Pity+Fear (a travesty) was the latest original show from Grapefruit Lab and in general it might be described as a darkly comedic Greek tragedy that per the press release for the production explores “what it means to be alive, to tell the truth, and to change over time.” The set was in the modest setting of the Buntport Theater with some lighting, a low stage, a ladder, reams of documents that the characters use to consult for information and little else. One immediately thinks of Samuel Beckett’s 1953 existential play Waiting for Godot with its own minimalist set and two characters engaged in witty and conversational dialog about the significance of existence as well.
The two leads for this play, Miriam Suzanne and Josie Cool (who also performed music at various points to accentuate and complement the themes of the play), use the vehicle of delving into both the fraught mythology of the Greek mythological figure Agraulos in parallel with foundational stories from their own lives. There are three myths about the death of Agraulos, all contradictory, but all of which reveal something significant about the Greek view of women and identity with one myth saying how Agraulos and one of her sisters opened a box containing the monstrous offspring of one of the gods and going insane and throwing themselves from the Acropolis (in Athens) or off a cliff; another that Agraulos sacrificed herself for the good of Athens and in the third that Agraulos stood in between Hermes and her sister and was turned to stone for her trouble. All stories that extol blind obedience and sacrifice. But Suzanne goes deep into Greek theater history and in unraveling stories that serve as the foundation of our culture and to a large extent our own identities and relationships with one another between that mythological framing and deconstruction Suzanne and Cool examine and deconstruct the seemingly arbitrary rules for how we learn and build our own identities.
What made that exploration of myth and personal anecdotes from life that included stories of figuring out confusing and emotionally traumatizing situations and others finally illuminating and life affirming so poignant and effective is that Suzanne and Cool are both trans women. Suzanne’s story about how her mother had a dream of having a boy before her brother was born and not having a dream of gender for Suzanne beautifully illustrated how we subconsciously know we can know truths about ourselves before we have the language for them. Juxtaposed with the myths that represent cultural norms that often impose identity and mores even when they serve little but ritualized tradition.
Both Cool and Suzanne made the material which could have been perceived as academic or theoretical seem immediate with an obvious gentleness and awareness of how these subjects impacted their own lives in a very real and direct way. Maybe it was a reference or a quote from another thinker but when Suzanne said “The body has little regard for theory” it hit with the ring of truth because humans often have all these ideas that they insist are the truth merely because there is a consensus of the moment based on incomplete information and stating that one point in an evolving comprehension of a matrix of interrelated phenomenon and existences is static and eternal. Science is catching up to a non-binary view of gender in DNA as a spectrum but of course that’s been a fact that theory has taken a long time to account for and thus Suzanne’s aforementioned quote seems even more relevant.
With the right wing trying to erase the existence of transfolk or trivialize that identity as a choice like what clothes to wear, a play like this bypasses that analysis and offers real insight into the nature of how we construct identity whether you’re trans or not. It challenged, without aggression, the very stories we learn and internalize from culture going back centuries and in doing so suggests a more compassionate and human way to understand the personal, familiar, societal and religious stories that inform who we are and we who can be and chart a path to embracing are true selves beyond rigid categories as everyone has multiple identities they navigate every day of their lives whether or not they are conscious of that fact. Pity+Fear (a travesty) was, beginning to end, incisive, insightful, sensitive and at keen times humorous without trivializing anyone’s struggles and challenges.
Pity+Fear (a travesty) is the latest original work from Grapefruit Lab the performance group that brought us the fantastic production 2018 JANE/EYRE, a queer interpretation of Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 novel. This new performance piece is, according to the Grapefruit Lab press release, “an intimate and darkly-comedic modern Greek tragedy, exploring what it means to be alive, to tell the truth, and to change over time. It was written by founding Grapefruit Lab member Miriam Suzanne (of JANE/EYRE and 10 Myths on the Proper Application of Beauty Products) who will also perform with live music by Josie Cool (An Antiquated Bluff, The Better Selfs). You will see Suzanne and Cool tell the story through three “incompatible myths of a Greek princess Agraulos” with personal stories from the performers. As with JANE/EYRE the performance promises to be utterly unique and imbued with meaning, humor and of course the tragedy one would expect given the genre vehicle of what you’ll witness on stage. But rather than summarize the Grapefruit Lab’s excellent synopsis of the performance and the ideas informing it, here’s is a bit more of what the group has to say about this current production:
“I’ve been trying to write about Agraulos since I first encountered her myths in 2010,” says Miriam Suzanne. The character has become a sort of worry stone for Suzanne, according to director and Grapefruit Lab collaborator Julie Rada. “This piece wrestles with both the mythical character and also Miriam’s ongoing obsession with her three lives and three deaths.” Those stories are framed by the two performers, who use the myths as a starting point to reflect on their own lives as queer and trans women through song and direct address.
