April 5, 2012

Grass Widow/Raincoats gig review


GRASS WIDOW/RAINCOATS, Wrongbar, Toronto, Ontario, 9/23/11

Initially, there was confusion about this gig, both my fault and, to some extent, due to how the event was initially advertised on-line. To make a long story short (it is almost always too late to invoke that by the time you’ve said it), it developed that there were two shows that same evening (which was not clear when I bought my tickets), and it was originally billed as (that act) and The Raincoats, so I bought the tickets for (that act), thinking it was her and then The Raincoats, only to discover when things were updated that I had purchased for the wrong programme. After some frantic negotiations and communications with both Shirley (The Raincoats’ manager) and the event organizer, the boyfriend and I were on the guest list, so we got in cheaper than would normally have been the case, as the tickets for the other act were a smidgen less pricey. (By the way, the other act was Marnie Stern, an excellent guitarist – I would go see her on some other occasion, and would have loved to have seen her if she had been on the bill with The Raincoats, but I wanted to see the band, as there could not be that many more opportunities and, as it develops, they revealed during the intro that they had NEVER played in Canada before).

There was a very small group of people waiting at the door when we arrived at the designated time (it may not be very rock ‘n’ roll of me, but I foolishly still think the stated kickoff is when things will start), and the door was locked, which caused us some concern. A couple of employees who were going in were unclear when it was starting, though one thought the door would open in about twenty minutes. When that time arrived, we timidly knocked, and a woman came to the door and said she also was not sure when it was going to commence. That woman was, in fact, Ana Da Silva from the band! (It was both a thrill to speak to her, however briefly, and somewhat ominous, given that the GROUP was not sure when it was going to launch).

When we entered, I sincerely wish I’d had my video camera at the ready, as the band were all gathered over in a corner and Ana and Gina were doing dance moves to the Motown blasting from the jukebox. Candid YouTube moments, foiled again…

I’m afraid I hit the merch table in advance of the show, while I could still hear (which is when I had my second conversation with Ana, albeit in terms of her asking me to move my big bearish butt (no, not in those words) so she could get a snapshot of the stuff). I got a t-shirt of The Raincoats (I was glad to see that they actually had one in my size, though the band that recorded ‘Odyshape’, with its critical remarks about size discrimination, would have been ill-served had they NOT), as well as a 45 and a cassette (yes, a cassette) by the opening band, Grass Widow.

On the subject of Grass Widow – they are a San Francisco female trio, consisting of Hannah (bass/vocals), Raven (guitar/vocals) and Lillian (drums/vocals), who perform very intricate and rhythmically tricky/elastic songs, in a mode somewhere between Erase Errata (yes, I know it’s lazy to compare a female band from San Francisco to ANOTHER female troupe from the same place), Throwing Muses and, well, The Raincoats, which made them an ideal opening act.

Because of the interwoven nature of their vocals and arrangements, they were a bit ill-served by a murky mix, but it got better (because it gets better) as time went on, and they were an original and intriguing ensemble whose albums I feel obliged to acquire over time (their 45 and their cassette were both excellent, arty affairs, full of interesting lyrics, chorale voices and sharp angles).

And The Raincoats? Oh, my goddess, where do I begin? Ana (guitar/bass/not functioning sampler/vocals), Gina (bass/guitar/vocals), Anne (violin/guitar/bass/vocals) and either Vice Cooler or Jean-Marc Butty on drums (they didn’t introduce him and my research has not found pictures identifying who he is/was) took to the stage with ferocity and none of the alleged shambling and uncertainty I have heard of their shows. Gina, who had swept into the bar looking rather damp and wind-blown (yes, it was pouring the day they played…imagine the aptness), was looking ferocious and fabulous now, and Ana had the energy and inventiveness often attributed to women half her age, while Anne and the drummer were perky and on top of their game. They played the hell out of a wide swath of their material, even including b-sides such as “I Keep Walking” (more baleful and Velvets-touched than the studio take), as-yet-unrecorded gems like “The Feminist Song” and my personal faves “Don’t Be Mean” and “Babydog”, along with absolutely required numbers such as “Fairytale In The Supermarket” and “No Side”. My only quibble is that they didn’t do “Lola”, but one can’t do EVERYTHING.

And before we knew it, it was over. The boyfriend and I walked back to the hotel, on a now clear and not overly cool night, though I rather suspect I floated on a wave of satisfaction and glee. :)

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