A typical gig by Denver's Whores, Pigs and Ponies is apt to feature fire spitting, cross-dressing, codpieces and simulated sex acts: For example, bassist/vocalist Rel has been known to mime fellatio on a latex penis worn by guitarist/vocalist Jud Van Vliet, then use a cigarette to light the tip of the faux phallus (which is usually loaded with fireworks or other flammables), thereby causing the venue to fill with flames and smoke. Why? "To erase any element of pretension," Rel explains.
Unquestionably, Whores, Pigs and Ponies delivers a maximum return on your entertainment dollar--and not only because you might see Van Vliet accidentally burn the striped pantyhose off his body, as he did at a recent Seven South show. For some bands, stage props are used to mask a lack of musical talent, but not in this case. Rel and Van Vliet are accomplished players--they've spent much of the past six years honing their chops--and Patrick O'Brien, a drummer who is referred to by his comrades as "the normal one," displays a precision and relentless abandon that perfectly match the act's credo: "Loud Fast Rules."
Rel says that the band's idiosyncratic moniker "came from a newspaper story about a local politician who was so crooked that he was the kind of guy who would have a birthday party for his daughter in his mansion backyard, complete with a pig roast and hayrides for the kids. But for all his constituents and the guys lining his pockets, he would have hookers working the party."
That such an idea would appeal to Rel will come as no surprise to those who've heard Whores, Pigs and Ponies, the band's debut album, which was released late last year. The disc, recorded and engineered by Van Vliet in the band's own 24-track studio, showcases tight instrumentation, plenty of aggro-attitude and lyrics that look at life from an off-kilter angle. Although "Sex Fly," a single that owes as much to Little Richard as it does to the Butthole Surfers, is a relatively straightforward tune, "Ice Cream Man," a Casio-laced tune in which a bratty little kid whines "Mom, give me some fucking money--he's leaving" over an insistent tape loop, is proof that the bandmembers don't take themselves too seriously. When a girlfriend of Rel's sent a copy of the latter to her brother in Chicago, the track became a favorite with schoolkids in the city: "They were totally into the Monty Python aspect of the whole deal," Rel boasts.
Chances are good that the parents of these youngsters would be less thrilled by the song--and they'd be just as likely to hate the artwork on the CD's liner, which features, among other images, an erect penis with legs humping an elephant carrying all three musicians on its back. (The face of one of the musicians is superimposed on the nude body of pin-up gal Betty Page.) Still, it was a photo of a middle-aged man with an enormous erection, culled from a swingers' magazine obtained from a toothless old man at a wrecking yard where the performers once worked, that caused what Rel describes as "a total nightmare for the band." He says that numerous companies refused to press the discs for fear that they'd be held liable in sexual-harassment lawsuits. "They didn't mind breasts or female nudity," elaborates graphic designer O'Brien, whom bandmates hold responsible for the controversy. "But I didn't think it would get to the point where they wouldn't even print it." Rather than bowing to censorship, the trio had the disc manufactured by a company that specializes in interactive adult CD-ROMs. "I bet it cost us $4 for each CD," Rel asserts.
This yarn may suggest to people who didn't like The People vs. Larry Flynt that the three players suffer from a severe case of arrested adolescence, but Whores, Pigs and Ponies shouldn't be so easily dismissed. Although Rel admits to "having the attitude of a thirteen-year-old," he deals with a number of mature subjects on the act's recording. "Above the Rain" chronicles "the five- to six-hour period of my life I spent watching my mom die on ICU," while "Sell the Kill" and "No World Order" touch on sociopolitical themes. Not that Rel and company see themselves as a protest group. Van Vliet, who shares songwriting duties with Rel, says he'd rather not step "into that arena because, for me personally, it's just not very entertaining."
Entertainment is the goal for these musicians. Right now, Rel concedes, they're "basically unknown in this market," but they hope that word of their antics will eventually attract the kinds of crowds that flock to see Foreskin 500, one of their local faves.
"We would like to do well here," Van Vliet confirms. "It would be nice to start opening for national bands. We want to appeal to a wide variety of audiences--like the drag scene, punk rockers, the rave kids."
As they tell it, they're already turning on the handful of folks working in Antarctica. Rel says a friend of a friend stationed at the McMurdo Science Research Center there has gotten their songs played on the facility's radio station. "We're not getting airplay around the world," he notes, laughing. "But we're getting airplay from the bottom of the world."
Whores, Pigs and Ponies, with Gestapo Pussy Ranch and Priests, Monsters and Saints. 9 p.m. Sunday, February 9, Lion's Lair, 2022 East Colfax, 320-9200.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.