3 Kings Tavern is my favorite club venue in Denver and, since I live right down the street, I take every opportunity to see the myriad of amazing bands that frequent its stage. So, I walked down the block, snagged a couple slices of Famous Pizza with my girl, and then we ambled to the show. I'd been anticipating this show quite a bit, as two of Denver's best were playing, and I was very curious to check out Old Man Markley.
With a decent-sized crowd for a Tuesday night that only grew as the evening wore on, St. Fall Apart took the stage to kick off the show. These guys immediately tore into their set, deftly brandishing their sound of Pinhead Circus-by-way-of-Dillinger Four. Lead singer Joel Hansen has somehow found just the right combination of whiskey, cigarettes and punk passion to produce some of the rawest vocals in the scene. The rest of the band are no slouches either, though. Pounding rhythms and buzzsaw guitars, all moving together seamlessly at breakneck speed, made their 30-minute set feel like 15. Plus, this band has more "whoa"s than you can shake a stick at, and I'm pretty sure my sore throat the next day can be blamed on them, along with my need to incessantly sing along with such catchy backup vocals.
Up next were "supergroup" Tin Horn Prayer. I have seen the majority of the guys in this band play in punk bands that span the genre around Denver over the past decade. For those who don't know much about its players, Tin Horn Prayer contains former members of Pinhead Circus, Only Thunder and Sleeperhorse, just to name a few of many notable bands these fellas have rocked in. That being said, I have no idea how they learned to play country music so damned well. This six-piece lays down Gothic/Americana country with a mean streak. Think Slim Cessna's Auto Club mixed with Tom Waits and Johnny Cash before he got sober. They opened with the song "Better Living" and their set was comprised, mainly, of rousing tracks off of their debut album Get Busy Dying. Other notable cuts were the bluesy boot stomping of "Crime Scene Cleanup Team" and the introspective "Wretch". I'm also a big fan of "Crowbait", which has Scooter James taking over vocal duties from Andy Thomas and Mike Herrera. Between the varied instrumentation, the howled, haunting vocals and the PBR tallboys that are a 3 Kings staple, Tin Horn Prayer had me and the rest of the crowd singing and clapping with songs that are too full of desperation and self-deprecation to be as fun as they are.
I had heard a lot of good things about Old Man Markley, so I was very excited as they meandered on stage to begin their setup/sound check. A lot of what I'd heard from friends was that these guys were like a bluegrass Flogging Molly. As their set started, I decided that this wasn't a very apt description. Sure, they play up-tempo, punk-tinged tunes, but I'd say they fall more squarely into the bluegrass category than Flogging Molly does with traditional Irish music. They could fit in at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival just as easily as a punk rock bar like 3 Kings. Their music and live show was full of enthusiastic energy, filled with unbridled displays of lightning-fast musicianship topped off with sugary-sweet bluegrass vocal harmonies. Johnny Carey sang raucous songs about life, love, smuggling weed (a ludicrous concept in Colorado, at this point) and even a song about songs while solos were traded off between the banjo and fiddle players, who were both quite impressive. The washboard player bounced around all night, adding the right percussive layer to the drums. The bassist held steady on the 1 and 3, playing a homemade upright put together from a wash basin, the front body/neck of a bass with a plunger on the bottom to keep the whole thing in place. I also really liked when autoharpist Annie Detemple switched from backup to trading lead vocals with Carey for the infectious duet "Do Me Like You Do". As if their copious amounts of tattoos and signing to Fat Wreck Chords weren't enough to enforce their punk reputation, Old Man Markley included two covers in their set: Youth Brigade's "We're In" and Screeching Weasel's "Science of Myth", both of which elicited excitement from a portion of the crowd but not quite as much as I would have expected. Either way, both songs were great and showcased the band's unique sound when applied to another genre.
Tuesday nights don't get much better than a great lineup of bands, drinks and dancing with my special lady friend, and not having to get up for work the next morning.