Pity+Fear premiers on Friday, May 13, at Buntport Theater (717 Lipan St) in Denver, and runs for three weekends with shows every Friday and Saturday at 7:30pm. In order to make this production accessible, regardless of ability to pay, tickets are all name-your-price. “Buntport has been kind enough to lend us the space, and we want to pass along that generosity, especially as we’re still in the middle of a pandemic,” says Kenny Storms, the third member of Grapefruit Lab.
Grapefruit Lab is a performance company founded by long-term collaborators Suzanne and Rada, along with Kenny Storms, a sound designer for theaters around Denver. The three met in 2009, working on a LIDA Project production. Since then, they’ve collaborated under various names — finally forming Grapefruit Lab with a vision for mixed-media shows that engage the community. “We want to make art without assumptions,” Rada says, “Art that humanizes, and entertains, and challenges, and brings you into conversation.”
WHEN: Friday, May 13, 2022 7:30pm Saturday, May 14, 2022 7:30pm Friday, May 20, 2022 7:30pm Saturday, May 21, 2022 7:30pm Friday, May 27, 2022 7:30pm Saturday, May 28, 2022 7:30pm All tickets are name-your-own-price.
WHERE: Buntport Theater 717 Lipan St Denver, CO 80204
Who:Joe Dosik w/Moonglade When: Thursday, 09.13, 7 p.m. Where: Larimer Lounge Why: With funk band Vulfpeck, Joe Dosik is often a bit of a sideplayer on sax and keys but with his recently released solo debut full length Inside Voice, Dosik makes good on the promise of his 2018 EP Game Winner. The lush production and Dosik’s versatile, soulful vocals is like something out of the late 70s or early 80s. Like maybe Dosik sequestered himself away from most modern music and listened mostly to a lot of Billy Paul, Luther Vandross’s 1981 breakout Never Too Much and Joe Jackson’s 1982 album Night and Day. Dosik’s compositions tend to be produced with more space to let atmospherics hang and resolve in a way that great pop artists in the aforementioned era often indulged but which in modern pop seems a bit of an all too human anachronism. These days, that’s the kind of quaint touch we could use more of.
What:Turn It Around: The Story of East Bay Punk at Sie Film Center w/Aaron Cometbus and Anna Brown When: Thursday, 09.13, 6 p.m. Where: Sie Film Center Why: Aaron Cometbus’ ‘zine Cometbus has inspired generations of artists from other ‘zinesters, comics creators and musicians. His depiction of life across his body of work captured the moment, low and exciting, in a way few have. He and Anna Brown, a writer, surfer, educator and significant figure in the California punk world since the 80s, will be part of a Q&A after the screening of Turn It Around: The Story of East Bay Punk, a documentary about the punk scene in the San Francisco Bay area that brought us not just Maximum Rock ‘N’ Roll but the rich punk subculture that it documented and continues to do so including, for better or worse, the wave of pop punk that was the next major musical movement from the underground to emerge as alternative rock was splintering and co-opted by mainstream moneyed music industry interests.
Who:Musical Mayhem: Marvel West, Mean Hand, Limber Wolf When: Thursday, 09.13, 8:30 p.m. Where: Lion’s Lair Why: In case anyone missed it, Musical Mayhem, the more or less free format monthly hosted by Claudia Woodman is now at Lion’s Lair. While not mainly “weird” music, Woodman’s tastes tend to run that direction. But on this night American band Marvel West will make an appearance along with Mean Hand, a band led by long time Denver underground rock and punk legend Tom Mestnik. Rumor has it Denver’s luminous western slowcore-esque band Limber Wolf is low key releasing its album at this show as well.
Who:Rabbit Fighter, The Pretty Bones, Nighttimeschoolbus, Miss Owl & the Pull Apart When: Thursday, 09.13, 8 p.m. Where: Syntax Physic Opera Why: Touted as “Girl Power Night at Syntax” this show includes the mighty Nighttimeschoolbus, the duo of Robin Walker and Toby Hendricks who combine experimental hip-hop beat making and deeply affecting vocals. Rabbit Fighter has as its Facebook image a scene from Heathers quoting Veronica Sawyer, played by Winona Ryder, saying, “DEAR DIARY, I WANT TO KILL.” And, once in a while, who hasn’t felt that? If it really is a pop band at least it’s probably one with some attitude.
