The Coathangers on the Weed Zombiedom of Nü Denver

The Coathangers have been touring Europe for the past couple of weeks in support of their new album, Nosebleed Weekend. The punk/garage-rock band with experimental leanings will end its European tour with a flight from Berlin straight to Denver to play the Project Pabst festival this Saturday, May 21.

On the new record, the Coathangers appear to have rendered their sharp sounds and aggressive energy more accessible than before. Some commenters have referred to the new work as stripped down, but it really isn't; we attribute the difference to a streamlined songwriting style.

“This might be one of the first times we took things seriously,” offers singer/guitarist Julia Kugel, who spoke to us in 2013 about the time the band had a pony and a monkey at its show.

This is not the first time the Coathangers have been to Denver. They were here for Titwrench 2011 — possibly their first show in the city; medical marijuana was legalized in Colorado then, but recreational cannabis has not yet attained legal status. Speaking to us from Amsterdam, a place with which many Americans compare Denver these days, Kugel noted a change in the Mile High City from her last two times playing here.

“It's weird, but I feel — no offense — that it's gotten to be zombies walking around at night,” Kugel says. “Before that, I feel you needed to have the initiative to go and get a prescription from a doctor to go to a dispensary rather than walk in. Now anyone can do it and there are these zombies on the street. If you weed out the people who wouldn't take the initiative to get a license, you're eliminating the wasteoid element. Denver has really changed a lot since it's become so free with the weed, and I don't know if it's better.”

“Many people are moving there because they can get weed and grow weed without many controls," she continues, "so many underdeveloped brains have access to things they need to have developed brains in order to control. We need to have a little bit of a hoop to jump through. Denver used to be so clean-cut, and now it's full of those zombies. I don't know how else to describe them. Nothing should be that easy to get ahold of. Even alcohol isn't that easy to get.”

As an internationally touring artist who also splits her time between California, which requires a prescription to legally consume cannabis, and more conservative Atlanta, Kugel has seen many examples of the impact of cannabis on local cultures. 

“These girls in the Netherlands told us they outgrew it by age fifteen,” says Kugel. “It's not something people do. It's legal and you can do what you want here [in Amsterdam], but the excitement has gone out of it. Only Americans and other tourists come over here and smoke some weed. It is nice to be somewhere you don't feel like you're going to jail. Atlanta has zero tolerance — any amount and you're going to jail. For people in the Netherlands, it's not that big of a deal anymore, whereas Denver is kind of the first city where it's a free-for-all. Like when they first legalized prostitution, a lot of people were like, 'Oh! I'm going to get a hooker!' And after a while they were like, 'Well, I'm going to find a girl who's not a hooker....'”

The Coathangers at Project Pabst, 12 p.m. doors, Saturday, May 21, Larimer Street between 27th and 28th avenues.

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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.