We're an all-lesbian band if you need to label us, but we don't go out promoting that," says Laura Coleman, drummer for folk-blues power trio the Dearly Beloved. "The whole gay thing is pretty minor. As far as I know, this is the only all-female band in town, but we don't want to have two different standards for male and female. We actually get a lot more men at our shows than lesbians."
For Whitney Rehr, who co-fronts the outfit with fellow songwriter Jennifer Waters, social-gender politics take a back seat to the simple joys of rockin' the casbah -- especially when it invokes combined energies from both sexes. "I'd like to think I play with as much male-channeled chutzpah as I do from the goddess," Rehr says. "There's an all-encompassing yin-yang balance accessible to all of us."
The fact that boys often approach the Dearly Beloved after shows to yak about tube amps, muff pedals, Telecasters and Les Pauls only sweetens the deal. "Talkin' gear makes me so happy," Rehr admits. "We always walk away with way more brothers than we had to begin with."
During a freewheeling cocktail session at Sputnik, the ladies endear themselves in a number of ways -- from discussing chaos theory, spiritual self-healing and how they all excel at burping to espousing their new fashion line of thongs, panties and boxer briefs (complete with bulging black-and-red band logo). At one point, Waters, who used to smoke and chew tobacco -- sometimes simultaneously -- performs an impressive feat of strength known to yoga masters as the peacock pose. Palms down, with conjoined elbows pressing against her abdomen, she lifts and holds the weight of her body parallel to the bar-room floor for a count of ten. Later, Waters folds a five-dollar bill into a tiny, short-sleeved origami shirt.
In a way, such polar opposites of strength and delicacy epitomize the Dearly Beloved. A certain creepy sweetness is implied in the very name itself, a formal icebreaker at both weddings and funerals. That the unit remained intact following a broken in-band romance demonstrates resiliency. But Waters, Rehr and Coleman aren't exactly Fabergé eggs.
Boasting two distinct and incendiary stage personas, the Dearly Beloved spun out of mmm...Swirly and the Eccentrics, separate musical duos that Rehr and Waters formed after meeting at Boulder's now-defunct KWAB-AM six years ago. Rehr, a St. Louis native who refers to herself as a "fired-up pagan from day one," works with developmentally disabled toddlers during the day. Skilled with a slide and didgeridoo, she brings the more folksy and hard-rocking elements to the band -- something heard in spades on her 1998 solo release, Truthcage. Meanwhile, Waters provides the Beloved's bluesier component, influenced as much by John Lee Hooker and Jeff Buckley as by Patti Smith or Dolly Parton. A graphic designer who guards her gypsy origins like someone in a witness-protection program, Waters (poised to legally change her name to Romany) has written more than two dozen non-fiction children's books for Spyglass, including Slip and Slide and You Have to Be a Good Sport.
Coleman rounds out the groove-driven trio. A Wilmington, Delaware, transplant who became an accountant with no formal training, she cut her teeth in the Denver scene as a timekeeper for Rachel's Playpen and Backbone Velvet. Currently moonlighting in both Snatched! and National Blues Arsenal, the drummer, who soldiers on despite carpal tunnel problems, offers an alternative to hide-beating showboats like the unmanly Phil Collins.
"My philosophy is that the guy with a really huge drum set, with a shitload of toms and cymbals, is the guy with the small penis who has to do a zillion fills," Coleman says. "For my own drumming, I love to be extremely simple. Less is more. I love keeping my kick drum very deep and trying to play a little behind the pocket. The most frequent comment I get is sounding like John Bonham, which is the most flattering thing I could ever get."
A less complimentary attitude, however, has stigmatized the dual-ax attack of Waters and Rehr -- namely, the ridiculous notion that chicks can't play guitar solos.
"C'mon! These guys wank all the time!" Coleman exclaims. "They've been killin' their guitars lately."
"We're so socialized," Rehr muses. "But the guitar is an extension of the dick."
"I disagree," Waters counters. "The guitar started out female because women would play as servants, and the reasons for the curve was so that the breasts would fit."
How a voluptuous parlor instrument morphed into the Flying V is something for historians to grouse about. But it's curious that the testosterone club would embrace Coleman's kit work more than Waters's or Rehr's fretwork.
