This past weekend, The Underground Music Showcase returned to South Broadway for its annual four-day festival. Hundreds of bands played up and down the main drag in Denver, squeezing music into almost every second of the 37 hours of scheduled performances. While it’s impossible to see every single band playing UMS, 303‘s staff did our best to see as much live music as humanly possible. See the fruits of our labors and check out the 30-plus bands we were able to catch—including some we were familiar with and many, many new acts we have never seen or heard before.
Your UMS Reviewers, by color: Alex Faubel, Brittany Werges, Alex Buis, Tyler Harvey
Thursday, July 28
RL Cole at Hi-Dive
RL Cole sparked up the night with soulful blues-rock at the Hi-Dive. Seasoned frontman Robert Louis Cole threads chords straight from the bayou and onto the stage, also weaving in elements of his Colorado upbringing into the mix. An energetic and polished show to begin the marathon of UMS weekend.
The Epilogues @ 3 Kings
For the first night of UMS, Epilogues’ set at 3 Kings was the show not to miss. It was one of the last performances for the veteran band and it was expectedly an emotional night. By the end of it, every member was drenched in sweat after a hard-won show. While the feeling of exhaustion undoubtedly came from the oppressive humidity inside 3 Kings, you could tell by the last song the band was ready for a much needed and well-deserved break.
Strange Americans @ Hi-Dive
In contrast to the Epilogues, Strange Americans’ performance at the Hi-Dive signaled new beginnings. Thursday’s show was the kick-off to a three-week Midwestern tour for the Denver band. The energy the five-person ensemble brought to the Hi-Dive was explosive with band members crisscrossing the stage (which ultimately ended in a small onstage mosh) as they played their “no-frills” reverb-heavy rock ‘n roll. Self-described as music that “hard-working, industrial beer-drinking, regular Americans would listen to,” it’s safe to say that they’ll be well received at their next stop in Minnesota—although I personally look forward to their return at the end of the month.
Friday, July 29th
Lee Fields and The Expressions @ Main Stage
At 7 p.m. on Friday, it was hot. But Lee Fields didn’t even think twice about swapping out his sharkskin suit for something less… suffocating. Instead, he channeled his inner James Brown and boogaloo’ed all across the stage. Aside from his refreshing set, which was a nice reprieve from the droves of psych alt-rock bands this showcase tends to attract, we stuck around just waiting to see if he’d do the splits.
Turner Jackson @ Blue Ice
For some reason, out of all the UMS-ing I’ve done, I’ve never seen many shows at Blue Ice. It’s not that there aren’t plenty of great bands at Blue Ice during UMS but I think the lack of a physical stage has made it relatively impossible for my 5’3″ self to actually see anyone. But somehow, this Friday, I made it to the front for Turner Jackson, and I found out not having a platform can have its benefits. Without the barrier, the funky quintet was able to directly feed a constant stream of attitude-laden rhymes right into the heart of the crowd and got everyone to move.
Brent Cowles @ 3 Kings
Similar with Blue Ice, 3 Kings has its cons in terms of visibility. But even if I had a hard time seeing the small but mighty Brent Cowles (I didn’t), it wouldn’t have mattered, as the talented crooner commanded every square inch of 3 Kings during one of my favorite performances of UMS. The grit and groan of Cowles’ voice cut through the heat of the full house as he released a powerful flood of raw emotion and energy. By the end of it, my already down-trodden, UMS-beaten body felt more than ready to take on the marathon of live music that lied ahead.
Tom Waits For No Man @ Skylark
This crew of psychedelic heads created the classic wall of sound akin to drone acid rock in stellar musical regalia. While plenty of bands can accomplish this with only a few core instrumentalists of drums, bass and guitar, TWFNM ups the ante with a feedback guitarist-synth player, a saxophonist, as well as an electric violinist who doubled on a theremin and vocals as the newest member of their band. Their songs were thoroughly textured and aurally massive at Skylark, propagating waves of fuzzy guitar alongside jazzy sax licks and long violin bow strokes radiating across the sonic ocean. Sax player, Skyler Cragg took a solo that emulated a middle register metal guitar riff, very quick and calculated, yet creatively rhythmic in other moments. Shaun Chapman led the vocal charge in the first half of the set with classic reverb tremolo while Andrea Dreiling harmonized and later assumed control of high-soaring lyrics. Their closing track was a cover of an Acid Mothers Temple staple, reaching into the 8-10 minute range. They kept the track incredibly haunting and plaintive, transmitting layered harmonies and dissonances until the chaotic machine-driven finale. Tom Waits For No Man is on the roster at a classic horror movie screening during which they’ll be improvising with their dark psych magic.
