UMS 2012: Photos and review of Thursday nightBy John Wenzel | July 20th, 2012 | 1 Comment »
Editor’s note: UMS event director Kendall Smith told Reverb Friday morning that the festival will continue as scheduled, and that the UMS community will observe a one-minute moment of silence at 6 p.m. Friday night on the Main Stage to honor victims of the tragedy in Aurora.
The first few acts of any music festival can be deceptive. Are they setting the tone for the rest of the event or simply teasing listeners?
There’s no definitive answer, of course, but on the first day of the Denver Post’s 12th annual Underground Music Showcase (a.k.a. the UMS) those first few acts mostly came out of the gate snarling and hungry.
The four-day showcase has a lot more in store, from national indie and hip-hop acts to DJs, comedians and acoustic singer-songwriters. And as it continues through Sunday up and down nearly 20 venues along South Broadway, the UMS will have a chance to show all sides of itself to thousands of music-lovers. But if Thursday’s furnace blast of sweat and energy was any indication, more earplugs, slices of pizza and vitamin C will be immediately necessary.
It was clear from the first few 8 p.m. shows that some venues have changed significantly since last year. Denver Wheel Club 404 — formerly the beloved Club 404 dive — hosted a booming set from local band Twin Peaks, which jokingly passed itself off as various other Mile High bands (Warhawk, the Royal) between percussive, reverb-drenched songs that dripped with melody and, occasionally, throat-shredding howls. The guitar work often invoked Wolfmother’s metallic, Zeppelinesque shredding, and it sounded all the more deafening in the Wheel Club’s newly spacious back room.
Mane Rok and Deejay Tense sampled a panoply of hip-hop greats in their set at Moe’s Bar B Que, which found Mane giving shout outs to Rodney King and James Brown in front of Tense’s double-turntable/laptop setup and video screen. Mane switched between a hand-held mic and a vintage-style mic in a stand, as well as guttural growls and well-placed squeaks, to breathe life into the thin but attentive audience. And Tense was expertly scratching records between Mane’s verses — a bit of lost art at many live hip-hop shows.
Wymond Miles, an Aurora native now playing in San Francisco’s the Fresh and Onlys, drew a respectable crowd at the Hi-Dive for his 4-piece band’s moody, faux-theatrical set. Reference points of ’80s Brit-pop and ’90s alt-rock failed to stir much enthusiasm, though other Denver musicians seemed to lap it up. Leave the electro-shock therapy to the bands at 3 Kings Tavern, the biggest proper indoor venue at the UMS and one with a reliably excellent lineup from day to day. From the appealing squall of School Knights to San Diego’s Mrs. Magician (playing with last-minute backline equipment) the careening guitars gave the proceedings a heady momentum. Looking around the room, it was easy to see that this opening was as big — or bigger — than the Friday and Saturday nights of last year.
Contemporary genre hallmarks seemed to reign supreme, and that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Mrs. Magician delivered loads of Pixies-style hooks — by way of indie darlings Wavves. Canada’s Yukon Blonde spun turn-on-a-dime guitar pop into epic fist pumpers that recalled the sprawling pop indulgence of Broken Social Scene, or a less cloying Rick Springfield. Both shows were choked with beer-swilling music lovers practically from stage to street.
Alone at 3 a.m. brought a welcome sense of deliberateness to its Skylark set with keening guitar and soulful, Southern-rock vocals. The Legendary River Drifters, playing one of their final shows as a band, followed with some trademark boot-stompin’ folk, filtered as always through modern-day punk aesthetics. However, a muddy, crackling sound mix did little to highlight the rollicking banjo, harmonica and other acoustic instruments over singer Suzanne Magnuson’s typically excellent, vibrato-heavy vocals.
A walk back to 3 Kings revealed the familiar sights of an already-crowded festival: bongo-playing cab drivers, bustling food trucks, wasted hipsters smoking in pedicabs. Inside, Bad Weather California peddled its jumpy indie-jam-folk, agreeably loose in their overall vibe. Singer-guitarist Chris Adolf ignored the almost oppressively sweaty, crowded environs — or perhaps embraced them — to show the value of a well-placed falsetto and passionate yelp.
Woe to those who exited 3 Kings and attempted to get back in for the night’s biggest buzz band, Cleveland indie darlings Cloud Nothings (fresh off a performance at Chicago’s Pitchfork Music Festival). The stream of souls leaving the venue after Bad Weather’s set met with drunken, eager Cloud Nothings fans going the opposite direction, resulting in a screaming match that briefly threatened to turn into a legit mob scene. The logjam relented, however, and Cloud Nothings came on shortly after midnight to play songs from the recent “Attack on Memory.” Opening with the frenetic, ear-piercing “Stay Useless,” Dylan Baldi and his band channeled Dinosaur Jr., Shellac and other ’90s indie champs to spike the room with manic energy. Cue the fist pimping, moshing and drunken crowd-surfing. Bathed in light from the imperiled mini-disco ball on the ceiling, the crowd seemed eager to tear the venue apart.
Of course, seeing them meant missing a great set by Denver titans Slim Cessna’s Auto Club at the Hi-Dive, or the Replacements cover band Dogbreath at the Irish Rover, which featured members of Denver’s Tin Horn Prayer, the Knew, Native Daughters and Hindershot. Or the bumping dance party at Delite, courtesy of Black Amex. Or Rags & Ribbons’ earnest showing at the Hornet the next block north.
Such are the frustrating, attention-span shredding, wholly exhausting joys of the UMS.
As noted, the event will continue with more diverse acts, all-ages options and the outdoor stage behind South Broadway’s improbably fancy Goodwill store. It’s just crazy to think that the festival’s opening night arguably packed more highlights into four hours than previous years did into four days.
John Wenzel is an A&E reporter and digital media editor for The Denver Post and the author of “Mock Stars: Indie Comedy and the Dangerously Funny” (Speck Press/Fulcrum). Follow him @johntwenzel and @beardsandgum.
Seth McConnell is a member of YourHub at The Denver Post and a new contributor to Reverb.