The 13th annual Denver Post Underground Music Showcase didn’t stumble or crash to a close on Sunday, the fourth consecutive day of live music, beer, sweat, tacos and pizza along the South Broadway corridor. It ran full-speed into the next work week.
Rowboat, a derivative but agreeable classic rock-styled trio playing the open-garage door space of Gozo, gave its set everything it had, preferring to end the long (long, long) weekend with a howl instead of a wimper. The sunburned, bleary, and smiling few dozen who surrounded the act gave as much back, cheering heartily while clutching beers and mixed drinks and plastic cups of ice water, shaking heads and hands.
It was band No. 400-something of nearly 420, or of roughly “1,600 (total) performers,” as UMS director Kendall Smith had said from the Goodwill Main Stage across the street a few hours earlier, introducing yet another of local guitar-rock quartet Born in the Flood’s “reunion” shows. Some random guy named John Hickenlooper (who’s apparently the governor, or was the mayor, or is one of the most endearingly music-crazy politicians in any state) also introduced Born and gave shout-outs to Smith, booker James Irvine and venue manager Will Dupree, trotting out talking-point statistics about how Denver has more live music venues than Austin, Texas, or Nashville.
We’re not sure where he was going when he invoked Noah’s Ark while talking about “the flood,” but the fact that he sounded a bit, ahem, looser than usual hinted that maybe he was drinking some of the water around the fest. The kind that came in 12-ounce cans and plastic pint cups. A tired but game-looking Rateliff led the brothers Meese and original born member Joseph Pope through a rollicking set of songs from Born’s catalog, closing with the never-gets-old crowd favorite “Anthem.”
It was a solid follow to Lorn Huron, the L.A. folk-rock act that had turned in its own slick, wistful set an hour prior. Packing the outdoor area under a nearly-full moon that rose from the southeast into the clear sky, Ben Schneider and company unfurled a half dozen or so songs from last year’s “Lonesome Dreams,” patiently but insistently invoking everyone from Vampire Weekend and Fleet Foxes to Jackson Browne. It was an appropriate soundtrack to the wide-open vistas, even if the lyrics were little more than country-western greeting card poetry.
An hour prior, the psych-garage stylings of Fingers of the Sun rocked a loosely-packed but busy 3 Kings Tavern, dropping Iron Butterfly keyboards and bent guitar notes during originals and covers of songs like Buffalo Springfield’s “Out of My Mind.” The band, which contains former members of indie-pop-punks the Pseudo-Dates and the drummer Fez Garcia — who’s in too many good Denver bands to even acknowledge — were a marked contrast to the southwestern folk-pop of Escondido, a fetching Nashville act on tour with Lord Huron that played sans-drummer (sort of) at the Skylark Lounge down the street.
Singer-guitarists Jessica Marcos and Tyler James performed honky tonk and “Desperado”-flavored tunes with Spaghetti Western horn intros, recalling a mix of ’70s singer-songwriters and contemporary pop on gorgeously harmonized numbers like “Cold October.” On that song and a couple others, the band invited “whoever” from the audience to step up and keep time on a single floor tom. There was volume from the stage, and stories about how the Rockies are far better than the Smokies, but overall it was a day to be mellow yet energetic. Ian Cooke’s cell-led band proved that much from the main stage shortly before Escondido, as parents pushed strollers and kids waved hand-fans, far outnumbering the countless drunken hipsters who had returned from previous days.
Things still rocked, of course. Codename: Carter, a mostly-instrumental spy-rock band composed of former members of surf act Maraca 5-0 and force-of-nature drummer Michael Behrenhausen (Maraca, Mombi, Blusom) wore matching ’60s NASA pencil-pusher outfits (think black-rimmed glasses, short-sleeved white dress shirts, black ties, black pants, and personalized name tags) while pummeling the smiling crowd’s eardrums into submission at Gary Lee’s Motor Club and Grub. I’m talking two bass guitars. An alto sax mimicking a guitar line. Harpsichord keys and hollow-bodied reverb galore. “This song is about spies,” leader Steve Gray said. “All of our songs are about spies.”
On the absolute last note, singer, horn player, keyboardist, and bassist Marc Hobelman triumphantly threw open the garage door behind the band without even glancing at it, signaling the end of the set and, most importantly, opening up a route for the band to load out after the exhausting weekend. Like that old friend you only see once a year, The UMS will wreck your house, get you drunk and ultimately save your life in one sweaty blur, leaving you reeling and exhausted and a few days away from wishing it would come back again already.
Seth McConnell is a member of YourHub at The Denver Post and a regular contributor to Reverb.