The Underground Music Showcase has always been about local bands. Even after the mammoth celebration of live music broadened its scope a few years ago to include national and international acts, the vibe on South Broadway hasn’t changed a ton.
There still are more Colorado bands, DJs, singer- songwriters and artists playing the UMS this year than any other festival. It’s just that now, they’re partying with and playing alongside an increasing number of national acts at the festival, which takes over Broadway between Sixth and Alameda avenues Thursday through July 24.
As the largest indie music festival in the Rocky Mountain region, the UMS is expanding even more in its 11th year. And here are six national bands playing the festival to look out for. (Note: Some of these venues are small, so if you really want to see one of the bands, national or local, consider showing up a half- hour early.)
Click here to view the full line-up and buy tickets — $30 for a four-day wristband.
This is potentially the buzziest band playing the UMS. The indie rockers from New Orleans love packaging their big pop hooks into a minimalist, fuzzed-out box. And their full-length from earlier this year, “Actor-Caster,” is already a frontrunner for one of the year’s best albums. Midnight Friday, Illegal Pete’s Stage at the Hi-Dive.
2. El Ten Eleven
That rare instrumental band that whips up a dance party wherever it goes, El Ten Eleven might look unassuming on that stage, with their double-necked guitar and assortment of pedals. But you’d better bring those dancing shoes — and please, avoid open-toed sandals. Midnight Thursday at the Illegal Pete’s Stage at the Hi-Dive.
3. Sage Francis
The Rhode Island-based MC’s penetratinig rhymes and thoughtful lyricism has made him a favorite in conscious hip-hop circles the world over. As the title of his latest album, “Li(f)e,” suggests, Francis is an introspective and occasionally cynical rapper. But here’s what sets him apart from the underground hip-hop masses the most: his collaborations with indie- rock and alt-folk heroes such as Will Oldham, Jason Lytle, Chris Walla and even Denver’s own DeVotchKa. 9 p.m. Friday, Sailor Jerry Main Stage in the Goodwill parking lot.
4. The Black Heart Procession
The San Diego Band specializes in brooding, often moody rock compositions that fill a certain void in indie rock today. The Pall Jenkins and Tobias Nathaniel duo, while they’re past their late-’90s heyday, still carry weight in modern indie rock. Midnight Saturday, Mayan Theatre.
Colourmusic makes its Oklahoma neighbors proud by crafting some of the freakiest indie pop in the game. But don’t be afraid. They’re also cuddly and affable, a la their buddies, the Flaming Lips. Oh: Their live shows also are among the best in indie rock. 11 p.m. Friday at the Sailor Jerry Stage at 3 Kings Tavern.
This is the power-pop band the kids love unabashedly — and the same band that adults secretly hold affection for. Formerly a Drive-Thru Records hero, the band released its most recent album, “Would It Kill You?” independently. 6 p.m. Friday at the Sailor Jerry Main Stage in the Goodwill parking lot.
From its humble beginnings at Boulder’s Fox Theatre — as a piggybacked “showcase” with Denver country-punks 16 Horsepower — to its reputation as the South by Southwest of the region, the Underground Music Showcase has always been the time to catch all the best Colorado bands for less than the price of an oil change.
You may already know scene champs like Snake Rattle Rattle Snake, Epilogues, Danielle Ate the Sandwich and Git Some, but the majority of the festival’s 300- plus performers are up-and-comers.
We split the difference by choosing six of our favorite local artists that you may (or may not) have been exposed to.
1. Gregory Alan Isakov
A quiet indie-folk fixture with an intimidatingly deft touch, Isakov’s skillful melodies and narratives amount to much more than the sum of their acoustic parts. His ear for arrangements and harmonies consistently yields transcendent, heartbreaking ballads — which explains why he’s shared stages with Ani DiFranco, Rodrigo y Gabriela, Brandi Carlile and Fiona Apple. 8:15 p.m. Sunday, Sailor Jerry Main Stage.
2. Wheelchair Sports Camp
Want to know what everyone was talking about after the South by Southwest and Westword Music Showcases this year? Check out this Denver hip-hop outfit, led by cartoon-voiced Kalyn Heffernan (who uses a wheelchair) and backed by live drums and sax. Her nimble flows and production prove that hip-hop bravado is not the sole province of swaggering dudes and cookie-cutter bling bots. 8 p.m. Sunday, Bands for Lands stage at the TS Board Shop.
3. Gauntlet Hair
Between its recent signing to respected indie label Dead Oceans and love from tastemaker music sites such as Pitchfork, this Lafayette-based duo is poised to join groups as diverse as DeVotchKa, Tennis and Pictureplane in carrying Denver’s DIY music torch. The band, which toured North America last month with blog-buzz duo the Dodos, litters its deconstructed ’80s melodies with thunderclap beats and hazy vocals reminiscent of an abused Animal Collective. 9 p.m. Thursday, Illegal Pete’s stage at the Hi-Dive.
The inevitable collision of the city’s smartest, most aggressive MCs? We like to think so. Gritty indie rappers King F.O.E., Karma and Yonnas Abraham (of the Pirate Signal) combine their considerable strengths — dizzying flows, retro-futuristic production, massive stage presence, dystopian lyrics — into darkly magnetic songs that gather as many apocalyptic clouds as raised hands. Midnight Sunday, Club 404.
5. Andrew Orvedahl
As part of the crew that runs the monthly Grawlix showcase (and his own Narrators show), comedian Andrew Orvedahl has learned a thing or two about putting on quality stand-up. At the UMS, he’ll debut his newest show, “Randomicity,” in which two teams of comics write jokes on the fly, Friday, then present a more traditional showcase Saturday. Among the performers: Ben Kronberg, Adam Cayton-Holland, Chris Charpentier, Jim Hickox, Ben Roy, Sam Tallent. 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, both at Sobo 151.
This band shares members with fellow Hot Congress act Amazing Twin, but Hindershot is lead singer Stuart Confer’s show. Recalling timber-legged ’90s indie rock as much as dance-punk and Weezer-style pop, Hindershot’s explosive live shows are earning the band a rightful place among the city’s most exciting acts. 6 p.m. Saturday, Club 404.
John Wenzel is an executive editor of Reverb and an award-winning A&E reporter for The Denver Post. He is the author of “Mock Stars: Indie Comedy and the Dangerously Funny” (Speck Press/Fulcrum) and maintains a Twitter feed of completely random song titles and band names.