Concert Reviews

No Gods but Bass Gods: Chicharra is the Best Triple Bass Band Ever

Once, an old bandmate's boyfriend told me "a rock star plays their bass like this" (motioning to an imaginary low-slung guitar hitting around the waist) and "a real musician plays their bass like this" (plucking the strings of an invisible instrument at his chest.) He was implying that I was the former — but the funny part was, I never saw him get on a stage, let alone play an instrument that wasn't air guitar. Saturday night at Syntax Physic Opera, I watched as Chicharra — an Albuquerque quartet headed up by three excellent bass players, "real musicians" who might also be considered "rock stars" if qualified by their low hanging playing style — shred for the good portion of an hour.

Though one drummer short (John Butler was present) of its usual two drummer/three bass line-up, the group's mini-weekend tour up to Colorado for two dates in Denver and one in Fort Collins was still powerful from start to finish. I caught Chicharra on its last evening here and left overjoyed at the group's magic and sad that I hadn't seen the band play all three Colorado shows. The layering of minimal percussion and low-end tones combined with the harmonies of three distinct voices created a clash of no wave noise with beautiful melodies and twinges of glam. 

The three leads in Chicharra are engaged in many musical projects, notably as powerful solo artists. Bassist and singer Marisa Demarco has been to Denver many times over the years performing as often-theatrical harsh noise project Bigawatt; bassist and singer Mauro Woody plays as the jarring and beautiful noise outfit Lady Uranium and Monica Demarco's Cthulha is a one-of-a-kind combination of live bass loops and aerial dance. Together, they have also traveled to Colorado as part of an evolving Albuquerque-based performance troupe Milch de la Máquina. 

Knowing these musicians' for their previous work and seeing them now as a more traditional (if three bassists in a band can be considered conventional in any sense) rock-oriented light only proved their musical versatility. Not often does the bass guitar get the kind of attention it did within the creative movements of Chicharra — but Woody and the Demarco sisters brought the instrument's many sonic faces out in multitudes. The juxtaposition of the bass's lower intonation with the three vocalists' higher register harmonies made Chicharra the kind of band you stop to stare at, just to try to figure out what exactly is going on on stage. But beyond the shock in the blending of dissonant and then agreeing tones, there was a great mix of styles — fun, nominal punk riffs occurred next to calculated measures couching one bass line within another. Underneath it all, Butler accompanied with only the essential rhythms, cymbals used sparingly and with intent.

It's interesting — even as the pop culture side of music seems enjoy proclaiming every few years as the "year of the female musician," it is still not a common phenomenon to see more than one woman in a band — or three, in the case of Chicharra. It is also not typical to find a bill like last night's at Syntax, which included four groups — Church Fire, Hideous Men, Chicharra and Of Earth and Sun — and five women members between them (and it should be noted that this thoughtful and curated line-up came courtesy of musician and Tiny Amp label proprietor and Madeline Johnston.) To play music in public as a female-identified person in 2015 is still a radical act in itself. To see three women fronting a band where all members stood in equal roles felt especially powerful. And though Chicharra presented no vocal dispatch of empowerment, it was visible just by being who they were. I hope Chicharra's subtle but no less message spreads: more women on stage. Now.  

Be my voyeur (or better yet, let me stalk you) on Twitter: @cocodavies
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Bree Davies is a multimedia journalist, artist advocate and community organizer born and raised in Denver. Rooted in the world of Do-It-Yourself arts and music, Davies co-founded Titwrench experimental music festival, is host of the local music and comedy show Sounds on 29th on CPT12 Colorado Public Television and is creator and host of the civic and social issue-focused podcast, Hello? Denver? Are You Still There? Her work is centered on a passionate advocacy for all ages, accessible, inclusive, non-commercial and autonomous DIY art spaces and music venues in Denver.
Contact: Bree Davies