Having seen Jim Yelenick in his other bands — the hardcore Pitch Invasion and the hilarious acousti-punk Sputnik Slovenia — I figured I’d seen the gamut of his personas, and loved them all. But none topped his loose adaptation of Joe Strummer in a full nun habit, wildly leading a packed house through a litany of the best tunes from the Clash. Yelenick fronted local quintet the Nuns of Brixton (a Clash tribute band) last night at Bender’s Tavern and put on a simultaneously heroic and hilarious show — all in full convent uniform.
The Clash, a.k.a. “The Only Band That Matters,” has forever topped my live dream list. I’m a bit skeptical of tribute bands, so I was prepared to take in a mediocre show at best, but I knew I’d enjoy just being a part of the nostalgia.
The Nuns proved me wrong from the first chord. Not only were they a legitimate and respectful tribute to the Clash, they proved to also be a damn good band, outright.
And why not? The lineup was stacked with Denver scene heroes: bassist Tim Beckman (from ‘90s Denver band Spell, also the Nuns’ founder), Jon Solomon and Robb Froschheuser on guitars and Tony Weissberg (formerly of Boss 302) kept the rhythm as a more-than-adequate Topper Headon on drums. All wore matching habits, and all had ear-to-ear-grins for their 70-minute set, though none reached the spectacle that Yelenick did from the first minute.
As the quintet stormed onstage, all in costume, Yelenick grabbed the mic, gave a quick “Hello,” then screamed “London’s burning!” From there the set became a runaway train, with a brilliant Clash soundtrack.
They burned through “Janie Jones,” “Career Opportunities,” “(White Man In) Hammersmith Palais,” “Pressure Drop,” of course “The Guns of Brixton” and more — all perfectly sloppy, fast and each one as true to the original as need be. But there was also enough Nuns’ personality to make these more than merely covers – they definitely had a life of their own. Yelenick neither sounded too much like Strummer when screaming the oh-so-important punk themes, nor did he embody the original frontman too little. It seemed that Strummer and Yelenick’s sprits melded beautifully beneath all that black and white polyester.
The crowd, after singing along to every song nearly word for word, seemed as spent and satisfied as the band when the set wrapped up with “White Riot.” I actually felt like maybe I’d seen almost enough of the real spirit of The Clash to be fulfilled. Almost.
Gestapo Pussy Ranch, the brainchild of local radio personality John WIlbur (AKA “Whip”) opened the evening with a solid rendition of Scratch Acid-meets the Sex Pistols, complete with the requisite old-school punk snottiness and provocation. If this band can keep it together and continues to play out, they’re worth a glance, if only for their historical significance and downright irreverence.