Friday, July 29, 2011

Adam & Natasha's 2011 UMS Wrap-ups

Despite my plans to see a whole mess of bands at this year's UMS, I only managed to make it down Saturday night and didn't get to check out anyone I hadn't heard before (boo).  However, what I did see just reinforced my belief that Snake Rattle Rattle Snake and Bad Weather California are not just two of the best bands in Denver but two of the best bands around, period.  SRRS played an hour long set to about 1,000 folks on the main outdoor stage.  The crowd consisted of both fans who sang along with their favorite songs and newcomers who were quickly won over.  Frontwoman Hayley Helmericks belted out strong vocals while the rest of the band backed her up with heavy dance-rock grooves.  If you've been meaning to check them out, be sure to stop by for their free performance right here at Twist and Shout on August 16.
After Snake Rattle, I headed around the corner to the Hi-Dive for Bad Weather California's 10PM set.  I've seen BWC play several times in the past few months, including an in-store at Twist as well as opening up for the Meat Puppets, with whom they just completed a West Coast tour.  I swear, they get better every time.  Led by the energetic singer/guitarist Chris Adolf, BWC plays catchy rock tunes with a rootsy flavor, like a cross between the Flying Burrito Bros. and the Minutemen.  A Bad Weather California show is always a good time and they are worth catching whenever they play.  Earlier in the day, BWC pedal steel guitarist Adam Baumeister played a solo set as his one man band Littles Paia.  This set of John Fahey-inspired psychedelia was yet another UMS highlight.
Also worth mentioning is the DJ set by Patrick Brown at Sputnik.  Patrick spun an eclectic mix of worldly funk that put a smile on the face of even the most jaded hipster and I'm not just saying that because he's my boss.
 I was at the UMS Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  Normally for music festivals I try to approach them with a manic pace where I MUST see everything I can, but this year I had a casual approach.  Thursday I met up with a group of old friends and just tagged along to see what they were gravitating towards.  It was a good way to stop myself from going to see bands I was already familiar with.  Friday was the night to really tie one on so I started drinking booze a bit early which threw off my game.  I had one of those nights where I kept hitting the end of sets, and I only had my own drunk self to blame.  Saturday I was really able to get into the groove and I hit up as many bands and full sets as I could see.  Sunday might have been my favorite day because I was with a great group of people with similar music tastes to mine and we hit up some great performances all day and night.
I can rave all day long about how I love the Denver music scene, but this event brought it into the light.  There are bands I have seen many times who always put on a great show like Porlolo, Ian Cooke, Jen Korte, John Common, Snake Rattle Rattle Snake, or Fairchildren and they all killed it. Then there were the bands I had never seen live and they converted me into a new fan, like Mancub, the Don’ts and the Be Carefuls, Fierce Bad Rabbit, Tim Hussman, Churchill, Birdy, Candy Claws and much more.  I saw some favorite national acts like Sage Francis and discovered new faves like Colourmusic.  I felt proud of Denver and extremely grateful to the people I know who worked so hard.  I would like to thank Kendall Smith, Ben Desoto, Lisa Gedgaudas, Colin Bricker and all of the amazing folks that put the UMS together.  The only bad point about it was that it had to end.  I am already looking forward to next year! 

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Patrick Brown's UMS Wrap-up

This was the second year that I’ve had the opportunity to both perform at and attend the UMS, and it was every bit as fun as last year’s event. And as with last year, the showbiz maxim “always leave them wanting more” came into play since no matter how many enjoyable memories I have of what I did get to see and do there, I keep thinking more about how much more excellent the whole weekend could’ve been had I been able to be in several places at once to catch (at the very least): Le Divorce, Snake Rattle Rattle Snake, A. Tom Collins, BLKHRTS, Gardens and Villa, Pacific Pride, Sole and the Skyrider Band, Pink Hawks, Safe Boating Is No Accident, Band Bahja Brass, Gauntlet Hair, The Bottesini Project, The Dendrites, or The Photo Atlas – but there’s only one me and only so many hours in the day! Still, by my count I caught at least fifteen minutes of set by at least 25 artists and played a nice (if I may say so) DJ set at the Sputnik, so it was still plenty to do on a sweltering weekend, including catching 10 of those bands on the day I was gonna sleep in and catch only one and skip the rest. And then there were the bands I saw less than ten minutes of; the bands I heard in passing venues with open windows or on quick (and frequent) bar or restaurant stops.

Whew – so it’s too much to take in, but already I’m wondering how 2012’s festival will shape up. One thing I learned this year more than anything else was to simply keep your ears open to what people are talking about. Two of my favorite surprises in this year’s festival came from simply checking out bands that were either recommended to me by friends or that I heard others discussing in passing – ManCub and (especially) Khaira Arby and Her Band. ManCub is a Denver-based duo that does live-time – and seemingly improvised – electronic music with an array of cheap-but-cool-looking equipment, but with a mind towards keeping people dancing while experimenting with their sounds. They played a set at Delite that had a packed house inside, but as they were playing in front of an open garage-door styled window at the venue and facing each other rather than their indoor crowd, they drew as big a crowd outside to watch/hear what they did as well. That’s where I was and the constant flow of traffic kept jamming up because people were stopped to watch and listen – and usually dance for a bit too. Khaira Arby is a singer from central Mali – from Timbuktu, just south of the great Sahara Desert, to be specific – and she describes her music as “Desert Rock” an attribution that doesn’t seem too far off when you hear her amazing band, especially her 22-year old lead guitarist who blew away every one of the indie rock guitarists in the audience that I spoke to afterward. For a touch of what the worn-out Sunday afternoon crowd got to see, check out this live-in-the-studio version of one of her tunes:

When she started her set there were about a dozen folks in the know, by the end of it, her voice and her band were powerful enough to have snared in at least five times that number to watch, listen, and dance. Pretty amazing stuff.

