Long hair and short skirts, despondent and ruminating, uniform black and wildly exaggerated, the end result was a gratifying night of grit and emotion.
Off Broadway, St. Louis
It was practically a Ladies Night on the Off Broadway stage. The crowd was evenly split, but onstage chicks outnumbered dudes seven to three, with two all-female touring acts and one female on keys and screams in the local opener, Baby Baby Dance with Me. The elements played along, driving wild and cool breezes to back up three acts of super cool kids and tormenting smokers and non- alike between sets, scuttling plastic cups off the table’s edge, and tossing debris in our eyes. The wind-whipped trees and unseasonably chill winds provided a fitting backdrop for the coarse and skulking sounds of Baby Baby Dance with Me, L.A. Witch, and the Coathangers.
Local openers seemed pleasantly surprised to be supporting an exceptional bill of tough broads. And it just so happens that the fringed and bangled Greer Deerling’s screams on the one song she was featured were the show-stopping highlight of the set.
After a little wine on that gusty patio, the three miniskirted members of L.A. Witch took to the stage to expound upon their mostly-EP catalog. The recordings have been slowly trickling out of this band, with a single EP offered on the merch table. But what the trio has managed to release has been much-anticipated and well-received, hitting a sweet spot of bad-dreamy western surf-psych, as in the set opener “Kill My Baby Tonight.”
Singing from behind a guitar that appears to be bigger than she, Sade Sanchez wailed on “You Love Nothing” like a choked-up Angel Olsen or Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval. Bassist Irita Pai casually tossed backup vocals at the mic and firmly commanded adjustments to the sound on behalf of her bandmates. Meanwhile, Ellie English bopped away on the drums, knocking out her ride cymbal momentarily. Lovelorn and jaded, their western cooing struck a chord like a ghost town, mournfully resonating through a hollowed-out heart.
Where L.A. Witch was somber and melancholy, the Coathangers were joyously irreverent. The lights dimmed to blue velvet and the ladies climbed onstage in matching black shorts and band t-shirts. Julia Kugel’s munchkin vocals and heavy-lidded, rolled-back stoner eyes swinging a guitar were perfectly matched by Stephanie Luke’s maniacal grin and gruff growls behind the drum set. Meanwhile, Meredith Franco expertly maintained the groove, slightly off-kilter in the corner, facing her bandmates rather than the crowd, as if lost in her own endless rhythm.
Each so talented, with so much personality in their own right, the Coathangers tossed the focal point among themselves throughout the set. Songs like “Sicker” from their 2011 album Larceny & Old Lace and “Down Down” from the latest, Nosebleed Weekend, showcased Luke’s low, gravelly voice, announcing at the end, “That was all six versions. We put ’em all in there!” A counterpoint to Luke’s weighty cannonball vocals, Kugel’s “Hello? Hello?” in “I Don’t Think So” rang crisp like some dollface in a 1940s detective movie. “Trailer Park Boneyard” started out sweetly enough, punctuated with bursts of feedback and screeches, while “Smother” from 2014’s Suck My Shirt alternated between loopy meows and more classic oi! oi! oi! barks.
On the whole, Nosebleed Weekend maximizes the unique contributions of the bandmates, resulting in a satisfying range of sounds and styles. The innocent vocals and Savages-like disco drums aligned seamlessly in “Burn Me,” then morphing into a Those Darlins–style garage twang on the title track. “Watch Your Back” also combined both vocal styles, Kugel all cartoonish with Luke’s rasp approaching Lemmy quality, her insistent drums a solid foundation for driving guitar and delirious bass lines.
The final moments of the set took the hysteria to the next level. Kugel and Luke swapped instruments to bang out “Shut Up” with a cold edginess reminiscent of the Kills. Franco did a complete 180, breaking out of her aloof bassist character to hop around stage shouting “Nestle in My Boobies/ It’s so comfortable!” a throwback from their 2007 self-titled album. And for the stunning finale, Kugel clamored into the crowd, screaming “You can have it/ I don’t want that shit/ It’s just a bad memory of what I did,” deftly playing the squeaky toy for my personal favorite from Nosebleed Weekend, “Squeeki TIki.”
While some common threads ran through the lineup—lots of ladies, lots of distortion—the finer points of their sound and style spoke volumes of diversity within a genre. Long hair and short skirts, despondent and ruminating, uniform black and wildly exaggerated, the end result was a gratifying night of grit and emotion. | Courtney Dowdall