High Plains Underground Archive

The Wide-Ranging Power of Denver's Lust-Cats of the Gutters

With the 7th edition of Titwrench in the rearview, now is a good time to consider the legacy of one of festival's mainstays: Lust-Cats of the Gutters, which is no longer an active project. The duo featured former Westword contributor Robin Edwards on guitar and vocals and Alex Edgeworth on vocals and drums. What made the band so significant from 2009 to 2013 was that, if you follow its string of shows, it performed at most of the active small venues of that time in Denver and played shows with bands of widely differing musical styles without ever seeming out of place. Lust-Cats also served as informal mentors and as inspirations to younger bands, both in the Denver area and beyond, as it toured extensively and often across the USA.

On a personal level, I had met both Robin Edwards and Alex Edgeworth before they formed the band. Edgeworth had been a founding member of the crafting collective Krebstar when, by chance, she was sitting in Gypsy House Café and overheard former Games For May and As Seen On TV guitarist/singer Diana Sperstad and I talking about music — much of it the kind of music she was into. She engaged us in discussion and I remembered her because she was so smart and genuinely witty.

I met Edwards while she was working for my friend Sara Thurston at Thurston's late, great boutique, Chielle. At that store, Thurston didn't just sell clothes and crafted goods, she cultivated local culture by hosting shows, including one with Calvin Johnson and Karl Blau as well as the final Dear Nora tour. The shop also sold 'zines on commission. She and partners Wendy Marlow and Alisa Dowell fronted money to me for my old local music 'zine, All Need Is Music, before anyone else ever did. Edwards always seemed like a nice, intelligent and talented woman, so we became friends. A few years later, she expressed an interest in starting a band and I had an extra Epiphone SG I would likely never play again, so I gave it to her and told her I knew she would do something interesting in music and that I was looking forward to it.

By 2009, Edwards and Edgeworth formed Lust-Cats of the Gutters, named after the title of one of those humorously trashy dimestore novels you can find at used bookstores and thrift shops, and its songs were imbued with an irreverent sense of humor, sly social commentary and raw energy. You couldn't help but love it. The fledgling band's first show may not actually have been Titwrench 2009, but that's the first time I got to see the duo be both vulnerable and devil-may-care — a combination that will always be more compelling than jaded, tough guy expertise. While the band would go on to refine its sound and style, it never lost that initial charm. Because both Edwards and Edgeworth were largely self-taught musicians, there was also a great originality to their music.

In 2010, I was at a Blonde Redhead concert at the Ogden Theater in Denver and Edwards was there. She introduced me to these two guys that were still in high school: Ethan Hill and C.J. Macleod. I'd seen those guys at other shows but didn't know who they were and generally don't pester people just because I see them semi-regularly. Turned out they, too, were smart, polite guys with good taste in music. One or both of them had interviewed Edwards for a school newspaper or for some other piece of writing. Following that interaction, Edwards told me they had started their band, finally, and were looking to play out soon. A month later, Sauna played its first show with Hill and Macleod on vocals and guitar, Molly Bartlett on keys and vocals and Samantha Davis on drums. And there was something as instantly charming and compelling about Sauna's garage pop as there had been about Lust-Cats' own.

Certain sectors of the underground rock and pop scene in Denver took Sauna very much under their wing, and Sauna soon found itself enjoy the type of popularity and opportunities to share the stage with big bands, like B-52s, that few high school bands with no real entertainment industry connections ever get to experience. But it was that initial leg-up that Lust-Cats gave Sauna that made that possible.

Over the next few years, Lust-Cats toured and made connections with bands like Tacocat in Seattle and proved a direct influence on Mannequin Pussy from Philadelphia. From DIY venues to bars, Lust-Cats remained a memorable act in no small part because of the way Edwards and Edgeworth interacted with people. While Lust-Cats didn't have many official releases, those that exist reveal a band that you'd want to hang out with: funny, tender, fierce, unpretentious and smart.

From 2011 onward, Lust-Cats didn't play in town as often partly because it was on tour and partly because Edgeworth moved to Vermont with her boyfriend Francis Carr of the band Thee Goochi Boiz. And, honestly, it felt like there was some kind of gap in the scene.

I last saw Lust-Cats the last time I saw Thee Goochi Boiz, and that was in March 2013 at the final Night of Joy show at Sidewinder Tavern. Edgeworth had brought along her then-new band Funsuck, and it felt like the end of an era. The Lust-Cats had been one of the few bands that played with avant-garde and experimental bands in Denver while also being embraced by the then-ascending garage rock movement centered on bands championed by Burger Records. Lust-Cats also outlasted that movement. But all along the way, it made connections with fellow artists and like-minded fans open to something a little different than the standard garage punk band. And that final show seemed like an epitaph of an era not just in Denver but in the national underground world.

Chances are, someone out there thinks well of Denver because of the Lust-Cats. There hasn't been a band to come along from Denver since that has traversed similarly broad territory and certainly none with the accessibility of sound and sense of humor that was at the heart of what made the Lust-Cats a truly great band.

What follows are several scenes from throughout the career of Lust-Cats of the Gutters and the breadth of venues they played.

*Author's Note on the High Plains Underground Archive: In the late 1990s, I started going to local shows on a regular basis. Growing up in the '70s and '80s, I didn't know there was such a thing as local music worth checking out. But I was drawn in after seeing a band called Rainbow Sugar (an all-female punk/hip-hop/experimental guitar rock extravaganza) opening for Sleater-Kinney's first show in Colorado at The Fox Theatre in October 1998. Next, I learned about a show at the now-defunct Rebis Galleries. From there I went to the first Monkey Mania show, and there was no looking back.

Rainbow Sugar was the first local band I photographed at Herman's Hideaway in 1999. But it was in 2005 when I got my first digital camera that my extensive photo archive started. In this series, called High Plains Underground Archive, I will share a small fraction of the tens of thousands of those photos, focusing on specific venues, bands, time periods, movements and whatever else seems to make sense. The title of this series comes from the working title of my book on the history of underground music in Denver 1975 to the present.

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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.