Other highlights of mine included: B. Dolan, an indie rapper who records on Sage Francis’s label and also joined Sage on stage during his set; Joshua Novak, who I’d only previously heard in a stripped-down setting but sounded great with a full band; and Wheelchair Sports Camp, a group lead by the wheelchair-bound MC Kalyn Heffernan. But the thing that hit home this year more than anything was not that this was about catching this buzz band or that buzz band – though there were plenty with buzzes around them – but that it again reinforces the strength and vitality of our local music scene; how much support comes from and goes to the musicians, the fans, and the venues. It was startling how many folks I knew that I would chat with were wearing the performer’s green wristband, so I’d ask “When are you playing?” only to tick off yet another band on the schedule that I’d want to go check out later (and maybe not be able to make it to see). You can check out my sloppy photo album of the whole event here:

Paul Custer's UMS Wrap-Up

This years UMS was loaded with talent and variety. Everyone I’ve talked to had a blast and saw entirely different artists. Below are the 6 bands that did it (most) for me: 
Gauntlet Hair – Caught these Rhinoceropolis veterans at the Hi-Dive Thursday and left bewildered in the best way possible. Though they don’t love the comparison to Animal Collective, I couldn’t help but find a couple of small similarities (mainly the mixture of analog and digital drums and the frantic vocals.) But the likeness ends there, as Gauntlet Hair definitely couldn’t be further from the Beach Boys. Recently signed to Dead Oceans I highly recommend checking them out if you’re looking for a band that is incredibly unique, obsessed with rhythm and pushing boundaries. 
Accordion Crimes – Denver’s answer to Steve Albini and the DC Hardcore scene. The elements are simple: trashy guitar, a lockstep rhythm section and the unbridled vocals of a bespectacled everyman. For all of its simplicity in elemental makeup the band’s songs are packed with ideas. And, rather than beat you over the head on full blast, they deftly vary the dynamics and provide the perfect amount of dissonance.   
Hindershot – Good old-fashioned indie rock. I know that description will elicit many a groan (from myself included) but these guys are just that straightforward. Their set at Club 404 was fun – filled with hooks and plenty of smart changes and devoid of forced earnestness or cloying preciousness.  
Night Sweats – It’s rare to see a band that pull off Goth-rock convincingly, but Night Sweats from Salt Lake City blew away the small crowd at Club 404. Their sound was massive and militant in its precision. Bauhaus, Suicide and Joy Division references are admittedly lazy comparisons but I can guarantee fans of any of these bands will find a lot to love about Night Sweats.
Legendary River Drifters – Bluegrass played by punks? Metal heads revitalizing Appalachian folk? A front woman who can wail on the mic AND play the saw? Yes to all of the above. Their set at Three Kings was a joyous old time revival and packed with inspiration.
Mark Mallman – For me, the highlight of the festival and a must-see performer. We’ve jokingly coined him the “Modern Day Meatloaf” but there is so much more to The Mall Man. With piano solos that rival Jerry Lee Lewis and an insane amount of energy (he holds the record for the longest song EVER performed which clocked in at 78 hours!) Mark Mallman shows are a religious experience. His set at the Skylark was no exception as he decimated the eager crowd with some choice cuts from his catalog. He even threw in an astounding cover of Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” for good measure.
Paul Custer 

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

I'd Love To Turn You On #36 - Paul Simon – Paul Simon

Maybe the idea of the “desert island top 5” is outdated, considering we live in an era of instant access to everything. However, one album that really fits this category for me is Paul Simon’s 1972 solo debut. Here, Simon sounds looser than he ever did with Art Garfunkel. It’s as if he was writing these songs for himself, and not to make radio hits. (Although he had those too, with “Mother and Child Reunion” and “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard.”) It’s simultaneously some of his most ambitious and effortless work as a songwriter.
Along with Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel were the sound of the folk revival, political consciousness and the student protest movement. The difference being that Simon and Garfunkel came off as polite grad students, while Dylan, the owner of many personalities, came off as a rogue outlaw poet. (Can you picture Art smoking in Ray Bans and a leather jacket?) Although Simon wrote some of the greatest pop songs ever with Art, today they sound dated, suffering from the era’s overly twee innocence. S&G’s lush strings, church choir harmonies and baroque melodies sound restrained and dainty. “Feeling Groovy” may have been a hip song at the time, but that phrase is now as dated as “winning” became a few months ago. Maybe sensing this, Simon stepped away from the group at the peak of their popularity to take his music in a new direction.
On his self-titled solo debut, Simon and longtime producer Roy Halee do away with S&G’s lush production, giving the songs a spontaneous, loose feel. Recorded in Kingston, Paris and the US, the album shuffles through a wide variety of styles, while never feeling forced or labored over. Upbeat reggae hits like “Mother and Child Reunion” and “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” balance sparse, introspective songs like “Everything Put Together Falls Apart,” “Armistice Day,” and “Peace Like a River.” It’s an introspective 70’s album, but it’s also a summery, breezy and laidback album.
Simon’s interest in world music continues to develop on his debut. “Duncan” features a contribution from Los Incas, the Peruvian group who also appeared on S&G’s “El Condor Pasa”. French violinist Stephane Grappelli, a frequent Django Rheinhardt collaborator, duets on the gypsy jazz instrumental track “Hobo’s Blues. Simon would later go on to explore New Orleans, Gospel, African and Brazilian musical forms over the course of his solo career, and these two tracks, along with some of the latter S&G songs, are the foundation of his globetrotting sound.
Simon’s voice adds sweetness and humor to even his more sorrowful lyrics, providing a balance of optimism and world-weariness. When he sings “I been sweeping up the tips I’ve made/I been living on Gatorade/Planning my getaway”, in “Papa Hobo,” it’s the story of someone who’s down and out, yet hopeful. Simon has always been a great chronicler of people living on the fringe, and in two of his best songs with S&G, “America” and “The Only Living Boy in New York,” he provided snapshots of one person’s life that millions of people related to on a personal level. Here, the powerful coming of age song “Duncan” shows that Simon is still a master storyteller. It opens with “Couple in the next room/Bound to win a prize/They’ve been going at it all night long/Well, I’m trying to get some sleep/But these motel walls are cheap/Lincoln Duncan is my name/And here’s my song.” Simon’s evocative lyrics draw the listener into the world of his characters, while being universal enough to relate to the listener’s own experiences.
Since first listening to Paul Simon’s solo debut years ago, it’s been one of my all time “desert island top 5” albums. The songs are heartfelt and wise, without preaching or being heavy handed. It has the relaxed feel of a friend telling stories that are hopeful, joyous, introspective, sometimes sorrowful, but with a sense of humor. For nearly fifty years, Paul Simon has been an outstanding chronicler of the human experience, expressed creatively with music drawing from all over the world. This is the album where he stepped out on his own and began that journey.

