Warlock Pinchers together again, shown here at an L.A. practice. (Photo: Beth Herzhaft)
Band reunions can be troubled, harried and awkward events, often at best. They can also be disastrous, embarrassing and spiteful – hopefully at their worst – that lead to a ruination, or at least a re-imagination, of the band in question’s legacy. This weekend’s Warlock Pinchers’ reunion, taking place over Friday August 6th and Saturday August 7th at the Gothic Theatre, holds all the potential to break that overwhelming stigma of typical band reunions, and promises to be more than simply a regurgitation of old tunes sung by aging hipsters.
In fact, these shows will likely go down in Denver history as two must-see, truly history-making shows – if only because of the almost Rimbaudian way in which the seminal Denver/Boulder punk band wrapped up it’s existence in 1992.
If you were anywhere around the scene in Boulder and Denver in the late ’80s, chances are you were not only familiar with the Pinchers, but you probably carried some of their merchandise with you daily – clipped to your backpack or in your pocket – or you wore out your shield t-shirt as you attended other local shows, PETA rallies, and the occasional CIA hiring protests. These boys – King Scratchie (AKA Daniel Wanush), and K.C. K-Sum (AKA Andrew Novick), EE-Rok (AKA Eric Erickson), DD-Rok (AKA Derek van Westrum), 3KSK (AKA Mark Brooks) and a drum machine – were tearing up backyards, basements, punk venues like Boulder’s Ground Zero and warehouses with a fusion of Faith No More and Beastie Boys‘ funk/punk/hip-hop, industrial and hardcore thrash, all wrapped up in intelligent and hilarious, tongue-in-cheek punk rock rage directed towards a spineless, shallow and directionless society.
Needless to say, their antics, which included 20 minute opening sets that often overshadowed touring bands, caught on over a few years. They played unforgettable shows that grew to include raw meat (usually in the form of hot dogs) being fired from cannons into the audience, frenetically sexy gyrating routines performed by their own dancers, deemed “Satan’s Cheerleaders,” and all manner of extreme performance art, until the band called it quits in 1992.
And, this year’s model features all original members, with a significant replacement: For the (now erased) drum machine the band used to use, The Melvins’ longtime drummer Dale Crover will be filling in, based on a promise he made the band years ago, when both were on Boner Records.
Since their prime, the Pinchers have passed, pretty succinctly, into legend – arguably as much for their sudden dissolution as for their legendary shows. To be clear, a few of the Pinchers’ members – Scratchie (Wanush) and K-Sum (Novick) – never left Denver, and are currently enjoying lucrative artistic pursuits. Novick is a successful artist and Peeps expert, while Wanush fronts Murder Ranks – currently one of Denver’s most exciting and promising local bands.
“This is really intended as our last hurrah, but of course, money is the bottom line. We had a great time together practicing, reminiscing and just hanging out this past weekend and all old grudges are out the window.” – King Scratchie (Daniel Wanush)
More importantly, the merchandise never seemed to disappear. It’s a relatively rare local Denver show that you don’t find at least one Pinchers’ shirt in the audience, and rumor has it that there are still more than a few frisbees and commemorative plates still in circulation. And the band couldn’t be happier about it.
One of the aspects of Pinchers’ mystique – or conquest – that gets lost behind all the hype, hop and hilarity happens to be one of the cornerstones of their entire being: Warlock Pinchers isn’t now, and never was, merely another innovative punk band. This group of artists came together under a thought balloon shared by thinkers and artists such as Guy Debord, Alexander Trocchi and Situationist International, Andy Warhol and David Hockney, Claes Oldenburg and Robert Rauschenberg, to create and perpetrate a Pop Art Spectacle – and they’re back at it.
Every aspect of the band – from the music and stage show, to touring, marketing and publicizing themselves, to the scads of merchandise – is all part of the piece. Using the language of popular culture, and capitalizing on crowd psychology and the mechanics of group mentality, these artists used their considerable, prescient talent to point out the ridiculous and pervasive reach of the “pop machine.” They not only produced the usual t-shirts, hats, posters, stickers and cards, but added such things to the Pinchers’ market as golf tees, lighters, keychains, yo-yos, water bottles and the aforementioned commemorative plates and frisbees. All of these items sold pretty well – even before the advent of e-commerce. Add to that their constant, tongue-in-cheek social commentary and you have a group of artists offering a not-so-unique, but oh-so-valid, perspective on the beautiful, often overwhelming and silly nature of our mercantile, material world – for those interested in looking for it.
