Just as good songs are more than a collection of notes and pauses, good music festivals are always about more than one band, style or venue.
By and large, the collection of bands, styles and venues at the typically smooth, compact Westword Music Showcase on Saturday was enough to warrant that alternative newsweekly’s online boasting of an “astounding” and unprecedented turnout (apparently selling out 11,000 tickets before the festival even started — though it didn’t look remarkably more crowded than in years past).
More importantly, it attests to the strength of Denver’s frenzied, passionate music fans and the insular but loving community we’ve watched rise here over the past few years.
Over the course of more than eight hours I was treated to scenes both comical and transcendent, brutally loud and delicately restrained. The Golden Triangle neighborhood and its mix of Regas Christou-owned venues (think Vinyl, Bar Standard, the Church) and mom-and-pop places hosted dozens of diverse, worthy local acts and national headliners such as Superchunk, Ghostland Observatory, Dirty Projectors and Neon Indian.
In addition to the surprise sell-out, the festival started with a few moments of shakiness. Ex-“American Idol” contestant and Denverite Lilly Scott — with the band Varlet — suffered some intense moments of feedback at the outdoor main stage, where the sober, early-day crowd was sparse. Over at Sutra, the enthusiastic, bright-eyed dance-punk of the Don’ts and Be Careful was interrupted by an inexplicable fire alarm that took a few minutes to turn off, snatching away the show’s momentum (the band nearly regained it with a killer, trombone-driven “Insomnia”).
Some venues were overcrowded (the unexpectedly hot, packed environs at City Hall) while others probably could have drawn a lot more folks. Overall, though, the showcase was a collection of individual (and mostly positive) moments that amounted to a fitting kickoff for the summer festival season.
Watching Kingdom of Magic play the gay bar Broadway’s to a bunch of intensely sweaty hipsters and metalheads? Awesome. Hearing Lion Sized singer-guitarist Josh Bergstrand say “Thanks for the logos” to a packed Sutra, where (naturally) dozens of corporate logos were flashing while his decidedly DIY punk trio played? Odd, and funny. Watching beach balls glance off power lines while indie rock heroes Superchunk delivered a tight, loud, fist-pumping set of shoulda-been ’90s classics? Satisfying as hell, and one of the best live music moments in Denver this year.
That’s the great thing about music festivals — especially South by Southwest- style ones, where a single wristband allows entry into multiple venues (like our own music festival, The 10th annual Underground Music Showcase, which is right around the corner July 22-25). You get a little bit of everything. Don’t want it? Walk away. It’s as easy as that. (Although no matter where I went, I couldn’t seem to escape Dirty Projectors’ fussy, irritating clatter. But that’s another subject entirely.)
Everyone celebrates music differently, but focusing on Denver’s wealth of homegrown talent is always a sure bet. Below you’ll see a couple other Reverb writers’ and phototgraphers’ musings on the Westword Music Showcase. Missed it in person? Don’t worry — we’ll have about three times as many bands our own UMS next month on South Broadway. — John Wenzel
The 2010 Westword Music Showcase
by Billy Thieme
One frustrating thing about the Westword Music Showcase — and most festivals set up like it — is the impossibility of seeing all the bands you’d like to. And, too often, when you do sync your timing with a band that you’ve been excited about, their set feels rushed, a chore — to both the band and the crowd — a rush to move on to the next.
Is it all logistics? After all, think about the daunting task of scheduling upwards of 100 national and local acts across multiple venues — and fitting them all in about 12 hours (consider, also, that the Denver scene is pretty incestuous, and more than a few artists make up parts of many of those acts). It’s certainly no cake walk. And this year’s showcase apparently broke all attendance records, and sold tickets to 11,000 screaming, drinking and dancing Denverites.
As I poured through last Saturday’s Showcase, I wondered if it was time to add a day, or cut some acts, now, some 15 years after the festival’s birth. It seemed that band after band (at least in the case of the locals, where I focused my day) were forced to slap together what they could — admirably, under the circumstances — in order to fly through mediocre sets, and then clear the stage.
First was the Don’ts and Be Carefuls at Sutra, followed by Ideal Fathers and Accordion Crimes. While all three bands attracted pretty consistent crowds, they often sounded preoccupied. They usually deliver scintillating, upbeat sets of fun, danceable post punk, full of sticky pop sense. The best they seemed able to accomplish then was technical brilliance, but only mediocre energy, and little connection to their fans.
