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Review: The Donnas at Marquis Theater in Denver

at Marquis Theater September 25, 2007

by Mark Tatum

One of the wonderful things about how music has changed the during past few years is the blurring of traditional lines that once separated particular artists into genres. In the past metal bands played on metal radio stations and were only heard by metal fans. The same with R&B and other popular genres. Many other types of music were hardly heard at all on the radio and those artists toiled in oblivion, no matter how good they were.

But the internet has changed all of that. When a DJ isn’t choosing the tunes you listen to you are likely to discover sounds you never imagined you would enjoy.

Poster for The Donnas show at Marquis Theater in Denver on September 25, 2007.

The show last night at the Marquis Theater in Denver was a chance to cross some of those lines and discover good and well-performed music, thanks in part to some old friends.

The first band on stage at the Marquis Theater was American Bang from Nashville. At first glance they appear to be a long-haired southern rock band who haven’t released an album yet. Closer examination shows they have been signed by a major label and have a string of tour dates lined up supporting established and well-known performers.

Clearly this is a group of good-looking young guys that Warner Records feels strongly about. They reminded me of seeing The Killers at Larimer Lounge, before their record release in the US, when there were more handlers from the record company than there were other audience members. American Bang were best when they let through some of that southern-rock style. It will be interesting to watch them in the coming months after their EP is released in October.

Next up was Donita Sparks, better known as co-founder of L7, one of the hardest rocking all-female bands (remember their song “Pretend We’re Dead”). They had their heydey in the late 80’s and early 90’s when grunge rock was dominant. That band is gone but Donita has formed her own self-titled group including former L7 drummer Dee Plakas.
Donita Sparks at the Marquis Theater in Denver on September 25, 2007.
Donita and her friends instantly raised the energy and performance level on the stage as they launched into a series of psychedelic-influenced (to this old ear) songs. When Donita took up her vintage Gibson for the third song the sound was overwhelmingly wonderful and it continued through the rest of the set.

Just as enjoyable as the music was the performance of Donita Sparks, who was happy, intense and engaged with the crowd. It is rare that a performer can so instantly connect with an audience, especially when they are billed as a warmup band. The audience may not have known who she was (The Donnas were only 6 years old when L7 formed) but she had them smiling soon after she took the stage. I wonder how many google searches for “L7” this tour will spawn?

Anyhow, the new material sounds really good on stage and hopefully they can translate that energy to the full album that is scheduled to be released next year.

The Donnas just released their new album, Bitchin’, that is heavier-sounding than any of their previous releases and it seems to have confused many reviewers who want to put them into the same garage-rock category that their label tried to put them in years ago. To me it is one of the best fist-pumping, turn-up-the-volume, arena-shaking albums made for quite awhile. If calling it a great metal album ruins it for you, then change the label to fun, affirming, rock anthems.

The Donnas have the confidence and swagger to play to an arena full of fans. But last night it didn’t seem to matter to them that there weren’t thousands to play for.
Allison Robertson of The Donnas at Marquis Theater in Denver on September 25, 2007.
Their sound starts with the heavy guitar riffs produced by Allison Robertson, who would have turned the heads of pouty-lipped Aerosmith if they could have heard her last night. Just as good was lead singer Brett Anderson, who has become a tireless testimony for keeping bands together for over a decade so they can perfect their craft. Few hair bands of the 80’s ever had such a charismatic singer, and none are as fun as Brett. The rhythm section of Tony Castellano on drums and Maya Ford laid down a flawless beat with the same confidence.
Brett Anderson of The Donnas at Marquis Theater in Denver on September 25, 2007.
One complaint about The Donnas is a lack of variation from one song to another. During the show it seemed hard to argue with their strategy of going from one well-performed rock anthem to another. If you do something well and the crowd loves it, why change?

And the crowd did love every moment of the performance. Denver can produce some of the loudest, most fun-loving, sing-along rock audiences in the country and this was one of the best. The Donnas responded to this adoration by giving more.

When I walk out the door of a show and wonder where the band is playing the next night, Omaha or Salt Lake City, and seriously consider driving there, I know it has been a good concert.

However you classify these bands and the music they play – metal, grunge, hard-rock, alternative, post-punk, garage – they are sure to cross those lines and mess with your preconceived notions. The only genre that really matters these days is Do I Like It Or Not? I do.

One Comment

  1. Sigh.

    I miss another great show.

    paulmerrill - September 26th, 2007 at 8:02 pm

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