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A Rainbow in the Dark

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Pueblo has a much more storied and vibrant underground and alternative music scene than many even involved with said scenes in other parts of the country could ever know.

Now-popular alternative bands such as AFI and the Aquabats and so many others have come through Pueblo on their way up the ladder to eventual successes.

One of the most appealing parts of the Steel City is while you may not get the biggest acts coming through at their peak, there is a chance the next big thing is a local dive bar.

For decades, small, yet fierce, numbers of dedicated music fans have traipsed to venues all over the city for a fix of music that was, until the advent of Al Gore’s internet, hard to come by and even harder to keep active. With Phil’s Radiator’s dirty, dive-y walls now a distant memory, Pueblo had been struggling, needing a steady alternative-minded venue, one that didn’t shy away from the abrasive and loud — a venue that could serve as a new meeting house and playground for the scene.

The Rainbow Bar, at 309 North Santa Fe Ave, has since become this venue, as the new monarch in a long lineage of now-infamous Indie music spaces. Open for more than 70 years it wasn’t until this past decade, since Phil’s changed owners, has the Rainbow become the go-to for those that want something a little different or aggressive to see play live in a 30-plus mile radius.

That’s thanks to its new manager Justin Taibi.

Justin Taibi has taken over the helm at the Rainbow Bar, and in doing so has helped fill the void left in a growing local music scene. (Photo via author)

“My great uncle bought it in 1944 as the Rainbow,” Taibi says. A native of Pueblo, Taibi is quick to call himself “more of an overseer or operator” of the bar than an owner, adding he has full-time work all throughout Colorado as a CPA, but still comes back nights to manage the family business.

“It’s definitely a labor of love,” he says. “I have a busy schedule, but I always like coming back to Pueblo. I mean, this is my hometown; so I always enjoy coming in and putting smiles on people’s faces and trying to bring some music to them.”

“We’re pretty much open to whatever here. We’re not here just to pack the bar and to have everybody here have a miserable time,” Taibi says of a typical night of music at the Rainbow.

“We’re here for pretty much any band to come in and get some playing time and exposure in; for you and your friends and everybody to just have a good time, drink a few beers on me if you’re playing that night, and to maybe sell a few t-shirts.”

“We’re a good stopping point between Colorado Springs or Denver and Albuquerque for bands,” Taibi says, noting “we’ve seen all kinds come through on tour.”

He says that this newfound swarm of bands and activity is in no small part due to a man named Sword.

Tyler Boyce of BRIDGES taking the high road at a recent show at the Rainbow Bar (Photo via Eyeworm Photography)

For almost a decade, Mike Sword, a Pueblo musician and an engineer of everything audio, had been twisting knobs and championed sound for bands as the resident soundman for Phil’s Radiator; But after its somewhat sudden closing, both Sword and the scene at large were left without a place to go.

“It was kind of nice at first,” he says of his break in-between venues. “I needed a break from the constant shows; my ears hurt, and my liver was shot.”

But that vacation soon wore thin as it became difficult to find places for his bands and projects to play out live. “It was almost like ‘What should we do?’ ‘Should we scrape together some house shows?’ The home team hasn’t seen us for a few months.”

“Justin has been very cool and very gracious about all of this crazy music coming into his bar,” Sword says of the new partnership that has blossomed at the Rainbow. “I’ve actually wanted to make shirts with a picture of his face superimposed over a saint, Because he really has saved the underground scene here. This is probably the only way we would be functioning.”

“A saint may be a bit too far,” Taibi laughs as we talk briefly about Sword’s canonization of him.

“I love people showing their appreciation for the bar, and whatever I can do to help out with the local scene I love to do,” he said. “I’m a music lover and consider myself and the bar a part of it.”

When asked about the recent string of rather successful events at the bar, Sword has an idea of why. Nearly all of the shows at the Rainbow Bar are no cover events, a move that Sword thinks is beneficial for attendance.

“Our economy sucks,” he states plainly. “I think the pressure of not having enough cash to get into a show can turn some people away. But having the shows free makes it so that even if you’re broke, you can still come down and be supportive and have a good time with your friends.”

This sentiment is echoed by local musician Shanon Sinclair, who plays in Might of Henry and the newly founded Last Reel Hero, both punk rock & ska/reggae groups.