Marty Jones’s new band, the Great Unknowns, were on next at La Rumba. A Denver scene mainstay, Jones has fronted a few bands during his Mile High tenure — most of them pretty much straight up, beautiful American Country rock bands. The G.U.’s are no different, and they played a set that had at least a few couples swinging.
Bar Standard hosted a sadly pointless and too heavy set by Denver’s Overcasters. As much as I wanted to fall in love with this band — led by brilliant Denver local Kurt (Ottoway) Overcaster — they just didn’t do it for me. Their sound promised to push noisy shoegaze to another level (a feat the band hints at on record), but instead delivered some slow, sludge-laden, stoned psychedelia.
Lyin’ Bitch and the Restraining Orders at Bannock Street Garage ended up suffering the downfall of poor venue design. Despite their (if almost too close) Fear re-creation, the stage was uncomfortably close to the bar, and formed a bottleneck that neither allowed fans a decent view, nor a less than 20 minute wait to even get to the bar.
More single-songs in other local sets left an overall impression that the showcase appeared mighty unwieldy. Still great for local acts, it seemed to be splitting at the seems, and many local acts seemed uneasy with the squeeze. — Billy Thieme
The 2010 Westword Music Showcase
by Jackie Lomibao
I was following a comment thread last week regarding Saturday’s Westword Music Showcase 2010 at the Golden Triangle.
It was the usual discussion around which bands were nominated, which weren’t; which bands were performing where, and how in the hell will I choose between my favorites performing at the same time? Yes, these are the questions that keep us awake at night in anticipation of the summer music festivals.
Nice job by the folks at Westword for their diligent handling of these and other pressing details at this year’s showcase. Whether camped out at one or two venues or roaming here and there, there was a bit — or a lot — of something for everyone, with over 100 bands on 15 stages.
The outdoor Main Stage featured familiar headliners Ghostland Observatory, Superchunk and Dirty Projectors, as well as some home-grown headlining talent. Denver-spun and “American Idol” once-and-hopeful Lilly Scott with Varlet played a sweet and soulful mid-day set that epitomized the “all-ages” summertime music festival. (Not to mention a fine piece of mandolin playing by guitarist Cole Rudy.)
Following Varlet on the Main Stage were local-guys-gone-big Single File and Fort Collins’ favorite sons Tickle Me Pink. The key piece going on here was that these guys didn’t pass out from the heat of the 2-3 p.m. sun, with little cloud cover and a proclivity for rocking considerably hard. Keeping their wits about them, it was great to hear “Zombies Ate My Neighbor” from Single File and “Go Die” from Tickle.
Since most of the fun at a music festival is checking out as many different sounds as possible, we dashed madly between sets to Vinyl to see Night of Joy. The duo, known for their mascara-dripped eyes and unpolished sound, attracted a decent crowd for their early set. Even for those seemingly confused by Night’s music, it’s a classic reminder that festivals like the Westword Showcase are timely opportunities to expose ourselves to music that otherwise lives outside the comfort bubble.
My bubble got a workout at Broadway’s for an out-of-the-comfort-zone set from Allegaeon. Big metal, big crowd and the big rush of feeling my spine jarred loose and out through my nipples.
City Hall became “Sauna Hall” when Air Dubai packed a crowd in for their brand of electronic hip-hop/R&B. Followed by the Pirate Signal, these two groups served up the most entertaining 90 minutes of the day. Not only are both bands willing to push whatever musical envelope might hold others back, but their energy, charisma and sexed-up magnetism kept the crowd both engaged and captivated.
With very different, but equally hypnotic allure, the duo of Ghostland Observatory finished up the outdoor event with their electro-laser set at dusk.
If you didn’t leave Westword’s Music Showcase 2010 with at least a little tingle, go back next year, leave your squishy bubble behind and check out something new. I’m fairly sure that’s the point. — Jackie Lomibao
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John Wenzel is the co-editor of Reverb and an award-winning A&E reporter for The Denver Post. His book “Mock Stars: Indie Comedy and the Dangerously Funny” was recently published by Speck Press. He also maintains a Twitter feed of random song titles.
Jackie Lomibao is a Lakewood-based writer and regular contributor to Reverb.
Anya Semenoff is a Denver-based photographer and an editorial assistant at The Denver Post.
Jennifer Cohen is a Lakewood-based freelance photographer and contributor to Reverb. Check out her website.