Who:Lowfaith record release w/Ridgeway, No Gossip In Braille and Voight When: Thursday, 09.13, 8 p.m. Where: Seventh Circle Music Collective Why: Dream pop/darkwave band Lowfaith is releasing its new album On Loss tonight at Seventh Circle playing with bands in a similar vein. No Gossip In Braille includes Echo Beds frontman Keith Curts and its lush, low key atmospheric rock is almost a polar opposite of his other project in tone and texture. Voight really combines the melancholy mood of a dark post-punk band with the furious energy of a noise punk project. While initially sounding a bit like a a great A Place to Bury Strangers tribute band, the duo has really brought in its more electronic side more fully, giving its already wiry yet brooding sound a calming quality in contrast to its often explosive live intensity.
Friday | September 14, 2018
Who:Cyanidols, Luna Sol, Flat Earth and Landgrabbers When: Friday, 09.14, 8 p.m. Where: 3 Kings Tavern Why: For something on the harder edge of Denver’s punk world this would be the show to check out tonight. Cyanidols includes Sonya Decman (whose bass prowess and vocal power brought a good deal to Tarmints, The Symptoms and Brain Police) and Chris Kieft who has been a staple of Denver’s punk scene going back to the 80s along with Oscar Pop. Luna Sol is sort of a stoner rock band and includes Shanda Kohlberg formerly of The Swanks as well as former Supafuzz frontman Dave Angstrom. Landgrabbers is a little more countrified but it is a welcome throwback to that time in the Denver punk scene when a band could simply be good and not have to cater too much to some prevailing trend.
Who:Equine, Housekeys, Shawn Mlekush When: Friday, 09.14, 9 p.m. Where: Denver Distillery Why: Even though most of the local music and culture press is sleeping hard on it, the local experimental music scene is pretty active and sizeable. This low key show at Denver Distillery includes avant-guitar and loop maestro Equine, ambient soundscaper Housekeys and Shawn Mlekush who may be playing some entrancing abstract guitar drones and/or using synth in conjunction. Brought to you by Thought//Forms, the gallery that has been home to some of this music since starting up earlier this year. Who:UaZit, Goon, f-ether, Claudzilla When: Friday, 09.14, 8 p.m. Where: Lion’s Lair Why: UaZit from Indiana is this sort of weirdo electronic downtempo project that is as much performance art as it is music. Akin to hip-hop with beats that could work for that but also reminiscent of MC 900 Ft. Jesus. This Goon is not the hardcore band, rather the alternative hip-hop/trap producer. F-ether is somewhere in the realm of dub techno and house. Claudzilla is also an artist that blurs the line between bizarro pop and performance art. She might even do some strange covers as worthy as the originals. But for sure if you think Denver only really produces stuff for the temporary techbro colony that has occupied the Mile High City, Claudzilla is an antidote to such cultural pathologies.
Saturday | September 15, 2018
Who:Nothing w/Culture Abuse, Big Bite and Smut When: Saturday, 09.15, 7 p.m. Where: The Bluebird Theater Why: Nothing has evolved its shoegaze-y sound since its inception having come out of hardcore and other heavier music but without losing some of the dark edge that informs the lyrics. Its new album On the Blacktop seems sonically the most fully-realized of its records with gritty pop washes and burning shines over melancholic vocals. Even though Domenic Palermo still struggles with health issues and the ensuing psychological maladies that predate and have come about because of those, he still manages to find a way to make it all seem like something you can cope with and not be completely subsumed by even if it seems impossible sometimes. Pop punk has long since made a comeback but Culture Abuse makes it seem like the genre isn’t out of ideas musically and thematically. It’s 2018 album Bay Dream looks like some kind of late 90s party record with the graffiti style visuals and it could be if that party involved some deep existential examinations rather than simply melodramatic songs about love lost forever. Smut from Cincinnati sounds like its members already went through that 90s grunge revival phase and discovered more expansive sounds even if right now it is sonically somewhere in the middle in a way that seems more interesting than throwback.
Who:Jay Aston’s Gene Loves Jezebel w/Scifidelic and Radio Scarlet When: Saturday, 09.15, 8 p.m. Where: The Venue (1451 Cortez St., Denver) Why: After a bit of a legal battle between Jay Aston and his brother Michael, Jay Aston’s Gene Loves Jezebel that the band Jay leads gets to use in America while the original band name in the UK and vice versa for Michael. Jay Aston’s band put out its first album in nearly a decade in 2017 with the surprisingly compelling beginning to end album Dance Underwater. The new record gives you a real appreciation for Jay’s talent as a songwriter and musician with a broad tonal and emotional range and great nuance of expression. His band includes members of Gene Loves Jezebel going back to the mid-80s and likely the closest one will get to see the classic line-up of one of post-punk’s underrated groups. In the 80s Gene Loves Jezebel had dance club hits and proved influential on the Goth scene of the time and Jay’s songwriting has been surprisingly durable with his current crop of songs seeming timeless rather than capitalizing on past glory.