Justin Jerolmon

Berstler's UMS Wrap-Up

There are very few things better than tromping around South Broadway for four days, beer in hand, listening to new bands, and seeing some Denver regulars.  With SO MANY performances to see, it was nearly impossible to not find a time or place to dig on great music.  The 2011 UMS was a total win that, dare I say, could have been longer.  I had such a blast that I can't help, but want more UMS!  However, I can be grateful for what we got this year and just look forward to next year.  In the meantime, here are my simply put performance praises.
Thursday 7/21:
Gauntlet Hair at Hi-Dive – These guys were pretty damn fun.  They had a bit of a time getting their groove, but pulled it together long enough to make a danceable set.
Wire Faces at Hi-Dive - I chanced upon this show coming back from Club 404, where Kitten was supposed to be.  I was pleasantly surprised at how put together and talented these chaps are.  It was a great, energetic set, and I recommend checking this band out.
Royal Bangs at Hi-Dive – It took these guys a while to get warmed up, but the last three songs of their set were pretty good.
Hujje at Delite – These two guys put together a great dirty electro set that was worthy of a bigger dance floor.  It was good ole bangin' club music.
Friday 7/22:
Epilogues at Goodwill – This band is blowing up recently for a reason.  They have catchy, alt rock songs and a lot of energy on stage. 
Chimney Choir at Irish Rover – This cute bluegrass three-piece put on a great performance that was perfect to kick back a pint with. Lively fiddle playing with strong wailing vocals.
Band Bajha Brass at Skylark– HOLY WOW! This group was amazing!!! Bollywood-inspired music with a small horn section, including a tuba, a bass, two drummers, a keyboardist and some outstanding vocals! This group had the whole of Skylark moving.  Easily one of my favorite performances of the UMS!
Kingdom of Magic at 3 Kings – These guys put on an awesome, trippy set of psych-metal.  Considering the tempo of their style, I was excited to see the energy these guys performed with. 
Gardens & Villa at Hi-Dive – Another reason the UMS was amazing!  They successfully used a recorder in their indie rock set. Win.
Cat Naps (formally When I Was 12) at Irish Rover – I think this band put on my favorite performance of the UMS.  They are an adorable four-piece of indie pop-rockers from Philadelphia.   The music was light-hearted with a bite, dual female vocals and a lot of playing with accent instruments like the xylophone among others.  It was just damn fun!  And now I have a new band to obsess about. Check out their new EP here:  
ManCub at Delite – Smooth electronic dance.  ManCub put on a great set that drew an excited crowd.
Saturday 7/23:
Tulip Wars at 3 Kings – Cute Canadian band that played bluegrass-influenced rock.  They were talented and the lead singer, despite the lack of a crowd, seemed to have fun just talking to who was there. 
King Mob at Illiterate – They were fun and dancey.  I like that the lead singer owns his unique sound.
I Sank Molly Brown at Hi-Dive – drum-heavy rock with great vocals.  These guys are talented!
Photo Atlas at Hi-Dive – Definitely one of the better rock performances I saw at the UMS.  These guys professionally laid down a rockin' set that had everyone in the place moving.  
Night Sweats at Club 404 – This Salt Lake group was the best thing I saw at 404. They played out this New Wave and indie sound that was hard not to fall in love with.  I can't wait to see these guys again!
Patrick Brown at Sputnik – Oh PB, I love ya!  Thanks for spinning an amazing set of dancable world music. It made my night! 
Dendrites at TS Boards – AWESOME! Considering this HUGE band was half-crammed into a nearly toppling over truck and the other half was in the crowd, these guys put on quite the show!  Denver Ska at its finest. The whole crowd was shakin’ their asses.
Chavez y Chavez at Delite – fun electro!
Mr. Pacman at Club 404 – Crowded - from what I could hear, was pretty damn fun.
Magic Cyclops at Skylark – From what I could tell while being intoxicated outside of the Skylark, these guys were putting on a really loud, energetic set.  
Sunday 7/24:
Oliver Vanity at TS Boards – Considering the oppressive heat and the lack of a crowd, these guys tried to make the best of it.  Their fans got them popsicles.  Cute.
Khaira Arby and Her Band at Goodwill – AMAZING! Easily one of my favorite performances of the UMS.  All the way from Timbuktu, this world-renowned group kicked out the best afro-beat set that I have ever had the pleasure to watch and hear.  PLUS, she danced with a bowl, yay!
False Colours at Skylark – These guys were VERY energetic, and had some great catchy emo-like rock to throw at us.  They reminded me of early Finch albums.  Great performance.  
Ideal Fathers at Indy Ink – Loud, talented Screamo/Punk band.  They were consistently loud and hard, despite the afternoon heat turning Indy Ink into a sauna.
Galaxies at Delite – Despite the name, this is just one guy with A LOT of instruments and a great presence.  This guy had a lot of fun, dancey, experimental music to share and an amazing ability to interact with his audience.
Wheelchair Sports Camp at TS Boards – HOLY CRAP! I didn't initially intend to see these guys, assuming the name was just some ironic indy titling.  Luckily, I had a friend there.  This group was phenomenal! Comprised of a badass turntablist, a sax player, a drummer and an MC of approximately three and a half feet in a wheelchair.  Yes, that's correct.  Despite the initial novelty of the line-up and name, this group was amazingly talented. The lead's unique vocals with a sax and some great scratching made this band stand out on talent alone.  
Flashlights at Club 404 – This duo was a nice indie electro come down for my UMS experience. 
I can't stress how much fun the UMS was this year!  The crowds were enthusiastic, even in temperatures over 100 degrees, the venues were great and easily accessible, and the whole vibe was just festive. Thanks to everyone at the Denver Post who makes it happen.  I can't wait til next year! 

