Thursday, October 15, 2009

Live: The Coathangers

When: September 30, 2009
Where: Cake Shop

I've gone back and forth on Coathangers a few times; when I first heard a song by them, I really freaked out about how good it was, but when I listened to the whole album, I cooled off. After a while, though, the album really grew on me. And seeing the Coathangers live seems to have finally settled on which side of the fence I'll come down: I am a fan.

The Coathangers, all all-female punk outfit from Atlanta, seem to have struck a good balance between the extremes of female roles in punk - they have the badassery of riot grrrls but not the off-putting self-righteousness that sometimes comes with. I wouldn't rank them with the defiant but largely unspoken feminism of Screaming Females and Marnie Stern, but it takes all kinds, right? And trust me, I know how unfair it is to see every female band's existence as a political statement and to analyze them to death in those terms. But that's the reality of the world we live in - every female band is a political statement, the only choice is what kind of statement to be.

Identity politics aside, the band is certainly badass enough bang out a whole set of in-your-face yet catchy songs. Their melodies are simple and unrefined, more shouted than sung, and backed by passionately sloppy instrumentals. Their minimalism can be a bit deceptive, however, since there's a lot going on including keys and some very sweet guitar riffs. The band also has a knack for arrangements and composition, so despite the simplicity, not just anybody could come up with these songs.

Several things immediately won me over about the band. First, they traded instruments a lot, and I have a soft spot for bands that do this - it's usually accompanied by a down-to-earth creativity and collaborative spirit. Also, the band has four members and when only three were needed for a song, they were not afraid to have the fourth sit out a few numbers. Having been the person sitting out, I know it can suck a little, but ultimately, it's way better that cluttering the music or having redundant players on stage. It's a good call from a band who know what they are trying to do and how they're going to do it.

The member who did sit out for quite a while is (I think) Meredith Franco, a.k.a. Minnie Coathanger, whose main instrument is bass. Vocals were shared throughout the set, but Franco only sang one song, and here, she seemed rather uncomfortable, often turning her back to the audience. She made a very admirable effort to move around, but it was a bit stiff and self-conscious.

The rest of the band was unabashed throughout, not holding back any crazy antics, from primal shrieks to bizarre dance moves. Though clearly capable of playing her instrument, keyboardist Candice Jones (a.k.a. Bebe Coathanger) spent about half the time banging on random keys. And despite her unassuming appearance, guitarist and sorta-frontwoman Julia Kugel ("Crook Kid Coathanger") is anything but shy. Meanwhile, gangly (in a good way), tattooed oft-drummer Stephanie Luke ("Rusty Coathanger") served as the band's musical and personal backbone, keeping everyone edge but also keeping them from bouncing out of control.

I think it's safe to call Coathangers one of the best punk revival bands around today, both for their irresistible songs and their defiant mannerisms. They are keeping the spirit alive. Oh yeah, and they're fucking FUN.


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