Hot Town, Summer In The City
It’s about this time of year when the heat starts to have odd effects on Denver’s populace. The dry, still heat acts as both a soporific and an irritant. The blacktop shimmers, lending everything we see a narcotic haze, and we shuffle slowly through our days seeking nothing more than respite from the heat. We tend to linger in climate controlled environments, and those of us who do not have the luxury of climate control in our homes get inventive with our cooling methodologies: new uses and locations for ice cubes, cold showers, sneaking into private pools, summertime hibernation, and the old needle in the eye that folks endure mainly because they get to take advantage of air conditioning – the summer blockbuster.
The heat takes it out of you. You can drink gallons of water, literally drowning your innards in electrolytes, and yet it feels like it is never enough fluid to help your kidneys produce the sort of life-affirming clear discharge that is the surest sign of a hydrated body. Your energy is spent in a daylong endothermic reaction as you lose your water to the atmosphere and take on more heat in the process. Your addled brain struggles to generate colloquialisms to describe the heat in ways that simple adjectives cannot. The heat becomes an entity, a breathy and foul-smelling presence that clings to you as you slug through your day. Is it hot? It’s hotter than a freshly fucked fox in a forest fire. It’s hotter than the devil’s dick after a decathlon. Apparently, alliteration stays where the urge to utilize your motor skills high-tails it for the cooler recesses of your brain cavity.
All that exhaustion, the sappy, slow lethargy, makes a person pretty grumpy. And there is a reason that they don’t very often refer to “Winters of Violence” in the Denver media. We do, however, hear constantly about how every year leans precipitously towards usurping some past years title as cradling the “Summer of Violence” among its seasons. I worked as a doorman at The Bluebird for years, and every show that fell apart and degenerated to near-riot conditions took place somewhere in the dead heat of July or August. It’s as if the grogginess that comes in the waves of heat that get pushed up against the base of the foothills somehow makes folks feel all stabby and shooty. We would pull dudes from the venue kicking and screaming, possessed by the heat, just as often as we would rush someone to the curb with a pitcher of water and cool towels to help them revive from exhaustion: the faint and the fighters, all the failed concertgoers lined up along Colfax Avenue.
The oppressive heat always puts me in the mood for surf music, garage, and swamp rock. It’s not strictly associative. Sure, surf music equals the beach, and though we are landlocked here in the Queen City of the Plains, we can use the associations of the pounding surf, the woody’s windows open to Pacific breezes and suntan lotion drying on bare legs to help us mentally get to somewhere a little cooler than our bodies might allow. But more than that, surf rock manages to strike a balance between lethargy and violence where the guitar lines bend across the whammy bar and the spaced-out wow of the reverb is held aloft by quick rhythmic jabs punctuated on the snare drum and bass lines that come out swinging.
As each year passes and I continue to call myself a citizen of Denver, the other thing that the heat puts me in mind of is The Denver Post Underground Music Showcase, affectionately known ’round these parts as the UMS. The UMS always seems to land on the hottest weekend of the year and the sweaty masses descend on South Broadway to pant and fan themselves alongside what seems to be just about every band this town calls its own. It’s four days of non-stop local lovin’ and well worth taking the time off from work to attend and subsequently recuperate from. The UMS is celebrating ten years this month and you can take part in this glorious and growing tradition July 22-25 (it will be hot).
As a way to celebrate surf music and the upcoming UMS, I put together a playlist built around one of Denver’s best surf bands past or present, the inimitable Maraca Five-O, who have reunited and will be playing a set at this years festival. I have included some Denver punk and garage bands of yore mixed in with some swampy classics and a handful of songs to soundtrack your next rumble with the socs. I highly recommend this playlist be enjoyed under the influence of alcohol, a foul mood and at high volume. Make sure to pick up your (cheap!) wristbands for the UMS and I’ll see you in line to get in to the Maraca Five-O set.
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1. Maraca Five-O – The Perfect Shiner
2. The Trashmen – Bad News
3. The Flesh Eaters – Satan’s Stomp (Live)
4. Down ‘n’ Outs – Wreck My World
5. The Belles – Melvin
6. The VSS – Conscious
7. Electric Summer – California Car, Colorado Car
8. The Superbees – The Sons of Steve McQueen
9. The Jesus Lizard – Mouth Breather
10. The Volts – Weekend Nights
11. Naked Raygun – Knock Me Down
12. Boss 302 – Whatever Happened to Fun?
13. Tight Bros. From Way Back When – Rip It Up
14. The Gimmicks – Up To A Downbeat
15. La Donnas – Rock You All Night Long