Before the show that night, we drank watermelon vodka and ginger ale splashed with grenadine and blue curacoa, the kind of slapdash cocktail you wind up drinking a week or so after a major holiday, when you throw whatever booze is in the house into a glass and name it after a character from the TV show you were streaming online all day. So after loosening up with a few Joey Tribianis, we stomped off to the Bug Jar, and, for probably the first time in three years, arrived before any of the bands had started playing. But the pbr’s were going down smooth and the cigarette smoke on the night air made me feel as youthful and nostalgic as the throwback 90’s gear on almost every scenester in sight.
The first band up was Utah Jazz, a three piece garage-punk group, in which two of the three pieces were girls and none of the three pieces was a bass player. That’s right, two guitars! No bottom end, just distortion, feedback and chords zooming around anarchically, furious, a buzzaw shriek, a banshee unleashed. No disrespect to the singer/guitarist, whose Kathleen-from-Bikini-Kill screech was just as good as her Theo-from-The-Lunachicks bellow, or the guitarist/guitar player, about whom I can recall no details aside from the fact that he was apparently a man, but my favorite person in this band was the drummer. She, with her soaked rag of stringy hair flying about and her Bad Brains t-shirt, commanded a ton of spastic energy and was just a blast to watch. Overall, I thought Utah Jazz was awesome; but as a habitual bass user, i feel obliged to say they could have used a bass player to fill out their sound. On the real, y’all can train a clever farm animal to play that thing, and then you’d still technically be a trio.
The next band, Green Dreams was the one I was really looking forward to that night. A beautifully crafted facebook announcement for the show had me stoked to see some kind of quirky feminist punk outfit with clever, socially-conscious lyrics about everything from bro culture in punk music to like, ghosts, basically the kind of stuff I nerd out on harder than Hunger Games. In fact, they were even better than I expected. Their structure was hella tight and the songs were mad catchy; I pogoed unself-consciously through the entire set. The frontwoman, a tattooed time bomb in a baby dress, was Instagram friends with Shandi, so I felt a little geeky standing right next to the stage with my eyes glued to her the whole time, like I was some sycophant sucking up to a local scene-queen because the internet, but what choice did I have? She was incredible. Midway through the set, the band took a breather while she did something that weak hearted, popularity obsessed punk rock bands have been too chicken shit to do for the past fifteen years; she delivered a rant. She did what punks and revolutionaries are supposed to do, apologetically spoke her mind, giving a passionate speech in favor of something the media has been telling us all to hate for the past two decades: political correctness. Well, maybe not for political correctness as such, but rather against what has been the dominant mindset for the last several years, that it is better to tolerate bigoted statements in the name of self-congratulatory, post-whatever irony than to confront ideas that keep us all subservient, and thus risk being seen as over-sensitive. “Keep your patriarchy out of my punk scene,” she yelled, and she was right. Confronting racist and sexist ideas is not about sensitivity; it’s about standing up against the ideas that have justified centuries of inequality and oppression, the same ideology that keeps us divided, fighting each other for the last portion of the wealth we all work to create. And it’s about time we start remembering what side we’re on.
Feral Future, from Austin, Texas, followed Green Dreams with a loud, sexually charged set that proved something I pretend to have always said but in fact just made up for the purposes of this blog post: Austin don’t mess around.
At first look, I thought their singer had no physical presence at all, by which I mean that there was no singer on stage, only a disembodied voice. It took me a second to spot her down in the front of the crowd, wailing and shaking her hair in everybody’s face. As it turned out, her stage presence was too much for the stage to contain. Later on in the set, Shandi handed me her big, carved wooden earrings for safe keeping and bounced up to the front, where all the shaved head chicks and new millennial riot grrrls were thrashing around and slamming into one another. I stayed out of the pit because I didn’t want to trample a bunch of people and end up looking like a dumb drunk frat boy for the eight hundredth time, but you know how you can stand on the edge of a mosh pit and kind of gauge what the vibe is? Well, bouncing there on the cusp of the pit where those girls were moshing each other, I could tell this: it was joyful. As an outsider, I imagine it has to do with the freedom of finally being in a rock show environment that felt safe, about the rare opportunity to have fun with other women, but it’s a rare mosh pit that ever feels so happy.
The headlining act for the night, Perfect Pussy, was loud. I mean thunderous, noisy and frantic, with the distilled energy of a lightning storm, or, if you prefer, a square mile of coca plants somewhere in South America, stripped bare. I couldn’t stop watching the gonzo bass player, who was going ballistic throughout the band’s non-stop set. He played nothing but chords, lending the band a certain killer-piano-trying-to-murder-you-while-tumbling-down-a-mountain sound that, combined with the unholy din erupting from the abysmal bowels of the synthesizers, made Perfect Pussy the sweat-soaked engine of sonic damnation that they were. I mean all of that in a good way, in case it’s unclear. The singer, a pixie cut blonde in a crazy, nylon, printed dress, had a stage presence that I could only compare to someone like Jello Biafra or Henry Rollins. She held the slack from the microphone cable coiled in her hand and screamed into the mike like a singer in a straightedge band, with passion and intensity pouring from her eyes. And as awesome as that was, here’s the thing: I couldn’t hear a word. Not like I couldn’t understand the lyrics; I couldn’t hear a single sound that she made over the noise of the band, from the beginning of their set to the very end. Which was sort of a bummer, because the band seemed really great, but for all I know the singer sings like Cobra Commander and the songs are all about evangelical Scientology.
“Kill the bro inside your head,” the girl from Green Dreams had said during her epic rant. After the Feral Future set, Shandi and I stood outside with some of the girls from the mosh pit, shouting about, “positive pits,” and, “girls to the front.” I thought about it on the way home, with my ears ringing and all that, feeling good and not even really that drunk. The whole idea of counterculture is that you have some critique, some problem with the dominant culture. When you give that up, when you accept the prejudices of the dominant culture- with slut shaming, with hilarious hipster racism, whatever- that’s when you stop being counterculture and become just a repackaged version of the same tacky bullshit this culture sells to everyone else. Thankfully, I didn’t see any of that garbage going down at the Bug Jar Wednesday night. It was one of the best nights out I’ve had in a while.