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The stage antics that distinguish Denver's Meanface--vocalist Dan Berger, guitarist Jeff Leddy and drummer Rick Layton--are far from G-rated. But shortly after the bandmembers added a bestiality video and autopsy slides to their onstage repertoire, they realized they'd gone too far.
"We almost got in trouble over that," Leddy explains. "Some people called up and complained. I guess they didn't think it was as hilarious as we did."
"After a while, people weren't watching us anymore," Layton adds. "They would just be staring over our heads at the screen. It got sort of redundant."
As a result, the slides were shelved--but their absence doesn't mean that Meanface has gone soft. "We decided to make our costumes more brutal," Leddy says, and that's no idle boast. The band's live set summons memories of Kiss circa 1977: Leddy, legs spread apart, often covers his torso with electrical tape, while Berger and Layton wear spiked masks and other crowd-pleasing apparel. Among their favorites, Berger reveals, are "household items--Saran Wrap, tin foil, metal screens, fireplace grills."
Although their music often winds up being overshadowed by their shenanigans, the players take their heavy-metal influences seriously. The Meanface sound is a mix of Black Sabbath-style power and mid-Eighties aggression like that peddled by Big Black and Black Flag. There are also healthy doses of samples, as well as tips of the hat to Cop Shoot Cop, Drive Like Jehu, Zenigeva and early practitioners of speed metal. The result is low-end, distorted and angry--just the type of noise that Beavis and Butt-head would love. Better yet, the musicians delivering this racket go to the trouble of actually performing.
"We got really sick of going to see people just standing up there playing," Leddy says. "You know, it's more of an audio-visual thing to go see one of our shows. It's definitely more entertaining than just standing there. People get into it a lot more."
So do the bandmates, who are unapologetic fans of what they call "fantasy rock"--the teen-oriented post-glam music of the late Seventies. In the spirit of the genre, Berger and Layton have taken stage names too long for the average marquee: Rise Nine and a Half and Dick Satan Leisure E, respectively. Shank Portion, Leddy's moniker, is more succinct. "You ever go into a grocery store and see those big, huge chunks of ham, and all they say on the side is `shank portion'?" he asks. "I was out on tour and I saw one of those, and I just thought, `That's what I'm like--Shank Portion.'"
Clearly, you'll find little sincerity here.
Meanface's roots go back to 1992, when Berger, who'd played with Leddy and Layton in the Boulder punk band Discipline, followed Leddy to Dallas. After some trials and errors, the pair moved back to Denver in 1993 and recruited Layton, who was then playing with another flamboyant Boulder combo, Bunny Genghis. That December, Sonny Kay--an old friend who runs his own label, GSL Records--offered to release a Meanface single. The result of Kay's interest was a seven-inch, three-song vinyl offering featuring "King of Hell," "Nobody's Hole" and "Running Scared." A trek through the Midwest and a split single with L.A. punks Woodpussy followed.
Next on the agenda is Meanface's full-length CD debut, which was recorded with producer/Foreskin 500 mainstay 3KSK at Denver's Time Capsule studio in January. GSL will make the disc available by the end of March, after which the group will embark on a 25-city tour. Until then, the bandmates plan to keep working their day jobs (they're housepainters), gigging at local clubs and rehearsing at their practice space, a walk-in closet in Leddy's west Denver house. The closet's small size has a lot to do with the lack of a bassist in the Meanface lineup.
Still, the trio makes up in elaborate production value what they lack in sheer numbers. They spend much of their downtime looking for new outfits, mostly at thrift shops or construction sites. The results are seldom pretty. Leddy's favorite accessory, for example, is a pair of boiled chicken feet he wore as a necklace during a Wyoming show. "They're just black, rotten, gnarly chicken feet. They look really repulsive. But they loved it up in Laramie," he says.
Indeed, audience members seem to enjoy Meanface most when the band gets in their faces. "We played at a place called Kirby's Beer down in Wichita, Texas--a place about half the size of the Lion's Lair," Leddy says. "I was only, like, half on the stage, and Dan was just jumping from table to table. But they really ate that up."
And for good reason, says Layton. "They couldn't back up."
Meanface, with Smackjacket. 9:30 p.m. Friday, February 24, Club 156, CU-Boulder, $4, 492-7704.