Westword Music Showcase 2013 recap from Curious Theatre

Brian Landis Folkins
Nathaniel Rateliff with the Colorado Symphony at the Westword Music Showcase.

Every year at the Westword Music Showcase, we enlist our army of Backbeat wordsmiths to host various stages. In addition to their emcee duties, we ask them to pull double duty by submitting a travelogue of their individual stage. A.H. Goldstein hosted at the Curious Theatre this past Saturday. Keep reading for some of the highlights from that stage.

See also:
- Photos: Westword Music Showcase 2013 Through Instagram
- Photos: The People of Westword Music Showcase 2013
- Photos: Westword Music Showcase 2013 - Local Bands

Brian Landis Folkins
Anthony Ruptak

Anthony Ruptak kicked off the Curious roster with an innovative approach to guitar voicing, musical contours and sly catches of phrase. Joined by stand-up bass, violin, drums and electric guitar, Ruptak handled his acoustic guitar intimately and expertly. There was the unamplified megaphone he placed next to his vocal mic. Though he used it sparingly, the voicing of megaphone offered a different contour and context to his strong tenor voice.

Ruptak showed the same talent for sound in his approach to the fretboard: His chords played out up and down the neck, and his balladry benefited from a careful, studied approach to playing. Add to that the use of mallets, brushes and sticks by the drummer; the guitarist's nod to Jimmy Page in using a violin bow on his strings; and the hand clapping breaks by the entire band, and it was a range of sounds to be reckoned with.

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The Raven and the Writing Desk

The Raven and the Writing Desk were all about impressive interplay. As soon as the sextet's set kicked off, the band showed an eerie kind of musical chemistry in their tight melodies, odd time breaks and frantic runs. Julia LiBassi lead the charge on vocals and keyboards, spelling out eerie imagery as she picked out speedy and dizzying lines on the keys and the rest of the band never missed a cue - they followed the difficult lead with intensely complex input of their own. The effect was energizing. Indeed, the band offered a carefully crafted orchestral sound with enough drama and theatricality to fit into the theater setting perfectly.

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John Common

John Common's set hinted at new steps to come. The set was composed almost entirely of new material, and it was clear that the quintet has pushed to move past the era of Beautiful Empty and Side 3, his most recent releases. On lead guitar and lead vocals, Common offered new songs about loss and love found in airport bars. The new material will likely show up on a new release scheduled for later this year. As in past Showcase appearances, the rest of the band offered the perfect complement to Common's introspective and intense brand of songwriting. Jessica DiNicola was Common's ideal vocal complement with her cooing lines and careful harmonies. A tribute tune by Common for DiNicola was a highlight of the set.

Brian Landis Folkins
I'm With Her

I'm With Her, the duo of Angie Stevens and Haley Rydel, took turns on guitar, with Rydel picking up the mandolin for every other song or so. The string work was consistent - while the pair stuck to basic forms up and down the neck thanks to capos, they showed a skill for finding the perfect complement to fit their harmonies -- and their harmonies were the star of the set, with the two consistently delivering impressive vocals. That vocal prowess made the set truly memorable. It was what turned a cover of Metallica's "Nothing Else Matters" into a brand-new tune, one that drew out every ounce of loss and regret in the lyrics.

Brian Landis Folkins

Talk about a happy family. The four sisters comprising the band SHEL (an acronym for the players -- Sarah, Hannah, Eva and Liza Holbrook) showed a jaw-dropping brand of chemistry and skill from the first strains of their debut instrumental tunes. The quartet showed an unbelievable amount of skill on each of their instruments: drums, piano, mandolin and violin. From the very first song, it was clear that this is a sisterhood of virtuosos.

Brian Landis Folksins
The Holbrook sisters (aka Shel)

But the band's technical skill didn't meant there wasn't any soul in the quartet's set. Sarah's violin runs, Eva's astounding mandolin work, Liza's double duty on drums and hand drums and Hannah's role as bassist and lead player on piano all showed a captivating amount of passion. The four also laid down harmonies that sounded downright angelic, a dynamic that was especially captivating on the group's cover of Led Zeppelin's "Battle of Evermore" and the original tune "Moonshine Hill."

Brian Landis Folkins
Chimney Choir

Chimney Choir didn't have access to their trademark brand of performance art, but the quintet still played with the joy and energy of street performers. David Rynhart cooed and crowed lyrics from his perch at the piano as percussionist Carl Sorensen went to town on bottles, cow bells and other non-traditional additions to his kit. Kris Drickey showed a similar zeal on her vocals and guitar runs as the rest of the band ventured between instruments and sounds. While the folk and Americana strains were clear on tunes like "I-25," the performance showed that a big part of the band's appeal lies in their pure presence.

Location Info


Curious Theatre Company

1080 Acoma St., Denver, CO

Category: General

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Thanks for the great recap, A.H.! So glad you were there to capture the essence of the performance. As a member of the CSO team, I can say we are looking at ways to expand the project. Stay tuned...

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