The Raincoats / Grass Widow
Live, @ Warsaw, Greenpoint
September 16th, 2011
There was around a 20-minute wait to get into Warsaw Friday night; a brisk-moving line that snaked back and around the block, ending in a firm and thorough pat-down from a very large Polish man. There was no shortage of people eager to see a rare New York performance by post-punk pioneers The Raincoats, but getting them all through the front door seemed a bit tricky. The scarcity of recent top-notch shows at the Greenpoint venue meant I had forgotten just how big the place was. It’s enormous. Grass Widow, a San Francisco three-piece very much influenced by the Raincoats early work, looked small on the big stage, spread to opposite ends in triangle formation. They sounded big enough, though. Songs newer than last year’s stellar Past Time LP seemed more complex still, always stretching in unexpected directions. (Combined with widespread attention for recent releases from Wild Flag and St. Vincent, can we hope that whole Best Coast, “new simplicity” blip might have passed?) At times, with lightly chugging rhythm and cool breeze melody, they continued to remind me of Electrelane in the best possible way. The set closed with a cover of Wire’s startlingly poppy 1977 track “Mannequin”, which they totally nailed. It was a nice time-capsule music cue for the headliners, reminding the audience where the standard for art-punk was at the time The Raincoats burst on to the London scene.
Touring behind a new release of their 1981 sophomore record Odyshape, The Raincoats continue to be one of the most famously re-issued bands in rock. Kurt Cobain once used his 90s mega-star clout to get their records out on DGC, but they slipped out of print shortly thereafter (his suicide put a crimp in his patronage, maybe?). In the file-sharing era that’s hardly an impediment to gaining new fans, though. Drawing a crowd of nearly four digits, the once-obscure act seems finally entrenched in the rock canon as groundbreaking heroes. And what a thrill it was to hear singular songs like “The Void” played live. It’s still striking how original these songs sound, wobbling to and fro, equally likely to explode into abstract Cherokee whoops, or simple punk hooks. Violinist Vicky Aspinall hid from view in the wings at times, ecstatically leaping out to heighten the surprise impact of big string catharses. Ana da Silva wrangled white noise out of unidentifiable metal box, playing its sides with a xylophone mallet. Gina Birch forgot how to play a song on guitar once or twice, only to come back triumphant after a quick huddle, launching into an overshadowed gem like 1996 comeback single “Don’t Be Mean”. At one point, when da Silva’s guitar strap unhooked, a dude from the audience braved a manhandling from beefy security guards to leap onstage to fix it. College kids moshed frantically when “Fairytale in the Supermarket” opened the encore. They never did “Lola”, a Kinks’ song that they might not feel ownership of but, on account of their unraveling, revelatory cover version, probably should. They played everything else, though. They even dusted off Odyshape’s closer, “Go Away”, a song they claimed hadn’t been played in 30 years. It’s successful completion lead to actual on-stage hops of glee. Beaming behind the mic or grinning up at it, the goodwill in the room was pretty overwhelming.
The Raincoats – “Fairytale in the Supermarket”
photos by Devon Banks