Saturday, October 10, 2009

Here they come, la la la la la la...

Quick notes from last night's Part Time Punks mini-fest at the Mezzanine:

We came in just in time for Death Sentence: Panda!, who make an incredible racket with drums, shrill girl vocals, and a heavily-treated, distorted clarinet. They were something like a cross between Teenage Jesus and the Jerks and Henry Cow. Occasionally the singer added flute or glockenspiel to the maelstrom. The only band of the night that I felt the need to stuff cocktail napkins in my ears for. An adorable hurricane.

The Magic Bullets were catchy, Postcard-style indie-pop with snappy soul-funk riffs and warm vintage keyboards flickering amid the jangle. Their singer was a hyperactively bouncy six-foot-plus warbler. The lyrics were droll slice-of-love vignettes. Fun.

Veteran Slits guitarist Viv Albertine (who sat in on a few recent shows, but announced recently she has no intention to rejoin the band permanently because in her view they have become Ari's backup musicians rather than a group of equals) played a brief but stunning solo set of new songs. Wry lyrics, elastic rhythms, and that same ticklish guitar style that helped give the Cut album such a distinctive sound. She's got a new four-song limited edition CD, but judging by her set, there's a lot more where that came from.

Savage Republic are as mesmerizing as ever. Big sonic landscapes that sound like they are reverberating across the desert. A sound full of wild, open space and relentless rhythm. They ended their set with a cover of "Viva La Rock And Roll" by Alternative TV. The crowd went wild when they recognized it; that's the kind of show this was. Post-punk is here to stay!

In the early 80s, Section 25 was considered "one of those OTHER Factory bands", and not given much respect. The title of their best-known song didn't help matters. It seems they're all too aware of that themselves these days; when someone in the audience requested it, the singer sheepishly mumbled, "Ehhhh, sorry about that one. Girls DO count!", to thunderous applause from the audience. The songs they did do were mostly driving, propulsive, one-chord bass-and-drums led motorik chargers over which the singer chanted and sneered (when he wasn't delivering nakedly romantic love lyrics) and the guitarist alternated between spiky Manchester post-punk riffs and oddly incongruous flashy high-velocity rock soloing. Later in the set they shifted from one-chord songs to two-chord songs, including a faithful cover of Joy Division's "Shadowplay", which they dedicated to the late mad genius producer Martin Hannett.

What we came for was the first-ever west coast performance of the Raincoats, a band I have wanted to see for thirty years, ever since their debut single, "Fairytale In The Supermarket", came out on Rough Trade in 1979. I'd already heard and liked the Slits, Kleenex, X-Ray Spex, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and Essential Logic, but here was an all-female band who had invented their own radiantly messy take on the Velvet Underground with frantic, yowling vocals, crudely strummed folk-rock guitars and mad, scratchy violin: totally up my alley. The Raincoats didn't have the accessibility of many of their post-punk peers and they weren't fashion plates (though they always looked cool and gorgeous in the same thrown-together way that gave their music so much appeal), and they didn't have any problems with the "f" word (feminism, I mean), so they were always a little-known cult band with a select few devoted fans until Kurt Cobain convinced them to reform in the 90s. Now that a new generation has embraced them as pioneers (check how the New Bloods totally bite their style and put their own unique spin on it at the same time), they have reformed yet again and San Francisco finally gets a chance to see them in person.

Offstage, Ana Da Silva was incredibly sweet, gracious and friendly, perfectly happy to look a couple of gushing fans in the eye and listen to what they have to say. Onstage, she was grave, serious and reserved, like a lightning rod around whom the giddily exuberant Gina Birch and the confidently powerful Anne Wood could fly wildly. Her guitar sound is as primitive as ever (a good thing in this case!), but no one else plays quite like her. Occasionally when picking out a melody line or trying to get a sound out of a small cymbal and then dropping it haphazardly, she seemed more like someone grumpily puttering around in the attic than a musician putting on a show. Then she would open her mouth and unleash that haunting Portuguese-accented contralto moan, and you just got carried away by the emotion and knew you were in the presence of a true artist who is authentically herself every single moment. She made mistakes sometimes, but she never made a wrong move.

