With the March 18 closure of the Mesa Theater & Club, a giant void has been created in Grand Junction’s live music scene.
Gone for who knows how long are the packed theater crowds rallying around their favorite nu metal alternative bands. Once a lively spot to catch a concert, the theater now sits empty and lifeless, a shell of what was and what could have been.
No doubt, Main Street has lost a little of its virility over the theater’s closing, but out of one man’s misery comes another man’s opportunity.
Attempting to resurrect the streets of downtown Grand Junction with live music is Skylark Music Production.
The independent music promotion company headed up by Cash Kiser is working tirelessly to bring quality live music to Grand Junction, and so far it has done an admirable job. A departure from the typical Mesa Theater show, Skylark has made a living connecting with the fast growing Denver music scene, and bringing a variety of indie rock and folk acts to downtown stages.
Just Thursday, April 2, Skylark hosted emerging Denver trio Edison and Grammy-nominated songwriter and former Lumineers member Maxwell Hughes at the Local. It was another fantastic show in an already impressive lineup Skylark has produced.
Skylark’s past performers’ list reads like a who’s who of the nation’s best and brightest young bands. Rubedo, Rossonian and The Blind Pets are just a few of the bands who have played local shows thanks to Skylark and Kiser, and his team shows no signs of slowing down.
Recently announced shows include the innovative Grand Rapids trio The Crane Wives, the return of Denver’s brazen and frenetic rock band The Yawpers, Montrose’s own Johnson County Coroners, and In the Whale, the undeniable rock duo from Denver.
The self-proclaimed “Kenny Powers of music,” In the Whale is the band name on everyone’s lips. Guitarist and vocalist Nate Valdez and drummer Eric Riley have been together since 2011, making balls-to-the-wall music that has the eastern slope of Colorado and every major music festival between Treefort Music Fest (Boise, Idaho) and Austin’s South By Southwest Music Festival all riled up.
Thanks in large part to their sweaty, shout-along live sets, In the Whale has featured prominently at both the Underground Music Showcase and the Westword Music Showcase in Denver.
Listening to the band’s music it is easy to see why it has grown in popularity. Taking cues from bands such as The White Stripes and Queens of the Stone Age, In the Whale plays in-your-face, nosebleed-inducing rock ‘n’ roll.
In the past, Grand Junction concert promoters have all shared a fatal flaw: They have failed to fully embrace Grand Junction’s local talent.
Skylark, on the other hand, smartly uses a local opener for each show. Bands such as We Speak Imaginese, Wavebaby, The Conifer, Dirtylektric, No Cash Value and songwriter Billy Pogany have all been or are scheduled to open Skylark shows.
Vastly underrepresented on past shows with touring bands, these performers give Skylark something very valuable in return for precious stage time. These performers are fully dedicated to growing a successful local music scene. By involving them early on, Skylark has created a vested interest among those in the local music community and, in return, is helping to ensure its own success.
So far, Skylark has shown a propensity for finding and showcasing the region’s best talent. If it keeps it up, the loss of the Mesa Theater will not be such a blow for Grand Junction.
The mere mention of the band the Lumineers is enough to get half-caf-frap sipping , fedora wearing hippies everywhere to sit down the latest issue of McSweeney’s and stand at attention. Ever since the Denver band owned the summer of 2013 with the radio friendly, platinum selling single “Ho Hey,” the Lumineers have converted everyone from college kids and suburban moms into cultish fans.
Those fans have got to be frothing at the mouth for Maxwell Hughes tour stop to Grand Junction. As a former member of the Lumineers, Hughes is partially indebted to the band. Just by association, Hughes benefits from being party to one of the Mile High City’s greatest success stories.
Don’t make the mistake though of casually writing Hughes off as a background member with the band. His prowess on guitar is one of the main reasons the Lumineers sound as good as they do. Hughes’ influence on the album is everywhere, from the opening track “Flowers in You Hair” to the closing lines of “Morning Song.”
After leaving the Lumineers Hughes has accomplished plenty on his own. As a wonderfully competent solo guitarist and songwriter, Hughes appearance at The Local is no early spring joke. In fact its quite the opposite.
The Grammy nominated songwriter and finger style champion plays guitar in the most unusual ways. His guitar playing rarely includes strumming. Instead Hughes might play a song by double tapping the fret board with both hands or playing over the top of the neck rather than below it.
Hughes’ arsenal of techniques is on full display on both of his solo albums, 2008’s self titled “Maxwell Huges” and 2013’s “Only in Dreams.” At times it may sound like a dozen of guitarist are playing at once but in fact it is Hughes effortlessly floating across the fret board creating an array of sound through percussive slaps and mesmerizing finger picking.
He is virtuoso of the instrument and serious fans will find his work enthralling.
With so many young, unknown bands writing music and touring nonstop across the country, it’s hard to get excited about any of them.
There are too many choices and not nearly enough time to listen to them all.
For example, the annual South By Southwest Music Festival that wraps up on Sunday, March 22, in Austin, Texas, hosted over 2,200 bands during the six day event.
Let that sink in for a minute.
That’s an average of about 365 bands playing each day at an event that supposedly eliminates the riffraff and features only the hottest up-and-coming acts.
