The Coathangers - live in Denver (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

The Coathangers

live in Denver (2016)

live show

Project Pabst in Denver was a big, fun festival all around, in which I got to sing along with Denver’s own Clash cover band, The Nuns of Brixton, and got a surprise free ticket to see Rocket from the Crypt at the after party show halfway across town. But even with all of the big names at Project Pabst, including the Violent Femmes and Metz (who were scheduled to play at the same time, like that’s fair), I was really there to see the Coathangers. Fresh off of the release of their unabashedly brilliant fifth album, Nosebleed Weekend, I was really looking forward to what this all-girl Atlanta based trio (formerly a four-piece) could do in a live setting.

Unfortunately, there was a lot working against the Coathangers at this show. First of all, the show was in the Larimer Lounge, a venue that I’ve only been to a three times, twice to see Deer Tick and once to see Mates of State. It’s a small, cramped venue with all the ambiance of a barn loft, with a stage so tiny I can’t believe that anyone would have the audacity to ask national touring acts to perform on it. On top of this, it was the hottest day of the year so far in Denver, and while the news said it only hit about 82, the thermostat on my Uber driver’s car read 91. While the venue tried to mitigate this by leaving both the front and back doors open to ventilate, it provided very little relief, as it was still a room packed wall to wall with bodies and no air conditioning. As the band started into their set, I started to wonder how the sound engineer even got his job, as he absolutely ruined their first song.

But even with everything against them, the Coathangers are consummate professionals and plowed through with every ounce of punk rock energy they could muster. After drummer Stephanie Luke (a.k.a. Rusty Coathanger) issued a few corrections to the sound guy, the show went pretty flawlessly from that point on. I thought their choice of outfits was a bit gauche, as each of the band members wore black shorts with their own band t-shirts, but, as our own Nick Poyner pointed out in his review of Nosebleed Weekend, “The Coathangers do not give a fuck now, nor have they ever.” Very shortly into the set, they proved to be such good live performers, that you could forgive them for being “that guy” at their own show.

The Coathangers are a collective band with no specific lead singer. Rather, all three of the band members take turns singing the songs, although bassist Meredith Franco (a.k.a. Minnie Coathanger) only had one song (“Burn Me”) in the whole set. Other than that, Luke and guitarist Julia Kugel (a.k.a. Crook Kid Coathanger) switched off regularly throughout the set, and for one song even swapped instruments. Luke did an excellent job taking control of songs despite being at the back of the stage behind her two bandmates. Kugel’s facial expressions while playing were practically the highlight of the whole show. Kugel’s face is almost supernaturally expressive, and when she really gets into a song her engaging intensity shows through and creates a vibe that’s somehow badass and vulnerable at the same time, fostering a connection between herself and the audience like she’s a goofy, old friend. The band closed out the set with Kugel’s song “Squeeki Tiki” off of the new album, a song that I was very curious to see live, as it swaps out Kugel’s guitar for a squeak toy. Kugel took her playing of the squeak toy with such a clearly exaggerated seriousness and ferocity that she looked like the Slash of squeak toys.

When Luke screwed up one of her own songs, forgetting where the chorus went, she apologized profusely, saying that the band had just gotten in from Berlin ten hours previously. Honestly, I never would have guessed, because, while the Coathangers love to talk about how the band started largely as a joke with no ambitions to do anything more than play local shows, what they look like at this point in their career are a band of seasoned road veterans who let nothing get in the way of putting on a truly excellent show, and Luke's one slip-up did nothing to detract from their overall performance. As their profile is starting to rise, the Coathangers are proving that they are a real team of hard working pros, and can put on a great show in the roughest of conditions.