Who:Eyebeams EP & Blacklight Poster release w/Kissing Party and An Antiquated Bluff (Josie Cool solo) When: Saturday, 09.15, 9 p.m. Where: The Skylark Lounge Why: Denver’s Eyebeams is releasing its latest EP and blacklight poster tonight at The Skylark. The four-piece makes music that out of having already done the indie pop and psychedelic pop thing and taking the skill set learned there to do something that’s the next step in that creative arc. Suzi Allegra and Nathan Brazil played in some of the best pop/rock bands of the 2000s and 2010s with Games For May, The Pseudo Dates and Fingers of the Sun and wrote literate, smart songs that will presumably someday be part of Denver underground rock canon. Fernando Guzman and Andrew Elkins made their own indelible mark with the experimental/weirdo art rock band Fissure Mystic, a group in which they spent their teen years and early twenties honing the use of raw sound experimentation in a pop song context even if no one would ever really confuse Fissure for being a pop band. Elkins very much brought that sensibility with his end of the songwriting. Allegra played in Fissure for a couple of years, Guzman played in Fingers of the Sun. So Eyebeams is a bit of a consolidation and progression of the musical ideas all four musicians contribute to this band. The new, self-titled, EP demonstrates Allegra’s genius for fully integrating melody with dynamics and for writing songs that have more depth and complexity than simply one emotional flavoring and color without self-indulgent clutter. There is a melancholic tone to all of the songs but also a yearning for knowledge and clarity of oneself yet an acceptance of the reality of ambiguity you come to live with as an adult that as a younger person maybe you churn into melodrama. As a bonus, the band is releasing a special edition blacklight poster of its album cover at the show as well.
Who:Cometbus: Live Reading and Q&A with Aaron Cometbus When: Saturday, 09.15, 8 p.m. Where: Mutiny Information Café Why: For more on Cometbus see above on Thursday, September 13. For this night, Cometbus is doing a live reading from his body of work with a follow-up Q&A.
Who:WOE, WVRM, Noctambulist and Scepter of Eligos When: Sunday, 09.16, 8 p.m. Where: Lost Lake Why: The heaviest show of the week, nay, the month happens tonight at the Hi-Dive. Brooklyn’s WOE may be black metal but its furious live performance feels more like seeing Neurosis combining dark, relentless grinding psychedelia with eruptive energy. WVRM from Greenville, South Carolina is on the surface more straight ahead grind but there’s something flowing underneath that suggests someone in the band is deeply into noise and industrial music. That sensibility gives the music an textural quality and vibe that brings even more an edge to the sound. Noctambulist conveys a similar unconventionality to its death metal onslaught. Like they’re crafting atmospheres to replicate those of a Lovecrafting other dimension hanging with Nodens while he sits back while the Great Old Ones bash it out amongst each other seeding the civilizations of mortal life forms with nightmarish it their darker corners. It seems as though doom is a genre that’s starting to get played out but Scepter of Eligos really challenges that notion because its own take on having roots in that music is to inject it with a healthy heaping of more interesting atmospheric and rhythmic qualities that give its songs an uncommon dimensionality in the genre.
Monday | September 17, 2018
Who:Angel Olsen When: Monday, 09.17, 7 p.m. Where: The Paramount Theatre
Why: Angel Olsen is currently on her first solo tour in four years. The songwriter spent some time as a backing singer for Bonnie “Prince” Billy and Cairo Gang before striking out on her own and making a name for herself with her powerfully evocative voice and her ability to vividly articulate a complexity of emotion through lyrics and casting the perfect tone for the song. These qualities were there from early on but 2016’s My Woman revealed that Olsen wasn’t capable of just having a creative leap forward but transforming the sonic breadth of her music. The clever and wise songs of Burn Your Fire For No Witness was a brilliant indie rock album, My Woman was Olsen coming into her own and embracing possibilities for a record that seemed to convey that one can go forward in life without letting uncertainty be a stumbling block to your progress. For this tour Olsen will be performing stripped down versions of new material as well as some of her older songs yet playing fairly large rooms. Something about that hints at Olsen’s dry, absurdist sense of humor while acknowledging that she’s probably going to have to get used to those settings for the rest of her career.
