Photography and review by William Dibble
The Denver, Colorado, area is chock-full of music venues. They range from full-scale concert venues like Summit Music Hall to revamped theatres like the Oriental Theatre. Set in an outskirt of Denver, the Oriental is an older venue that wasn’t always used for concerts, which explains its unique layout amongst concert venues. The Oriental was originally a theatre for play viewing. When you enter today, the box office has become a bar for drinks. On the right is an area for bands to put their merch tables. The venue proper is separated by a set of swinging doors, giving a clear separation of the two areas. Inside, there are multiple boxed-in areas terraced down toward a central pit. The stage is very large and open, and there’s room for an enormous audience.
Girls Rock Denver is a nonprofit organization that empowers girls, trans, and gender-nonconforming youth to learn to write songs, play instruments, and perform live. Formed in 2007, they hold a yearly summer camp run by volunteers that culminates in a concert for all of the participants before a sold-out audience. Those who cannot afford to join are brought to the front of the list for scholarships to help them get into the camp! The concert on the 24th was to help raise money for this year’s camp. Before the show and between bands, DJ Mirror Fears spun a fantastic mix of electronic music and singing.
The first band of the night was Denver locals Contender. Contender is an emotive punk band. They have a few singles available on bandcamp, and were well-chosen as the first band of the night. Their songs offered an ear-pleasing combination of sounds not dissimilar to early-2000’s emo punk. Once they finished up their set, Mirror Fears took over again.
Up next were The Catcalls. They offered a completely different sound that was more akin to bluesy classic rock. They brought a lot of charm and fun to the stage, playing duets and taking turns singing. On such a large stage, these bands can feel kinda small, especially 3-person outfits like The Catcalls, but they were no strangers to stage presence, holding the audience enraptured the entire time.
Local punk group Rotten Reputation was up next. They are preparing to launch their new EP, and featured a few new songs in their setlist. They came on stage like an act straight out of the original riot grrrl movement, roaring into life with songs about abuse, feminism, and having a rip-roaring good time.
After Rotten Reputation was finished, Mirror Fears covered the setup for the next group, Surf mom. Surf mom is a two-piece set that is best described as experimental. They are a musical experience. Their songs ranged from traditional rock songs to drums-and-vocals to screams. It would be hard-placed to find a group that sounds quite like them. Unfortunately, technical difficulties made it hard for them to finish their set. They gave a riveting performance, nonetheless.
Cheap Perfume is another raging punk band, the second of the night. Similar to Rotten Reputation, their music was themed around feminist and abuse issues, including a story of why the vocalist wears a signature leotard on-stage during their performances. “Dead men can’t catcall”, her tattoo declared while she stood on stage giving women advice for dealing with unwanted advances.
The headliner for the night was Dressy Bessy. They’ve been around since the mid-90’s, consistently delivering an excellent indie rock sound since before the term indie rock had entered mainstream usage. With twenty years of songs and performance under their belt, they fit right in after a series of stage-dominating artists, capping out the night.
The Oriental was a fantastic venue for the show. Despite the enormous stage, the bands managed to use all of it and captivate the audience beginning to end. The choice of using Mirror Fears as a DJ throughout the night was absolutely brilliant, too. Remember that Girls Rock Denver is a non-profit, and every bit helps!