“Can I just say how great it is to be at a f*cking rock and roll show at the Lion’s Lair?” Aaron Howell proclaimed. The MF Ruckus frontman formed a Denver based super-group just eight weeks ago with members of Hangman’s Hymnal and his pandemic bandmate Tony Pfeiffer. Their setlist was as unique as the singer’s bright Hawaiian shirt. They played a mix of Johnny Paycheck, John Prine, Elton John (that’s a lot of Johns), Tom Waits, Whitney Houston, and Ween tunes among others.
After playing She’s All I Got by Johnny Paycheck (released in 1971), the crowd wondered what the band would play next. Howell sang a heartfelt Paradise by John Prine (also released in 1971). Hangman’s Hymnal’s Braden Rauen showed off his impressive fiddle playing and Colin Clark picked a mean banjo. The two also provided stirring back-up vocals. Sitting on a cajon (a box shaped percussion instrument played by slapping the back and front panels),Pfeiffer kept the music on its tracks. Howell joked about Pfeiffer’s age by saying, “The home expected him back hours ago.” The percussionist who was actually alive when the songs from the set list were released (so was I) was the most stylish member with his feathered fedora.
The Mile Highwaymen played Ol’ 55 by Tom Waits (released in 1973). The crowd joined in at the chorus singing “Ow, the sun’s coming up/I’m riding with Lady Luck/Freeway, cars and trucks/Stars beginning to fade/And I lead the parade/Just a-wishin’ I’d stayed a little longer/Oh Lord, let me tell ya that the feeling getting stronger.” The sing-a-longs continued with Elton John’s Rocket Man (released in 1972). It felt like the band was performing on a porch somewhere in the deep South in the 70’s without the accents (I don’t know what kind of porch they would be at playing the Whitney Houston and Ween songs). Howell told the crowd, “We are a cover band for now. But we will see what happens.” Their next gig is at Bowman’s Vinyl Lounge in Denver, CO on September 30.
Entering the venue, I was expecting the music to start at 8:00 PM which was advertised. But my post-lock down brain forgot that’s not how bars work. After ordering drinks, we were informed that the opening band didn’t start until 9:30. Upon hearing this revelation, my friend told me that he would be in bed by then and took off. I spent my time watching the 1980 cult movie Death Ship playing in the background in the venue. The story is about a ghostly vessel sinking a cruise ship forcing the crew members to board the empty boat. They quickly discover the floating nightmare was used as a place for torture by the Nazis in World War II. The outcome of the film has haunted me for days.
Speaking of being haunted for days, Hail Satan channeled the Heavy Metal Gods with lead singer Jacob Fairly appearing in leather and spikes. The band got the Lion’s Lair audience into a frenzy with their songs about killing Nazis and fornicating grandparents. The band has given Fairly, a graphic illustrator, the power to turn his extreme cartoon version of heavy metal to life. Maybe a tune about a Ghost Ship is in the works.
Anonymonkey got the night of diverse music started. They describe their sound as Monk Rawk. As far as I can tell it’s a mix of funk, rap, and spoken word with a Led Zeppelin influence. Lead singer Chad “Chadzilla” Johnson has been making, teaching, and producing music in the Denver area for decades. The band made those wandering into the bar stop in their tracks and listen. Johnson continues to run the House of Rock program at Swallow Hill Music.
See you at the next show. I’ll be the one in a stylish feathered fedora with people asking me when the home is expecting me back.