By Gabriel Mathews
Having already seen Perfect Pussy pretty recently, I needed to come up with reasons to do so again. It wasn’t hard: in the intervening months, the band’s profile has expanded exponentially. Their full-length debut, Say Yes To Love, came out the day before this show. It would be an opportunity to see them at a real venue, on a stage, as opposed to the floor of a DIY garage space with no PA (It’s worth noting that they played that same garage venue again the night after the Bootleg show. Punks for life). And plus they’re just an awesome live act and so why the fuck not?
The last time I saw a show at the Bootleg was four years ago, the first time I caught Titus Andronicus. That was a truly life changing experience, a night full of narrative ups and downs, and I went into this show hoping for something similar. The Bootleg has a few different rooms, however—when I caught TA, it was in the more traditional venue space, as opposed to this show, taking place in the theater, which is typically used by the multi purpose establishment for putting on plays.
After watching a bit of Big Trouble in Little China projected onto a wall, my Concert Going Companions and I moved into the other room. I wished I’d waited. Big Swamp Thunder are a perfect illustration of a really unfortunate phenomenon in music at the moment. Consisting of one shirtless dude flailing his fingers on a bass and one dude in a shirt triggering drum tracks and bellowing, BST are a noise act who seem to exist purely for shock value (and their own amusement). The problem is that nothing they did is shocking anymore. Yes, at one point, this vaguely structured noise, played so physically and violently was novel and thrilling. But that point was about thirty years ago. Back then, it wasn’t important whether the music was actually good or not, just that the conventions were being broken, the boundaries were being pushed. If you’re going to make this kind of music now, you have to do it well. You can’t simply coast on a wild stage presence and excessive volume. Watching these guys, I had to wonder who decided that they merited a slot on the bill, or any bill, and based on what criteria. When the only melodic element to your music is a guy who is basically doing what Flea does but with vastly less talent, you should really reconsider what it is you’re going for.
The second act fared significantly better. G. Green is a shaggy pop punk act from Sacramento, who played a fun set of pleasantly loose songs. I can’t say anything they did was super thrilling, but drummer Liz Liles anchored the band with some serious pummeling, and guitarist Mike Morales snuck in some of the weird funkiness of his other band, Baus, who I caught and loved a couple weeks ago at Pehr:space. Both of these bands are definitely worth checking out.
Stoic Violence, who opened for Perfect Pussy the last time they came through town, benefitted in an odd way from the theatrical setting: in a black box theater, their throwback leatherhead hardcore felt elevated to the level of performance art, in spite the utterly sincere 80’s meathead haircut of the frontman. This set wasn’t quite as fun as the last time I saw them, though, simply because said frontman didn’t spend half their set bleeding from the face.
One song in, Perfect Pussy frontwoman Meredith Graves made a half audible apology. “We’re trying so, so hard, really. I’m just so fucking sick.” Apparently afflicted by a bad sinus infection (I can relate), Graves was big less energetic this time around, and she seemed to be shouting a bit more quietly than usual. I say “seemed” because, contrary to my expectations, the existence of an actual PA and an actual soundman didn’t do much to improve Perfect Pussy’s live intelligibility. While guitarist Ray McAndrew didn’t sound like he was playing out of a cardboard box this time around, Graves’ vocals were perhaps even more buried than at their E. 7th Street show, when she sang through a guitar amp. Plus, layered atop the songs was so much feedback and deliberate noise generated by keyboardist Shaun Sutkus that even recognizing the fact that these were individual songs, as opposed to several distinct two minute blocks of noise, was difficult. The only songs I could actually pick out and point to as one I knew were “I,” off of last year’s amazing demo I have lost all desire for feeling, and “Interference Fits,” which should have been easy to spot due to it’s relatively subdued sound, but which I only recognized halfway through when the band dropped out for a split second and Graves shouted “SINCE WHEN DO WE SAY YES TO LOVE?”
I understand that it’s part of Perfect Pussy’s deal to be cloaked in earsplitting noise at all times, and that Graves’ lyrics are unintelligible by design. I understand that all of this is part of the thrill of seeing them live. But, having bought and listened to Say Yes To Love after the show, I feel these songs, their words, their melodic underpinnings, deserve better. One of the best and most interesting things about Perfect Pussy on record is the audible struggle between tunefulness and noise, between clarity and obfuscation. It’s this contrast that makes them stand out. At the Bootleg, the latter elements dominated so completely that anyone who hadn’t heard their records would leave with no real incentive to do so.
All of that being said, I had an excellent time for the 20 (at most) minutes PP took the stage. The crowd wasn’t full of super stoked kids like at E. 7th, but the eight or so dudes in the pit were all fully committed to maintaining the exact right violencetopain ratio, and I left the show exhilarated. Walking out of the pit, I encountered one of my CGCs, who said “Well, that was dumb.” I agreed, grinning. Dumb, yes, sure. But also a fucking blast.