As the adage says, if all that were required for a scene to exist were talented performers, every town of 5,000 or so would enjoy a thriving musical community. Of course, this is demonstrably not the case, and even though Colorado Springs enjoys a plethora of impressive musicians, most generally find themselves performing in front of fellow musicians.
As a case in point, I attended the penultimate installments of both the Kiowa Sessions and the Redheaded Zombie Showcase, which were peppered with familiar faces, but perhaps hadn't captured the attention of the curious public at large.
"Attendance has been consistent — about 50 to 60 people, roughly, but we're always looking to get more, especially from the non-musician art crowd," says Kiowa Sessions organizer Ishhod Collins. "It's been an experience, trying to educate people on what it is and where. The Gold Room, as a venue, is still very unknown, city-wide."
That said, those lucky enough to attend both showcases were privy to some excellent performances, including spirited sets from Such Plastered Wings (the acoustic project of Nobody's Savior frontman Brandon Learned) and My Name Is Harriett, along with four new and freshly blooded bands who deserve your attention.
• Atlantic Panic, a glam-tinged, four-piece rock band, provided an energetic, tight and refreshingly direct Redheaded Zombie set, after which I heard flattering comparisons spanning post-punk revival acts to Mott the Hoople. You can catch Atlantic Panic at Peak 31 on Saturday, Sept. 12.
• Xanthe Alexis is a familiar face, largely due to her tenure in The Hopeful Heroines. Her new project, The Electric Universe, leans more toward the vintage acoustic country-blues of Neil Young and John Prine. Their Kiowa Sessions set turned the room into an intimate campfire setting, with Alexis' soulful lead vocals bolstered by the backing vocals and banjo of Curtis Boucher and the elegant lap steel of Chuck Dayhoff. Indeed, Alexis credits her bandmates as being the perfect players to bring the landscape of her songs to life.
"We worked very slowly for about a year," she says, "and over the summer, we really jelled as a band. We originally recorded with the intention of doing separate tracks, but realized that the sound was really captured in live recording, so we will be heading back into the studio."
The Electric Universe next appears at the What If ... Festival on Sept. 19, then the Manitou Heritage Brew Fest on Oct. 3.
• Singer Kellie Palmblad is frequently spoken of by fellow musicians in hushed and venerating tones, and her current band, Water Bear, headlined the Kiowa Sessions with aplomb. Palmblad's own vocals and guitar are buoyed by Brett Andrus, who handles bass and an array of keyboards housed in a World War II machine gun case, the subtle drumming of Joel Brown, and the textured, effects-driven guitar work of Katey Sleeveless, also of Eros and the Eschaton.
Water Bear was initially fluid in both genre and lineup, born of a songwriting spree in search of a new avenue.
"I had just returned from Austin," Palmblad says, "and had been previously working in a project with Andy Tanner called Constellation of Cars. When I got back to Colorado, I resumed furiously writing a collection of songs, but had no concrete idea where or how they'd be finally presented or recorded."
Palmblad, clearly pleased with the finalized lineup, says the band is heading into the studio to experiment with new concepts and songs.
• Finally, Redheaded Zombie showcase headliners Bad Night for a Hero were formerly the solo vehicle of frontman C.J. Hackett, tracing back a full decade to when he was still a teenager and beginning to write songs.
"That accounts for the melodramatic name," jokes Hackett.
It's since expanded to a propulsive, punk-influenced quartet, with Hackett and bassist Brandon Arnold playing a modern version of the noisy yet melodic dueling vocals of Dinosaur Jr., driven by the frenetic drumming of Randall Bell and Maranda Sandoval's synthesizer work. The group plans to release their debut EP, Michelle's, which was produced by Water Bear's Sleeveless.
Music fans of Colorado Springs owe it to themselves to catch the final installments of both the Kiowa Sessions and the Redheaded Zombie Showcase, which respectively take place Sept. 27 at The Gold Room and Oct. 31 at Escape Velocity Comics.