Late last November, the 15th Street Tavern, Denver's favorite venue for ear-splitting punk, was filling up with the usual suspects: Most of the audience members sported either ripped T-shirts or chains. But did they protest when the Cherry Bomb Club, an electro-dance band, took the stage and unleashed a torrent of disco-friendly beats? Hardly. By the end of the set, Tavern regulars were shaking their booties like young John Travoltas on a bad day.
"It was pretty hilarious, because it's a punk-rock bar," says Dave Moore, the Club's founder and chief mixologist. "Yeah, man, and it was cool to bring in that kind of music to a punk-rock bar. By the last couple of songs, we had everybody in the house up."
Erica Brown, a sultry vocalist who joins Moore and fellow singer Dan Wanush in the group, agrees wholeheartedly. "I had a couple people after the show come up to me and say, 'What's up with you guys? We've never seen you before, and, oh my God, we loved you!' And that surprised me a little bit, because I honestly didn't think we would do well in there. I really didn't. But it was one of the best shows we've ever done."
Maybe so, but the Cherry Bomb Club truly shines in classier venues, where Brown's diva tendencies have room to flower. At one Bluebird Theater date, she was clad in an electric-blue Vegas nightgown that matched the color of her wig. "I also have a red outfit with flame red hair in that same style," she notes, laughing, "and then a gold/black outfit with this gigantic Afro wig and these incredible black platform boots." Brown's sizzling singing is every bit as bold as her approach to clothing: Her voice has the bite of a crocodile in the lower register yet howls like the wind at higher pitches. She holds nothing back, radiating a confidence capable of converting even dedicated punkers into die-hard fans.
Brown has a history of working miracles like these: After all, she was part of Foreskin 500, a much-beloved (and now-defunct) outfit that took dance music to places it had previously never been. Moore, too, is a veteran of Foreskin, but whereas he used to play bass with that band and another raucous act, Bunny Genghis, he now dabbles primarily in the electronic spectrum. He samples bass sounds on his ancient Ensoniq EPS keyboard long before showtime--and on stage, his chief instrument is a mixer.
"The loops and the music and the keyboards are all on my sampler, which is triggered by me, and then I mix them in with the mixer, and then I have a keyboard I play live," he says. "I have too much going on to bring in turntables, but I eventually want to do that."
All the Club's beats are prerecorded as well--but if you think that watching someone fiddle with knobs and faders is inherently less interesting than scoping a live drummer, think again. Moore hypnotizes crowds with sorcerer-like movements and sounds, mystically dancing from one machine to the next like a mod Merlin. And when it comes to composition, his magic is even more potent. "I'm kind of a perfectionist," he admits. "I could keep going back and redoing songs over and over for the next ten years, you know. So I've been trying to teach myself to stop, to just put it out.
"It takes a long time," he adds. "I start out with a sample from a record, and my favorites are soundtracks. They're pretty well hidden in there, and I find a loop I like, and then I just put everything on top of there. But if you boil everything down, it all starts with one loop that I find somewhere on some record, and then it just builds into this giant song with verses, choruses--everything."
Wanush, who's best known as the former lead screamer for Denver's Warlock Pinchers, rounds out the threesome cleverly. While Mr. Wizard mixes spells in the back and Brown exerts her divine presence off to the right, Wanush dominates stage left, singing and dancing like an overly hormonal Andy Gibb as he shows off his naked chest, which his sport jacket can't quite hide.
Wanush's torso-baring didn't become part of the Club's shtick until after an appearance at a space in Los Angeles. "We got there and we were about to get ready to play," Wanush says. "We had like a half-hour or 45 minutes to go, and I looked at the wardrobe and saw Dave didn't bring the shirts with the suits. So Dave was able to get a shirt, but he was only able to get one. And this other one was like Spandex. It was a woman's shirt, and I was like, 'No, this is not going to work with the suit, Dave.' And so I said, 'Okay, I'm going to go without the shirt.'"
"It spawned a whole cult thing," Brown interjects, smiling, "because now when he does shows, women tell him to take his shirt off."
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When they're not helping to light Cherry Bomb's fuse, Wanush sings with the Wild Canadians, a Westword profile subject ("Something Wild," October 1, 1998), and Brown fronts a blues outfit with an easy-to-remember name: the Erica Brown Band. The variety of such projects may be one reason why few locals have pegged the band as a Foreskin 500 clone. "They completely disassociate one from the other," Brown says. "I've had no comparisons at all, interestingly enough, and I thought I would."
"The only comparison would probably be the sequenced drums," Moore notes. "We started off with house music, probably because I wanted to get away from what Foreskin was doing. Foreskin was more, well, I guess people called it industrial-guitar kind of music. So I wanted to get far away from that so it wouldn't be like, 'Oh, it's a Foreskin offshoot'--you know what I mean? And now I just kind of got my groove going. It's not going to go back to house, probably; it's just going to stick with that kind of, you know, 'hook and rhythm' thing--melodic beats.
"It's meant to be happy songs, happy music," he points out. "That's the goal. The economy's good; got to give them some good-feeling music.