Mid-December is certainly the slow season for live music in Colorado, a time when most bands hole up for the winter in cozy (or variously drafty) studios recording their next albums. They write new songs, catch up with their families, and recharge for the next busy season soon to come. But, December is also the month for labels and similar entities to parade their artists in grand talent shows, showing off each of their musical talents like the shimmering jewels they are. It is a time for taking stock of these collections of artists, noting their successes and their potential for new growth over the next year. The internet is abuzz with polls and top-10 lists that seek to determine the relative merits of labels’ artists, and as the results roll in new artists will be brought into the fold to fill the gaps these December assessments reveal. So, while there are fewer shows on my calendar than in warmer months, just two concerts made up the difference this past month- 14 artists or bands across several genres, at the SpokesBUZZ CD Release Party in Fort Collins, and (through the wonders of technology) the Walled City Records concert in Derry, NI.
SpokesBUZZ 3rd Annual CD Release Party
9 bands, a CD, appetizers at the snack bar and a complimentary beer, all for $10. This was a great deal that drew in a sizable crowd to Hodi’s Halfnote on a clear but chilly Thursday night this December. SpokesBUZZ is an interesting entity, not a label, but doing a lot of the work many bands rely on labels to perform. SpokesBUZZ is a non-profit organization that “promotes and incubates local bands, helping them to reach a much wider audience.(SpokesBUZZ webpage)” Each year this organization adopts a bunch of musicians, the SpokesBuzz ‘class’ for the year, and over the year these bands receive the support, guidance and resources they need to increase their success beyond what they were able to do on their own. I’ve been fascinated by this idea all year, so when I had the opportunity to attend the SpokesBUZZ bandswap event this fall(which conveniently also meant I got to finally see my friend Paul playing drums for a show) I of course signed up as a volunteer. After attending two of the bandswap shows, I of course added the next SpokesBUZZ event to my calendar, the CD Release Party, which is the equivalent of those label talent shows going on everywhere this season.
While exhausting (especially if you’re new enough to the scene that most of the bands are new to the ears), this was the perfect event for seeing a huge chunk of this organization’s affiliated musicians all at once. Some of the bands listed as part of their current ‘class’ weren’t there, but I already saw Whitewater Ramble at their bandswap show, and I’ve been a fan of Justin Roth ever since I heard his music on spotify this summer. Now the only band from their current class I have yet to see is The Holler!, and after the glowing recommendations I’ve heard about them from other musicians around town, they’ll be high on my list next year when I start adding shows to my calendar again. Hopefully over the next year I can get more involved with this cool organization, too, because what they do meshes nicely with the point of my blog. We only get to hear lots of diverse great music if enough people are talking about it and promoting it, and not just locally.
The annual SpokesBUZZ cd, besides being a tool to show off the excelent musicians this group works with, also serves to bring in money which besides supporting the continued existence of this program, also helps to get the year’s bands to the SXSW festival in Austin. Am I too much of a coward to actually head down there this year? We’ll just have to see. But for sure, the SpokesBUZZ artists who played at the CD Release Party will be there. Even if traveling alone all the way to Florida and back for the Celtic Thunder cruise is scary enough to keep me from booking a cabin, maybe I can manage a trip to Austin, a town many of my friends assure me I would love. Considering that it would be for SXSW, I might even be able to entice a friend into coming along. 🙂 Anyway…
Bands always earn a soft spot in my heart when they turn out to have nice friendly people in them, so I must admit my judgement is already a bit skewed in favor of this band. It’s more fun promoting cool music when it happens to be performed by your friends, after all. Still, I had never seen Better Than Bacon before or met any of their band members, when they played their set, and I did really enjoy their music, enough that I was drawn to the stage not by the knowledge that I was supposed to be taking pictures, but rather because the music drew me in. I grew up listening to the 80’s hair-bands, so fancy guitar-playing is always a huge plus in my book, and this band definitely has some nice guitar bits. We only heard 15-20 minutes of each band, so I’m sure a full set from these guys would have a really decent stylistic range- as it was, the few songs these lads played were different enough to give the impression that they played a much longer set.
Their webpage does have that annoying autoplay music feature I always grumble about(ghrr), but it’s far better than some websites I’ve seen since I started blogging. At least it is one of those players that stays paused when you navigate the site. Better Than Bacon has been around a few years, playing shows in the Fort Collins/Denver area, and has enough of a following that I had at least heard their name from friends before, and not just from my musician friends. Their sound is rock plus blues, actually not that far off from some of the stuff I used to listen to in the 80’s, actually. Ryan, the lead singer for this group, sounds a bit like Mark Slaughter, of the band Slaughter, or maybe Bret Michaels of Poison. Better Than Bacon does the slower, softer stuff better than these old 80’s bands, and their rock style sounds modern enough that they are not trying to bring back the 80’s (though their gutarist James has the long tresses I used to expect on guitarists back then). Their self-titled album, which was released just this year, has all the lush guitar solos and cool blues I could hope for on a single album, and more. No doubt these guys will show up again on my playlists going into 2013.
