Westword Music Showcase in the Golden Triangle, 6/23/12 (photos and review)By Sam DeLeo | June 25th, 2012 | No Comments »
Summer doesn’t legitimately begin in Denver until the stacks of amplifiers shake the Golden Triangle’s lofts at the Westword Music Showcase. At the 2012 event this past Saturday, music played, PBRs flowed, cheesesteaks glistened, dance parties broke out and one group of musicians fashioned bongs from various fruits in an alley off Sherman Street. How else do you get a summer started properly?
In its 18th year, the Westword Music Showcase has grown steadily if not rapidly, and that’s a good thing. With about 150 bands performing at 15 venues this year, the event can make your head spin. Ask someone at the end of the day what bands they have seen and watch their eyes glaze over for a moment as they try to sift through the blur. Here’s a recap of what we remember:
Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears
Since forming in 2007, Austin’s Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears have gained a reputation for their rousing live shows and they didn’t disappoint at the main stage parking lot Saturday afternoon, delivering the traditions of Bo Diddley and James Brown with fuzzed-out, garage-rock guitar chords. The backing horn section, absent when this writer saw the Lewis fronting his other band, Ice Pick, in Austin, gives the live show even more of a punch.
A. Tom Collins
The hot weather likely had nothing to do with Aaron Collins of A. Tom Collins stripping down in the sweltering and packed Curious Theatre and working his band into a frenzy while screaming “I love Jesus and Jesus loves me,” but it’s nice to see that, while this band sounds tighter with each and every show, they never suppress the stomping wildness of their music.
Greg Harris Vibe Quintet
The capacity audience at Dazzle for the Greg Harris Vibe Quintet got to hear a version of “These Eyes” by the Guess Who that began in Spanish, morphed into Mr. Rogers’ “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” and ended with trumpeter John Lake riffing off of drummer’s Alejandro Castaño’s furious close.
The Raven and the Writing Desk
The sextet Raven and the Writing Desk delivered an impressive show at Curious Theatre, moving from lushly arranged music with classical accents to stirring, gypsy-fueled dance songs.
Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe
With a six-piece band and members of Slightly Stoopid serving as MCs, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe dedicated a Beastie Boys tribute show to the recently deceased MCA. Tribute shows, while well intentioned, can often come up short musically. That was not the case at all with Denson’s outfit, as they ripped into songs like “Sabotage,” “So What’cha Want,” “Sure Shot” and even instrumentals like “POW.” The performance had the crowd dancing and, when Denson cued them, raising their arms in tribute to MCA.
Hearts in Space
The cinematic and sweeping rock of Hearts in Space sometimes got drowned beneath the crowd noise at Bar Standard. Flashing car and beer commercials on the TVs to either side of the stage also clashed with the images the band had playing behind them, but given these obstacles, the band was able to finish strong.
As one fan put it near midnight, trying to recall just what he had witnessed throughout the day: “Oh, Battles was sick, dude!” He wasn’t lying. With drummer John Stanier hitting percussive bells against his kit (which had the world’s highest cymbal) and electronically manipulating the sound, the band began a set that was full of tricky time signatures, sleight-of-hand sounds and precise playing. For “Sweetie & Shag” from last year’s “Gloss Drop,” a video of Blonde Redhead’s Kazu Makino appeared on screen to sing along. Another song sounded in 12-beat time. But, what mattered most was that you felt you were witnessing the music being created for the first time — by mad scientist musicians.
Each song from Blkhrts’ live show at City Hall hit like a concussive burst. Recently added drummer Hogans Daniel and guitarist Chez Strong accent the band’s sound but don’t alter any of its force. About the only moment the crowd had to catch its breath was when MC Yonnas Abraham, impersonating a Vegas crooner, began singing, “In heaven, everything is black.”
The Photo Atlas
On the bar side of City Hall, the Photo Atlas played a blistering set of dance punk, overcoming vocal monitor problems and getting the packed crowd moving with songs ranging from 2007’s “No, Not Me, Never” to three brand-new tracks.
Colin Stranahan Trio
Master drummer Stranahan led his trio through a set of explorative originals at Dazzle to a full room, the audience calling the group back for an encore after pianist Glenn Zaleski’s tribute to Fred Hersch.
Greg Gillis of Girl Talk may not be the most cutting edge DJ, but he knows how to get people dancing — lots of them. The main stage parking lot was full for his set of musical cut-ups, which showed off his mastery for making pop songs sound brand new again, whether it was Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep,” Belinda Carlisle’s “Heaven is a Place on Earth,” or the Turtle’s “Happy Together.” In Girl Talk’s hip hop context, for instance, Heart’s “Barricuda” sounded better than it ever did originally. This was by far the most attended show of the festival.
Funky Fresh Trio
The showcase finished at Dazzle with the Funky Fresh Trio. The toe-tapping, long-lined funk of the group — think more Soul Jazz than Funkadelic — was a fitting end to a day of standing and/or dancing. From the bar at Dazzle, you could sit and recount what you’d seen — or at least try.
Denver-based writer Sam DeLeo is a published poet, has seen two of his plays produced and recently completed his novel, “As We Used to Sing.” His selected work can be read at samdeleo.com
Nathan Iverson is a Denver photographer and regular contributor to Reverb.