Shwarma, Cloud Catcher & Kaepora 6.21.24

Cervantes Other Side
Denver, CO

Words & Photos by Pavel Gábor Kaplan

Two weeks ago, Denver locals Shwarma graced the stage at Cervantes’ Other Side for the second time as headliners, with support from other Denver locals Cloud Catcher (stoner metal/power metal) and Kaepora (metal/funk/fusion). Coincidentally, both this year’s Summer Solstice and the Strawberry Full Moon transpired around Shwarma’s Album Release show, with the full moon falling on the night of the show. Certainly strong energy to power up the night of dancing and raging - from appropriately cosmic occurrences for a cosmically cool bill.

It’s rare to have a full moon actually fall on the same day as a solstice. However, something not very rare is an unforgettable performance from Shwarma at Cervantes! I totally enjoyed photographing their Otherside shows last February when they opened for Lespecial to perform to a sold-out Ballroom-side, as well as their performance last Halloween at ‘Oogie Boogie’ alongside Dopapod, Tauk, and Doom Flamingo. Their first Other Side headliner was last June, which I could not attend.

Before this show, the band had not performed live since December of 2023. They have definitely juiced-up their sound since I last heard them! It was a fantastic night celebrating the release of their newest album ‘Best Cerv’d Shwarm’ which features a compilation of live recordings from the aforementioned shows. Stay tuned for my review of ‘Best Cerv’d Shwarm’ here on MM.

First, I think it's important to take note of two extra bright stars that evening.

Both absolute powerhouses, Shwarma keyboardist/CloudCatcher drummer Will Trafas and saxophonist Miles McKee of Kaepora/Shwarma, each pulled double duty that night. Trafas began his night on drums with Cloud Catcher and then closed out on keys and drums with Shwarma. McKee began his night of saxophone work with Kaepora before ending with Shwarma. All three bands joined together for an encore at the end of the show. Every single member of every band on this bill unapologetically flexed their skills, creativity, and seasoned experience. This fully stacked lineup showed off yet another glimmer in the diamond jewel that is Denver’s music scene. Each group took the stage with such confidence, more than ready to unleash their face-melting riffs and hijinks to the audience.

The soundscape of this perfectly-curated evening included multiple repertoires of calculated hits, intricate lines, colorful chords and heavy breakdowns, all grooving and flowing seamlessly in and out of one another.

For Shwarma’s set, the band featured some of their best classics and bangers such as "FuzzNuts," "Jankfest" (performed as "Jazz Fest" featuring a Jackson guitar/scatting solo), "Queen of Farts," "Jingle of the Dog’s Collar," and "Dusty Larry," as well as some new tunes plus an encore of Frank Zappa’s song "Uncle Remus" featuring the all of bands combined into a supergroup. They unapologetically ripped and roared their way through the night with fast riffs and solos from every instrument. Shwarma implemented the sounds and vibes of a wide variety of groups ranging from everything between between Rush, Steely Dan, Deep Purple, and Queen, to Peter Tosh, Dick Dale, and Prince, to Melvins, Primus, Anthrax, Megadeth, and Motörhead into their mad-scientist-experiment of a set, which had the crowd dancing, moshing, and headbanging to breakdowns, breakouts, shuffles, and mixed meter time signatures for the entirety of their set. The ability of this group to flow between tremolo death metal riffs, upbeat reggae, 70s funk, power metal, technical Latin jazz, and sultry soul is undeniably badass. During one of the mosh pits that opened up, daringly brave bassist Kevin Schultz crowd-surfed while playing his bass, and did not miss a beat! Much respect to both him and the crowd. One of my favorite parts about seeing this group perform live is the absolute joy on their faces as they animate themselves with their strange expressions and wacky personas while interacting with the crowd and with each other. Music is for the eyes and the ears, so you’ll probably never find yourself bored at a Shwarma show. Don’t believe me? Go see for yourself!

Shwarma is Jackson Kaufman (guitar/vocals), Pieter Montoulieu (guitar), Kevin Schultz (bass), Will Trafas (keys) and Steve Sanchez (drums).

I could’ve listened to all of these groups all night long. I somehow hadn’t heard of Cloud Catcher before, despite the group being around for a decade. I am definitely excited to see them again! Their incredible performance delivered a tastefully groovy, hard-hitting mixture of Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden-inspired riffage with a little bit of psychedelic Rocky Mountain-grit that absolutely ignited the audience. Cloud Catcher’s writing and electrifying performances certainly pay homage to the minds of other killer stoner metal/psych rock trios with huge sounds such as Sleep, Electric Wizard, The Sword, High On Fire, and even the Jimi Hendrix Experience. The cohesiveness of Cloud Catcher’s performance had the crowd moving and grooving hard for what was in my opinion too short of a set for how much they had to deliver! An excellent middle of the bill act who set the atmosphere just right for Shwarma. What’s that you say? A pun about ‘atmosphere’ and ‘Cloud’ Catcher? Totally unintentional… totally.

Cloud Catcher is Rory Rummings (guitar), Matt Ross (bass) and Will Trafas (drums).

