Babe the Blue Ox at Mercury Lounge, February 17, 2001
What the hell is the big deal about a female sitting at a bar by herself? While waiting at the Mercury Lounge for the rest of my company, I was approached by a frat boy in a white cotton turtleneck and told "You look like you need help." Thanks, that's sweet. I'm just waiting for some people. "Oh, so you're a loser?! I'm a loser, too!" Sorry, we're not from the same litter, but you can definitely drop dead right now. Later in the evening, "Can I have your number for wild sex?" Ha. Ummm, no. Ladies, pay attention, a white turtleneck obviously denotes the wearer is a tiger in the sack. Let's move on, shall we?
The evening was devoted to Babe the Blue Ox, a band that has been in this city since the early 1990s. A few years ago, you couldn't open the Voice without seeing Babe's name in the listings. Tim Thomas (guitar, vocals), Rose Thomson (bass, vocals) and Hanna Fox (drums, vocals) survived impressively for a local band. Five albums later, they didn't get sucked into a scene but remained as individuals in a band that uses no identifiable musical formula. If the earth's crust could sing, this band is what it'd sound like. Babe can push and stretch noise to extremes before it becomes Yoko Ono's garbage. The band is more a mixture of Boss Hog, indigenous tribal music, late Sonic Youth, bubbles and an Andy Warhol movie.
The trio was a quartet tonight, due to the snazzy addition of a gentleman percussionist a mean-ass dancer with a white-rose boutonniere. The bizarre concoction of sound produces music that hones in on your body's energy. People were swaying and doing their thing, almost as unselfconsciously as the band. Emotions seized the band members' limbs, causing orgasm-inspired dances. Lots of groove-is-in-the-heart writhing from the guy with the boutonniere looked pleasingly perverse as Thomson stomped around slapping her bass. Babe is wacky but succinct, flirting with the possibility of becoming a parody of art-rock (a nauseating term if there ever was one). But the band couldn't give a shit, and that's why they don't suck.
The Gossip, Knoxville Girls, White Stripes at the Bowery Ballroom, February 24, 2001
If Elvis Presley ever mated with Wendy O. Williams, I'm pretty sure you'd get the Gossip.
Transplanted from Arkansas to Portland, the Gossip is by far one of the best live bands you'll ever have the sweaty pleasure of bustin' your sore ass to. Touring to support their debut album, That's Not What I Heard, the Gossip led by the fabulous, full-figured, hot mamma Beth Ditto ("How're all the fat ladies doin' tonight?") exploded onstage with caffeinated blues-rock riffs, pop-punk drumming and a voice that'd make Etta James scream, "Whoomp, there it is!" Out of the closet and in your gaunt face, Ditto's homage to all the fat ladies was even more divine when she shed her top and sang the set in her black bra. When she's not singing, Ditto has a sweet southern charm that is almost incongruous to her vinegar-spitting hip-thrusting performance. The crowd did their best to keep up with the naughty, raucous moves. The Gossip is so intent on people getting down during their set that the band tours with a dancer, "sassy lassie,"
who shakes her thang till the music stops. This is no act. This is the future, where all sizes and sexual preferences are literally celebrated with music that's more stylish than stripes on a zebra.
I'd hate to be the band to have to follow that set...
Lower East Side gents, the Knoxville Girls are comprised of former members of Sonic Youth, Pussy Galore, the Cramps, Chrome Cranks, and Bad Seeds among others. Singer Jerry Teel looked frighteningly like Neil Young, down to the gnarly sideburns. Most of the guys wore vintage suits and poker faces, as spiffy southern rock held court. But after the Gossip, the Knoxville Girls were just guys in suits playing loud music. Even a cover of the Shangri-La's couldn't get the crowd hyped.
Enter headliners, the White Stripes a brother-sister duo from Detroit that wears only red and white clothing. Singer-guitarist (and younger sibling) Jack White scorches each song, including an eerie cover of Dolly Parton's "Jolene." Jack's guitar and high, creaky, jabbering vocals turned my nerve endings into firecrackers. Meg White, on the other hand, looks and sounds like she learned to play the drums yesterday. She hits only the most basic sequences, in contrast to her brother's aggravated, intricate style. This balance of banal and excess is exactly what the band tries to get at. Their sophomore album was titled De Stijl, after the modern-art movement. The master of the movement, Piet Mondrian, was obsessed by the vertical-horizontal opposition and devoted his art to purity and logic. While I don't think the White Stripes are all for clean edges and straight lines, they are making innovative rock music that represents something beyond the material, beyond the nookie.
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