Downtown Boys - Live in Denver (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Downtown Boys

Live in Denver (2017)

live show

I strolled into my least favorite venue in Denver on a warm August night about halfway through the first of three opening bands. The Larimer Lounge in Denver is unbearable on hot days with its poor ventilation, its bathrooms are disgusting and the place has all the ambiance of a barn. The main room is covered, wall-to-wall, with posters for upcoming shows, none of which have any sort of graphics or images, just plain text all around the place. Still, it’s a venue that books a lot of the great smaller bands that I want to see, and I’ve had a lot of memorable concerts at this venue like Deer Tick, Mates of State, and The Coathangers.

The first opening band, which admittedly I only saw the second half of, was a local called Bleak Plaza, and I wish I had caught more of them because they were a pretty good poppy punk band with a lead singer who sounded reminiscent of Conor Oberst. I’m definitely going to keep an eye out for them in the future.

The second band, San Salvador/Los Angeles based Sister Mantos, was actually in town for a small festival called Titwrench that got cancelled, so Downtown Boys added them to the bill of their show at the last minute, which is a class act thing to do. For this show, Sister Mantos had only a bass, drums, a laptop, and a keyboard, with Mary Regalado of Downtown Boys filling in to assist the rhythm section by literally hitting two sticks together. From the looks of Sister Mantos’s website, they were short several members of their band for this performance, and were making due as best they can. The lead singer kept asking the sound guy to “go crazy” with the reverb, which made for a cool sound, except it made it hard to understand when they announced the name of their band at the end of the set, which is just poor marketing. Overall the band had a Latin, electronic sound with lyrics in both English and Spanish. Pretty good if you like that sort of thing, although the drum beats got a little monotonous.

The last band up before the main event was Surf Mom, a local garage band with two members, a guitarist/singer and a drummer. The band was a lot of fun, especially their covers of Hole’s “Olympia” and the Cure’s “Just Like Heaven,” the latter of which shocked the audience as the band’s frontwoman scream/growled the chorus to add a jarring note to the Cure’s classic.

Then came Downtown Boys. The band focused mainly on their recently released album, Cost of Living, but pulled out a few songs from Full Communism. Frontwoman Victoria Ruiz wore a crown of flowers on her head as she stood atop the speakers to address the audience. She gave a short explanation of almost every song before they played it, which was especially helpful for the Cost of Living songs as many of them are extremely nuanced, and it also helped explain the Spanish language songs to audience members who don’t speak Spanish. I noticed that she only did her addresses to the audience in English and never in Spanish, despite the fact that the band’s music is bilingual. Still, her explanations showed not just an understanding of politics, but a complex and layered understanding of sociopolitical issues that made the songs stand out more as political songs. Additionally, about halfway through the set, a member of the Denver chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America was invited on stage to address the crowd, showing the band’s commitment to marrying its art to activism.

Despite the band’s constantly changing lineup, they play like a well oiled machine. Ruiz loves to stand on top of that speaker whenever she can, while some of the other band members, most notably bassist Mary Regalado, choose to stand stock still (although this may have been due to it being a large band on a small stage). Joe DeGeorge (who, as I now Google him, I’m pretty sure is the same Joe DeGeorge who was in Harry and the Potters, which is amazing) doubles as the saxophone player and keyboard player with frenetic energy on both instruments to give a chaotic, yet pitch perfect performance. His only flub—which wasn’t his fault—came during his saxophone solo on “Lips That Bite” which wasn’t getting properly picked up on his microphone, so Victoria Ruiz was kind enough to lend him her mic so the whole crowd could get the full effect of that killer solo.

Shortly after this show, the band had to cancel a string of tour dates due to their drummer quitting, but they seem to have bounced back and are back on the road again, which is great because there’s one thing that was made clear to me from this show: Downtown Boys are so important! They’re great, too, but more than that they’re very important, especially as they get more mainstream press now that they’re on Sub Pop. Victoria Ruiz is a powerful, articulate presence on stage that reminds the audience of the importance of real life action in addition to political art. Downtown Boys are activists first and musicians second, which says a lot because they’re excellent musicians. The second you get a chance to see them live in your area, I highly recommend it. It’s more than a show, it’s an activist experience.