Monday, July 25, 2011

Fables of the Reconstruction: 1980

My uncle recently “loaned” me a bunch of his records.

When I was growing up he was my rock and roll uncle, the guy who appears with the shaggy mop of hair and thick beard in all the family pictures taken in the 1970s. He’s all cleaned up now: short, graying hair; father of two; high school teacher; churchgoer. After I bought my turntable and started collecting vinyl again I called him and asked if he still had any of his old LPs. He told me he’d gotten rid of a lot of them, but he’d kept a couple hundred, though he almost never listens to them because CDs and radio better suit his busy lifestyle. So I thought it couldn’t hurt to ask.

He let me take about a hundred. As I was sorting through them, listening to old favorites and others I’d never heard before, I noticed that he had an unusually high number of selections from 1980, which isn’t typically hailed as a banner year in the annals of rock. Disco was thriving, Ronald Reagan won the presidency and John Lennon was murdered, among other horrible things. Yet here among the 60s classics and jazz and blues masterpieces were all but forgotten titles like Beat Crazy by Joe Jackson, Ian Dury and the Blockheads, Cyndi Lauper’s first band Blue Angel and Sax Maniac by James White and The Blacks, which is the most unpleasantly strange album I’ve ever heard.

I called him and asked him about it. He told me he hadn’t really thought of it before, but that it makes sense because he was getting over a divorce that year, and he could buy records again without worrying about his ex leaving them out and ruining them. I told him I had a hunch it was more than that. If you were to line up all of his records chronologically, this sudden 1980 boon would stand out as a sort of paradigm shift, an explosion of bright colors and angular hair and lively music against the dull clouds of the late 1970s. These records are clearly documents of a new lease on life, a precursor to his second, still-going marriage and the career, family and life he’s brought into being. The reason I picked up on this fact so quickly, I think, because I shared this life change with him at the time, through the same music, in my own way.

The funny thing about this glut of 1980 disks in my uncle’s collection is that it doesn’t contain the two records he gave to me at Christmas in 1980: Talking Heads Remain in Light and The B-52s’ first record (actually ’79, I know, but close enough, right?). I was twelve. I hadn’t asked for them, and he hadn’t asked me what I wanted. He’d just decided that these were two albums I needed to have. And I did. They busted life wide open for me. Before I got those records, all I knew about was what was on the radio, which, in my memory’s ears, was all soul-suckingly lame R&B and pop, or disco, or a few pale shades of hard rock. And I was sneaking up on my teens, and I was starting to see that the world was kind of the same, at least in the small, Midwestern industrial, where the lake effect of Lake Michigan kept us shrouded in gray clouds for weeks and months on end. To my young eyes, everyone seemed the same, and they weren’t like me. I didn’t know who or what I was necessarily, but I knew I didn’t fit in.

So here was this music, and it revealed to me that there are worlds upon worlds outside the Main Street mainstream, and I might just belong in one or several of them.

I’d play “Rock Lobster” over and over again and jump around my room and dance, utterly unaware of my gangliness. I’d put a blue shirt over the lamp in my room to set the mood for the weird and eerie songs on side two of Remain in Light, like “Seen and Not Seen” and “The Overload.” Soon I was finding other bits and pieces of the counter culture hidden in unexpected corners of Elkhart, Indiana, most notably the picture book about new wave that I found at the Walden Books at Concord Mall. Here was a whole catalogue of possibilities for complete makeover as a young anti-Elkhartan. I raced off to the barbershop for a new wave haircut (now known as a mild mullet) as soon as my mom would let me. I started wearing white button down shirts with skinny ties I found in my grandparents’ basement so I could look like Fred Schneider on the cover of the B-52s’ album, or the Specials, or the English Beat, because by now my collection was starting to grow.

Elkhart, Indiana
Despite having more than a hundred free records courtesy of my uncle, I went out soon after he bequeathed them to me and bought the B-52s’ and Talking Heads’ right away. And after I listened to them a bunch of times, I called my uncle and said something like, “Do you know how important that was for me, you buying me those albums?” He demurred. But it’s true.

I shudder to think what paths my life might not have taken had he not decided that his precocious little nephew might appreciate something weird.

I'd Love To Turn You At The Movies #18 - Paris, Texas (1984, dir. Wim Wenders)

I’ve watched Paris, Texas many, many times since I first saw it in the late 1980s, but it wasn’t until very recently that I realized it has a second plot, a completely abstract one, starring the color red.
I was delighted to discover this, but not surprised to have made such a finding after so many viewings. Paris, Texas is a film full of secrets and revelations. It begins with a man emerging from the desert near the border between Texas and Mexico, dressed in a suit and covered with dust. Little by little, we learn things about him: his name is Travis; he has a brother who lives in Los Angeles; he’s been missing for four years. But each new clue raises more questions. When we find out that Travis has a son, and that his brother and sister-in-law have been caring for the boy, we wonder where the mother is and what happened between her and Travis that would make the two disappear so quickly and completely.
Everything about the film is top-notch. The script is by Sam Shepard, and it’s one of his best, with characters who ache with longing to be alone and to be loved, and a storyline that runs through the seamy underside of the American dream. The acting is amazing, especially the performances by Nastassja Kinski and Harry Dean Stanton, who plays Travis. There’s a scene near the end with the two of them that’s on my shortlist for the best in cinema, an emotion-filled ten minutes in which two people’s lives come together, reconcile, completely change and drift apart right before our eyes. The soundtrack by Ry Cooder, nearly all of it played on a haunting slide-guitar, is a masterpiece in its own right, a must for any guitar lover’s collection. And, of course, the cinematography, which is completely out of this world; nearly every frame is like a museum-quality photograph of the American Southwest.
That’s how I discovered the abstract plot-within-a-plot about the color red, by really studying the shots. Beginning with the first image of Travis, in which he wears a bright red baseball cap, almost every shot in Paris, Texas contains an element of this very same hue of red. Sometimes it’s just a tiny dot, such as the ember of a cigarette. Other times it fills the sky at sunset. But it’s clearly a distinct element that the director, Wim Wenders, deliberately positioned in the composition of each shot. And there’s continuity from shot to shot: if the bit of red in one shot is small and contained in the lower right corner, it will be in a similar place and of a similar size in the next, where it will move and grow or shrink and draw us visually to the next shot where it will appear again. Wenders even plays openly with color storyline late in the film when two of the characters try to follow a pair of red cars on a busy maze of freeway.
Now that I’ve discovered this aspect of the film, I can’t watch it without thinking of the red as another character in the film and wondering how it fits in with the plot. It’s become a metaphor of sorts in my mind, signifying love, maybe, or passion or the idea of family. And as I continue to watch, I start to wonder about the blues and the yellows, too. What might they be saying about these characters?
It’s been almost 25 years, and Paris, Texas is still raising questions, inviting me back to discover more. 

