Hell's Belles, with Dirty Femmes and MF Ruckus, at Oriental Theater, 11/2/12

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Last night the Oriental was invaded by a sentimental army of superfans, with performer and audience meeting on an equal plain of adoration for music that was at least two decades old. Jen Korte's Violent Femmes tribute band, the Dirty Femmes, were beautifully complimented by original Violent Femmes' vocalist Gordon Gano on violin, while MF Ruckus, as Iron Maiden, explained the perils of the number of the beast, and all female AC/DC sycophants Hell's Belles delivered enough testosterone -- and classic rock fetishism -- to satisfy the audience's bounty of good ol' boys just off their blue-collar jobs looking to hear some radio hits they've loved since puberty.

See also: - Violent Femmes' Gordon Gano to perform with Denver tribute band - Review: The Dirty Femmes at hi-dive, 4/7/12 - Hell's Belles at Vail Film Fest

As always, the Dirty Femmes brought the perfect combination of nostalgia and skill to Violent Femmes songs such as "Gimme the Car" and "Kiss Off," with Korte's longtime love of the material shining through in her unmasked smile. And Gano provided a damn-sight more than iconic novelty with his role on fiddle, particularly with his stunning, metal-worthy solo on "Add It Up."

This classic ode to pubescent sexual frustration -- with the eternal line "I look at your pants, and I need a kiss" -- sung in the context of last night's show drove home the dynamic of a tribute concert. Korte's vocals were cool, powerful, and in control, which is somewhat antithetical to the nature of most Violent Femmes songs.

When the band's debut album was released in 1983, Gordon Gano was a 21-year-old-son of a Baptist preacher from the Midwest, and judging by his songs, there was an intense degree of confusion and repression in the young songwriter. Korte sounded amazing performing these songs, but she didn't necessarily embody them. She never approached the vunerable anxiety of lines like "Why can't I get just one fuck?/I guess it's got something to do with luck/But I've waited my whole life for just one."

And that's okay. If Korte were trying to make the songs her own on a personal level, it wouldn't work. People don't go see tribute bands to experience the content of the songs; they go for the context of the recordings. The bands on stage aren't singing the lyrics in the circumstance for which they were written -- they're singing them as fans, as an embodiment of what they love and cherish about music. Which, if you think about it, is probably a more sincere form of expression than 80 percent of the bands that only play original material.

MF Ruckus, performing an Iron Maiden tribute, tore the place apart with all the style and evil the room could possibly handle, powering its way through beloved metal tracks such as "2 Minutes To Midnight" and "The Number Of The Beast."

There was somewhat of a cultural division in the audience between the people who listened to Iron Maiden in high school and the people who were into the Violent Femmes. Surely there was some overlap, but by looking at the audience members who were wide-eyed and singing along to every syllable of Violent Femme lyrics, versus those who did so to Maiden, it was clear who had spent their formative years lip-synching to what songs before their bedroom mirror.

"The Republican party says it's time for a change!" Ruckus singer Aaron Howell told the audience. He concluded that perhaps the real GOP motive was "just a Fear Of The Dark," before launching into the 1992 album title track. Semi-costumed, the band exuded all the sweat, hair and testosterone imaginable of a tribute band, at times looking like a goth orgy in a post-game high-school locker room.

The sexual thermostat of the room only went higher when Hell's Belles walked onto the stage. It would certainly be enough to only discuss how fucking amazing this band is, how if you closed your eyes it wasn't impossible to imagine you were in the presence of the Australian hard-rock band in their prime, but the only thing equaling the fist-pumping, riff-slashing, dumb glory of it all was the sexual fetishization of male rock gods embodied by females.

Dressed in a cartoonishly short-skirted Catholic school-girl uniform, Adrian Conner was looking slightly more Britney Spears than Angus Young (which is probably the strangest mash-up since Lyle Lovett and Julia Roberts). She played the part beautifully, though, skipping across the stage with all the boyhood energy of Young at his peak, a picture-perfect counterpart to Amber Saxon's Bon Scott/Brian Johnson.

The childhood glory of hearing these songs live, mixed with the undeniable eroticism of Conner's leggy moves and guitar mastery, must have been a near psychological overload for many of the men (and likely more than a few ladies) in the audience. All of that reached a peak when she performed a manic strip-tease, getting down to crimson bra and skirt before climbing atop the bass drum, presenting her rear to the crowd, lowering her drawers and mooning the audience, who screamed with delight at the sight of her tattooed bottom proudly reading: AC/DC.


Personal Bias: I'm more of an art-rock nerd than a cock-rocker, so what brought me to the show was Gordon Gano and the Dirty Femmes.

Random Detail: Last night probably saw the largest collection of un-ironic cowboy hats in the Oriental's history.

By the Way: I love AC/DC and Iron Maiden, but that was one show at which the crowd's musical knowledge and appreciation far exceeded my own.

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