The other original Raincoat, Gina Birch, was a perfect foil and co-frontwoman, irrepressibly chatty and hilarious, a lanky bundle of energy and laughter. Her own songs are quirky, blunt, and neurotically wise, her once-chirpy voice has matured into a craggy Marianne Faithfull-like rasp, and her bass was bubbly, snaky, and all over the place. She seemed to enjoy teasing her relatively stern bandmate Ana, who indulged her antics like a slightly annoyed big sister. She joked, "We break up after every show! David Thomas told us that's a sign of a great band!"

Anne Wood, who replaced founding member Vicky Aspinall when the band first reformed in the 90s, tore into the violin parts with relish and joined in the bass-and-guitar roulette with Ana and Gina. Vice Cooler, a young veteran of bands like XBXRX, did a great Palmolive impersonation on drums. Speaking of whom, at one point Viv Albertine joined the Raincoats onstage to perform "Adventures Close To Home", a Palmolive song recorded by both the Slits and the Raincoats. Gina gushed, "We're all going to visit Palmolive in New York soon!"

The best thing: we were treated to two unfamiliar songs: one performed solely by Ana and Gina with two slashing guitars, and one by Gina with verses that went "You ask me if I'm a feminist/if I'm angry/if I'm happy...why would I not be?" and a chorus of "I'm a city girl!* I'm a warrior!" Profound and goofy at the same time. Is there a new album in the Raincoats' future? That's something I look forward to hearing.

*I did originally hear this is "I'm a silly girl/I'm a warrior", which is kind of a cool lyric in its own right, but it's incorrect. Thanks for the heads up, everyone.


Davis Jones said...

Yes! That was a really fun night, and you know it must have been great because we got there at 9:00 pm and were quite surprised to find ourselves still bouncing and clapping close to 3:00 am before getting out of there. Not bad for a couple of old part time punks!

Plus we introduced ourselves to almost all the bands and left cards and received CD's to put up on the Ear Candle Radio station. Thanks!

Got to see some old friends, which is always fun at these gatherings. The crowd was friendly and animated. Penelope Huston was there in full Artemis, looking out for temporarily wheel-chaired musician Michelle King. Lux from Chrome shared some good cheer with us on break, and Kevin O'Connor, Kathleen O'Connor's brother, maneuvering for front of stage space. I'd like to see both Lux and Kevin on stage in future, where I can capture them with my handy PC100.

Tonight: Bob Dylan. Thank goodness he starts at 7pm and probably won't go on that long...
we'll see.

Ian Schultz said...

I saw Gina Birch do a solo show and I met here and she was really nice, I really want to see The Raincoats some day.

I saw the Slits a little over a month ago, they were decent but if Ari just kept and kept going on about her "poom poom" which was just embarrassing.

I still need to see Section 25, they don't play much.

I'm dying to see Savage Republic but they never play in the UK.

Did you see my buddies Crystal Stilts who always played the festival?

J Neo Marvin said...

The Crystal Stilts weren't there unfortunately. I would've liked to see them.

Michael said...

Nice review! One correction - the chorus from Gina Birch's new song is: "I'm a CITY girl, I'm a warrior..." NOT "I'm a SILLY girl, I'm a warrior..." During their magnificent show in LA, she mentioned your review and asked that someone set you straight! Understandable mistake - she is quite silly (in the most wonderful way). Anyway - yay Raincoats! Welcome back!! The world needs you!!!

J Neo Marvin said...

The hazards of trying to remember lyrics you heard last night! I'll fix it.

Ian Schultz said...

Speaking of another legendary post-punk band, I saw the Bunnymen for the second and pissed off Ian McCulloch twice by requesting The Puppet over and over. It was a awesome gig and did pretty much every song you want them to do + some new ones from their new album.

I also saw Jonathan Richman and he was fucking brilliant, he has some moves on him.