Their facebook page describes this The Echo Chamber as “mixing electro post rock psychedelic prog ambient polka.” Polka, did you say? Oh, my! I had a boyfriend once who was into polka, but it never sounded like anything I heard from this band, the second act in the Release Party line-up. Their reverbnation page describes them as “electro rock with experimental indie and a dash of prog madness”, and suggests they sound a bit like Muse, and that they have very sparse lyrics. As a huge fan of old folk songs, I am really into lyrics, so I did not expect to like this band’s set as much as I did. Made up of three fellows who play guitar, bass and drums, these guys don’t generally sing much. My friends know the sorts of faces I make at the modern word-free electronica stuff they enjoy so much.
But, at live shows in spaces like Hodi’s, it is often nearly impossible to hear lyrics clearly anyway through the fuzz of all the bass and percussion. There were some lyrics, too, in the stuff these guys played for us. And, lyrics or not, all their songs showcased the instrumental talents of these 3 local musicians. I do wish their laser light display had been a bit more exciting- the green squiggles reminded me of days back in my first degree, hanging out in the planetarium playing with the laser show lasers, but we had more colors and did more with them. And, I still don’t hear the polka, sorry guys; but their stuff is still cool enough to see them again. Their music is a lot like taking just the fancy solo bits from the middles of the rock music I prefer, and playing those solo bits as the main songs. Where they do have lyrics, they remind me of a blend of Green Day and Depeche Mode’s more modern stuff sort of. Actually, I’d bet my brother would love this band. I’ll most likely be checking them out more thoroughly, along with Post Paradise, when these guys play at Road 34 next month.
Even if I hadn’t liked their show so much at the CD Release Party, I would have their tshirts on my wishlist. Band tshirts, back when I last paid much attention, were just some group photo or live stage shot of the band, screenprinted onto the front of a basic men’s tshirt, with the band logo underneath and maybe a list of tour dates on the back. The tshirts that The Echo Chamber was selling at the party were designs one might want even without ever having heard of this band. Since the other band at this show whose shirts were particularly covetous was Post Paradise, I may need to consider carefully how much money I really have to spend before I head to Road 34 to see these 2 bands again. Even if they still are only men’s fit, and not all available in a small, I may be sorely tempted by these bands’ merchandise. By this time next year I may have a wardrobe completely centered around a vast and growing collection of band t-shirts and festival volunteer shirts.
I was getting a bit tired by the time Turn 4 came on stage, and was marking time till the 2 bands whose music I knew better were on. (The more familiar bands are less tiring for me for some reason, so they would be the ‘easy part’ of the night.) But, for all my inner grumblings before their set started, I was very pleasantly surprised by Turn 4. It helps that I know the fellow who plays drums for this band, but Turn 4 played a great set anyway. They were a nice change of pace, a bit of Americana country music to clear the ears after all the thicker electric guitar and bass of the previous 2 bands. Turn 4’s bald bearded guitarist/vocalist is probably the first thing you notice when these guys take the stage, a look that hearkens back to the classic ZZ-Top look. Both guitarists are very good, and all 4 guys in this band are singer-songwriters capable of picking up a lot more than just their stated roles. No doubt their live shows can get pretty interesting. We only got a couple songs from these guys, but enough to demonstrate that these guys are good enough to require a bit of a dance floor at their shows. It’s challenging hearing them play without starting to step and sway to the music, even without a dance partner and while carrying a camera.
Sadly, Turn 4 is not on spotify, so they won’t be turning up on my playlists just yet. But, on January 4th Jeremy Grant (one of their excellent guitarist/vocalists) will be playing a solo set opening fro Drag the River at Hodi’s, and on January 16 Turn 4 will be opening for You Me & Apollo, for their album release party. Both of these shows sound quite enticing. In the meantime, they have a nice bunch of songs on reverbnation for our listening pleasure, along with a bit of useful guidance for their lady-fans on what shoes to wear to their shows. I actually just bought a pair of boots pretty much in keeping with their recommendations, so I suppose I’m all set so long as it isn’t icy on the nights I’m walking to their shows. 🙂
Stay tuned over the next day or so, because these are just the first 3, of the 9 bands at the SpokesBUZZ CD Release Party this year. And, of course, posts the 5 singers who played the Walled City Records show will be turning up soon too. While you’re waiting, check out Better Than Bacon and The Echo Chamber on spotify, have a listen to the stuff Turn 4 has on reverbnation, and if you need more after all that, try out some of the songs and artists from the Top 40 list I have posted on here. Back soon!