Four days, packed venues, local bands, non-local bands, who could ask for a better weekend? The Underground Music Showcase (UMS), now in its 14th year, packs a bunch of indie-rock goodness into a 10-block corridor of Denver’s South Broadway district until it is fit to burst.
As I walked past venues to grab my pass, I noticed each place was in a similar state with capacity. People packed bars and bookstores to capacity as others stood outside looking in, resembling cut-scenes out of 80s movies where people watched TV through an electronics store window. It is always a good sign when the community is that invested in the scene.
Armed with the knowledge that one of our favorites, New Madrid, were playing the cozy settings of the Irish Rover at 11:00 p.m. and that space was a premium, I hunkered down at the bar early. I could have cultivated new experiences with bands I had never heard of at more spacious venues, but that would be too easy: I wanted to see if New Madrid’s show would be as eye-popping as my last experience with them or if their Treefort performance was an outlier. While hedging my bets that they wouldn’t disappoint, I planned to take in the band on before them.
The Chicago trio started the night off on the right foot with 40 minutes of funky, yet low-key folk-Americana tempered with traditional rock. Vocalist/guitarist David McMillin bobbed his shaggy mop of hair through every hooky progression and proved grown men can pull of denim shirts with coral-colored pants. Bravo, sir.
Speaking of hooks, members of the audience danced and swayed with ease through the entire set, as this was a soundtrack to groove to. Conversely, plenty of audience members found it incredibly easy to chat through the set as well, which in small quarters, conversational sound bounces around the room like a pinball machine on multi-ball mode, but those are the challenges you take on in bar shows. Fort Frances took on the challenge and even brought all ears back to them with an admirable cover of Sinead O’Connor’s iconic single: “Nothing Compares 2 U” before closing out the show with a passionate and energetic finish. Sometimes you’re just in the right place at the right time.
Our “discovery of Treefort” took the stage and unleashed their powerful and ethereal sound on the crowd, complete with fog machine and incandescent light/tin foil light show. It was as big and bold as I remembered and would not be contained in the intimate venue. The experience I had in March was no fluke, these guys rocked it again. The set-list included the wormhole inducing “Homesick” and “Manners” but for the most part deviated from Sunswimmer which helped to expand their musical catalog in my mind. The other songs were edgier than I remember, teetering on harshness before being reigned back in. The noise washed over us all and people exchanged glances of “who are these guys?” Then my theory of how welcome their psychedelic sound would be in Colorado’s relaxed marijuana boundaries was confirmed when I saw the first vaporizer of the night.
You will be welcomed with open arms here, gents.
I felt the need to close out the night with one more band, but needed a bridge between New Madrid and sleep, so I jumped over to the 3 Kings Tavern to check out DeLand’s Roadkill Ghost Choir.
Central Florida is not known for much other than the shadow that a mouse casts over its lakes and flat land, but that changed for me last night. With the collection of long hair on stage, I felt like I was walking in on a metal show but asked myself “what metal band has a trumpet?” I love being wrong. RKGC fused ambient folk with mind-bending and aggressive rock; when looking at Andrew Shepard’s curtain of long hair framing his face as he hunched over a guitar, I did not expect the twangy poetry that we were treated to, nor the sonic attack of Stephen Garza’s guitar solos.
The energy was dedicated to the sound as the band members were mostly reserved on stage, allowing their truly innovative alt/progressive/folk do the talking for them. When the wave of sound came to a crashing halt shortly before 1 a.m., I felt like my first day of the UMS ended on the highest of notes.
There are two more chances to catch RKGC at the UMS 11:00 p.m. at the Skylark on Friday and 6:00 p.m. at the Hi-Dive on Saturday. Do yourself a favor and dig in.
Clay is a regular contributor and co-founder at Nanobot. He lives in Denver, CO and is a husband, dad, amateur couch surfer and injurer of his own thumbs
All photographs courtesy of UMS staff
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