Kid Astronaut @ Blue Ice Lounge
Friday evening we headed to the Blue Ice lounge to fuel the first night of the weekend with some hip-hop and R&B. Still, relatively early, the late-night rowdiness wasn’t quite there, but the soulful, fiery lyrics were out in full force.
One Flew West @ Irish Rover
This band grooved their way into my heart Friday night with their ability to weave rock undertones into a folk-laden set. I caught the beginning of their set, which was filled with crooning harmonies and loveliness.
Allah-Las @ Goodwill Main Stage
The Allah-Las brought sunny California rock right into the streets of landlocked Colorado. The still-tired-from-the-workweek crowd danced and shimmied across the white lines of the parking lot, seemingly carefree on their own concrete beach.
Saturday, July 30
King Cardinal @ South Broadway Christian Church
King Cardinal literally took everyone to church with their Saturday performance at South Broadway Christian. The twang of lead singer Brennan Mackey’s voice reverberated through one of the most acoustically pleasant venues of UMS and held a captivated audience with toe-tappers like “Abraham” and “Into the Wind.” But their more upbeat songs like “Gasoline” had me wishing the set took place in a less reserved venue. Either way, King Cardinal made me a disciple of their alt-folk sound.
South of France @ Main Stage
South of France’s sunny Saturday performance was, at first, a tad gloomy with what they called their “heartbreak session.” By the end of the set, the band had flipped a switch and played songs that exemplified their classic ’60s, Cali-psych sound. The husband-and-wife duo jammed out and brought back the sun with songs like “Washed Up,” and left us feeling anything but.
Methyl and Ethyl at Goodwill Main Stage
Alt-rock trio Methyl and Ethyl successfully began their set with catchy bass plucking, delicate ambience from the guitarist and gracious head-bobbing all around. The singer’s vocals were accented in an extraordinary range often bellowing into a deeper voice and carrying it up into variety of other repertoires.
Residual Kid at Goodwill Main Stage
The members of Austin, Texas’ Residual Kid are only 15-17 years old and already signed on to Atlantic Records. They joined the stage–all with X’s on their hands and it was immediately certain that their youth wouldn’t hold them back from absolutely shredding. The singer was jumping so hard his sunglasses fell off his face.
Omni at Three Kings Tavern
Simultaneously, OMNI–a Georgian trio–changed the pace, moving into more bob-your-head, danceable tunes. Having ties to Deerhunter and Carnivores, and seemingly influenced by The Strokes, this medley of musicians created fun patterns in their live set.
Futurebirds at Goodwill Main Stage
The Georgians weren’t done showing Denver what they’ve got to offer just yet at UMS. Modern psychedelic-country group Futurebirds alternated singing which really accentuated their dynamics as a group. Often the three of them would combine forces to merge into wonderful harmonies and play off one another in delightful guitar solos.
Church Fire at The Irish Rover
Over at the Irish Rover, Church Fire intrigued a large crowd. The duo sported stringed Christmas lights and antlers. The singer masked their voice with trippy synthesized tones to the rhythm of dark and creepy electronica in a really great performance.
Sunboy at Three Kings Tavern
Next door, Sunboy seemed a bit more optimistic, releasing yellow smiley-face balloons into the venue for their performance. With heavy percussions and ambient vocals combined with anthemic shouting, the set was quite sexy. Catchy falsettos added to their ambience and suave.
The Bright Light Social Hour at Goodwill Main Stage
The Bright Light Social Hour incorporated the usual rock elements into their performance, but livened things up even more with tambourines, clapping and chanting. The Texas group provided psychedelic-rock guitar solos that could entice anyone to start moving. The Bright Light Social Hour then surprised the audience with a new song–so new that it still has a working title. The song was sultry yet soulful but soon after they returned to their original set with some funky piano and industrial keyboard. The new music showcased diversity in the band’s range and added depth to their upbeat and groovy sound.
School Dance at The Irish Rover
At this point many show-goers were already gathering at the main stage for Thee Oh Sees, but upon starting, a small crowd came together for a truly great performance from School Dance. The singer controlled the keyboard, crafting beautifully synthesized electronica blended with her vocals to the tune of the drummer’s homemade drum set with xylophones and all.
