(editor’s note: the pounding comparisons to things in definite bad taste have been removed. This is not an excuse but SXSW has decimated the copy editing troops office presence and this slipped through the cracks. Once again, not an excuse. Apologies to all who have been offended. BYT loves women (and men too))
I haven’t seen so much spitting, sweating, and stripping since the tent scene in “Brokeback Mountain”, but I wouldn’t have wanted Big Ups, Pile, and Speedy Ortiz any other way. Last Thursday at the Black Cat the triad not only delivered an evening of fantastic borderline hardcore, but also one of eccentric stage performances and Yuengling guzzling.
Like the great J. Mascis, these three bands have mastered the art of lazy energy. Impassioned indifference. Electric viscosity. New York “punctual punk” foursome Big Ups opened the show with songs from their “Eighteen Hours of Static” LP and got approving head bobs from shoegazing early birds. The band looked like grown versions of those cherubic kids that grin while dissecting family pets, and they bursted with sloppy punk all over the stage. Despite being an opener, frontman Joe Galarraga’s antics made Big Ups’ set impossible to ignore. He stuck the mic in his shirt and balanced it on his head. He jutted his jaw, flailed like a simian, and expectorated. During “Wool,” he half-crawled off stage and examined audience members’ shoes. On stage, he was an elegant mongoloid–a fitting representation of the composed chaos in Big Ups’ music.
Pile’s set starkly contrasted to Big Ups’ (as different as noon and afternoon, they were.) Despite crusty hair and glazed looks, the Boston band played soulful hardcore with an unexpected feel for rhythm and a foreboding tenderness. Frontman Rick Maguire screamed, but melodically. Drummer Kriss Kuss flourished delicate rolls across his snare between pounding it like an …(insert appropriate pounding comparison here). Unlike Big Ups, Pile didn’t acknowledge the crowd when they played songs from their 2012 LP “Dripping.” In fact, bassist Matt Becker and guitarist Matt Connery turned their backs to it, and worked their instruments’ necks with as much secrecy and fervour as two dudes jerking-off in the same room. During the set, one woman in the crowd stripped to translucent tights that left little (not even her crack) to the imagination. What other reaction should one have to music about pedophiles hiding under playground slides?
When Speedy Ortiz took the stage, (still no sign of the confused Red Sox fans I had been expecting all night) the now dense crowd bellowed. The men wanted frontwoman Sadie Dupuis. The women…also wanted frontwoman Sadie Dupuis. And it wasn’t just the nose ring dangling rebelliously from her right nostril. From start to finish, Speedy Ortiz played an honest show. “I fucking hate playing indoor soccer.” “I’m getting my dick sucked on the regular.” “Why’d you pick the virgin over me?” All musings that find their way into our heads at some point during the day, and Dupuis sang them with the power of a controlled tremor. When her bare mic shocked her mouth, Dupuis covered it with a beanie tossed by an audience member. When Matt Robidoux’s guitar strap snapped off during “Fun,” the Sean Astin lookalike kept right on playing. The music was everything that Riot Grrrl always wanted to be, but had too many unpopped pimples and too little sophistication to achieve. Speedy’s songs (particularly the 2013 single “Tiger Tank”) have a jarring backward momentum, but propelled the audience forward with loose necks and twitching knees. Inkeeping with the surprising nature of their entire set, Speedy closed with Taylor Swift. That is, they closed with “Taylor Swift,” a lesser-known song from a 2012 EP.
If you have the means, I highly recommend catching future shows from one or all of these bands. Even if you’re not from a family of abusive alcoholics in rural Pennsylvania or one of their girlfriends.