- Joe Miller

63 Bands in 72 Hours

Some people go to large music festivals to see the headliners, or to see one of their favorite bands. I tend to look at them more like a big all-you-can-eat buffet, where I have the opportunity to try out a bunch of bands all at once. So when I went to the Underground Music Showcase this year, I tried to sample as many bands as I could. Me being me, I mainly looked to see as many local bands as I could, but since the vast majority of the 300+ bands that were performing were local, that still meant a lot of picking and choosing.

So I tried to play it smart this year. I had the schedule pulled up on my smartphone, and had a preliminary list of bands I might want to check out typed into the phone as well. I also brought along my camera, so I could take pictures of all the bands I saw, which would help me remember what the bands sounded like. Then, I plunged in.

1. Fierce Bad Rabbit - Skylark Lounge, 9pm Thursday

I was familiar with their work, but hadn't seen them live before. Very impressed - great catchy rock tunes. Wished I could stay for the whole set, but other bands were waiting.

2. Serious Moonlight - Irish Rover, 9pm Thursday

I was half-expecting a Bowie cover band, but no. I found out later it's a side project of a lot of other local musicians (including Alan Andrews from Photo Atlas). As it was, I was stuck way in the back, and got only occasional glimpses of band members. I liked what I heard, thought.

3. Gauntlet Hair - Hi-Dive, 9pm Thursday

At any festival such as this, there are what might be termed "must-see acts". But these acts often end up being "can't-see acts", because the venue gets packed. That was the case here. What I heard was pretty intriguing, but I was stuck around the corner from the stage, and couldn't hear very well (and couldn't see at all). So I leaned around the corner, took a photo, and moved on.

4. Don'ts and Be Careful's - Hornet, 9pm Thursday

This was a band that I'd heard some material by, and thought they were just-OK. After seeing them perform live, I'd nudge them up a bit. Solid performance, and the crowd was clearly enjoying themselves.

5. Wire Faces - Hi-Dive, 10pm Thursday

While I was walking between bands, somebody strongly suggested I check this band out. I'm glad I did. Cool indie-ish rock. I later found that the lead singer of Fierce Bad Rabbit used to be in the Jimi Austin with a couple members of Wire Faces. The scene can get a bit incestuous at times...

6. Seismic Event - Hornet, 10pm Thursday

This band is hard to describe without sounding like I'm deriding them. They're VERY straight-ahead pop. You can picture hearing their songs on TV shows and romantic comedies. But they're very good at it, and I'm quite a pop fiend, so I enjoyed the set. Which I guess makes them the "weird" band at the festival by not being weird in the slightest. (Not a single hipster beard or mustache in the group!)

7. Monroe Monroe - Skylark Lounge, 10pm Thursday

I've seen this band a few times now, and they're never less than good. Some straight-ahead rock with a side of urgency and a slight dollop of complexity. Another good set from them.

8. Nathan & Stephen - 3 Kings, 11pm Thursday

Formerly Hearts of Palm, which was formerly...Nathan & Stephen. It gets kind of complicated. Anyway, it was sort of a reunion show, and it was ragged but tons of fun for all involved.

9. Oh No Oh My - Hornet, 11pm Thursday

One of those bands that I thought might be local until they mentioned that they weren't. When they said they were from Austin TX, I contemplated yelling "Go back to South By Southwest!", but didn't. Mainly because they weren't bad at all.

10. Ha Ha Tonka - 3 Kings, midnight Thursday

Another non-local band (Missouri) but they've gained quite a few fans here in Denver, partially because local band Meese toured with them. A goodly number of those fans showed up for this late night show. There were some major issues during sound check, and once they were finally solved, the MC decided it was time for a lengthy intro. (Hint - after a lengthy sound check at midnight, nobody is interested in lengthy intro, let alone an ostensibly "witty" one.) Five minutes into the set, however, all of that was forgotten, and a good time was had by all.

-By Alf Kremer

Check out his full review 63 Bands in 72 Hours >>> link here:

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

2011 UMS band Interviews #10

Twist and Shout has asked some bands performing at the UMS to answer a few questions for us- check out these bands July21st-July24 at the UMS. TOMORROW to SUNDAY!

Accordion Crimes 

Where and when are you playing at the UMS?
Saturday, July 23rd
Do you have your cd for sale at Twist and Shout? 
Yes, we have cd's and records available at Twist and Shout
How long has your band been together?
For nearly two years.

