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all words: William Alberque
all photos: Nick Balleza

Building a bill out of 3 girl-fronted bands with 3 capital letter-titles is an odd conceit that almost works. Ultimately, CSS got the biggest plaudits, but MEN is an underrated dancefloor pleasure and EMA is a maelstrom of noise and emotion.

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I volunteered to review this show just to see EMA.  I had to laugh when I saw the whole line up – CSS, MEN, and EMA? [I skipped Summer Camp when I found out that it wasn’t the Jeremy Warmsley indie act – and now I regret missing the poo-flinging fun]  CSS – Brazil’s finest fun party band; MEN – radical politics to an irresistible dance beat; and EMA – a noise/shoegaze act that opened for Throbbing Gristle.  One of these kids is doing her own thing…

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You know what you’re going to get when CSS come to town – ridiculous, infectious, party music played with wild abandon and real skill. I knew what to expect from MEN, having been pleasantly surprised at their ability to entertain with superb song while delivering coherent political messages on gender, politics, life, and love. EMA was the wildcard.  I loved the first song I heard – the gloriously deranged “Milkman” – and tracked down the limited edition cassette and 1-sided 7”.  I couldn’t wait to buy her debut album, Past Life Martyred Saints on the same label as Zola Jesus (Souterrain Transmissions).

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Live, Erika M. Anderson was a formidable presence. With her deranged mop of white-blond hair and messy t-shirt, she seems physically small; when she puts her head back and howls, she sounds immense.  She wields a guitar with abandon, joined on stage by another guitarist, a violinist/keyboardist, and a drummer that looks like a character out of an 80s teen flick.  Look at the pictures and you tell me.

EMA plays “Grey Ship,” a massive epic with rolling drums and plucked violin and lashes of guitar and dramatic vocals, ending with the gentle coda – “great grandmother lived on the prairie, and nothing, and nothing, and nothing, I’ve got the same feeling inside me, and nothing, and nothing, and nothing.”   “Milkman” comes blasting out next, thrashing and lashing the audience with waves of noise.  I knew I liked it, but seeing it live unleashed an extraordinary force into the night.  Perfect.

The shock in the set was the cover of “Add It Up” by the Violent Femmes.  I didn’t see that coming, but Erika makes it her own.  Unfortunately, she only has two songs left.  First is “Butterfly Knife,” a dark, thrashing number that she starts by pulling a Jónsi – screaming into the guitar pickups – before building layers of metal guitar.  Closing is “California,” with the jarring opening line, “Fuck California, you made me boring, I bled all my blood out” with dark industrial beats and confessional lyrics.  It’s a terrifying song, all the more so for its relative quiet compared to the rest of the set.

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I take a deep breath, and it’s time for MEN. It’s a simple setup – JD Samson from Le Tigre center stage on vocals, Michael O’Neill (Ladybug Transistor) on guitar and fuzzed up bass, and Tami Hart (MKNG FRNDZ) on drums – augmented by cardboard cutouts of additional band members (not sure what that’s about).  They are incredibly well drilled, with well-weighted vocals mixing with irresistible electronic beats, fantastic guitar lines, and immaculately played live drums.

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JD’s vocals occasionally turn to spoken word – think Missing Persons mixed with Mark Mothersbaugh – and the singing is always effective, always quality. “Fake Rivers,” “Credit Card Babies,” and set highlight “Who Am I to Feel So Free” are recognizable among the ten fantastic songs in the set.  JD gives a shout out to the protestors downtown before introducing a song about gay people having babies.  I don’t know enough of the song titles to give you a full accounting, but I am unable to keep myself from moving throughout the set.

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São Paulo’s CSS are the main act, though, and the now very crowded 930 Club is perfectly primed for their party set. Truth be told, I’m not a big fan, but I recognize an excellent live act when I see one.  Surprisingly, they start off a little weak with “Rhythm to the Rebels,” but lead singer Lovefoxx quickly engages the audience by ripping her tear away pants during “Off the Hook.”

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The title track from the new album, “La Liberación” wins me over.  “Music Is My Hot Hot Sex” proves a massive crowd favorite, though Lovefoxx’s cape and blinged out batman mask seems an odd choice to introduce “Red Alert.”  The keyboardist adds lovely cooing to the otherwise boring, Rapture-era Blondie-derivative song.

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Fortunately for me, “Let’s Make Love and Listen to Sex from Above” comes next.  I still love this song, as does, evidently, the hundreds of people packed into the club.  Unfortunately, though the set built solidly up to this point, there isn’t much left for me here.  “Jager Yoga” is all “Rocks” by Primal Scream insistent drums and driving guitar.  “Echo of Love” includes an impromptu limbo and Lovefoxx insists that we follow by bouncing.  I think it’s “Move” next, but not sure – my interest is waning and I have no idea of the remaining song titles.  Echo is the last one I can match to my notes.  The set list says “Jamaica, “Fuck Everything,” “Alalala,” and “City Grrrl” round out the set.  Ultimately, I had a good time, but it goes on a bit too long for me.  They have the spirit, but lose me on the feeling…

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