What I caught of Kaepora’s set gave me huge FOMO for not only the beginning of their set, but for every other bill I’ve seen them on that I did not attend. They were a perfect addition to the bill. Their fusion of progressive rock and metal with genres like jazz, Latin, funk, and even bluegrass, complete with the meaty textures of the horn doubling and harmonizing with most of the guitar lines, is an incredibly bold and satisfying blend. Watching their talent pour off the stage, I wasn't sure whether to bang my head or just keep staring. Their progressive riffs, catchy hooks, guitar interludes, and stylistic changes dancing around heavy vocals and crazy horn and guitar solos had me feeling a “Dream Theater meets Snarky Puppy, Thank You Scientist, and Chon” energy.

Kaepora’s sound is expansive in so many ways. From the timbre of the horn over perfectly voiced guitar chords that shined clearly through distortion, to the super tight pocket and heavy grooves, finessed with some of the finest riffs and shredding you’ve ever heard, Kaepora’s powerful vibrations reverberate all the way to the back of the room, but not without first grazing and caressing everyone in the crowd into a headbanging daze. Some of their music feels like it should be the intro or outro to an anime show. Similar to Shwarma, you never know what you’ll be getting next, but you know they won’t be holding back.

Kaepora is Ian Ferguson (guitar), Blair Hicks (bass/lead vocals), Evan Shely (vocals), Miles McKee (saxophone), Mike Givens (keys), James Harkins (guitar), and Nic Conde (drums).

Shwarma is untamable. They play whatever they feel and do not confine themselves to one genre. When they are melting their songs together, each member adds a little bit of their own musical personality to the pot. Their unique combination of genres has resulted in their acceptance into multiple communities all across the Denver music scene, including both the metal scene and the jam band scene. “We’re not a jam band. It’s not our fault hippies show up to our gigs.” says Shwarma drummer Steve Sanchez. Personally, I think hippies and jam band fans will show up to anything they can dance to. Shwarma keeps it heavy with their breakdowns and beefy riffs, while their unconventional song names mixed with their implementation of jazz, Latin, funk, soul, and even Middle Eastern influences keep us light on our toes, dancing, laughing, reminiscing, and begging for more.

I wanted to highlight the fusion of both Latin and Levantine sounds found within the metal and rock songs featured in Shwarma’s multi-genre blend. The splashes of these flavors and textures throughout the music work well with the band’s name. The types of cultural diffusion that occurred in the region where Shawarma originated (Turkey/Ottoman Empire region) heavily included food and music. So much so that when I was looking up the event page for the show, I searched for “Shwarma Cervantes'' and the first result that came up was the website for a restaurant in Málaga, Spain called ‘Shawarma Cervantes’. It was just one of the many Latin-Levant fusion restaurants in the Andalusian region, the birthplace of flamenco and the Malaguena. Some of the rhythmic and melodic themes that can be heard in certain Shwarma tunes such as ‘Spaghetti Haus," "Dusty Larry," "Space Harpies," and "Jackson" are reminiscent of the Arabic Maqam in their structure. Shwarma lovingly shares their own special recipe of eclectic compositions and soulful passages with the listener that pays homage to the worldwide cross-pollination that has created the perfect alchemy for music to transcend the boundaries of genre and geography.

The event was a hotbed for creativity and expression. The stage visuals by Jesse Branum, aka Uncle Jesse, were a great backdrop and included all kinds of trippy shapes and colors often accompanied by graphics of animals and creatures such as bears, flamingos, and jellyfish. Branum was manipulating the visuals in real time during the show using the program TouchDesigner, a visual development platform that equips users with the tools they need to create stunning real time projects, interactive media systems, architectural projections, and live music visuals. “Those parameters were all programmed by Pieter and Will mostly, and Pieter’s computer was used to run the program during the show,” says Kaufman about his bandmates Pieter Monteulieu (guitar) and Will Trafas (keys) and their involvement with the show lighting. Both Montoulieu and Kaufman are professionals in the Full Stack/Web Development industry. Branum is Kaufman’s roommate and former bandmate from their previous project Goofball Bucket, with whom he hosted the music and camping festival Camp Goofball together for two years.

Local visual artist, Nick Heilig, known for his work as a performance painter at local and national events and festivals, was painting a custom Shwarma piece live during the show. Helieg’s portfolio consists of beautiful, vibrant painted and digital pieces and murals, many with themes of animals, geometry, and landscapes. He and Kaufman connected when he came to paint and hang out at the second year of Camp Goofball. He has painted at a few Shwarma shows since then including their Other Side headliner last year. I watched him paint at the Magic Beans’ festivals Snowstalk in February and Beanstalk last August. Heiling collaborates with other artists and musicians frequently and demonstrates his live painting talent at lots of local EDM and jam band events around Denver, many of them taking place at Cervantes. Watching his flow and his attention to detail was a masterclass, as was every other aspect of the night.

To close out, Shwarma is also an ambassador for Music Is A Language, an accredited 501c3 Colorado-based nonprofit dedicated to music education by providing funding to underserved youth and schools both locally and globally, who were set up at the show promoting their program. Kaufman met up with Executive Director of MIAL, Robert Korn, at the Lespecial show Shwarma played in February of 2023. Shwarma was taken on as an ambassador a few weeks later. Music Is A Language was also set up at Shwarma’s first Other Side headliner last June. The band is looking forward to volunteering with the non-profit to help give back to the community this season. I would definitely say that Music Is A Language has chosen a great band to join them in their mission of cultivating community through music.

Stay tuned for my review of Shwarma’s newest live compilation release Best Cerv’d Shwarm!

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