Priests With Lithics At Highland Park’s Ebell Club, Tuesday August 8th 2017
I had never been to Highland Park’s Ebell Club, an historic building which once was one of the most elite clubs of the nation and a place for women to organize the modern suffrage movement, before they had the legal right to vote. It’s now an interesting and charming place where concerts are held, and this historic and politically-charged location was perfect for Lithics and Priests, two post-punk bands respectively from Portland and Washington DC, with two very distinctive sounds.
Dissonance keeps Portland weird could be Lithics’ best idea, the band is fronted by Aubrey Hornor on vocals and guitar, and that woman has probably one of the most inexpressive and icy stare you can find around, actually it was a sort of I-will-kill-you-when-I-am-done-with-the-song stare, while her deadpan delivery and the dissonance of her guitar were matching the aggressive chords and beats of her band mates. I am kidding, she sounded like the nicest person between songs, but Lithics was all about her ice cube presence, and their Devo-like robotic execution. Hornor was barking her lyrics more than singing, and with a discordant, unemotional punk sound making you explore the void of your mind, they were building tension and anxiety. The result was not really ear-pleasing at first, but soon the mad rhythm and the infectious and stressful beats did captivate me and the audience, and after a while, I was totally in synch with their fractured punk noise.
Riot Grrrl Allison Wolfe was there, truly enjoying the set and I realized it was not so different from her Sex Stains act, although far less aggressive and especially far less physical since this Lithics woman stood still the whole time and her bang on her forehead didn’t even move a bit during the entire time. Weirdness and dissonance did reign all set long with violent accelerations and complete irreverence for melody or song structure. You may feel a bit paranoid after a Lithics set, let’s go all obscurantism seems to tell us Lithics (this Bandcamp page is actually their only web presence) but considering the current world situation, this is an appropriate state of mind.
Priests was also fronted by a woman who probably wanted to kill people too, but she was doing it in a very different way, with powerful howls and stage assaults. The quartet had a unique sound which nevertheless reminded me a lot of different things at the same time, if this makes any sense. G’L. Jaguar’s guitar was producing a violent and dissonant surf sound when they were not going all-industrial on us, while Katie Alice Greer’s charging and roaring vocals were also complemented by Daniele Daniele’s explosive-doom drumming and Taylor Mulitz’s bounding bass lines. The result was surprising and often chaotic, sounding like improvisations introducing a savage drone or a pulsatile, moody climate, fueled by Greer’s angry-at-the-world powerhouse scream. She often sounded like a more-angry Beth Ditto,
They essential played cuts from their last effort released at the beginning of this year, and ‘Nothing Feels Natural’ certainly sounds like a protest record if musicians can still make one. I will tell you, these were not love songs, even when they were coming from a pretty blonde wearing blue eye shadow like a clown. She may have looked like a demented angel with her captain of the cruise corsage, flowery shorts and pink boots, but her wails were scary and these were terrifying songs coming from a mad-as hell person, stretching her voice into nihilistic and grim statements about alienation, isolation and the state of our society: ‘I worked too hard to have friends like you anymore’, she shouted during ‘Appropriate’,… ‘I wrote a bunch of songs for you/But you never knew and you never deserved them/Who ever deserves anything anyway/What a stupid concept’, she screamed during ‘JJ’
The music was propelling and the dynamic songs were booming in many discordant directions, with sudden accelerations and unexpected jumps, mimicking the band members’ own moves. Greer’s moan was raw and impulsive, and even though it’s always difficult to understand the lyrics in a live setting, Priests’ lyrics are very important to their story, as their songs are often wordy and more streams of consciousness than simple poetry.
With a menacing drone and a frustrated anger running along their 11-song set, they managed to capture the current climate of enmity and if they sometimes sounded like raw existentialists with an acidic look at the American dream, arraigning everything from consumerism to personal freedom, the illusion of choice, hierarchy or patriarchy, they never sounded like an explicitly political band. Their lyrics, carried by Greer’s vocal theatrics, were in fact subtly evoking the current Orwellian fascist climate… beside a ‘Fuck Donald Trump’ during ‘And Breeding’, a song from their previous album ‘Bodies and Control and Money and Power’. This surely was not part of the lyrics, but the song actually name-checks many celebrities from Elvis to Che Guevara and Madonna and contains this memorable line ‘Barack Obama killed something in me and I’m gonna get him for it’…
Self described as the ‘anti-purity band’ – they pretty much hate any concept of purity and perfection as much as I do – they played dirty, loudly and aggressively, with guitar departures in distortion mixed with a morose but always ferocious tone, playing in many post-punk/art-punk bands’ backyards while always staying original and very interesting visually. Priests speak for our times, but it may be too reductive to associate them to the Trump era, ‘This is when I’d give a god a name but to people in sanctuaries all I can say is you will not be saved’, screamed Greer during ‘Nothing Feels Natural’. May be nothing feels natural anymore but Priests sound genuine and radical, and with their unapologetic and chaotic sound, they look like one of the most dissident bands we have around.
No Big Bang
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