Golden, Colorado, right at the foot of the Rockies, between Lookout Mountain and the two Table Mountains, is an unlikely venue for Metro Denver’s major annual sleaze/hair-metal festival, but life is full of surprises. That the fest takes place at the Buffalo Rose, an unassuming old honky-tonk built in 1859 to host, among other things, church services and dances, only serves to dial up the oddity factor.
In fact, local niche concert bookers and promotors Wolfpack Productions put shows on at the Buffalo Rose throughout the year. It’s become a gloriously strange little sanctuary for those in the region who are still drawn to big 1980s rock-and-roll anthems and all of the spandex fantasy that comes with them. In many ways, the Buffalo Rose couldn’t be farther from the Sunset Strip, but once inside when a band such as Every Mother’s Nightmare, Jetboy or Faster Pussycat is performing, you could be at the Roxy or the Whisky in ’86.
The jewel in the Wolfpack year is the annual Wolf Fest, which this fall takes place at the Buffalo Rose on September 29 and 30, with an additional performance by LA Guns at Herman’s Hideaway on October 7. That latter gig feels a little disjointed from the main weekend, but there’s enough going on at the Rose anyway. The main draws on Friday are Tennessee rockers Tora Tora and Hollywood sleaze icons Pretty Boy Floyd. On Saturday, the bill is topped by Maryland’s Kix, and the re-formed Throbs.
Quality-wise, that’s a mighty impressive lineup, even if the bands aren’t necessarily the cream of the hair-metal crop. Some would say that these are the also-rans, but the thing is, it doesn’t matter, because there’s been a resurgence in this sort of music in recent years. It's not funny anymore, and people who only discovered Guns N’ Roses, Mötley Crüe and Poison recently are then looking sideways at the other bands from the era. Screw sales figures — the music was tremendous. Tora Tora frontman Anthony Corder agrees.
“Music always goes in cycles, but it seems like here in the States, it shifted in ’92, when Nirvana hit,” he says. “I think it was something that was refreshing. At the time, it was hard to swallow. We went from being super-busy and the phone ringing off the wall to the calls slowing down. But it never went away everywhere else like it did in the U.S. Here, there has been a resurgence. The music still stands up. There were people we toured with who have never left the road, but we took a hiatus, and that changed our perspective. We’re not going on some big, long tour, but we’re definitely going to be more active than we have been the past few years.”
Pretty Boy Floyd singer Steve Summers acknowledges that something special is happening nationally, and even in Denver, a city not traditionally seen as a glam-rock stronghold.
“I wish there was a Wolfpack in every state,” he says. “They really love the 1980s rock. That’s what Anthony [Lucero, Wolfpack co-founder/president] loves and pretty much all they book. They’re great and professional, and we love doing their stuff. They have great bands, and the fans are great. He books bands that surprise me, too.”
The joy of a Wolfpack show at the Buffalo Rose, for those who love this sort of stuff or just for music fans with an open mind, is the unrestrained glee on display. Nobody there cares about modern definitions of “cool.” It feels like you’ve stepped though some sort of weirdly specific time portal, like a lost episode of Quantum Leap. But mock at your peril. These are people who saw out grunge and Brit pop, and kept buying tickets without removing one ounce of mascara or one inch of leopard skin. These are lifers, and the Wolf Fest is when they all come out to play.
As for the musicians, these are real-deal players, too, guys who have stuck with their craft or perhaps returned to it and are not content to be seen as some sad-sack nostalgia act. Many are preparing for new releases, including Tora Tora.
“We’re in the process of writing, and hopefully will have something new out by spring of next year,” says Corder. “We’re thrilled. We’re like a bunch of giddy kids. We haven’t put anything new out since ’94, so it’s been a minute. We’ve got a lot of different life experiences and perspectives now. We’re not spring chickens anymore, but we still love music. We stepped away for a while to raise families and be rocking dads, and now our children are getting to that age where they have their own lives.”
Similarly, Pretty Boy Floyd has an as-yet-untitled album in the works, and Summers says that it might just be the band’s best yet, and a worthy successor to 1989’s mini-classic Leather Boyz With Electric Toyz.
“I would hate to sound like so many other bands, but I think the record is gonna do the talking,” he says. “If you’re a fan of Leather Boyz…, if you’re a fan of some of the greatest glam rock, anything from Mötley Crüe to Kiss to LA Guns — all of their best records, all that stuff, then this is gonna blow you away. It's our best stuff. We’re glad to be on Frontier Records; a lot of bands from back in the heyday are on that label, so that’s cool. The label is excited about that type of music and stuff like that, so to us it’s gonna blow people away.”
The Throbs, led by Ronnie Sweetheart, is another band thinking about a new record, and that will be an event in and of itself, as the only true release, The Language of Thieves and Vagabonds, came out in 1991 (though a second album was hastily dropped with a different singer).
“It’s been a while,” says Sweetheart. “I’ve got Faster Pussycat’s band, because I figured Danny [Nordahl, bass] plays in Pussycat, and he’s one of the original guys in the Throbs. I wanted Danny back in the band, so I figured I’d snag Faster Pussycat, so at least they’re all on the same schedule. We’re actually talking about possibly doing some recording of new material, because all the guys have some songs that they want to do. We just need some time to get it together, because they just got off the road. Time is of the essence with everyone.”
Sweethearts says that the Throbs have a forty-minute set, so they’’ll keep the talking to a minimum and blast through as many songs as they can at Wolf Fest.
“I think we’ll just play our heaviest songs,” he says. “Just try to do it like the Ramones — no talking. I just go up there to enjoy myself. If I’m not enjoying it, nobody else will. So we’ll just bang them out. I’m a lot older now, but I just want to kick some ass for forty minutes and then get off.”
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Corder says that the Tora Tora set will be a mix of old and new, with a couple of acoustic numbers to mix things up. Similarly, Pretty Boy Floyd will play a few new tunes.
“We’re pretty much getting ready for the new record, so everything from here on out is complete excitement and giving the people a few new songs, and it’s gonna be great,” says Summers. “The drums won’t be flipping around like Tommy Lee, but Pretty Boy Floyd is always a high-energy show, even if it’s stripped down and we’ve got nothing.”
Wolf Fest, September 29 and 30 and October 7, Buffalo Rose, 1119 Washington Ave, Golden.