What was your band's first live show/ performance?
We played in a garage near D.U. for students playing beer pong.
What was the first album you purchased?
Madonna / Like A Virgin
Do you have any (quick) advice for new bands?
Play out of town at least once every few months.
Besides your own band- who do you want to see at the UMS?
Black Heart Procession  
Best past UMS experience?
Performing at last years' festival. 
Do you have any tips for festival goers?
Make an effort to see bands you ordinarily don't with an open mind.  
What's the best food people can find on Broadway during the festival?
I really like Socorro's Street Tacos on Bayaud.
Who is your all time favorite Denver band?
Land Lines  
If you were behind the counter at Twist and Shout, what three albums would you recommend to our customers?
Rachel's 'The Sea & the Bells'
Jawbox   'For Your Own Special Sweetheart'
Uzeda    'Stella' 
Is there anything we forgot to ask you about the UMS that you think people need to know?
Do we have any new products to offer our fans? Yes, we have some new screen printed tee-shirts that will be available for purchase after our performance at the Hi-Dive. 

Pink Hawks

Where and when are you playing at the UMS?
6pm Saturday 7/23, at Indy Ink!

Do you have your cd for sale at Twist and Shout?            

How long has your band been together?
About 4 years...It evolved from a 2-piece free-form noise group to a 12 person ensemble.  The pan-African dance styles we're doing now have been in the works for over 2 years.

What was your band's first live show/performance?          
Khaira Arby and the Sway Machinery at the Hi-Dive

What was the first album you purchased?                            
Kris Kross: Totally Krossed Out

Do you have any (quick) advice for new bands?                
 Develop your soul

Besides your own band- who do you want to see at the UMS?      
Khiara Arby, BWC, Varlet, Joe Sampson, Lil Thunder, Legendary River Drifters, Kingdom of Magic, Ian Cooke, Ross Etherton and the Chariots, Git Some, Ukulele Loki, Littles Paia, Pirate Signal, Tin horn prayer, Married in berdichev, Hearts in Sapce, the Dendrites, A.Tom Collins, Safe Boating Is No Accident, Wheelchair Sports Camp 

Best past UMS experience?                                                 
2010 at Skylark was quite a surprise.  Ppl got down hard.

Do you have any tips for festival goers?                               
You can dance a lot faster when you're not wearing skibbies... less friction, less restriction!
What's the best food people can find on Broadway during the festival?              
Famous Pizza, Sputnik

Who is your all time favorite Denver band?                               
BWC, Debajo Del Agua, Pee Pee

If you were behind the counter at Twist and Shout, what three albums would you recommend to our customers?       
Fela Kuti: Coffin for the head of state, any Ethiopiques Complilation, Vicente Fernandez 

Is there anything we forgot to ask you about the UMS that you think people need to know?       

Death Rides West (answers by Al Trout)
Where and when are you playing at the UMS?  
Death Rides West will be performing at 6pm Saturday July 23rd at the Irish Rover.

Do you have your cd for sale at Twist and Shout?  
Yes, our 3 song EP is available for a mere $5!

How long has your band been together? 
About a year and a half altogether, though it's only been about 9 months since we downsized to our current duo format.

What was your band's first live show/ performance?  
An anti-Valentine's show at Paris Wine Bar with our friend's The Widow's Bane.

What was the first album you purchased?  
My memory is a little foggy, but I'm pretty sure it was either Never Mind the Bullocks by the Sex Pistols or Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables by the Dead Kennedys, needless to say Mom and Dad weren't too happy about it. 

Do you have any (quick) advice for new bands?  
As Tom Waits says "Get behind the Mule in the morning and plow!"

Besides your own band- who do you want to see at the UMS?  
A whole bunch of B-named bands it seems... Bad Luck City, Bare Bones, Bonnie and the Beard, and Broken Spirits!

What's the best food people can find on Broadway during the festival?  
For me, it would probably be the pulled pork at Moe's with some cornbread and a side o' beans.

Who is your all time favorite Denver band?  
It's a close race between Rev Deadeye and Sixteen Horsepower.

If you were behind the counter at Twist and Shout, what three albums would you recommend to our customers?  
Al Trout would recommend... Richard Hawley - Lady's Bridge, Josh T Pearson - Last of the Country Gentlemen, and Dexter Romweber Duo - Is that you in the Blue? (to be released next week).

Is there anything we forgot to ask you about the UMS that you think people need to know?  
Cody and I are really excited to be performing at the festival and are looking forward to seeing you there!  Al Trout - Death Rides West

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Fables of the Reconstruction: Herbcraft

I’m on a quest to find good psychedelic music, and one of my favorite recent discoveries is Herbcraft Discovers the Bitter Water of Agartha by Herbcraft. It’s advertised as a long lost a concept album from 1973 and it looks the part; the cover is beige with a hazy tri-tone photo of a bearded man with glasses. It’s framed inside a peace symbol adorned with a snake, stars and a total eclipse of the sun, and the title appears on the back in a font they used all the time back then. The story fits the genre, too; Admiral Richard E. Byrd journeys to the center of the earth, drinks the bitter water, and discovers mysterious beings who tell him they must destroy the human race before we destroy the earth. It’s even got a bummer ending, like a lot of the movies from the early 70s, but I won’t spoil it for you.
The music, on the other hand, is a little trickier to match up to the early 70s. For instance, there are no drums on the Herbcraft album. It’s all bass notes and overlapping guitars, layers of them, sparkling with cheap-electric-guitar fuzz and crisscrossing across one another, weaving in and out of riffs that will seem vaguely familiar to anyone whose listened to a lot of AOR. In fact, there’s a passage halfway through side two that is a spot-on garage-band take on the four-dimensional outer-space spider sounds Garcia made with a wa-wa when the Dead performed “Dark Star” and “The Other One” from 1972 to 1974. Only for a moment though, then it becomes its own thing before coming back again, very briefly, right before the last song, in the part where the human race is doomed. The lyrics are printed on the back in white on black, and you have to read along if you want to follow the story because the vocals are distant and full of echoes, thoroughly unintelligible, at times unstable, like electric liquid.
I poked around on the Internet and found out that Herbcraft is a one-man-band, and Agartha was written, performed and produced by a man from Portland, Maine, named Matt Lajoie. He was, or might still be, a member of a band called Cursillistas. In a recent interview, he said he conceived and completed the entire album in a 24-hour stretch “on a borrowed thrift store electric guitar and broken microphone.” It doesn’t sound hastily made at all. It’s more like it’s intentionally raw, yet meticulously planned out, with a sturdy, logical overall structure. And, of course, all kinds of freaky feedback and pedal effects that rank high on the Cosmometer.
Herbcraft’s second album, Ashram To the Stars, came out in June, and it’s one of my early picks for best records of the year. The sound is much fuller than Agartha, and the structure’s less linear; less a story and more like a place, or a space, or a series of spaces for the listener to drift through. The vocals are distant and fuzzed out, like vibrations from a spirit floating on the edge of beyond, and the guitar work is so densely layered that I keep hearing new sounds in it, even after several dozen listens. It’s like drifting through zones of guitar energy, and continually getting somewhere I’ve never been.
The cool thing about the current music is that it carries a lot of vestiges of the old punk scene when you could pick up a copy of Maximum Rock and Roll and find your favorite bands’ phone numbers and give them a call, except now it’s spread across an infinite number of genres. So I found Lajoie through his record label and asked if he’d talk to me for an article. He sent me a copy of Ashram and he spent some real time and thought into answering my questions, offering a fascinating glimpse into how Herbcraft’s music is made, as well as the exciting news that he’s at work on album number three, and there are big changes in the works.

