Review: Denver does CBGB at the hi-dive, 10/29/11

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While the rest of the world celebrated Halloween weekend 2011, down at the hi-dive this past Saturday night it was 1976. Less a Halloween show and more akin to a Civil War reenactment or a Renaissance Festival, the night offered romanticized time travel for music-history geeks looking to drink themselves into the past.

"I originally wanted the show to be in the summer," said event organizer Chris Fowke, "but the bands needed more time to learn all the songs." The extra time clearly paid off. From start to close, every band meticulously pulled off the look and sound of New York Bowery punk rock. The show opened with SAUNA (as Richard Hell & The Voidoids), singer Molly Bartlett mewling out "Blank Generation" while wearing the same expertly torn T-shirt that was worn by the '76 singer and inspired Malcolm McClaren's U.K. "Sex" fashion shop.

Normally a more progressive-sounding band, Accordion Crimes added fair-haired pixie singer Elisha Coy to the band and pulled off a respectable Blondie. "We were thinking of doing the Dead Boys, but that was too similar to our normal sound," said Accordion Crimes guitar player Bryan Feuchtinger. "We wanted to challenge ourselves to do something we don't normally do." When Chris Fowke first began contacting bands about the project last February, there was a lot of excitement about covering any of the iconic CBGB bands, though it was Television that seemed to be the coveted slot.

"They were the grandfathers of what became indie music," Feuchtinger pointed out. At the same time, many bands were intimidated about pulling off those complex art-rock guitar licks. A Television expert was needed. Enter Wire Faces as Television, with Fowke on guitar. "I didn't want to perform at all at first," said Fowke, who was drafted into playing guitar once the band had found out that Fowke knew all the songs by heart. "All three of them are amazing musicians -- they picked up the songs right away."

Wire Faces' performance as Television was one of the great highlights of the evening. Dressed in nerdish art-school clothing, guitarist Ian Haygood looked like Tom Verlain, while drummer Shane Zweygardt sang just like him. Although most of the bands got the crowd bouncing and dancing, Wire Faces held them spellbound with a flawless note-by-note rendition of nearly the entire Marquee Moon album. Zweygardt shimmied atop his drum stool while belting out each song with an electrifying energy and incessant mimicry of Verlain's nasally whine.

"Everybody thought The Ramones would be really easy to do," said Kissing Party guitarist and Joey Ramone doppelganger Gregg Dolan. "But it wasn't. All the chords are so similar, it's easy to get lost."

The bandmembers had been busy all summer with a tour and an album release, but as soon as they finished with their own music, they threw themselves into becoming the Ramones. "We've pretty much been in a Ramones boot camp for the last month," said Kissing Party singer Deirdre Sage. "Books, records, pictures, You Tube clips. We studied them."

Indeed. Sage was also dressed as Joey Ramone that night and took turns with Dolan on the mike, the pair pumping their fists in the air and shouting out songs like "Teenage Lobotomy" and "Rock & Roll High School." The band's impressive amount of homework done on the Ramones was evident in its performance: From the clothes to the stage moves, it was the most convincing-looking CBGB band of the night.

"Joey Ramone was so lanky, he kept falling over when he'd try and move around," said Dolan, "so the band told him to just stand there and lean over the mike, and that's how he got that pose."

In the basement green room of the hi-dive, ratty couches, graffiti and overflowing ashtrays added to the punk-rock bowery aesthetic, as the night's closing act, Hindershot (as the Talking Heads) launched into the 1979 romper "Life During Wartime." The song came down from the ceiling, muffled but audible, giving you the feeling that if you closed your eyes, it wouldn't be hard to pretend that you were spending your Saturday night at CBGB during the golden age of punk.

"This ain't no mud club, or CBGB," the song went.

Could've fooled us.


Personal Bias: Like many of the fans at the show, I grew up poring over books and documentaries on the history of CBGB, from Legs McNeil's Please Kill Me to the film by Don Lets, Punk: Attitude. What the '60s were to Oasis and the Brian Jonestown Massacre, late-'70s punk was to all of us at the show. Random Detail: It was severely disappointing that no Denver band took up the challenge of the Patti Smith Group. The only way the night could've been any better would've been to hear the Horses album live in its entirety. Halfway through the show, I was sharing a cigarette with Marcus Renninger from Fingers of the Sun, and suggested his band should've taken up the challenge. As a lanky, androgynous man, he would've made a great Patti Smith. By the Way: I went to the show dressed as Legs McNeil. The music-history geeks can be forgiven for not picking up on my costume: Dressed in snug, torn jeans and leather junkie jacket, I looked pretty much like I could've been hanging at the hi-dive on any other given night.

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