Thursday, December 17, 2009

Live: The Slits

When: 12/14
Where: Highline Ballroom

The only time I really research anything music-related is when I'm writing a review, so often, I check out albums and concerts with really no idea what to expect. So at the Slits show at Highline, I didn't realize only singer Ari Up and bassist Tessa Pollitt were still in the band from its heyday. I thought Viv Albertine was playing with them again, but apparently, that was a one-off deal earlier this year. Bummer that.

However, Ari Up's personality is so huge that even the absence of my favorite Slit wasn't that glaring. Ari was in fine form. Despite her apologies, she really did sing well, and as for the dancing, well, she's still got it! Pollitt seems a little worse for the wear, but she's still a great bassist - just a little stiff in her stage presence.

The Slits choice in band members was certainly interesting. Hollie Cook (the daughter of Sex Pistol Paul Cook) is listed as the keyboard player, but the woman I saw was definitely not Cook. Whoever it was, she was the best of the non-original members. She seemed so genuinely swept up in the moment that she'd often forget to sing/shout her backup vocals into her microphone, being too busy jumping up and down and yelling at the top of her voice. Despite being the newest member, she owned her parts. She even did a clumsy dance with Ari and attempted a solo on train-whistle. I'm not sure I've ever seen someone have so much fun on stage. And if you're playing with the goddamn SLITS you better be having fun!

Drummer Anna Schulte also proved herself up to the task. It must be tough coming into a legendary band, and especially for a drummer, who is ultimately the person with the most control over the music. But Schulte didn't waver - her reggae beats were authoritative and flawlessly executed and she seemed well amused by her bandmates' antics. On guitar, Michelle Hill didn't do so well. She's a great guitarist, but watching her, it was obvious she was playing music she didn't write. That may be true, but Schultz and the unnamed keyboardist/back-up vocalist both made the music their own, not by hijacking anything but by putting their own personality into every note. Hill played well, but she seemed more like a session player than a Slit.

The set was mostly reggae, as I expected. Reggae and dub, of course, evolved in tandem with punk in the late 1970's and early 1980's, especially in the UK, and many of the original UK punk bands went in an increasingly reggae-inspired direction as they progressed as musicians. The band did balance their reggae numbers with some punk tunes, including the Slits classic "Typical Girls." At one point, the venue threatened to kick the band off the stage - apparently there was a mix-up about the set time - and Ari Up told them what was what. Despite it all, though, seeing the Slits today is definitely not at all the same as having seen them in 1977. But they are still a great band, and for anyone with an interest in UK punk, anyone who's ever read England's Dreaming*, it's still amazing to see Ari Up in person. She's as crazy as ever. Maybe even more so.

*Okay, I have a funny story, and this seems like as good a place as any to share it. One time, I was reading England's Dreaming on a bench on the Upper East Side. There were two very elderly women sitting next to me and the one closer to me suddenly struck up conversation, which went something like this:

Old lady: What are you reading?
Me: It's called
England's Dreaming.
Old lady: What?
England's Dreaming! It's about punk. Punk rock.
Old lady: England's dreaming??? I'm from England! I'm still dreaming!
Me: Oh, how long have you lived here?
Old lady: Since 1962! Where are you from?
Me: I'm from Chicago. [FYI, I tend to lie about where I'm from]
Old lady: Chicago? I've never been to Chicago.
Me: It's a nice city.
Old lady: [Pause] You're from England?
Me: No, I'm from Chicago. You're from England.
Old lady: Oh...

At this point, she tries to look at my book, but she clearly can't read and doesn't have glasses with her, so I flip to the pictures in the middle of the book.

Old lady: What's that?
Me: It's a band.
Old lady: What's that? I can't read it.
Me: It's a band. It's the Sex Pistols. A punk band. Punk.
Old lady: What? I can't hear!
Me: It's the Sex Pistols.
Old lady: What?
Me: It's the Sex Pistols.
Old lady: What?
Me: It's the Sex Pistols.
Old lady: What?

At this point, I realized I'm sitting on a bench yelling "sex pistols" repeatedly at a 92-year-old woman I just met. And I'm getting some pretty funny looks from passers-by. Meanwhile, the other old lady is cracking up - I think she was following the conversation much more lucidly. Anyway, I said it was nice to meet them and excused myself before someone called the cops.

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