“I love and appreciate the fact that the Rainbow never charges for entry to see the bands play,” he says via a quick message to an old bandmate (read: me). ”It makes itself stand out as a place where everyone can come in and enjoy a night of live music even if you can’t afford to.”

“Most of the venues in town are kinda genre specific,” he adds when asked about what makes the Rainbow different from playing at any other bar locally. “But the Rainbow transcends those lines much in the same way the late great Phil’s Radiator did. It’s absolutely integral to our music community.”

“It’s been a great team at the Rainbow, too,” Sword adds. “All of the bartenders are cool and supportive, even if they don’t exactly dig on everything that comes through the doors.”

Not that the Rainbow is all crazy music all the time. Not dead set on only offering up moshable music, the space offers up differing styles and genres when the opportunity presents itself.

Colorado local Black Sabbath tribute act HAND OF DOOM at a recent performance at the Rainbow Bar. (Photo via Eyeworm Photography)

“We have had some stellar outlaw country and western bands come through,” Sword says. And indeed, recent posters for indie-rock acts and singer-songwriters on the walls currently at the Rainbow add to the anything-goes attitude of the space.

Bands from the world over are starting to take notice of said space. With music acts and artists recently gracing the Rainbow’s stage (or floor as it were) from Europe and South America, as well as bands from all over the continental U.S., the Rainbow has put itself on the map for the underground touring circuit.

Most of these bands are usually only looking for a place to play and hopefully some gas money. “They never expect it when they walk in,” Sword says. “As far as venues go, the Rainbow is almost a closet. But plenty of bands walk out letting me know that we give some of the best sound and best shows they’ve had on tour. Because Pueblo has always been just ready for a good time. We try and take care to get the best sound we can out of it. I mean, my soundboard is probably as old as I am, but it still sounds great.”

“It’s not Madison Square Basement,” he adds, noting he borrowed the phrase from a friend, “but it is what it is, and we’re making it happen.”

The Rainbow is new a home for new and old bands alike in the local underground to hone a sound and build connections with touring bands in a way that is as unique as the Pueblo scene.

The bar itself has always been best at doing a lot with a little, doing its own thing while letting musicians do their thing, but first and foremost doing it for the love of music paired with the finest can of cheap beer.


More about the Rainbow Bar and their schedule of events can be found at facebook.com/rainbowbarpueblo.

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It’s a Punky Reggae Party with Pueblo upstarts Might of Henry

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via Eyeworm Photopraphy

Smooth Ska-Punk | Might of Henry

Like a jump-up jolt of electric shock to the heart, Pueblo’s Might of Henry are here to win hearts and minds with their uplifting jazz-laced ska/reggae consortium. Proudly “Recorded in multiple basements and living rooms” in Pueblo, CO, the Push for Progress E.P., while at times is a touch wanting in clarity, is no less a groove-heavy, well put together and entertaining one way ticket to Jam City, USA.


Darkwave Electronica | Cutworm

Head Trash from Denver’s Cutworm is on some next level ish. At times a touch unsettling in the ears, these seven tracks are the audio equivalent of puttin’ an escape room in a hot nightclub that you’re not sure they’ll let you out of. Dark, pulsating, and heavily distorted, these tracks are an electronic experiment in the macabre meeting the modern club banger, and I’m all in.


Wide-Open Heartland Punk | Sleep Union

Full of big hooks and undeniable sense of resolve, the four tracks on Sleep Union’s Downed in the Harbor dance delicately and defiantly between the indie-fed punk rock charm of early Rise Against and the sharp musicality and bite of Oklahoma City’s best kept punk rock secret Red City Radio, offering huge wide open songs sounding like the alternative-laced punk rock score for your new favorite movie.


Modern Alt-Rockers | The Timberline

Alternately sweet and sultry, Autopilot from Fort Collins three-piece, Timberline, is a shot in the arm of alternative-minded indie rock and modern pop-punk swagger, funneled through some seriously great songwriting and sharp production destined for bigger radio audiences and tons of airplay if they keep this up!

 

All releases available for purchase now thru Bandcamp. Go Local!