“If anyone still has CD players we do have CD’s” – Allison Lorenzen, School Dance
Thee Oh Sees at Goodwill Main Stage
The group took over UMS with ceaseless intensity, especially with two drummers at the forefront of the stage. Drumming in synchronicity the entire time, they added a fun theatrical element to the performance. When they weren’t provoking dance moves, they were instigating insanity often playing elongated instrumental sessions with intense guitar buildups.
“I wasn’t gonna drink, but fuck that.” – John Dwyer, Thee Oh Sees
Wez at The Irish Rover
Wez turned up the emotional intensity with heavy bass, deep and dark vocals and atmospheric synths. Alternating shouting with falsettos to the sound of industrial electronic buildups, there was no lack of passion in the duo’s music.
StaG at Three Kings Tavern
StaG initiated a dance party at Three Kings with their indie-pop and alt-rock influences. The group ran out of songs to play but the audience wouldn’t let them leave. As if caught off guard, StaG scrambled to think of an unexpected encore to play. Someone jokingly shouted “Free Bird” just before the group reluctantly departed without that final anthem.
Bud Bronson and The Good Timers @ Hi-Dive
When the lead singer of Bud Bronson greeted the 1 a.m Hi-Dive crowd by saying “welcome to the Thunderdome,” he meant it quite literally. Shirt-shredding, stage-diving, body part-caressing and overall beer-soaked madness ensued—and that was just from inside the crowd. On stage, “Bud” and his motley crew ripped through a hard-hitting set of garage rock, driven by face-melting ’80s hair metal guitar. By the third song, all hell had broken loose as the Coors-fueled crowd erupted into a frenzied mosh, only halted by the occasional (and often poorly executed) crowd surf. At the night’s end, everyone left with at least a couple new bruises and the knowing they’d UMS’d the hardest they could.
Sunday, July 31
Mouse Powell @ Gary Lee’s Motor Club
I didn’t expect to find myself at this show, but in typical UMS fashion, I was swooped up by my friend’s vodka-fueled mission to see the Phoneix-based rapper. While the emcee performed for only a sparse crowd mid-afternoon at Gary Lee’s, it’s unlikely anyone will forget his set anytime soon. With a red solo cup in hand, Mouse Powell did his damnedest to turn the small rockabilly bar into a house party. At one point he even employed a nearby friend to rip off his shirt while a slightly terrified audience stood nearby. The shirt at first resisted to tear, but much like the crowd, it finally gave in and off it went.
LSD Bags @ Illegal Pete’s
With so many performances to see at UMS, it’s not uncommon for people to sometimes pick a show just because of the band name. This was the case for me with LSD Bags. Luckily, they delivered and put on wild show at Illegal Pete’s. And while the band looked more cocaine than LSD with their hair metal/’70s rock garb, the shirtless and tight-pants trio took us on a ride regardless with their bass heavy Led Zepplin-meets-Black Sabbath jams.
The Yawpers @ Goodwill Main Stage
You could tell The Yawpers absolutely loved playing their music–head banging, smiling, sporting funny facial expressions and constantly addressing fans. The crowd moshed to an impressive high energy modern country-rock performance–but not the raging and pushing kind of moshing—it was more of the “I’m having such a great time and can’t stop smiling” kind.
Sunflower Bean @ Goodwill Main Stage
The young, fashion-forward Sunflower Bean offered great harmonies between the singer and guitarist, often alternating vocals or syncing in harmony. Singer Julia Cumming strummed the bass in catchy tunes and the guitarist’s playing was impeccable. As soon as you thought Cumming was being sweet with her beautiful tunes, she’d turn on you in heavy vocals and rock ‘n roll-style shouting.
San Fermin @ Goodwill Main Stage
When you’re watching eight band members perform all different instruments on stage, it’s hard not to get lost in the motions. Building songs into epic climaxes with strings, violins and male and female leads, San Fermin evoked all of the emotions. The Brooklyn group could romanticized most of the heartbroken souls with their harmonies.
Poliça @ Goodwill Main Stage
The Minneapolis group closed down the main stage for UMS with thundering bass backtracks and mesmerizing vocals. The highlight of their performance had to have been “Dark Star” featuring a wonderful buildup in brass and haunting moans from the singer’s beautiful voice.