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Chandelaria, back-up chanteuse for the Boulder-based quintet called the Letches, puts it succinctly: "The Letches are a slap in the face to the music industry."
The group's gift for overstatement aside, she may be right. While the Letches (Chandelaria, vocalist Zaid Muhammad Aziz, guitarist Diggie Diamond, bassist Danny Kaye and drummer Martin Peeps) perform just two or three times a year, each outing is a guaranteed spectacle. Past Letches gigs have included everything from faith healings and mock kidnappings of bandmembers to suggestive sideshows featuring Hoover uprights.
But while pinning down the Letches' act may be as tough as darning the fishnet stockings often found gracing the gams of Chandelaria and/or any of her male bandmates, the group does have several trademarks. "For one," Kaye notes, "we're always out of tune"--thanks in part to the irrepressible Diamond's habit of changing strings just before showtime, as well as Kaye's suggestion that the guitarist doesn't know an A chord from a hole in the ground.
A no-less-abiding theme of the Letches' performances: With the exception of Kaye, the act's dedicated driver and de facto straight man, the players are invariably and quite unapologetically plastered. If they find themselves playing in the wrong key as a result, no one seems to mind. Gimmicks don't overshadow the Letches' music because, Peeps says, "We are a gimmick."
Accordingly, the Letches are loath to divulge their origins. Only after energetic prodding do they reveal that co-founders Aziz and Diamond first performed together around 1989 at venues such as Boulder's Penny Lane and Ground Zero. Among this low-rent lounge duo from hell's early tours de force was a piece called "Scratch & Smash," during which the pair subjected a Close & Play children's turntable to treatment that would do Pete Townshend proud.
Aziz and Diamond subsequently added a percussionist, but he apparently was scared off after a fan intentionally set fire to his own gauze-wrapped head during a 1990 performance at CU's Folsom Field. Peeps, who attends the Colorado Institute of Art, was not so easily frightened. He was followed into the band by Chan-
delaria, a philosophy/math major at CU-Boulder. As a performer, she deadpans, "I'm respected for my body, not my mind." The lineup went through a series of bassists before CU student Kaye was asked to sit in for a show. Two years later, he's still a Letch.
The band's commitment to parody pop makes the Ramones seem like Ph.D.s by comparison. Adamant in their disdain for politically or socially conscious songwriting, the Letches lean instead toward two- and three-chord ditties on the order of "Bop Girl," an instant fan favorite that spawned a mail-in essay contest meant to determine which of the band's fans would be honored with the aforementioned title. The winner also scored a dream date with the Letch of her choice (Aziz got the nod--and if he got anything else, he's not telling). Other crowd pleasers include "Hey, Traci," an ode to onetime teen porn queen Traci Lords sung to the tune of Toni Basil's "Hey, Mickey," and a similarly leering tribute to public TV's Mister Rogers performed over the guitar riff from the frat-rock staple "Wild Thing."
Perhaps because the Letches' antics have less to do with a rock concert than with a screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, the group has had difficulty earning bookings in the Denver-Boulder area. The fact that the few demo tapes the band has issued are haphazard live recordings hasn't helped, either. Kaye admits, "The main reason we get gigs is because Diggie's in other bands."
Although one of those groups, Foreskin 500, recently signed a recording deal with Basura Records (see Feedback, page 82), Diamond assures anyone within shouting distance that he's a Letch for life: "The Letches are my band, man. We have a lot of credibility with our fans."
Nonetheless, the group's members feel they'd get more professional respect if they packaged themselves less like a bar band and more like the cast of a Broadway musical. They're confident that their sensory assault will play better on videotapes than audio ones, but even if they don't wind up as regulars on the scores of Wayne's World-type programs now popping up on public-access cable stations around the country, one thing remains certain: The Letches are stranger than fiction. A lot stranger.
The Letches. 9 p.m. Saturday, April 2, Lion's Lair, 2022 East Colfax Avenue, 320-9200.