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Stand By This Man: A Talk with Andy Hamilton & the Rocky Mountain Contraband

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It’s no secret to anyone listening that country music, once a proud American traditional style made up of Appalachian roots, blues, and European folk traditions, just ain’t the same. Gone are the homespun recordings and the cowboy tales. In its wake, a new version oft dubbed pop or “crossover” country has taken its place and taken over the charts, largely while eliminating many of the tenets and traditions that made this uniquely American art form what it was.

But there are still plenty of artists interested in country music as a continuation of tradition. While not technically or sonically as rudimentary as early country acts sounded, (his music has the twang and production of late 60’s and 70’s legends Merle, Waylon and Willie) Denver based Andy Hamilton and his Rocky Mountain Contraband have serious chops and a back-to-basics approach all their own. Taking sounds and cues from those AM radio crooners and American outlaws and bringing them into our modern conscience with an updated sense of humor is more than enough for me. The superb songs on their newest self-titled offering bear that out, but Andy Hamilton and Co. have something even more important. Something that’s absent in the modern era of auto-tuned artists and hick-hop charlatans masquerading as country music: real soul, undeniable musicality, and songs made with honesty and heart.


How did you get your start in country music? Was the genre something you always enjoyed, or did you come to it later in life?

Andy Hamilton (guitar/vocals): I grew up hearing country and southern gospel from my granddad; he was a southern Baptist preacher and used to have a radio show in Knoxville, TN. It always gave me some kind of sentimental feeling hearing that music, but it wasn’t ‘til I was in my 20s that I really discovered an appreciation for it. Over the years I had written a handful of country songs, never expecting to do anything with them. But then maybe five years back a good buddy of mine got cancer and when I was asked to contribute a tune for a benefit compilation, I recorded this sorta gunfighter ballad I used to play. After the comp came out I got a slew of emails from venues wanting to book us, so I figured alright, maybe it’s time to put together a country band.

Have you played any other styles before country? Do you think they’ve informed your music now?

Oh yeah, I played in rock-n-roll bands since I was a teenager. I studied classical piano and jazz guitar ‘til I was maybe 16, then I hit that point in my life when I needed the exact opposite. I found myself totally enamored by all the classic rock riffs and just couldn’t get enough. Still to this day when I hear a Zeppelin tune or some Creedence I can’t help but crank it up. Just the other day The Rolling Stones came on in my truck; that opening riff in “Brown Sugar” and I got thinking how many hundreds of times have I listened to this tune and it’s still so damn good!

I hear old country greats like Gram Parsons, Waylon Jennings, and the Flying Burrito Brothers in your sound; but are there any modern practitioners and musicians you take from, country or not?

There are some really amazing singers and musicians doing it right: Zephaniah Ohora is a country singer out of Brooklyn, of all places. He just released one of the best country records, hands down. My buddy turned me on to John Moreland a few years ago. John writes some of the most heartbreakingly honest songs and delivers them in such a way that you gotta have a heart of stone not to feel something.

Your music seems to take a lot from older country and western acts rather than modern ones. Do you feel you have any relationship to the modern country aesthetic or scene?

Classic country resonates with me more than anything. We like to draw from the old greats, then make it our own. I’m a huge fan of Faron Young, Roger Miller, Moe Bandy, Willie and Merle, of course. There are a handful of newer country artists who are keeping it honest; Zephaniah, as I mentioned, Amber Digby, Casey James Prestwood. I know a handful of players in the modern country scene; they’re all really great people.

How do you feel about the sound and style of modern country music?

Man, drum machines and autotune have no business in country music. I have to say this, there is a lot of music that’s churned out and mislabeled as “country”…it’s being marketed by the powers-that-be as something it’s really not. I’m not gonna name names, but I think it’s pretty apparent when some pop artist just bought a pair of boots and a new hat. Then there’s the recipe for writing modern country songs that just sounds like bros at a frat party: it’s so transparent and soulless. But some folks really like that stuff. I mean REALLY like it. It’s just not for me.

Can you tell me a bit about the Rocky Mountain Contraband? They’re an exceptional bunch of musicians. Where/when did they come into the fold?

I started this band a few years back with my good friend, Dave Barker. He’s a killer drummer and had been playing pedal steel guitar a few years. We wrote and recorded a full album, then ditched it. Playing country music is a different animal and we realized if we were gonna do this right, we had to really study the music and learn how to play our instruments. We didn’t want to come off as rock musicians “playing country.” You know? We didn’t want to fake it. Both of us play with Casey James Prestwood & the Burning Angels as their hired guns. That gig has opened some doors to studying under some really big names in the genre. I feel really fortunate for that opportunity and how it’s forced us to progress as musicians.