Following in the footsteps of so many artists, the Pinchers created a virtual mercantile entity, and have fitted it with the ability to self-sustain for as long as they see fit, as long as their public will play along. I asked Wanush and Novick if there were any plans to carry on the band after this weekend’s festivities:
DenverThread: “Despite the success of the two dates at the Gothic, the high level of excitement at the UMS “treat” show and (from what I hear) solid sales of “Bomb the Franklin Mint,” is it still Warlock Pinchers’ intention to hang up the gloves for good after August 7th? Or will merch sales go on after the show? No consideration to do a new record?”
Wanush: “This is really intended as our last hurrah, but of course, money is the bottom line. We had a great time together practicing, reminiscing and just hanging out this past weekend and all old grudges are out the window. At this point, I don’t think anyone in the band would be opposed to working together once again.
However, the fact that we are based in two different cities and have our own different things (and some of them very profitable) going on, makes it nearly impossible to write new songs together unless we had some major label backing behind us with a bag full of money.
The conditions of the music scene in Denver make things great for a reunion show weekend, but not so viable for a full scale reunion.
Merch sales will go on regardless.”
Novick: “As Dan said, the merchandise will still go on. I would like to re-release some of our old shirt designs, and maybe even do some from some of the amazing flyer art we have. I also have a ton of live recordings that I would like to something with. As long as people are interested in supporting it, those sorts of things will keep going.”
The "Bieber" t-shirt promises to be a hit. (Photo: Tammy Shine)
So the grand spectacle continues, and the promise for even more shenanigans continues with it. In case you haven’t seen or heard of it yet, Novick has produced another small ingot of brilliance with the “Bieber” logo – the Pinchers’ traditional logo with the face of Satan supplanted by an image of Justin Bieber. In the few times he and Wanush have worn their t-shirts adorned with the logo it’s proven tremendously popular (according to Facebook comments). The Bieber is a perfect permutation of the nature of the Pinchers’ social commentary, also. By taking advantage of the dubiously (at best) justifiable fame of the diminutive, super popular performer, the spectacle is asking fans to compare, and, perhaps, to maybe rethink their definitions of what makes stardom.
Or it may just be saying “Fuck it! We can all laugh at this, right?”
In any case, this weekend promises to be legendary, and won’t soon be forgotten. The shows are at The Gothic Theatre, tonight, Friday, August 6th (already sold out), and tomorrow, Saturday, August 7th – doors are at 7PM, and each show has special guests for the opening bands. Friday features longtime local stars Dressy Bessy, and Wanush’s current project, Murder Ranks, while Saturday’s show features local no-wave emulators Hot White, and a special version of Seattle’s Melvins, featuring King Buzzo and drummer Dale Crover.
Not only is this a chance to see history in the making, and become a participant in the spectacle (willing or not), these shows present a chance to see a few of the most innovative and exciting bands now playing out around Denver. Murder Ranks offers up a brilliant and refreshing mix of hard dub and dancehall – straight out of Jamaica – swirling through a heavy street core influence. Nobody is currently matching this sound, and Wanush is the perfect front man for it. His antics – perhaps just a tad more staid than those of King Scratchie – are both extreme and unavoidably infectious. The band’s heavy bass and drums, along with the reverb-saturated guitar, forms a resilient, solid backing for the riddims and shouted lyrics.
In a similar arena – though nowhere in the same sonic country – is Hot White. This Denver trio may be the closest thing Denver now has to a true, New York No-Wave emulation (apologies to Night of Joy, its strongest competition). When the trio plays as a whole, their sound and personality is coarse and full of loud, brilliant noise, white hot screams that recall a young Lydia Lunch (from her Beirut Slump/Teenage Jesus tenure) and atonal rhythms (unlike their recent and extremely disappointing UMS gig) . Much of the band’s personality rests on lead singer and bassist Tiana Bernard, who supplies much more than enough charisma to overshadow her two bandmates shortcomings. Definitely worth getting to Saturday’s show early!