Could you kind of walk me through the 24-hour period you spent creating Herbcraft Discovers the Bitter Waters of Agartha? What was the weather like? How did it all come together? Did you stop to eat? Seriously, it’s a remarkable work of art, and I’m curious to know what such an intense session of creative outpouring is like?

I believe it was December 21st, cold in Maine, of course, maybe snowing, though I don't think I even looked outside all day. I woke up that morning in the room I was crashing in after returning from Cursillistas tour; my bandmate and girlfriend Dawn had just left for the west coast and I wasn't sure where to go next, I had no job and no home. While on tour she told me about Admiral Byrd's journey to Agartha, and I'd done a little research about it online while on the road, and it must have seeped into my subconscious. It somehow combined with the chapter I'd read recently from Hank Harrison's book The Dead where he talked about the Planet Earth Rock & Roll Orchestra, a group and concept I was obsessed with at the time (I'd been loving David Crosby's If I Could Only Remember My Name and had just picked up Blows Against The Empire). So the last dream image I remember before fully waking up that morning was of a 1973 private press LP that was a concept album about Byrd's trip to Agartha by the Planet Earth Rock & Roll Orchestra. I spent the morning doing more research, writing lyrics and plotting out the story via track titles, getting fully caffeinated. I wanted to finish it in time to be a Christmas present to Dawn; initially I really didn't intend for it to be a widely-released album.
Around noon I picked up the guitar and didn't stop working until I went to sleep late that night. (I probably stopped to eat something at some point but I really don't remember.) The album was recorded in order, because I wanted to make sure it flowed naturally. So "Road To Agartha" was the first song I wrote, then "Dark Deities," and so on. It seemed to make the most sense to work on it that way. I would lay down a basic guitar line first, then try out a vocal over it, and keep building till it sounded finished.
In the early evening I emerged from the room with half an album and shared what I was working on with my housemates. It was in conversation with them that Herbcraft was tossed around as a possible band name. One housemate suggested I try an all-vocal track to start the B-side, a-la David Crosby, and that became "Many Dark Ages." Another suggested closing with a "Recife lullaby", and that's how "No Hope For Mankind" turned out like a tribute to Marconi Notaro. Between those two I sort of ambled on an improvised guitar and vocal jam that I felt went on way too long, and planned on scrapping the next morning. But it turned out I really liked "Outward Journey" a lot more first thing in the morning, and spent the morning hours adding some overdubs to get it nice and thick. So around noon the next day I was finished recording. The mixing took another couple days.
Every guitar track on that album was the first take. I didn't re-record any guitar part and I never used more than 6 tracks on any song. I've heard people mention that they hear bass and acoustic guitars, but every guitar track was played on an electric guitar I borrowed from my housemate. I just EQ'ed it hard in the bass to approximate bass guitar and mic'ed it unplugged to make it sound like a thin acoustic. I still use that guitar for every Herbcraft show and most recordings, though on the more recent stuff I do play bass and 12-string acoustic as well.

Why the unhappy ending? (At least from the human perspective; from the earth’s, it might well be a happy one.)

I was just trying to stay true to the Admiral Byrd story, which ends with Byrd ordered by the Pentagon to keep what he learned about Agartha a secret. I was always surprised that this album was taken as a "blissed out" album... I intended for it to be dark! It's heavy subject matter. We live every day with the knowledge that we will destroy the Earth, it's just a matter of when and how. I don't think it's unhappy as much as it is realistic.

 In Agartha’s promo materials, there’s a nod to Paul Kantner’s Blows Against the Empire. What other cosmic concept albums would you recommend?

Walter Wegmuller's Tarot and Aphrodite's Child's 666 were the biggest inspirations in terms of carrying out a concept with total indulgence, and Tarot in particular has had a huge influence on Herbcraft's sonics. Far East Family Band's Parallel World is fantastic. Don't know if Ramases' Space Hymns counts as pure concept album, but it's definitely an album that revolves around a cosmic concept. Same with Sun Ra's Cosmos. All are essential to what Herbcraft is today.

There’s a passage halfway through side two that is a spot-on garage-band take on the four-dimensional outer-space spider sounds Garcia made with a wa-wa when the Dead performed “Dark Star” and “The Other One” from 1972 to 1974. Was this conscious? Or did his spirit just suddenly possess you?

Wow, that's amazing... I didn't actually dig into Dead bootlegs until months after I recorded Agartha, I probably hadn't even heard either of those songs at that point. I was a much bigger fan of Workingman's Dead at the time and Jerry's work on the Crosby album, it took awhile to get into the deeper jams. I love his playing but I wouldn't say it's a huge influence, though there are times the full-band version of Herbcraft is jamming on something and I'll say I want it to sound like "the 35th minute of 'Dark Star'"... that's sort of my shorthand for riding out a totally unchained guitar odyssey.

Who are your guitar gods?

