Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

AVC at the DNC: Day One

I was barely out the door yesterday morning–Monday, August 25, Day One of the Democratic National Convention–and the DNC was already up in my shit. Walking down the sidewalk in a completely residential neighborhood a mile from downtown Denver and the heart of DNC craziness, a guy came up to me and tenaciously tried to sell me a cheesy, airbrushed Barack Obama T-shirt out of his duffel bag. Of course, that's far from the most noteworthy use of Obama's name and likeness I was to see all day.

There were Obama socks:

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Obama In A Bottle (seriously, follow this link and watch the music video–you will be well rewarded for your effort):

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A man in a toilet costume–reputed to be Denver Water's Director Of Finance, David LaFrance, who dreamed this water-conservation stunt up last year at a Colorado Rapids game–being chased down the street by two men shouting "Stop running toilets!" and holding signs that read "Barack Obama: 2,201, Running Toilet: 0:

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And, naturally, Discobama 2008:

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Luckily, I didn't have to endure all that Obamania alone. As I mentioned in yesterday's AVC at the DNC blog, I'm hitting the streets of Denver this week to wander around and blog about the DNC, sans any real itinerary. But I had tentative plans to meet up with a friend of The A.V. Club who's in town for the convention–Eric Axelson, known to many as the former bassist of The Dismemberment Plan and Maritime. For those (like me before yesterday) who haven't met Eric, the man has somehow mastered the art of being hyper and suavely laidback at the same time. In other words: he was the perfect companion for a little urban exploration.

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So Eric and I found each other ("I'm the dude in the Dickies shirt!" "I'm the dude in the nerdy glasses!") near Denver's 16th Street Mall, the main artery that runs through the middle of Denver and ends near the Pepsi Center, site of the DNC. Then we went looking for trouble.

We were disappointed.

Okay, so disappointed is too strong a word. But besides the small clusters of crust-punk protesters and mobs of conventioneers–most of whom looked like Jim from The Office on lunch break–things were quiet. Yes, there were people standing on street corners screaming into megaphones (which, ironically, rendered their voices far less comprehensible than if they'd simply put the megaphones down and yelled). Yes, there were donkeys and elephants riding Segways. But the image that really hit me was a poignant one: a lonely, deserted pro-Hillary Clinton tent near the Pepsi Center bearing a banner that proudly proclaimed "18 Million Voices"–and had about eight people milling about, most of them waiting to use the porta-potty:

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But enough of my pro-Obama gloating. After all, I pledged in yesterday's AVC at the DNC not to make this blog too political. I'll leave the stumping to Robert Schneider, leader and singer-guitarist of indie-pop luminaries The Apples In Stereo–who, from the stage of Red Rocks Amphitheater last night, had this to declare: "I'd like to dedicate our entire set tonight to Senator Obama. Not only because he's awesome, but because he's wonderful!"

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The Apples In Stereo took the stage of the legendary, noseblood-inducing Red Rocks last night as part of a film-and-music event called Cinemocracy, put on by the fine folks at the Denver Film Society. (Quick, cheap plug: If you live in Denver and like good music, I'll be curating and presenting a documentary series about underground '80s rock called Our Band Could Be Your Film at DFS' Starz FilmCenter throughout September. On the schedule are We Jam Econo: The Story Of The Minutemen, American Hardcore, The Nomi Song, and a rare 35mm print of Urgh! A Music War. Do come.)

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The folks at DFS did a great job with Cinemocracy–the eclectic bill featured Denver native Jill Sobule and LA rapper Murs as well as The Apples, plus a selection of short films. But the problems they had with last night's event are indicative of how nuts things have been here over the past few weeks as the city has braced for the DNC's massive influx of punditry and humanity. Everyone from Death Cab For Cutie to Billy Bragg was rumored at one point to be headlining Cinemocracy, and as late as last week, Mos Def was on the bill. And Okkervil River, also schedule to play, dropped off just hours before the show yesterday. The Apples and Murs are nothing to sneeze at, but Red Rocks was very sparsely attended last night. Not that I minded; I got to sprawl out in the second row and see Murs put on a fun, forceful show aided by a trusty laptop and–in the case of his song "Yesterday & Today"–a loving shout-out to LL Cool J's "Around The Way Girl."

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But The Apples In Stereo, fresh off their appearance earlier this month on The Colbert Report, were clearly the stars of the night. The band can no longer claim to be Denver-based–only a third of its six-man lineup still lives here–but Denver is where the band was born, where it played its first few dozen formative shows, where it perfected its mix of The Beach Boys, The Beatles, and Pavement. In fact, the Apples opened their set with "Tidal Wave," which Robert announced as the first song the band ever wrote–and one they recorded for their debut EP soon after being inspired by seeing Pavement, Sonic Youth, and Mudhoney play together at Red Rocks in 1992. I talked to Robert before the show, and he was freaking out about the fact that their dressing room was the same one The Beatles used when they played Red Rocks in 1964.

I'd already witnessed one person in utter awe of Red Rocks last night: Eric, who came to Cinemocracy with me and my girlfriend. He couldn't believe he was actually standing in the same amphitheater where U2 filmed Under A Blood Red Sky. It was great to see Red Rocks through the eyes of a virgin; we all hiked up to the venue's tiny museum–which in all my years of Red Rocks concert-going I'd never actually bothered to check out–and oohed and aahed with Eric at the list of bands that have played there over the years. (Diana Ross & The Supremes at Red Rock in 1969? Holy shit, how did I not know that?)

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I've always assumed that anyone who's lived in Denver for a certain amount of time inevitably gets a little jaded about Red Rocks. I still think that's the case. But seeing Eric and Robert up there, giddy as little kids, I realized my condition might not be irreversible. Maybe I still have the capacity to find wonder and excitement in the same old shit I've long since taken for granted or even given up on. And yes, I'm talking about politics as much as music. When Robert made his Obama dedication onstage, I cringed at the gushiness of it. Then I laughed. Then I realized Robert was right: Obama is pretty awesome and wonderful, if for no other reason than this rising lump of hope I have in my chest, one I haven't felt in a long, long time.

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Then again, it might just be the socks.

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