The UMS Artist Spotlight: Red Fang

Red Fang (Photo Credit: Tim Tronckoe)

Your mom thinks UMS is cool.

Well, maybe not your mom. But Aaron Beam’s mother holds the 17-year-old sonic takeover of South Broadway in high regard; enough so to encourage her son to play it, anyway.

The bassist and co-vocalist of Portland, Ore. heavy rockers Red Fang said that bit of maternal approval helped lock the band in as co-headliners this year at The Denver Post Underground Music Showcase. The Bedlam in Baker is bringing 300 plus acts to more than a dozen South Broadway venues from July 27 through 30. Red Fang—made up of Beam, singer/guitarist Bryan Giles, guitarist David Sullivan and drummer John Sherman--will close out an evening of particularly hefty aural pyrotechnics on the main stage Friday night, July 28.

“My mom is actually not like super well-connected to the hip parts of the music scene,” Beam said. “But she actually was very encouraging and was like, ‘Oh, that’s one of the biggest music festivals.’ We haven’t really done a lot of festivals in the U.S. and it’s nice to get asked to play a well-established festival that does well enough that my mom knows about it.”

Beam knows a thing or two about the Front Range. The tall, bearded frontman with a professorial visage went to junior high and high school in Fort Collins in the late 80s and early 90s. He played in his first bands there, drawing heavily from the music being made in the Pacific Northwest at the time. (Soundgarden covers were an early staple.)

Ma and Pa Beam still live in Denver, part of the reason the rocker recently came out for a week-long Colorado visit in advance of his band’s UMS slot. (In a case of excellent timing, his girlfriend’s band, Helms Alee, was also in town last week. They helped Mutoid Man steamroll a sold-out crowd at Larimer Lounge July 16.) Boosting his Colorado bona fides, Beam has a go-to South Federal Boulevard pho joint: Pho Le. If time allows, he always tries to get out and spend some time in the woods—or, more appropriately, “the rocks”—when Red Fang plays CO, a throwback to the days he used to hike around Horsetooth Reservoir and other natural areas around Fort Collins. And Beam--a man who people pay to see sing on stage --also has a favorite karaoke spot in Denver: Charlie Brown’s Bar & Grill.
“A weird, old wooden bar,” he said. “It’s kind of changed. Now it’s like piano karaoke.”

Red Fang will follow three Colorado-based acts July 28, all hailing from the weightier side of the musical spectrum. Things start in skull-caving fashion at 6 p.m. with Boulder-bred Call of the Void. The four-piece’s screamed vocals, crushing riffs and shifting tempos are bound to leave many in the audience with sore necks on Saturday. Next come critical darlings, Khemmis. Trafficking in doom metal blended with soaring guitar harmonies and flecks of classic rock, Khemmis has a knack for banging heads and breaking hearts in equal measure. Just before Red Fang gets their chance to tear a chunk out of the Denver crowd, Planes Mistaken for Stars will return to the UMS. The Denver-by-way of Peoria, Ill. post-punks came in No. 1 in the Denver Post’s UMS poll in 2003 (back when the Post did such a poll). The evocative, raw hardcore outfit—easily identifiable by frontman Gared O'Donnell’s rasp—released “Prey,” their first album in a decade, last year. Their guitars may be the least over-driven of the bunch, but Planes still packs a helluva punch. All told, the four Friday night bands represent the heaviest slab of main stage performers UMS has possibly ever seen.

Beam, for his part, loves the depth and breadth of dark side of music the lineup represents.

“Having a festival like this, that’s generally not a metal festival, have a sort of a day of heavier music is encouraging to me,” he said. “I think that a lot of times people sort of lump everything into the sort of ‘heavy metal’ category and then decide that they don’t like heavy metal at all. I feel like there is enough diversity in the heavy music scene now that it’s a lot less of a niche genre.”

Beam and his bandmates don’t label their sound. It can be hard do to anyway. The punk and grunge influences are obvious, as are elements of slow-downed metal forerunners like the Melvins and even bits and pieces of fuzzy garage rock. (“Sometimes someone will say, “You’re my favorite sludge band” or whatever. I didn’t even know what sludge was the first time I heard that,” Beam said.) But whatever is going into the blender, the results are distinctly Red Fang. The band doesn’t shy away from hooks for the sake of rattling bones either. “Cut it Short,” the lead single from their 2016 “Only Ghosts” record, features a riff just as likely to get listeners to swing their hips as pump their fists.  That said, the song off “Only Ghosts” (A record Beam is happy to label the band’s best and most coherent.) the four-stringer enjoys playing live the most is “The Smell of the Sound.” That little number is anchored by a fuzzed out bass line heavy enough to create its own gravity. Hear it in all its glory Friday.

“You know, it’s important to have those sorts of categories to drop different kinds of music into so it can help you organize things in your own brain or when you’re recommending something to someone. You can say, ‘They’re sort of like new grunge mixed with like classic stoner,’ or whatever,” Beam said. “Of course, the most effective way is just to listen to the music.”

With more than 300 bands making a ridiculous amount of noise –heavy, poppy and everything in between-- over four days, that’s what UMS is all about.

-Words Joe Rubino

 Red Fang

Friday July 28th / Main Stage / 9:00-10:00 PM

Joe Rubino grew up in Denver's Ruby Hill and Harvey Park neighborhoods. He spent a bulk of his adolescent years browsing the discount metal CDs at the Media Play by the Southwest Plaza Mall. He then spent a bulk of college career slanging weenies at Mustard's Last Stand in Boulder. He's been working in journalism around Colorado for the last 6 years.