Drunk At A Show: Wimps, Lithics, Hayley and the Crushers at The Central Saloon
On a wet post-Halloween Saturday, gen-xers and next-wave post-punkers alike convened in the half-faux-brick saloon that is Central Saloon in Pioneer Square.
First to play was Hayley and the Crushers (Eccentric Pop Records). They seemed a bit road weary, and made some wise-cracks about Seattleites’ (supposed) inimical disposition. Regardless, the Crushers did their best to warm up the soggy souls peering judgmentally from under their beanies. The imported goods were distinctly Californian (by way of San Luis Obispo): 70s Whiskey-a-Go-Go meets The Pandoras flair, brash and throaty boy-girl vocals (in unison), an X cover (“Los Angeles”—although they played the intro to “White Girl” for their soundcheck), a Ramones cover, and an armful of original punk tunes. Their stand-out track was a likeably disaffected number called “Cool is the New Lame.”
Portland’s Lithics (Kill Rock Stars) also came to Pioneer Square from the south with an index of genre-influences under each arm. Lead vocalist-guitarist (and accomplished ceramicist) Aubrey Horner led the band through a set of stick-in-the-mud, spiky, no-wave numbers. Horner stared down the back of the room and rarely blinked, like a sentinel lost in a private, ecstatic trance as she delivered lyrics about intrusive gawkers (“Specs”) and “getting the boys to mass suicide” (“Glass of Water”) in her halting, soft-spoken, yet subtly threatening vocal style. While it’s tempting to wave the young group off and drop the needle on a Slits, Flying Lizards, or Ut LP, it’s as brave as it is rare for a young band to look back creatively on their post-punk forbearers and pull off such a compelling performance.
While Lithics’ songs about the banality of evil were delivered (awesomely) with withering aloofness, lablemates Wimps took a different tack, disarming their enemies as well as everyone in the room with their unassailable (and super inviting) house-blend of garage-punk glee. The playfulness of songs from 2018’s Garbage People LP like “O.P.P.” (AKA Other People’s Pizza), “Mope Around” and “Quitter” (about how life is less fun—but contradictorily better?—when one has finally given up smoking) recall the Buzzcocks’s jocose, fired-up energy, and serve as proof that the most fun tunes can transpire from getting worked up over the little things. A contingent of devoted Wimps fans was there—three-rows deep—bouncing and signing along, returning singer-guitarist Rachel Ratner’s “I’m-laughing-on-the-outside-just-to-spite-you-fuckers”-grin. Halfway through the set, wearing a “Believe Women” T-shirt featuring the blurry flying saucer photograph that adorned many a cool kid bedroom wall in the 1990s, Ratner reminded us all (as Horner did) to vote in the mid-term election. This meshed with the message found on “Giant Brain,” on which Ratner hammers away at the twin absurdities of being a cubicle-dweller and a gendered human being in 2018: “I wasn’t born a woman / but a woman I became / now I make this money / building a giant brain.” Ratner has mentioned in interviews that the album was greatly shaped by the most recent presidential election—specifically, the band decided to revise and diversify their punk toolkit beyond their usual fare of songs about naps and hating your job.
It’s important to complain— it can be a way of teaching others not to make the same mistakes, like eating expired food (see the Wimps song “Old Food” from 2013’s excellent Repeat LP). In addition to being a mainstay of punk music, complaining is also a form of communion—it forges connection, because we are all, on some level, mundane, basic creatures. But in using the punk stage as a political platform, post-Trump Wimps made the distinction that not taking yourself too seriously is not the same as self-trivializing. As it turns out, in the sometimes-vilified, sometimes-wayward and sonically conservative arena of punk, excellent garbage people can be found.