Eddie Hazel, Doueh, Lula Cortes, Takashi Mizutani, Hendrix, John Fogerty, Neil Young, Manuel Gottsching, Sandy Bull, Tom Carter, and to some extent Lindsey Buckingham and Tony Iommi. I'm generally much more impressed by guitarists who destroy any reasonable expectations for what a guitar should be playing than guitarists who can play a million notes a minute or are strictly melodic.

What are the biggest differences and similarities between Agartha and Ashram to the Stars, both in how they came to be and how they sound?

The major difference in sound on the new album comes from the fact that I used bass guitar, 12-string acoustic, dilruba, and lots of percussion implements on Ashram, so it sounds a lot more aurally full-spectrum. There's a definite depth and warmth to it that I felt was a bit lacking in Agartha. I guess the biggest similarity is that I stuck to first takes for all the tracks, so there's a definite improvisational feel to it. I recorded the entire first side of Ashram in a single sitting, starting with a 22-minute guitar improv, then starting the track over again from the beginning and piling on layer-by-layer. The vocals on the new album are much more minimal, sort of focusing more on spoken word and chants rather than melodies. I was getting deep into instrumental kosmische and Japanese psych at the time, so I was much more interested in laying down hypnotic grooves and throwing ribbons of improvised guitar leads across the scene than getting into some sort of verse structure. Then I would sort of rap or chant over that... the People album Ceremony~Buddha Meet Rock was a huge influence on this album.

Could you talk some about the spiritual dimensions to this new album? Did you perform rituals as you coaxed it into to exist, the way you’re known to do during live performances?

Since I rely so heavily on improvisation for all recording and performances, there's a sort of trance-state that has to come over me for any of it to work. Especially on the new album, there wasn't so much "songwriting" as "song-manifesting"... "Coaxing it into existence" is actually a perfect way to describe it, that's why on the record sleeve I only credited myself as "producer." The album's themes were greatly influenced by the writings of Aleister Crowley and Alan Watts. I wanted the record to sound like a sacred text, serious and heavy and with some kind of purpose, almost ceremonial, and all the spoken word sections and sung lyrics are intended to be sermons and mantras, respectively, but buried so that they're like subliminal messages. All the words came up spontaneously in the moment while the tape was rolling, I didn't write anything down before recording, so I had to go back and listen close to what I was saying in order to do vocal overdubs later on. I only record when I'm moved to, so for this record I would explore an esoteric concept for a few days and whenever the time felt right I would pick up the guitar and hit record. I don't really have a set ritual except for lighting incense, usually frankincense and myrrh. Those two scents in particular bring me into a most ceremonial and sacred space. "Mass" was a bit more intentional - lighting candles and meditating and letting a drone run for awhile before I started recording. Like with the live setting, the preparations are mostly necessary to get me comfortable enough to go as far out as possible while still being tethered.

What are you hoping people will feel while they’re listening to it, and after?

That's a tough one to answer... I feel like any honest, genuine reaction to it is great. I don't expect it to be everybody's trip, but my responsibility as an artist is to give the most honest representation of the sounds and words that moved me to record this particular album. The next one will be wildly different; Ashram is really a snapshot of a particular frame of mind I was in when I recorded it last summer and fall. It made complete sense to me back then, and now that I've had a little distance from it it definitely feels like it was something that "happened," rather than something that was worked on. The reaction that would impress me the most would be if it inspired the listener to get out of that everyday work consciousness and open up to a more spontaneous, improvisational experience, because that's where I was at when I recorded it.

Tell me about your label, L'animaux Tryst. What makes it unique? 

The label exists as a small-scale way for me to disperse music I love from Maine's sub-underground to interested heads throughout the world. It's purely a seed-scattering mission, trying to use the networks available to get this music (that doesn't have much of an audience locally due to its loose or experimental nature) out to people who care, and to hopefully help move those artists on to a bigger label the next time around. We do mostly limited edition cassette releases, often handmade packaging or hand-painted cassettes. Not that these things are all that unique in the underground cassette label world, but the focus on Maine artists is unique in a way.

In a recent interview, you mentioned your “artistic/philosophical choice to release music on vinyl and cassette.” Could you elaborate on that? Why are these formats important?

I can't imagine any artist who cares about their work wanting it to be reduced to a 1-inch jpeg and arbitrarily compressed mp3 files. I can't tell you how many albums have felt slight to me when I first heard them on mp3 but turned out to be revelatory when they were in-hand and under-needle. I feel like the current thirst of the listening public for devouring and excreting digital files with alarming speed is a true dark age for art. I have no problem with someone wanting to preview an album before deciding if they want to buy it - we all do that at record shops from time-to-time - but to judge an album entirely on what is the most soulless, empty, anti-artistic format possible is a crime. There's a warmth, depth, and soul in vinyl records, which gives them an unmistakably human element. LPs can't be so easily parsed out into tracks, you drop the needle and you're probably not getting up until the side's over. Because I spend so much time working on track order and pacing a record to flow over its duration, the thought of someone just listening to a single mp3 out-of-context bothers me... this is also why cassettes appeal to me, as they are essentially the more-portable version of LPs, with the warm analog presence intact. This is all besides the more basic point that they just SOUND better, and they're a real thing you can hold in your hand and treasure. You can't treasure an mp3.

I’m on a quest to find amazing psychedelic music. Where would you suggest I look?

Julian Cope has been an essential guide for me, not only his Krautrocksampler and Japrocksampler but his Head Heritage website. Beyond that, I've discovered many a gem thanks to Terrascope's list of Terrascopic Music and just by the good luck of having friends who dig deep and have a vast knowledge of the 60s & 70s underground.

What’s next?

Right now Herbcraft is in the middle of recording and mixing our first full-band album. We're recording all live to 8-track reel-to-reel, and it's exciting to be working on a record that doesn't sound like one guy overdubbing in a bedroom. It's more like I always wanted to sound. We're going to play some shows to promote the Ashram to the Stars album throughout the summer and fall while working on this new record.

- Joe Miller