When I think of my earliest memories of the Denver band Dirty Few, one GIF-like moment stands out: Seth Stone crowd-surfing through the hi-dive, hurling an Extra Gold through the air, screaming at the top of his lungs and somehow landing right in front of me and planting a big fat kiss right on my terrified lips.
This occurred at approximately 5 p.m. on a Tuesday.
It was summer 2013. I’d been living in Denver for just over two years, and I’d already built up Dirty Few to be larger-than-life legends — partially human, partially moped-riding party gods, partially Jabba the Hutt’s henchmen from Return of the Jedi. I was a year older than they were, but they seemed light years ahead of me in life experience. If my adolescence was spent playing baseball with the kids from The Sandlot, theirs was spent being the house band for the runaway kids hanging at Shredder’s hideout in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
My first encounter with Dirty Few occurred in May 2012 at the Mouth House, a DIY venue across from where I lived on 28th and California streets. It was a three-story crumbling mansion turned underground music haven. From what I remember, about nine guys lived there, each paying about $150 in rent and playing music 24/7. I, meanwhile, commuted to an office building in my Subaru Outback and ate salads for dinner. I was intimidated and awestruck by the Mouth House.
Somehow, my band, Bud Bronson & the Good Timers, landed our first-ever show there, and Dirty Few happened to be headlining. The night started auspiciously. Because all our friends showed up and even a few strangers seemed to be mildly interested in our music, I felt like a 500-foot Bruce Springsteen-Godzilla superhuman rock monster when we finished our set.
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Then Dirty Few played, and I was immediately transformed into the infant on the label of Gerber’s baby food jars. The set was fast, fun and completely out of control, as if a nuclear bomb of Twisted Tea had exploded in the Mouth House living room. The crowd — cordial and pleasant while we played — had transformed into a denim-clad army of tattooed, tallboy-wielding maniacs, like Mad Max motorbikers at a post-apocalypse after-party. People were shouting along, pouring beers into each others' mouths, crowd-surfing, chain-smoking, mic-grabbing, and generally having the time of their lives. The DIY scene wasn’t new to me — I’d been to enough hardcore basement shows as a high-schooler in New Jersey — but I’d never been to a show so careless, fun and celebratory before. I was blown away.
I didn’t see Dirty Few again until nearly a year later, when I ran into the guys on a Thursday night at Sputnik and nervously reintroduced myself.
“Hi, I’m Brian,” I said, sticking out my hand like I was meeting the dad of a girl I was about to take on a date. “I don’t know if you guys remember, but we played a show together at the Mouth House last spring.”
“Oh, yeahhhh, dude, you guys were rad,” Spencer Stone said. “You guys should come to 3 Kings tonight. It’s our album-release party, and it’s gonna be wild.”
I looked over at Spencer’s twin brother, Seth, who was about to jump onto the bar to make a toast. Seth was wearing a T-shirt with a wolf on it, a denim vest covered in band patches, an eagle-claw bolo tie and one of those raccoon-pelt fur hats. He looked like a monster-truck-driving Davy Crockett.
I was prepared to follow the Stone brothers anywhere. So we went to the show.
Three Kings was absolute mayhem. It was exponentially bigger, crazier and more fun than the Mouth House show, which I now realized had been just a casual Busch shotgun in the never-ending bender that was Dirty Few. When the show ended, my bandmate Austen and I exited the chaos of the bar and walked west along a suddenly silent First Avenue. “Why are there not more people here to experience this right now?” Austen asked. “In a few years, everyone’s going to be here. It’s too good to be true.”
This was January 2013, and Austen was right. The Denver I fell in love with nearly ten years ago felt like the Wild West, at least in my idealistic eyes — expansive and slow-moving, a place where anything seemed possible. It was in that version of Denver — in its time-frozen houses, garages, back yards and dive bars — that Dirty Few spawned its army of party-tested, die-hard followers. In the process, the band carried on with a sense of fun-loving swagger that I have yet to see replicated in this city’s music scene.
This is the part where I need to clarify something — something I consider to be a long-held misconception about Dirty Few. The band was not cool because it partied. It was not cool because the guys chugged tallboys, barfed on stage, sprayed beers into the crowd, or carried on with the sort of “who gives a fuck” abandon that any wannabe badass rock-and-roller could attempt to emulate.
These guys were cool because they were themselves — because their get-loose, have-fun mantra was fully, 100 percent them. Whether they were at the Gothic opening for Thee Oh Sees, or playing Buttsnake in their back yard on a random Wednesday afternoon, they were the same exact people. Yes, they embodied all the tropes of a reckless, tomorrow-be-damned rock-and-roll band. And at times it could be obnoxious, over-the-top and off-putting. But they did it all so effortlessly, without any pre-meditation, and with more pure fun than any other Denver band I’ve ever seen. Simply put, Dirty Few was born to be Dirty Few.
But youthful indulgence eventually grows old. When Pete Townshend grew tired of windmilling his SG into oblivion, the Who wrote a rock opera. By the time Bob Stinson had drunk his way out of the Replacements, Paul Westerberg had already begun reining in the band’s sound. For Dirty Few, the specifics were different, but I imagine the growing pains were the same.
Regularly selling out the hi-dive was supposed to be a benchmark, not the end goal. So Dirty Few went all in. They muscled out their lineup with proven gunslingers Leo Gutierrez on bass and Micah Morris on lead guitar. Kim Phat took on a more prominent role as vocalist and began owning the center of the stage, adding another magnetic presence to the live shows and a new range to the band’s sound. Dirty Few’s music evolved in a more hard-edged, punk direction, and the songwriting became exponentially more nuanced. These changes, along with the band’s hiring of a manager while doubling down on touring and recording, altered the entire vibe of Dirty Few: from mindless, carefree, Silly String-strewn fun to something more urgent, serious and, dare I say, professional. Stripped of the over-the-top rambunctiousness of the early days, Dirty Few had transformed from lovable party animals into a battle-tested force to be reckoned with. The band had grown up.
But trying to make it in music — putting everything else in your life on hold while waiting to get paid for your passion — is viciously taxing. Especially when you’re a party band entering your thirties, marooned on the musical island of Denver, self-booking your own tours. Eventually, rites that once seemed novel — sleeping on strangers’ floors, staying up past dawn, dealing with your bandmates’ quirks, spending hours trapped in a shitty van, eating terrible food, constantly partying — can lose their luster, and even hauling your amps into a bar can feel like a soul-crushing task. Faced with such colossal rock-and-roll pressures, a musician will inevitably begin pondering the question: Is this really worth it?
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When the answer to that question is no, even for one bandmember, everyone shares an added burden. Tempers shorten, relationships strain, and the very bond that holds a band together — friendship, camaraderie and the pursuit of a shared goal — is weakened. When you’re going for it as hard as Dirty Few was, that weakened bond can be enough to sink the entire ship.
Most bands I know in Denver love playing music and genuinely care about what they do. But few, if any, fully live through their band like the members of Dirty Few did. To them, being in a band wasn’t just a hobby, job or creative outlet. It was their entire life. They put every ounce of their heart, hustle and beer-soaked sweat into what they did — and for fans of a certain brand of can-foisting rock and roll, they gave Denver a swagger that no other band could rival.
I hope they realize how much they meant to those around them and how much they have to be proud of. I hope Denver music lovers realize how lucky we were to share their universe. Dirty Few hit Denver like a meteorite, and an entire ocean of Extra Gold will not fill the crater the band is leaving behind.
Dirty Few brings its Losing Our Minds Farewell Show to the Marquis Theater on Saturday, April 6, with Bud Bronson & the Good Timers, Gymshorts and Lloyd & Saviour.