Barn art, live performances by two of Denver’s best old-timey bum-core bands and the best damned dive bar on the country’s longest main street – all of this came together last Saturday night for the “Night of the Living Barn” at the Lions Lair, and attracted as large a crowd as I can remember for a local show in the tiny place. The lineup included SlakJaw and The Denver City Saltlicks, both deeply steeped in roots rock, blue grass and street-country. The Lair – hands down the coolest dive bar in Denver, maybe anywhere – was gussied up with nearly 50 original works of art along three walls, each piece focused somehow on the “barn experience,” and most fastened to the walls with small strips of plumber’s strap and drywall screws. Such perfect punk machinery, and so fitting for the unique “Lair Experience.”
Among the pieces were a selection of compositions by Matt Hunter, SlakJaw’s gut-bucket bassist, that ranged from smaller, framed pictures of barns from different angles in a delightful, almost naive style, to large pieces of wall mounted sculpture. One in particular featured an infant doll, made up and impaled repeatedly with a variety of nails and hooks, mounted like an elk’s head, with three sixes – the kind you find mounted on any front porch – hung over its head.
Floyd Hill, SlakJaw’s singer and songwriter, contributed one of the smaller pieces, “Space Barn,” which featured a barn tearing through space on top of a giant ear of corn – apparently a piece in favor of bio fuels for use in space travel. Another artist, Andriko (A.K.A “The Mad Russian”), contributed a few large, surrealist paintings that showed enormous skill with both color and composition, while Brandy Darling’s felt “Barn Animals” hung in effigy above. The collection made the Lair feel like a gallery, and the growing crowd seemed pleasantly engrossed during the opening reception, enjoying the corn on the cob provided as refreshments.
And then the music started, and brought the place up to a whole new level.
Denver City Saltlicks took the stage first, and spewed out an hour full of furious and brilliant Cramps and X-influenced jug band roots music that had the place jumping from the first hoot. Frontman ‘Bama Slim played a searing electric ukelele for nearly all the songs, and sung with a powerful voice John Doe would be jealous of, accompanied by Cate Hate on vocals and washboard. In the meantime, bassist Fish performed acrobatics on his baby blue standup bass, while his wife, Rev. Spooner, filled in with innumerable percussion toys, including a wicked set of spoons, maracas, wooden bells and more, and Dray, the band’s fast and frenetic drummer, laid down the beat.
For a few songs, ‘Bama took a seat on a soapbox and played slide a 2X4 with one string and a pickup as a sort of “backyard lap steel,” while Fish switched his baby blue for a weed-whacker strung washtub bass. The result was a mean and loud bluesy rock, akin to some of Bob Log III’s best, but with a heavy dose of almost psychedelic passion. The overall set included crowd favorites “Dreams of You” (a piece that rocked like a Buddy Holly and the Crickets ballad), “Baby Jesus Wept,” the psycho-surf tinted “Coffin Killer,” “Fuck Work” (an understandably popular anthem) and “Death Came A-Knockin’,” among others.
Denver faves SlakJaw took the stage after DCS, to provide the nearly soused late night crowd with their own genre of heartbreaking alcoholic gut-wrench, and were warmly welcomed. Backing up Floyd Hill’s growling vocals were Hunter (the artist and show curator) on gut-bucket bass, guitarist Bobby Genser and Ero Guy on drums.
Hunter’s amazing performance on the gut bucket was one of the highlights of the evening, and not because he ended up beneath Guy’s drums after a particularly lively number. Unlike many washtub bass configurations, Hunter’s features a mopstick neck that is completely independent of the tub, save for the single string. To play it, he mounted the stick in a divet in the overturned bucket with a microphone tucked beneath, climbed aboard and proceeded to move the stick and his hands up and down to change its tone. The antics added quite a flair to the bands performance.
Their set featured enough tales of hardship, booze and redemption to squeeze tears from the most stoic fan in the sweaty place, and all of us sang along to nearly every song.
They started out with a trashy and quick, two-minute version of “Free Bird,” and then led us all on a string of tales to listen to while standing around an oil-can fire on a snowy night. When Hill belted out the slowing, forced choruses of “Bullet in the Guts,” the entire place screamed along with each word. Their set also included the bittersweet “Soup Line Lament,” “Dust Bowl Heaven,” “Tent Town” and others.
The entire night turned out to be a huge success – a good sign, as Hunter plans to try and hols new art shows in the future. “The plan is to try and hold themed nights every other month or so,” said Hunter in a recent phone interview. I’m sure I’m not the only scenester aching to see the next one . . .
More Photos of Denver City Saltlicks: