Local rock-scene staples the Pin Downs are on a roll. The kind that rocks, blessedly hard. Combining big-muff pedals with a humor-tinged attitude, the all-female party-crashing punk band of guitarists Heather Dalton and Ginger Richards, bassist Sara Fischer and drummer Jen Frale has worked its way into revelers' happy hearts faster than a baptism washes off original sin. It's the hearts of Lilith Fair fans that haven't been won over yet -- and for good reason.
The foursome is currently organizing what Dalton, a former Teletunes hostess and current tape librarian/productionist at KBDI-TV/Channel 12, describes with somewhat guarded playfulness as "the Anti-Lilith Fair." Bandmembers spearheaded the event, an evening of live music from four aggressive local bands with a strong feminine contingent, to counteract what they perceive as elitism on the part of the actual Lilith Fair.
"Bands like L7 and Bikini Kill who were amplified were not asked to join on," Dalton notes. "I was surprised to find out that Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders was asked, but only for one night and not on tour. Joan Jett, even. Some of the pioneers of women in rock." Frale, a DeKalb, Illinois, transplant who counsels runaway teens at a local shelter (and who compares her own snares and toms to a "VW van parked alongside a Lexus") agrees. "They were having the Lilith Fair auditions for local bands but only allowing hand drums -- no drum sets -- and I'm like, That rules me out."
The Anti-Lilith Fair. Featuring the Pin Downs, with the Maybellines, Speedholes and the Swanks
8 p.m. Wednesday, August 25, Bluebird Theater, 3317 East Colfax Avenue, 303-830-6700
In other words, I am Woman, hear me bore.
The Pin Downs aren't the first females to declare war on festival mediocrity. L7, the aforementioned Los Angeles power trio, recently hired banner-dragging airplanes to buzz the parking lots of two well-attended concerts. During the Dixie Chicks' set of Lilith's stop at Pasadena's Rose Bowl, the banner read "Bored? Tired? Try L7." The following day, over a crowd gathered for the Warped Tour's show at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park, New Jersey, their unfurled and unflappable message was "Warped needs more beaver...Love, L7."
"The first thing most female musicians get when they're signed to a major label is a nutritionist and a trainer," says Richards, a children's-workshop instructor. While corporate-fed images of beauty seem not to clash with the pretty, soft music of most of the Lilith lineup (Sheryl Crow, Monica, Sarah McLachlan), they make a worthy target for bands like L7 and the Pin Downs. So it appeared that a logical pairing was in the works when the Pin Downs offered their services as the opening act for L7's upcoming show in Denver (Thursday, August 26, at the Bluebird Theater). Though all indications hinted at a different outcome, the Sevens declined.
"Actually, I'm glad things didn't work out," Dalton readily admits. "I would rather have an evening where all of our friends could come and we could showcase some of the great female musicians in this town rather than us kowtowing and opening up for a national act who probably wouldn't even say hello to us."
Whoever they're playing with, the Pin Downs remain focused. And feisty. The band name does not reference a wrestling maneuver or a bowling term. "It's the opposite of Pin Ups," Dalton points out. "'Cuz we ain't."
Collectively, members have played integral parts in scads of bands in Denver and DeKalb; an incomplete list would include Fox Force Five, MK Ultra, Half-Burnt Match, Twenty Dollar Honeymoon, Shrinking Violets, the Fabulous Martini Brothers and Monowatt. On their new, homegrown and self-titled CD, a loud and raucous affair engineered by DU Records' Mike Jourgenson and pressed by Onion staffer Jeff "Stratto-caster" Stratton, the girls slam together a tough sound. Four-part harmonies blend with call-and-response power chords, and each musician takes a turn singing lead. Zesty, hacked off or both, the songs run the topical gamut from bad eyewear ("Tinted Glasses") to the joys of traffic violations ("Red Light Go") to rousing crowd-pleasers ("Bikini Tops," "Fuck Off"). That's not to say the girlie grrrls don't have a soft side. Fischer, who's earning a degree in French literature, belts out a love song in the language of Edith Piaf that translates sweetly: "The day is so long when I'm waiting for the night, but today I think of you and I smile." C'est très triste.
What needs no translation, however, is the wit, guts and enthusiasm the band brings to a live setting, always employing a whimsical fashion sense. "We set out from the start to do something different, something visual," Fischer says.
"I had a Superfly-meets-Hank Williams ten-gallon hat" from a stock-show-era gig, Dalton recalls.
"Lingerie and ski masks!" exclaims Frale, casting an eye toward the future.
Perhaps at their most endearingly clad, the quartet sports what the majority of their hardcore fans -- affectionately referred to as Pin Heads -- associate them with: fully realized, head-to-toe, tartan-skirted matching Catholic-schoolgirl uniforms. "People treat you differently," Dalton says.
"When we played in Colorado Springs, everyone looked at us like we were alien life forms," says Richards.
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The family values crowd isn't the only one skeptical of the Pin Downs, though -- and not nearly the toughest. Last spring, at one of the speed-metal events that Denver's Aztlan Theater is notorious for booking, the band opened for death-metal groups D.R.I. and Macabre, braving the vitriol of loaded fifteen-year-old brats hell-bent on heckling. "We played 'I Wanna Be Your Dog,' by fuckin' Iggy Pop," Fischer recalls, "and someone yelled, 'Get off the stage, you fuckin' hippies!'" It got uglier. The bright lights blocked out the riffraff. Shadowy pink-haired forms threw things. Richards caught a lighter in the gut.
"They were all hunched over with their little liberty-spiked mohawks, you know," Frale says. So, Dalton says, "I had to take it upon myself to show 'em my ass. That's the first ass any of those boys have seen," she adds, laughing. Further praise from the crowd prompted her to shout "Thank you! We love to suck!" Also in attendance for that evening's display was Dalton's mom, the woman who bought four matching sleeping bags for the group's West Coast tour (which included dates in L.A. and Las Vegas and was, at press time, happily under way). What's a mother to do?
Whether it's climbing over brick walls in bouffants and evening wear for some 5 a.m. skinny-dipping, organizing a battle-of-the-bands kickball league at Washington Park or just pounding down adult beverages with Cricket on the Hill fixture Denver Joe, ("His heart's as big as his hat," Richards says warmly), the Pin Downs are in it for all the right reasons. "This is for the hometown girls," Dalton contends. "It's a party, you know. Put on your party dress!"
Amen to that.