How long have you played in the Colorado scene?

In Colorado alone I’ve been playing since the late 90s. I was in a handful of rock, metal and psych rock bands. Here in Denver I had a band called Houses that was one of my favorite bands I’ve ever played in. There was some real magic there.

Do you enjoy it?

I really like playing in Colorado. People don’t come out to dance like in Austin or Nashville, but man, there’s so much opportunity to experiment with new sounds onstage and the crowds are really accepting.

Anything you’d like to see more or less of in Colorado music?

I would love to see more country players. We live in the West; this is it, man! But where are the country players? We’ve got a good collection of bands here, some are more true to classic country and some are doing their own thing. I just hope it continues to grow.

This album was recorded all over Denver in various studios. Was this happenstance or something you were actively going for?

It really came down to time and money. We did a couple tunes with our buddy, Chris Fogal at Black In Bluhm. Chris has a great ear and is fun to work with. The Christmas tunes we threw together pretty last minute, so we recorded those with our own gear at Dave’s shop. In the future I would like to spend a good week in the studio, getting sounds we like and really crafting songs.

 

 

How long did it take to come together? And how was the recording experience for this batch of songs?

All in all it was a few days. We had a couple guest musicians, so some of the instruments were tracked in Nashville, then sent back to us. The overall experience was a little disjointed. I really like to connect with the people I’m recording with as much as possible, and that proves challenging when we’re working all over the place. But everyone was super easy going through the whole deal and I think it all came together nicely.

What would you like listeners to come away with after listening to this EP?

Well, I hope listeners can hear the effort we put in and appreciate the musicianship. I would love more people to discover a love for country music. There’s so much more than the tripe what’s fed to us on the radio and sadly, much of that gets overlooked because people don’t know where to find it. But it’s out there.

Any release / show plans here in Colorado?

No release shows for this EP. We did just play a couple weeks ago and I failed to mention we had new tunes out. I’m not great with self-promotion. My plan for this year is to write, record, and release as much music as I can when I’m not out on the road. I’ll book a release show when we put out our first vinyl.

Sounds like a plan!


If you can’t wait for the vinyl from Andy Hamilton & the Rocky Mountain Contraband, head over to rockymountaincontraband.bandcamp.com to nab the digital release to hold you over.

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Denver’s SPELLS are the only Rock N’ Roll Juggernaut that can save you now.

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All Live Photos by: Seth McConnell. Promo Shots by: Crystal Allen

Now at an astounding mix of 14 singles, splits EPs and full length records over a paltry 5 years, Denver’s Vacation Rock crushers SPELLS (yeah, you heard me, all caps) are back on their proverbial bullshit again with their newest ripper Big Boring Meeting. From day one, SPELLS has excelled at bringing forth the kind of frenetic and feverishly revved up garage punk that makes their records and live events a high energy dance party for anyone within earshot, and Big Boring Meeting ain’t changin’ a damn thing.

All Live Photos by: Seth McConnell. Promo Shots by: Crystal Allen

Live Photo by Seth McConnell / Promo Shots via Crystal Allen

From the initial pummeling of its’ first track Deceiver, the tempo and intensity of this record is full throttle; an unstoppable amalgamation of Pop-fury and unchained melody intertwined. The EP, which clocks in at just under the 10 minute mark, is a controlled chaos of surf rock and garage punk gut punch delivered straight to the solar plexus.

 

 

But what also bears repeating is the underlying power pop-ness of it all; for all it’s rock n’ roll savagery, the music of SPELLS is just as catchy and fun as they come. With a constant driving rhythm section and call and response vocals from the entire band (and lyricism from the acerbic-laced caustic resonation of vocalist L’il Stevie Shithead) the entire band rides the line between hardcore punk and jagged pop with an unholy gusto that dares you to keep up!


Bonus Alert! Right now, SPELLS is offering their entire discography for $9.25 via their label Snappy Little Numbers and Bandcamp, which is too much killer rock n’ roll for most to handle. Don’t be scared. (spellsrules.bandcamp.com)

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