Monday, July 2, 2012

What it’s all About: The Shows that Made it all Worthwhile

By Brian with Virgil Dickerson, Michelle Landes, and John Wenzel

You know those conversations (read: games of verbal one-upmanship) where people brag about the amazing, mind altering, orgasm-inducing shows they’ve seen throughout the years? You know how you always have your own personal greatest show ever that you offer to the assembly (read: I see your bet and raise you one)? And you know how there’s that one guy who saw that show with Dead Kennedys, Minutemen, Black Flag, DOA, The Descendents, a resurrected Jimi Hendrix, The Clash from 1976, Elvis from 1956, Bob Marley before he was discovered by frat boys, and fucking Nirvana when they were in junior high? (That guy sucks.) Anyway, I asked several Denver notables about the best shows they’ve ever witnessed, and a handful of them actually got back to me. (This is probably going to be a two-part series because of the scant response — which works anyway due to space limitations. So if I sent you an email, it’s not too late to get those replies into me!) Here a few responses from folks who have contributed in some meaningful way to Denver’s music scene.

Virgil Dickerson

(A mainstay of the Denver punk scene, Virgil has been involved with Denver music in one form or another — though most people recognize him as the founder of Suburban Home Records.)

I've seen countless shows over the last two decades and picking the one show that tops all of them is extremely difficult. I've been very fortunate to have seen some pretty unbelievable shows. Some of the shows that top the list include At The Drive-In playing a show at my house in Los Angeles, Dismemberment Plan at the Raven, Blink 182 playing a party at my house in Boulder, Sublime at the Fox Theater, The Ramones at the Ogden, Radiohead at Red Rocks, Alkaline Trio at Club 156, The Gamits EP release show at the Arapahoe Warehouse, and so many I can't recall right this second. 

But I think the show that takes the cake might have to be Skankin’ Pickle at the Mercury Cafe. When I was a freshman in college, I entered the dorms as a hip hop/R&B kid. I have always loved music, but it wasn't until I met the guys in my dorm that I discovered punk rock and ska. Some friends let me borrow CDs by Screeching Weasel, Operation Ivy, Green Day, The Queers, and Skankin’ Pickle and I was hooked. Shortly after falling in love with these bands, some friends had an extra ticket to go and see Skankin’ Pickle at the Mercury Cafe. The band was touring in support of Skankin’ Pickle Fever and the Mercury was one of the best venues to see a show at. Skankin’ Pickle had so much energy and everyone was dancing and skanking. I was blown away by the connection between fan and band and if you've never seen a raucous show at the Mercury, you have surely missed out. When the club is full and everyone is dancing, the floor weaves and bobs; it's kind of scary thinking about a 2nd level floor moving with the crowd, but it was amazing. I danced and skanked all night and yes, I was one of those guys who bought the concert tee and wore it at the show. I was definitely wide-eyed about the whole thing and was instantly hooked. I think I can look back on that show as the experience that made me want to be a part of this weird world of independent music. 

Michelle Landes

(Michelle is best known for co-founding Watercourse Foods and City O City, but she also booked a lot of shows in the Denver area back before it was cool.)

I lost a long suffrogate friend last week. He was a heart felt, but a strange weirdo. In the end he was diagnosed schizophrenia, bipolar, you name it. But wasn’t that punk rock? His name was Rudy. He was AMAZING for being all the undiagnosed things I didn’t even want to know.

My story isn’t about Denver. But before I moved here, what I saw made me want more for this city. This story was Rudy’s story. Some time, while I went back to Nebraska to bury my friend, a divine and disturbing revelation came to me that was soooo punk .

I believe it was ‘86. Black Flag was playing a show at the Drumstick (The Drunkstick as we used to call it). There was a K-Mart across the parking street from the Drumstick. A woman went into K-mart, with her family, bought a shotgun, went to the side of the building and blew her brains out. Black Flag just so happened to be playing that night. My friend Rudy, for whatever reason, scooped up some of Katherine Arnold’s brains in a McDonald’s wrapper and proudly gave them to Henry Rollins. Hence, he wrote a poem that should’ve disturbed him terribly. But that’s what punk was: Shocking, disturbing, wonderful, horrible, and life-changing. I will never be a fucking conformist until the day I die. That’s what punk rock has helped me. I will forever buck the system and challenge any opinion I might find too soft. THANK YOU RUDY… The brains in a wrapper might’ve been too much, but he truly felt her sorrow in such a punk rock way….

John Wenzel

(John is one of the few remaining real-life journalists who writes A&E for The Denver Post. He also wrote the book, Mock Stars: Indie Comedy and the Dangerously Funny.)

All of my favorite rock shows have, in their own ways, made my miserable life richer for having experienced them. Nirvana at Hara Arena was historic. Radiohead at Red Rocks was epic. TV on the Radio at the Larimer Lounge was unexpectedly moving. But if there's one that encapsulates why live rock ‘n’ roll is both my religion and my church, it's Guided by Voices at the Southgate House in Newport, Kentucky in 1996. And as I write this, I’m realizing that the show was 16 years ago to this day, which makes me feel old as fuck. 

