the music and the visuals.
Laylights: These boys deserved to play the main stage, absolutely. But they also deserve to play to a larger house than the 50 people who were gathered in front of the mammoth outdoor stage for their 4 p.m. slot. Alas. Laylights sounded great, and it helped that the PA was booming, thus helping spread the gospel of their latest EP, “Auricle,” to the masses. The band is clearly enjoying the new flexibility given to them by “Auricle.” They’ve been playing out for years with only a single EP under their belt — until the recent release of the second EP, which expands the possibilities and proves that they’re one of the brightest stars in the local rock scene.
Just as “Sparrow” was always the highlight of their early shows, “You” now holds that place. The new song is a winner, an arena-styled track (Is that the Edge on lead guitars? Nope, it’s Ian McCumber) that nails what the Laylights do best: Anthemic jams that you feel in the chest.
The Swayback: These guys have practically been attached at the hip to Los Laylights recently. And it don’t stop. They’re on the same bill again at the SoCo Music Experience on June 28 — and then again at the UMS on Aug. 1-2. On Saturday, they played the main stage right after Laylights — and the two bands make for a potent one-two punch of local rock ’n’ roll.
The Swayback’s most recent outing, “Long Gone Lads,” is a lot more groove-oriented than anything the band has done in the past. It’s a welcome departure, and a treat to hear singer Eric Halborg’s bass take the lead on songs like “Queen’s Dance.” Guitarist Bill Murphy still has his moments in the spotlight, of course — including the older tracks that have become staples in the pantheon of local rock (“Forewarned” and “Distinguished Guest at the Downtrodden Ball,” both of which were highlights of the band’s showcase set.)
Gregory Alan Isakov: It’s always great to see people losing their sh*t over local music. The packed house at Dazzle for Gregory Alan Isakov’s set was silent and entranced by the singer-songwriter and his three-piece band. (Save for that obnoxious back area underneath the Comcast banner. They didn’t shut up all day long.) Isakov is a songwriter in the classical sense of the word. He writes songs that have you leaning in to hear and understand the words, and for a singer-songwriter, there is no better compliment than that.
His music is strong, but the players who often accompany his shows enhance the songs greatly. It’s lovely to hear indie rock-inflected folk music — especially with a voice like his — accompanied by a cellist or fiddle player. His music filled Dazzle’s modest room with heart, and it was a needed break from the intense sun outside.
Paper Bird: It’s not possible to dislike this band. Even those who say that they’re too precious or cutesy are still in the back tapping their feet to the downbeat of the banjo, nodding their heads to the melodic trombone. The large, old-timey band was cramped on Sutra’s small stage on Saturday, but not as cramped as the crowd. This was one of the toughest fits of the showcase, and for good reason. Paper Bird is a delightful band, and while they were once one of our fair city’s best kept secrets, that no longer applies. Everybody knows of this band’s infectious charm, and it’s a treat seeing them — fronted by three lovely ladies singing harmony — playing sweet tunes such as “Livin’ Lucky” to packed houses.
The Knew: This was the single-best set I saw on Saturday. And that’s saying something, because I ducked out of the showcase slightly early to check out the Warlocks/Black Angels show at the Bluebird Theater later that night. (Click here for the review). The Knew has always been a solid live band, a good-times rock outfit known and loved for their wild shows and their garage-styled rock ’n’ roll.
But now it seems like they’re all grown up. Playing with the right mix of garage and classic rock at Andrew’s on Lincoln, their music leapt off the stage and into their fans’ chests. It wasn’t long before everyone was overtaken with the passion — the need to move and dance and yelp along. Talk about a welcome evolution. They made a good thing better, and now the Knew — prepped for what will be one hell of a CD release show on July 26 at the Hi-Dive — are one of the most exciting bands in the Mile High City. I honestly can’t wait to see a full set from these boys.
American Relay: The Knew’s energetic set was nearly impossible to follow, but the organizers were smart in throwing furious two-piece American Relay in the post-Knew slot. With singer-guitarist Nick Sullivan on the mic and Alex Hebert on the skins, this small but strong band filled the room with dirty blues and a lot of love. Kids danced and sang along, and the band didn’t disappoint. They railed hard and loud, just the two of them, and then they brought out their friend Reverend Deadeye for some harmonica action. It was a family affair as the two bands are hitting the road together next month, and the sweaty packed bar, for a minute there, felt a little bit like a jukejoint in the Mississippi Delta.
Ricardo Baca is the pop music critic for The Denver Post.
See more of regular contributor Doug Beam’s photography.
JOHN MOORE’S SLIDESHOW:
Westword Music Showcase
June 14, 2008. Photos by John Moore, The Denver Post.
AND MORE OF DOUG BEAM’S PHOTOS: