Thursday, June 30, 2011

Live: Coathangers, Friends, Bush Tetras

When: 6/24
Where: 285 Kent

Although I've loved the Coathangers for a few years now and consider them top-notch badasses, they reached a new level of badassery and awesomeness during their opening slot for Bush Tetras on Friday.  The Coathangers are four attractive but intimidating ladies from Georgia.  They play strange, energetic, sarcastic punk music.  Their vocal styles range from gender-bending growl to possessed muppet, at times warbling, at times screeching - but somehow, there are melodies.

The Coathangers haven't changed that much since I first saw them but they have gone in a new direction on one thing: their approach to the keyboard.  Once upon a time, about 90% of their keyboard playing involved randomly banging clusters of keys, but now they've moved away from that technique towards actual melodic riffs (though they still do some random pounding as well).  Honestly, it's not better or worse this way - on the one hand, the music is a little less ferociously wild than it once was, but on the other, the band's songs are more distinct and more tightly constructed.

And around those melodic riffs, the band still rages like always.  Seriously, don't fuck with these girls.  Todd P and his sound guy tried to fuck with them by cutting the band off during one of their instrument rotations.  Because their set was a little (ok, a lot) long and there were two bands yet to go, Big Brother decided to pull the plug and start blasting the Beach Boys (or something similar) through the PA, signalling the end of the set.  The Coathangers ignored it and kept playing.  And won.  The music was shut off and the mics were turned back on.  Pausing for only about two or three seconds to shout "don't turn off our mics" they launched into another song.

Twice more, the bossman tried to drown them out with shite, but the band refused to leave the stage.  During one last instrument switch, someone decided enough was enough and cut off the mics for good.  But did that stop our feisty foursome?  Ha!  They played their last song OVER the between-sets mix that was blasting out of the PA.  I don't know how they managed to stay together with a whole other song going at the same time, but they pulled it off and it was awesome.  True, the vocals were inaudible and although the band did what they could to encourage a shout-along, not enough people knew the words to make that effective.  But even if parts of the song were lost in the cacophony, the point still got across: the Coathangers are nobody's bitch. [video (not this show)]

Granted, the Coathangers are a hard act to follow, but upon seeing Friends, I could see why the much superior Coathangers felt inspired to run over their allotment into the next set.  Friends weren't all bad.  But the parts that were bad were pretty awful.  The band is more post-disco than post-funk, but they were a logical opener for Bush Tetras, warm but white female vocals over angular post-punk dance grooves.  They were tight and some of their b-lines were pretty outstanding.  Their rhythm section over all was tight and they had some good ideas.  Unfortunately, they chose to use two of the most piercing and annoying sounds possible on many of their songs: wood block and claves (those two wood sticks that you click together in Latin music).

The main thing that put me out wasn't the whacking of pieces of wood together, however.  It was the oversung pop singing of the frontwoman that really grated my nerves after a while.  There were moments when the set was enjoyable, more than I expected, but the overarching vocals sounded a little too much like a showcase of vocal ability and not quite enough like pop hooks or genuine expression.

The band was also a bit grating on a personal level.  They were informed mid-way through their set that New York had legalized gay marriage.  They made several well-intentioned attempts to express their agreement with the decision but the more they tried, the more awkward and offensive their comments got.  As if the vocals hadn't made me cringe enough for one night!  Still, their hearts were in the right place. [video (not this show)]

The Bush Tetras closed out the night with a set that was a little too long, given the heat of the room, but they did hit most of their best songs and well, they are too awesome for words.  And what words I can use for them, I just used a few days ago[video (not this show)]

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