There’s no way anyone can sort out that madness.
Music journalists try to provide context, highlighting the cream of the crop. But when every headline out of the festival hypes “(insert band name here) as the next (generic superlative) band from random big city,” it’s not helpful when deciding how to allocate my time.
For me, the best way to discover new music remains my local, community network including friends, family or record stores.
Out of the madness of giant music festivals and the endless touring cycle for young musicians, the cream does eventually rise to the top. And I trust that someone in my network will discover it and turn me on to something new.
Take a band such as H. Grimace, a complete unknown. I wasn’t aware of the band until a friend excitedly turned me on to H. Grimace’s sound a couple weeks ago and let me know the band would be making a Grand Junction tour stop.
First off, it is not often that a young band of British rockers decides to stop in Grand Junction, even for fuel. But digging into H. Grimace’s music catalog, it starts to make more sense why the band booked a Tuesday, March 24, show at the Local.
This east London quartet touts uniquely American influences, mainly surf rock, only it has added its own layer of tonal dreariness.
How a group of young urban Londoners took influence from the reverb-heavy sounds of 1960s California and turned it into a melodic combination of beach blanket chill and Brit pop punk rock is beyond me, but this band has managed to create its own style in the process, setting it apart from a crowded field of guitar-driven rockers.
Touring with H. Grimace is the self-described lazy slacker rock trio from San Francisco: Couches.
Couches embraces that skate surf sound of early Weezer records and the lo-fidelity simplicity of bands such as Pavement. Complete with crunchy blasts of well-placed feedback, Couches’ music is a throwback to the summer soundtrack tunes from bands such as The Replacements, Hsker D, Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth that dominated ’90s radio.
Grand Junction’s own duo Wavebaby brings a similar feel to the table and will round out Tuesday’s bill nicely.
The music of H. Grimace, Couches and Wavebaby is a sound that has always found a home in Grand Junction, as we’ve seen with bands such as Bad Weather California, Sauna, The Blank Tapes and countless other bands that have set up their Twin Reverb Fender Amps to vibe out with local crowds.
For decades, music has been a glue, binding people together, and this skate surf sound that all three of bands employ has obvious strength.
The music is danceable, yet chill. It has enough pop sensibility to bring people in while still maintaining enough edge to satisfy an edgier audience.
These bands create an atmosphere where a people can dance, laugh, hangout, talk and share new band discoveries. It’s the type of community in which the buzz of being the “next great whatever” rings loud enough for even sleepy Grand Junction to wake up.
For less than the price of an actual movie ticket, you can yell things like “slut!” and throw condoms as the movie rolls, or do pretty much all the things frowned upon at “50 Shades” showings.
Of all the rebellious comedy horror musicals, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” takes the cake as the most entertaining movie watching experience, ever. For four decades, Brad, Janet, Dr. Frank-n-Furter and Dr. Frank-n-Furter’s sexual abomination Rocky have entertained and shocked audiences with campy, over-the-top libidos and made for some of the most memorable movie characters of all time.
For example, watching Tim Curry strut the silver screen in black lingerie and singing “Sweet Transvestite” is a sight you cannot unsee.
As a Gothic transvestite scientist from Transsexual, Transylvania, Curry’s Frank-n-Furter is a glam rock nightmare and the character most recognizable from the film.
Curry’s role transformed “Rocky Horror” from a B-list flop to the cult phenomenon it is today, something unimaginable when the movie debuted in 1975.
The cult classic, which has entertained and confounded audiences for decades, only now has life because some wild New Yorkers turned a late night showing at the Waverly Theater into a controlled riot, adding lines to the script and throwing rice and toast across the theater.
Initially panned by both critics and audiences, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” didn’t take off until the counter culture latched onto the film and turned it into an experience reliant on audience participation.
“The Rocky Horror Picture Show” by itself is not what you’d call a great film, but it can be quite enjoyable mainly because of its total bizarreness: A stranded couple seeks help from freaky strangers holed up in an androgynous sex castle run by an alien transvestite.
With a plot like that, it’s amazing the film ever got made.
Watching the film at home is not the same as watching it in a theater packed full of freaky strangers, each dressed up as a favorite character and acting out scenes as the move plays. The experience isn’t remotely comparable.
“The Rocky Horror Picture Show” does have some nice moments like a young Susan Sarandon singing “Touch-A, Touch-A, Touch Me.” And the golden- voiced (but horribly named) Meat Loaf literally crashing the party on a motorcycle and quickly banging out a sax solo on “Hot Patootie — Bless My Soul,” only to be coolly disposed of by mad scientist Frank-n-Furter with an ice pick in the deep freeze, is perfect schlock horror.
It’s these select scenes and a soundtrack of rock ’n’ roll standards that are the real seducers of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
If you are a virgin to this whole “Rocky Horror” thing, “it’s just a jump to the left / and then a step to the right.” Everyone deserves the chance to dance to “Time Warp” at least once.
And if you’re worried about being the weirdest, strangest person there, don’t. Someone will undoubtedly slide into a pair of thigh-high black stockings and steal the spotlight.
Go on. Give yourself over to absolute ... pleasure.