It pains me deeply to admit this, but I'm terrified that I'm getting too old for punk shows. I'm only 26. I'm practically a baby compared to most of my coworkers who are in their mid-to-late 30s, but whether it's my failing ear drums -- seriously, I need to start leaving a note in my phone to pack ear plugs for "loud" shows -- or the crazy enthusiasm of the kids/young adults at punk/post-hardcore shows, I can't take it as well as I used to. I'm glad I endured those failings of a rapidly aging old man though because I caught Bully
at Baby's All Right last week, and between them and opener Slothrust
, I had a hell of a Wednesday evening.
There's something about a girl in a cut-off denim jean jacket with unshaven pits wailing on an electric guitar that is the definition of badass. I'm not being sarcastic there. I'm being deadly serious. Slothrust's Leah Wellbaum fuses post-hardcore noise to deceptively Southern classic rock guitar licks alongside her almost growling voice to create a sound that is almost totally unique. I'd never heard of Slothrust before that night at Baby's All Right, but I walked away from the evening impressed with Leah's guitar work as much as I was the dynamite peformance from Bully still to come. Leah Wellbaum, simply put, isn't just one of the best female guitarists I've been able to see live, she's one of the best young guitarists I've seen period since I saw St. Vincent tear Tennessee apart at Bonnaroo with David Byrne two years ago.
That I fell in love with their sound so deeply by the end of their set is all the more astonishing because it took a couple of songs for Slothrust to find their groove. Leah Wellbaum has an immediately endearing "no fucks given" attitude, but there's also a noticeable shyness on stage and the droning guitars of the first song didn't properly sell how electric and melodic the guitars were going to become. I still don't actually know the names of any of the songs that were played that night (though I plan on diving into the band's Spotify library at my first opportunity) but Slothrust's "post-Southern Rock-Hardcore" is 100% my cup of tea.
It's rare for an opener to grab my attention as forcefully as Slothrust did, and they set a very high bar for Bully to clear. Fortunately, the Nashville riot grrl/punk/rock/hardcore act kicked the ass of every person in attendance at Baby's All Right. Frontwoman Alicia Bognanno doesn't look like your typcial "lay into your guitar pedal and scream" frontwoman; she showed up in a gorgeous red dress with her hair frizzed out like the driver of a certain magical school bus, and I wasn't sure if she was the same woman who I heard belting out the raw chorus of "I Remember" off Bully's upcoming debut LP, Feels Like
I really have to stop judging books by their cover. Bully's vintage guitar riffs and thudding basslines hit me like bullets of rejuvenating energy the whole night -- even if, as I worried, I lost my hearing before it was all over. Alicia Bognanno has such a quiet and demure speaking voice but when she steps behind a microphone, she becomes a riot grrl banshee melding the anthemic punk-pop hooks of Japandroids with a feminine touch. The ease with which Bognanno slipped between all out screaming and softer melodies was disorienting in the best possible way, and when their too short set was over, I was left wanting so much more.
Both Slothrust and Bully could easily become the next big things to come out of the exploding post-hardcore/alternative grunge scene that acts like Japandroids and Cloud Nothings have been helping make popular again. I pitched coverage of the show on a whim (mostly cause I'd been playing "I Remember" nonstop the day it came out), but I'm glad I caught that set. I don't think I'll be ever seeing either act in such a small venue again.