Who:Gillian Welch and David Rawlings w/Punch Brothers When: Monday, 09.17, 6 p.m. Where: Red Rocks Why: Since early in her career, Gillian Welch has performed with an ineffable gravitas and seemingly easy mastery of her voice and the voicings of her instruments. Maybe her being an orphan, albeit adopted into a musical family, put a haunting in her brain from a young age, a layer of melancholy that many musicians spend a good deal of their 20s and 30s trying to cultivate so that when they try to sing the blues or country or rock and roll it has genuine weight behind songwriting and performance. Welch had that on her 1996 record Revival and has simply evolved into being of the great artists of the modern era alongside her musical partner David Rawlings. At this Welch and Rawlings are no strangers to big format concerts but a late summer show at Red Rocks seems just about perfect for one of their shows.
Tuesday | September 18, 2018
Who:Nine Inch Nails w/The Jesus and Mary Chain and Tobacco When: Tuesday, 09.18, 6 p.m. Where: Red Rocks Why: Nine Inch Nails has apparently been breaking out some material it hasn’t performed live in quite some time like all of the 1992 EP Broken at its tour kickoff. But that aside, every Nine Inch Nails tour brings one of the best live shows that anyone is doing any given year since the band broke in the late 80s. On a recent tour the group had live set changes on stage in addition to an impressive light show. And as per usual, someone in the NIN camp has great and adventurous tastes in co-headliners and opening acts. In the past NIN has brought on tour underground weirdo rock/electronic bands like Deerhunter, HEALTH and Oneohtrix Point Never. This time out for the co-headlining tour with legendary proto-shoegaze/alternative rock band The Jesus and Mary Chain, there will be Tobacco. The enigmatic electronic/psych/noise artist is perhaps more well known for his otherworldly pop band Black Moth Super Rainbow, but Tobacco is a bit of a different animal and at times could be considered a kind of avant-garde hip-hop with truly unique and mind-altering beats.
Who:Sinister Pig, Lion Slicer, Suspicious Activity When: Wednesday, 09.19, 6:30 p.m. Where: Chain Reaction Records Why: Lion Slicer is a punk band from Green Bay, Wisconsin making a stop in Denver on its “Wooly Eggnog Tour Part 2.” Does that mean it’s a little moldy? Who can say but since the show is free you have little to lose seeing it Chain Reaction Records. The band recently released its new record Lion Slicer Part 2, which if you’re into street punk, is great reminder that stuff didn’t die off into complete and utter obsolescence. Also on the bill are two of Denver’s better political hardcore bands with Sinister Pig and Suspicious Activity.
Who:The Mattson 2 and Astronauts, Etc. w/Stop Motion When: Wednesday, 09.19, 7 p.m. Where: Lost Lake Why: Anthony Ferraro of Astronauts Etc. has written a kind of downtempo masterpiece with his 2018 album Living in Symbol. Something akin to a hazy Laurel Canyon jazz record but one written on the American East Coast while spending the evenings prior to writing in a dimly lit and cozy bar hanging out with Justin Hayward and Joe Jackson. Then taking the recordings infused with all those mysterious, chilled out vibes to Jonathan Rado to put his own haunted psychedelic pop touches into the mixing and mastering. Mattson 2 is cut from a similar cloth albeit one more obviously drawing on jazz roots with real chops to augment its lounge fusion compositions.
Who:Miniature Tigers w/Jasper Bones When: Wednesday, 09.19, 7 p.m. Where: The Marquis Theater Why: Miniature Tigers came out of the mid-2000s as one of the more promising of Brooklyn’s indie pop bands. Although the influence of The Kinks and Elephant 6 bands were there, Mini Tigers also embraced the use of electronic instruments in its mix of sounds as well but with a more modern rather than retro sensibility. For its 2010 album Fortress the group collaborated on a song with Neon Indian as chillwave was reaching toward the apex of its popularity. The record that broke the band to a national, albeit still fairly underground, audience with touring to promote the album was 2008’s Tell It To The Volcano. This tour commemorates the 10 year anniversary of the release of the album but for a band that has consistently released albums since its inception, it’s a good chance to catch up with what the group is doing now.
Who:Ohmme w/Down Time and Mr. Atomic When: Wednesday, 09.19, 7 p.m. Where: Larimer Lounge Why: Chicago-based jazz pop duo Ohmme released their debut full-length album Parts in summer 2018 but the group comprised of vocalists/multi-instrumentalists Sima Cunningham and Macie Stewart had already established itself as a going concern melding technical prowess, avant-garde sensibilities and imaginative songwriting. The eclectic resume of both musicians including credits working with the likes of Richard Thompson of Fairport Convention and Chance the Rapper. The synergy of their live performances, though, prove that they’re a force to be reckoned with and not a recording project that is taking tentative steps into the live arena.