These five women play music as tight as their outfits
It's dark and smoky at the Egyptian Club in Southeast Portland. A young, receptive audience gets rowdy as June Cleavage cuts loose with a high-octane version of the kitsch classic 'These Boots Are Made for Walkin'.' Lead singer Erika Simms puts on a sneer, points at the audience and growls, 'One of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you.'
The five-woman band answers the musical question, 'What do you get when you cross the mom on 'Leave It to Beaver' with a buxom showgirl?'
Named after the chirpy Barbara Billingsley character, June Cleavage is a bodice-ripping pop band based in Portland. Armed with electric guitars, bass, drums and a violin, they fire off catchy original compositions and crowd-pleasing cover songs.
After an April 2000 band search contest aboard the Portland Spirit, June Cleavage burst onto the Portland concert circuit. Since then, the group has played at rock venues such as Satyricon and the Cobalt Lounge.
Besides showing off their musical dexterity, band members entertain by modeling a cheeky hybrid of fashions. Decked out in campy, suggestive garb such as feather boas and fishnet stockings, the women could hold their own in a Las Vegas spectacular.
But Amy Spreadborough, the principal songwriter and rhythm guitarist, insists that the costumes don't reflect the band members' true personalities.
'We're totally not naughty,' she explains. 'We're serious about the music, but the name encourages us not to take ourselves too seriously.'
During a recent rehearsal, the band launches into a cover of Stevie Nicks' 'Edge of Seventeen' that sounds more like the theme song from 'Shaft.' Drummer Janet Redhawk deadpans, 'This is how we butcher Stevie Nicks.'
By and large, June Cleavage's musical arrangements are tight, clever and accessible. A signature song, 'It Was the Light,' has an addictive, brisk Latin beat.
June Cleavage has yet to sell truckloads of CDs or play larger venues such as the Crystal Ballroom. Still, the band is carving a name for itself with a solid debut CD, 'Unfastened,' and with its audacious live appearances.
Away from the music front, all five women hold down respectable nine-to-five gigs. Simms is in public relations, and Spreadborough works for an ad agency. Redhawk is a computer software technician, and Julia Lapp, the lead guitar player, is a hospital dietitian. Gillian Bunker, who plays violin and bass, writes biotechnology patents for a law firm.
Spreadborough thinks the band's love of music and its fashion savvy will help it persevere.
'We're coalescing our sound and our image,' she says. 'We're becoming more aware of what we are.'
'When you hear the term 'girl group' you think 'disposable,' ' she continues, citing the Bangles and other female groups that did not stay together for long.
But these gals say they're in it for the long haul. Like Nancy Sinatra, they plan to put a lot of wear and tear on their boots.