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Rutherford Belleview says the Widow's Bane, his theatrical, dark, Americana-flavored, self-styled "zombie death polka" band, began sometime around 1700 A.D.
"The name 'The Widow's Bane' is from where we originally met, which was a ship," the accordion player explains. "We were a house band on the Devil's ship. We weren't called the Widow's Bane then. We were just the house band. It wasn't until afterward that we had to come up with something. We thought the Widow's Bane had a certain ring to it, so we kept that."
According to Belleview, he and the other members of the group — Gov. Mortimer Leech, Rictus Corpum, Franklin McKane, Bat Catacombs, Jimson Crockett, Abraham Lynch, Iron Mike and Madame Reaper — committed an unspeakable act in the years prior to the eighteenth century, which warranted eternal damnation and servitude to the Horned One. The welcomed intervention of Saint Gabriel, who sank the S.S. Widow's Bane once and for all off the coast of Alaska in the Bering Strait, evidently freed the undead members of the Widow's Bane to wander the earth, and they've wandered from port to port ever since, absorbing the music of the world and adding it to their repertoire.
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Without a ship of its own, the Widow's Bane eventually wound up in the landlocked state of Colorado and, specifically, Boulder around the turn of this century. That's where the band played its first local show, says Belleview. "Boulder is a good place to panhandle and make some extra money for drinking and drugs and all of that," he notes. "We first played out of a window of a recently closed-down store called the Happenstance. It was on Pearl Street, so there was a lot of foot traffic. We had a little tip jar out there. We did that three or four times or so. That was our introduction to Boulder."
Rooted in folk music of all varieties, and not just the sea chanteys you'd expect from some old seafaring types, the Widow's Bane has a certain fondness for the universal appeal of that music. "That's always, to me, been the lower-class music," Belleview says. "It's the music of the common man, the working man. It gives it a little more heart. Not to say that classical music and operas and such don't pull at the heartstrings. It just seems to be more of the song of the everyday man, something everyone can relate to."
When the band first started playing out with its undead appearance, the members probably didn't have to explain the band's vaudevillian element. But with all of the negative zombie stereotypes perpetrated by Hollywood over the years, the Widow's Bane eventually inspired a different sort of reaction. "We call what we do 'zombie death polka,'" Belleview explains. "I'm a bit ambivalent about it. I'm a bit conflicted. On one hand, we're undead, but we're not the typical zombie. We don't go around eating people's brains.
"I haven't eaten a brain since the 1950s," he goes on. "There was a fellow by the name of Joe McCarthy who had me eat a couple of brains for the good of the country. I feel we're all quite cordial and nice, and we're definitely not out to eat anyone unless they really annoy us. I feel that the Hollywood movies got it completely wrong as to what it is to be undead."
Beyond their gray skin, their black lips and the dark circles around their eyes, the bandmembers are also known for their fine period costumes and uniforms. They switch things up to avoid a kitschy vibe, which would clearly ruin their image.
"The suits and costumes we change every so often, when they become a bit too dirty or dated," Belleview reveals. "Back in the '80s, we were still wearing a lot of disco gear and such, and it was a bit dated and people thought it was a bit silly. So every member updates their uniform to make it look more presentable. I feel like if we were going to go with something more contemporary, we might have been a little behind the times, wearing flannel and jeans with ripped-out knees.
"Recently," he adds, "the later 2000s — I don't know if you noticed, but all the rage is older-looking stuff. I think that had a lot to do with that. We had a lot of it, because we do keep our older uniforms. Someday you may see us break out the old disco suits if it comes back into style."
Although these zombies have purportedly been playing together for centuries, to the shock and outrage of longtime fans, they still haven't gone the route of Bob Dylan circa 1965 at the Newport Folk Festival, even though they've made some practical concessions for the sake of functioning in the modern era as a live band. "We basically have all-acoustic instruments," notes Belleview. "When we play live shows, we've used inputs and such. I play accordion, and I do need inputs for that accordion. We now include a piano player, but he uses a keyboard and plays organ, as well."