"Folks are way more open to Laura being a kick-ass drummer," Rehr says. "Guys go fuckin' apeshit over Laura."
So do girls, who go crazier yet for the entire band. Once, during a live rendering of "Big Womon Shoes" -- a simmering ode to sisterhood that traditionally invites a barrage of footwear and undergarments to the stage -- a boot sailed directly into Water's prized maple-top acoustic guitar. "It's sort of like a Cinderella story," she notes. "When the girls came on stage afterward to figure out whose stuff was whose, I knew who it belonged to." This fairy tale had a happy ending, too: The boot-tossing hellcat ended up driving the band's diesel-powered flatbed for its memorable performance at PrideFest last June.
"We were in a float decorated by all our friends, goin' down Colfax with tons of people screaming, throwing ribbons and bras and condoms," Coleman recalls. "We felt like U2. It was a very surreal experience. Lots of bare breasts at that show."
"It was like a moving audience," Waters adds. "I kept chipping my teeth on the microphone, 'cause we were all trying not to fall down."
Equally disorienting was another gig that drew more than its usual round of cat calls. "A beautiful straight redhead was pretty drunk and flirtatious and got me cornered after the show," Waters recalls. "She said, ŒIf you don't have sex with me, then I'm gonna have sex with your car.' This woman was so good-looking, she got away with it. She was on top of my Ford Taurus -- we called it the ŒClit-Taurus' at the time -- just whippin' her scarf all over."
"We almost started a brawl at the Cricket," Coleman adds. "One of our fans, who is very well-endowed, took off her shirt and just had her bra on. The dumbass doing the door told her to put her shirt back on. So the sound guy took off his shirt. Everybody was protesting and taking their shirts off."
Despite any topless solidarity found within city limits, the Beloved discovered better-paying venues in mountain towns like Black Hawk, Nederland and Rollinsville. After two years of solid gigging, the gals booked time with Sleeping Brotherhood Studio engineer Kyle Jones and released their debut full-length, Strap-on Halo. Full of tartly observed, lyrical story-songs with appealing melodies and intricate vocal harmonies, the album runs the gamut from slow-burning desert mirage ("Brakes on Fire") to saucy, Motown-inflected R&B ("The One Thing"). Upbeat opener "Bookmobile Ophelia," resurrected from Olive, an album issued by Waters's former band, Water for Emily, tells the tale of a violin virtuoso whose special sense of satisfaction in life comes from driving around a van full of tattered paperbacks with her pet snake. By contrast, the emotionally weary "Morphine" drifts through a landscape of sagging Dutch elms and headless milkmen, a place in which Rehr found herself after a car accident prompted reconstructive face surgery for a shattered orbital bone.
"They vacuumed it out and slid in this little piece of plastic so my eye would stay up," Rehr relates. "I was on morphine in the headphones for three weeks: Cure for Pain."
Back in the pink, Rehr fronts the politically charged Moonhead and plucks bass for I'm a Boy in addition to her Beloved duties. Having presented copies of Halo to the Indigo Girls' Amy Ray, PJ Harvey, Cindy Lauper, Melissa Ferrick, Ani DiFranco and an appreciative LeeAnn Rimes (who recently paid a surprise visit to Waters's yoga class), the Beloved aim to win new fans on an upcoming West Coast swing that includes L.A.'s legendary Whisky A Go-Go.
"We keep wanting to not come back from tour," Coleman says, "but that's not financially possible yet."
Barring a sweet deal from the right label or a sugar mama with a fat trucker's wallet, the group will continue embodying the DIY ethic, spreading its reputation via community benefits, local female festivals like LILT or backing an occasional political comedy skit on DCTV's Not Ready for Real TV Players. With rowdy ex-Rexway bassist Susan Phelan (National Blues Arsenal) sitting in when she's available, the Dearly Beloved remain as busy as a big, sexy beaver. But again, it's not just for the chicks.
"We could use being an all-lesbian band with big tits to get people to come see us," Rehr admits. "And when they'd come, they'd go, ŒOh, God, those women can play some music."
"I think we change people's perspectives for a small moment in their life," Coleman concludes. "That's what it's all about."
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