Counting the similarities between the Mansfields and the Ramones is like going down a list of Lincoln/ Kennedy coincidences. Primal pop-punk anthems? Check. Oldies covers? Check. Members who take the same fictitious last name? Check. Drummers called Tommy? Check. But there's another list they could be associated with -- the one that catalogues who's been naughty or nice. Despite a common uniform of leather, spikes, ripped jeans and fuck-you sneers, both groups have dabbled in the most utterly un-punk art form imaginable: Christmas songs.
"Honestly, I'm a huge Christmas-music fan," confesses Dave Mansfield, singer/bassist for the Colorado Springs trio. "I just genuinely love it. Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Elvis's Christmas stuff. Anything that's kitschy or campy or retro. It's kind of corny, but it's fun."
"Broke on Christmas Again" -- featured on the Mansfields' most recent CD, Loud Fast Punk Trash Rock N Roll, as well as their new DVD, This City Kills...Live! -- is a raging anti-carol easily as catchy and bittersweet as the Ramones' "Merry Christmas (I Don't Want to Fight)." Sung by Dave's younger brother, guitarist Doug, "Broke" shows just how little the band cares about fitting any preconceived notions of coolness. The sentiment is shared by the band's legion of fans; the introduction to This City Kills features rabid interviews with the crowd outside a Mansfields show in the Springs in 2004, a cult-like mob made up of every manner of teenage fuckup. This isn't a band for hipsters; it's a band for spazzes, fat girls, the pimple-ridden and the kids just as likely to sport crutches and Boy Scout badges as they would piercings and bullet belts.
The Mansfields Nightmare Before Christmas
With Reno Divorce and 18 Wheeler, 7 p.m. Sunday, December 18, Bluebird Theater, 3317 East Colfax Avenue, $7, 303-322-2308
"A lot of people ask me if Colorado Springs is, like, the least rock-and-roll place in the world," Dave says. "And it is. But the kids here are amazing. A lot of bands couldn't get the kind of reaction we do out of a local crowd. People in other places are too cool for that. So many kids feel like they're the underdogs -- I know I always have. I hope our music speaks to them, that we're there for somebody."
The Loud Fast Punk track "This City Kills" probably best sums up the Mansfields' feelings about their home town. A shout-along collision of the Ramones, early Social Distortion and Walk Among Us-era Misfits, the song carves riffs and angst into massive hooks punctuated with lines like "You say you wanna hear the story of my life/Drivin' down these lonely streets/Frustration's hard to hide." While Dave admits that he and his brother enjoyed a "pretty normal" and "straight and narrow" childhood in the Springs, discovering punk rock in their teens changed everything.
"When I first heard the Ramones, I couldn't believe something so simple could make a band," Dave recalls. "Before that, me and Doug were trying to write heavy-metal songs like Mtley Crüe, and we just weren't any good at it. But the Ramones and Blondie made me think, 'That I can do.' I can't play amazing solos, but I can do three chords and tell a quick story about life. Everybody talks about the Ramones this way, but it's true. My metal record collection was tossed out overnight."
Enlisting their friend Tommy, the brothers went through numerous false starts before forming Violent Nine in 1994. When the moniker started to draw a rowdier hardcore crowd -- almost funny in light of the outfit's bouncy, hook-shredded sound -- they became the Mansfields, after the actress immortalized in the Violent Nine song "Jayne Mansfield Was a Punk." Soon, though, the players began incorporating elements of the hair metal of their adolescence.
"By that point, those metal bands had just killed themselves," Dave explains. "It wasn't even fun to be associated with that anymore. We went through this hardheaded period where we dived into all this punk rock like the Dead Boys. But then our heads come up, and we realized that there were some good bands back then: Mtley Crue, Guns N' Roses, Hanoi Rocks, Faster Pussycat."
Faster Pussycat's lead singer Taime Downe even wound up befriending the Mansfields, booking them at his regular Hollywood party, the Pretty Ugly Club, in 2003. By then, the world had witnessed a comeback of '80s glam -- but when the Mansfields started working the look and sound into their identity in the mid-'90s, few were ready for it.
"We were ahead of the curve getting out of that stuff before grunge and punk hit, and then we were ahead of the curve getting back into it," notes Dave, who to this day looks like the love child of Mick Mars and Alice Cooper. "Up until a couple years ago, people were still calling it 'butt rock.' We've gotten hassled for it here in the Springs. Even just hanging out in Denver, you can dress however you want; but down here, people sometimes feel brave enough to make remarks to you. Of course, they stop when they realize they may get beat down over it. Who wants to listen to that kind of crap? People should have better things to do."
Glam, however, wasn't the only style the Mansfields employed to throw people for a loop. Early on, they would switch off the distortion in the middle of their sets and bust into a faithful Stray Cats or Carl Perkins cover. The rockabilly influence was hinted at on the group's first two full-lengths, 1998's Sappy Songs for Summer Nights and 2001's Kill Your Radio, but it wasn't until Loud Fast Punk that Dave and crew jumped into the deep end, doing a twangy, reverb-smeared rendition of Johnny Burnette's 1956 classic "Tear It Up."
"There was no Grateful Dead in our home growing up. Our folks listened to Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash," Dave says with pride. "That was our music. You drop your guard when you play stuff like that. But seeing a bunch of punks putting around to 'Rock This Town' really gave us confidence."
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While the Mansfields have never been a critics' darling, their appeal has spread far beyond Colorado Springs -- and the United States. The Kill This City DVD, besides featuring a triumphant hometown set at 32 Bleu, chronicles the group's 2004 trek across Germany, Holland, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, Austria and France, its second successful European tour. But there's nothing like being home for the holidays; the Mansfields will deck the halls of the Bluebird for a special Nightmare Before Christmas-themed celebration this year, part of their annual yuletide punk tradition.
"We'll have some Christmas trees and go-go dancers, like a stage production," Dave details. "Me and Doug collect '40s, '50s and early '60s stuff, and our houses are totally full of these vintage Christmas trees and decorations. It's fun to drag all that stuff out this time of year."
But the Mansfields' favorite holiday paraphernalia isn't roasting chestnuts or plastic Santas. It's all that sappy, annoyingly glorious Christmas music.
"You can't drive around and listen to this stuff in the summer," Dave says with a laugh. "This is the only time of year you can get away with it."