Sometimes truisms proliferate because they're, well, true. That's the case with the biblical adage about prophets being without honor in their hometown, which is especially true in the world of music. Legendary jazz musicians relocated to Europe and Japan, where audiences were appreciative enough to earn them a living, while the most obscure American soul artists have been sought out in the U.K. by everyone from '60s mods to contemporary northern soul aficionados.
Here at home, 99 Bottles might easily be cited as a current example, even though the group has been on the scene since 2009, earned a rapturous reception at last summer's Front Range Punk Fest, and went on to play a rousing set at the 2012 Indy Music Awards festival.
While local indie-folk acts have become more prevalent than Tejon Street cover bands, the punk scene here is often overlooked. That's one of the reasons why 99 Bottles spend more time on tour and playing Denver haunts like the Lion's Lair and 3 Kings than they do gigging around town.
As a matter of fact, the band just set out on a week-long reprise of last summer's Midwest tour, after which they'll be up in Denver on April 26 to play "a birthday show for shitloads of people" at Tooey's Off Colfax.
"We play Denver much more frequently than the Springs," confirms drummer Sebastian Nutter, who credits Mile High City punk groups Bad Engrish and the Potato Pirates for taking 99 Bottles under their wings a few years ago. "We get a better reception up there, and no one in the band is 86ed from bars. They pay out better and they book us on shows that make sense."
Back in the Springs, it's all pretty different. "Yeah, what's the deal with promoters down here never wanting to book us? If we wanna play a show, we have to set the entire thing up band-wise, find a venue, etc. Goes to show Colorado Springs is still years behind most towns as far as venues." (Nutter does, however, express his respect for the Black Sheep's Chris Huffine and the Triple Nickel's Bryan Ostrow.)
As noted in this column after seeing the band perform at last year's Punk Fest, 99 Bottles' slamdance-inspiring originals would fit nicely on a bill with legendary British Oi! punk band Cock Sparrer, one comparison the band never gets tired of hearing.
"It's an honor to hear that from anyone," says guitarist Kyle Kesterson. "We would be a great opening band for the almighty Cock Sparrer."
In fact, the band identifies itself as Colorado Springs' only Oi! band, a working-class genre that originated in London's East End 35 years ago and was soon fending off the ultra-right National Front's attempts to co-opt skinhead culture. So it's no surprise that a lot of bands who look and sound like 99 Bottles are still dealing with that stereotype.
"It's kinda hard to call us racist with a Cuban and a half-black guy in the band," points out Nutter.
Kesterson, who's half-Jamaican, agrees. "Anyone who knows what traditional skinhead is about knows there is no room for hate or racism of any kind. Back in February onstage, I was flashed neo-Nazi tattoos," the guitarist recalls. "That stuff really messes with my head. It almost ended our show. The scene is everything to me, and I'll fight forever to keep it pure." As for class consciousness, Kesterson says "the working class is the only thing this band knows."
Well, technically, that's not true. "Although I'm not a skinhead — and not working-class at the moment 'cos I'm unemployed — I still relate myself to that class," says lead guitarist Zeb Dyer." And Nutter? "I spent years and years working in kitchens, but now I work a desk job. Thank fuck."
Upon its return, the band (which also includes vocalist Mario Dalla Betta and bassist Mike Carbonell) plans to focus on booking shows here in the Springs. Nutter, who's helping plan this year's Punk Fest, will also be launching an online store featuring the band's records — there are a couple split-singles and an EP, with a full-length album on the way — along with merchandise that includes a pretty striking 99 Bottles scarf. In the meantime, you can find music and merch at facebook.com/99bottlesoi.
As for the more immediate future, vinyl enthusiasts and potheads can join together for the convergence of Record Store Day and 4/20 Saturday at the Leechpit, where special-release platters will be accompanied by live performers, including Grant Sabin, We Are Not a Glum Lot, Iggy Igloo & the Penguins, and Drug Flowers from noon to 4:20.
The celebration will continue Saturday evening at the Ancient Mariner with Melting Temple, a band that's been known to play a pretty mean version of Ray Charles' "Let's Get Stoned." Although I'm pretty sure Brother Ray meant that in a strictly biblical sense.