Monthly Archives: July 2012

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Searching for Elliott Smith

Film Review: Searching for Elliott Smith at the Oriental Theater

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Searching for Elliott Smith

Searching for Elliott Smith

I learned tonight that I knew a lot less about Elliott Smith than I thought – thanks to the chance to see “Searching for Elliott Smith,” the documentary about this tortured musical genius – still looking for a real distribution deal –  at the Oriental Theater.

There’s a brilliant scene in the film that tells the story of how Smith ended up part of the sad countenance of Ian Curtis and Kurt Cobain – iconically troubled geniuses, all of them suicides – during an interview on MTV with Carson Daly (see it below). Daly asks the then-oscar-nominated (for “Miss Misery,” the closing song from “Good Will Hunting”) Smith about a tattoo on Smith’s right arm of “Ferdinand the Bull.” As Smith – meek to the point of appearing almost terrified – explains who the bull is, and how he “… doesn’t want to go the bullfights,” Daly replies with a tyically vapid “That’s awesome!” before immediately jumping into a magazine to find an article about Smith. Meanwhile, Smith visibly cringes, almost curls up into himself like a poked sea anemone and stares off for a second. In the film, the reaction is slowed, so that we can see the rejection on Smith’s face quickly turn into a total lack of surprise.

This image can define Elliott Smith’s reaction to his life, to fame, to “making it,” and, eventually, to his own demise at his own hand, having stabbed himself in the heart twice while his fiance Jennifer Chiba was locked in the LA apartment bathroom, trying to get a moment of respite from Smith’s constant pressure. Chiba is still under some suspicion for actually having wielded the knife, rather than Smith, though the film goes a long way in showing that murder most likely wasn’t the case (the case is still open, and Smith’s death has has not been officially deemed a suicide, though – the “…mode of death is undetermined at this time,” according to the coroner’s report).

But Smith was notorious for his disquiet, depression, drinking and drug use, and a particularly unsettling affinity for suicide stories – including often hilarious descriptions of how he planned to off himself eventually (by tying himself to a car’s bumper to be dragged to death, for instance). It’s this side  Smith that the film actually does a fantastic job of uncovering – his quirky, quietly desperate sense of humor. It seems Smith spent the last half of his life simultaneously struggling through pain, addictions, disappointment and paranoia as well as giggling, smirking and quipping about it all.

This is where the film’s strength is most evident. Director/editor Gil Reyes doesn’t attempt to answer the suicide question, really. But he does do a great job in portraying the struggle Smith seemed to face every day – and in a largely uplifting way. The film deserves wide distribution, and more than just the hipsters of the world need to see it – maybe that way Smith’s non-musical contribution will be just slightly more understood, and maybe we’ll stop seeing the same sort of heartbreaking tragedy.

Kudos to the Oriental Theater for hosting the screening, as well as a short set by Mary Lou Lord and a slew of other local Denver bands that covered Smith’s songs after the film, including Blake Brown (of Bare Bones) Im With Her, The Raven & The Writing Desk, Chella Negro, eldren, Kyle James Hauser, Poet’s Row, Straight Nerdy Like a Cool Kid and Nicholas Schmidt. Each performed a tune or two of Smith’s, and none quite so poignantly as Hauser’s  banjo-accompanied “Somebody That I Used To Know” and Brown’s beautifully rendered version of “2:45.”

The Oriental truly seems to be back on track after a few rough years, and is regularly signing quality acts again (Look for Agent Orange – the Orange county surf-punk legends – to be there August 22, as well as some significant surprises coming down the calendar, to see what I mean). Here’s to hoping the trend continues. The north side of town is growing, and needs a venue of that caliber to go along with it.

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UMS 2012 Has Come & Gone, Denver – Recaps & Photos

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UMS 2012 has come and gone, Denver. Thanks, John, and all the musicians, comics, artists, volunteers and lovers of all of it. On to next year! (Photo: DenverThread)

UMS 2012 has come and gone, Denver. Thanks, John, and all the musicians, comics, artists, volunteers and lovers of all of it. On to next year! (Photo: DenverThread)

This year’s Denver Post Underground Music Showcase (UMS) may have been the biggest and best yet, and – barring the weight of the tragedy in Aurora that clouded an otherwise perfect opening night – all four days went off without a hitch.

As in previous occurrences since the festival relocated to South Broadway, The UMS invaded nearly 20 venues with upwards of 300 bands, spread out over four days from Thursday, July 19 to Sunday, July 22. Numbers are still beign tallied as far as total visitors, but the throngs in the streets and the packed, sweaty clubs told a great story of love, variety and talent that only a scene as strong and eclectic as Denver’s could support.

Each night had highlights.

Thursday’s stand-out bands included San Diego’s Mrs. Magician – who brought a smooth, Pixies-meets-Wavves sound to 3Kings Tavern – the first-ever time that Slim Cessna’s Auto Club played a UMS, Two Tone Wolf Pack, Mombi and Fairchildren. But in our opinion, the band of the night award went to Dogbreath – a Denver supergroup that played covers of Replacements songs in the Irish Rover – true, drunken, sloppy and perfectly.

We started Saturday well with Accordion Crimes and Joy Subtraction at 3Kings, crawled out to Sauna and A Place to Bury Strangers at the Goodwill stage, a solid set at the Hi-Dive from PANAL S.A. de C.V., then to the Skylark for Mark Mallman and Kissing Party, before closing down with Flashlights at Compound Basix. Sadly, we missed what by all accounts was a smokin’ set from Air Dubai, followed quickly by surprise guests Flobots, at the Hi-Dive, and a legendary blast featuring Class Actress at Compound Basix).

Sunday’s lineup promised to be stellar – but, as with many festival goers, the day began in recovery and stayed pretty low-key. Starting out with the sweet, Art-Brut-meets-Gary-Numan quasi-electronic melodies of We Like Monsters at Moe’s BBQ, we eventually headed out to the main stage at Goodwill to catch Paper Bird and Nathaniel Rateliff – the festival headliner. Both put on fantastic sets and the crowd in front simply grew as they all danced along, oblivious to more than a few threats of rain, and a couple of gusts that moved tents a few feet at a time.

Atlas Sound wrapped up the night – and pretty much the festival (though some other venues had live acts going well into Monday morning) – with a brilliantly weird set of intimate freak folk.

As always, there was plenty to see besides headliners – including a small stage mounted on the back of a truck that was parked outside of 3Kings Tavern, and featured a constant Mark Star Karaoke Show on Saturday & Sunday, punctuated by performances from locals throughout the weekend. Denver City Saltlicks, with their mean, bar-fightin’ jugband punk stood out Saturday night there.

The festival itself continues to grow in size and participation,  as well as in national significance and reputation every year, from when former Post writer and music lover John Moore founded it 13 years ago. It’s a fitting celebration of our tremendous scene, and this year’s momentum is sure to flow into another great one next year.

We can’t wait.


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