The Southgate House was a hulking mansion across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, so it made sense that Dayton’s own Guided By Voices would play there with Kim Deal’s post-Breeders group The Amps, and openers Ditchweed and Radiolaria (both of whom I missed). My friend and fellow GBV freak Charlie and I had road-tripped down from our respective colleges with a group of friends, intent on worshipping at the ramschackle altar of GBV singer Bob Pollard. After running into my childhood friend Michelle Pridgen (a neighbor of Pollard's) we followed her into the band's loosely-guarded inner sanctum. There we stole beer and nervously chatted up Pollard, Greg Dulli, and the other assembled Ohio indie royalty, who were fairly busy chugging bottles of liquor and chain-smoking in the private upstairs bar that doubled as the backstage.

We'd gone up there while The Amps were playing, and although I grew to love that short-lived band, I was more interested in ingratiating myself with Pollard and his cohorts than hearing a handful of songs with which I was only vaguely familiar. Deal, who was full-on crazy in those days of heavy boozing and Christ-Knows-What-Else, stormed backstage after her set, screaming about how someone had fucked with her sound. She threw random things at people and generally made a spectacle of herself, including when she flung her guitar pick at the side of my head. Which I kept, of course.

All of this nerd-tastic schmoozing got me unreasonably excited for GBV’s set. The danger! The drama! The alcohol poisoning! The show was about three weeks before the release Under the Bushes, Under the Stars, GBV's heavily anticipated follow-up to Alien Lanes, so naturally the band led with a shitload of songs from it. I hadn’t heard any of them before, despite having seen Pollard and company in concert a few times before that, but numbers like “Man Called Aerodynamics” left such smoking, crater-like impressions on me that literally every time I listen to them today, I can remember exactly how I felt at that show.
Pollard was in fine form, which is to say cross-eyed drunk. Pressed against the stage as I was, it added an element of risk to the wild arcs he swung his microphone in, or the improbable and frequent high-kicks he belted out. Guitarist Mitch Mitchell, a cigarette perpetually lit, demonstrated his best windwill strums. They were the indie rock Roger Daltrey and Pete Townsend, sure, but they really believed in what they were doing. 

Pollard and GBV’s now-classic '90s lineup conducted the show like a party, letting fans stumble onto the stage to sing a verse or two, chucking cans of beer into the audience, and reveling in the mass sing-alongs like avuncular, alcoholic preachers. The Budweiser-soaked camaraderie and Ramones-like efficiency (nary a pause between songs, minus the barked "1-2-3-4!") gave the proceedings both familial comfort and muscle. And goddamn, did Pollard sound good.

By the time the set ended (33 songs later, with the mini-epic {“Break Even”) I was in giddy awe of this quintet of drunk dudes who could, with a few instruments, a grab-bag of brilliant songs, and a belief in the transgressive power of rock, permanently change my life for the better. It sounds corny, but when I laid down on the hard floor of the hotel room that night, covered in a thick layer of beer and sweat, my ears ringing ferociously, I knew I'd experienced something that could never be repeated. At least until the next GBV show.


(I run this here zine.)

I’m a lot like Virgil, in that I’ve seen so many amazing shows that picking one would be next to impossible (which is hilarious, since I can’t even complete the task that I asked everyone else to do). My band the Gravity Index opened for the Murder City Devils at the Bluebird Theater, a feat that was pretty amazing considering it was only our second show. We also opened for Propagandhi at the Ogden Theatre, which remains the single largest audience to which I’ve ever performed. Then there were my birthday shows—three years in a row of playing amazing shows on the day I was forcibly removed from the womb. On my 21st birthday, we concluded a two weeklong tour in Boulder at Tulagi where we played a Planes Mistaken For Stars record release show with Volante, Strike Anywhere, and Deadlock Frequency. On my 22nd birthday we played with Pretty Girls Make Graves and the Blood Brothers at the Gothic Theatre. And on my 23rd, my band Stab Stab Stab opened for the Dwarves at the Lion’s Lair. More recently, my band the Nervous opened for the Subhumans at the Gothic and it was so amazing that it reconfirmed my faith in my belief that life isn’t always depressing. 

As a member of the audience, the greatest show I ever saw in New York City at a venue in Times Square called BB King Blues Club. It was a part of the CMJ showcase and the Fat Wreck Chords’ Rock Against Bush shows and it featured the Bouncing Souls, Avail, Strike Anywhere, Dillinger Four, and None More Black. It was one of the very few shows where I knew every word to almost every band’s songs (save for None More Black, a band I still don’t like). It was one of the few times in my life where I thought everything was going to work out—all set against the backdrop of October in New York City. As much as other shows really developed my perception of the world—for example, all the punk shows I saw from the years 1995-1997—this show made me realize that punk would be following me into my adult years and that fact has been of endless comfort to me. 

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