Review by Suzanne Goodwin
Photography by Paul Clarke
Whatever the reason, Seattle's Sister Psychic had the disheartening task of opening to a near-empty room. Chugging through their grunge-pop set, this trio managed to keep their energy up nonetheless. That ol' grunge influence was pretty darned evident in the fuzzy guitar style which unfortunately didn't deviate a whole lot from the ever popular three-chord combo. And although the singer's soft vocals weren't easily discernible in the instrument heavy sound mix, it was okay, because the standout drumming coupled with the heavy, hooky bass made for a solid bottom that kept things interesting.
Some variation appeared in the form of the catchy "Japan" -- the group's new single -- which was a pure wall of guitar and got a couple of bodies up dancing from the spartan crowd. With the help of some encouragement from Pansy Division's Chris Freeman, more bodies eventually made it onto the floor, but by then the set was pretty much over. Perhaps Sister Psychic won't find Vancouver quite so chilly in November when they are scheduled to return and will (hopefully) be better able to show us what they're made of.
That doesn't seem to be a problem for Vancouver's Maow (pronounced like "now"), who had the benefit of a much larger audience. I saw these three party-gals back in May, and was NOT impressed to say the very least. However, things do change... and having since heard -- not by choice -- their CD The Unforgiving Sounds of... several (hundred) times, I have begun to sense the appeal.
It was pant-suit night for Maow, and I'm sure all eyes were on drummer Neko Case, who was looking rather, uh... bosom-y in low-cut black polyester. Strutting on stage like the world was their oyster, Maow's first few songs received a notably perfunctory performance and I thought this might be the tone for the whole evening, especially since bass player C.C. Hammond was performing under the influence of the flu. Ugg, it wouldn't be me... However, things really started to pick up after "J'ai Faim," a fast little ditty (actually, all Maow's songs might be considered fast little ditties) whose lyrics are primarily made up of the word "meow." I have to admit the rest of Maow's set really sparked, keeping the crowd hopping with country influenced punk-pop to an insane maximum of about two minutes (if that) per tune, all ending as abruptly as the next.
Maow's tongue-in-cheek lyrics, style and attitude were to their credit and everybody seemed to get into their set. Whether the band can play or sing really well seems to be irrelevant when having a good time is the real bottom line. So, what the heck, I can't slag them for that.
In keeping with the party atmosphere, San Fransisco's Pansy Division catapulted into their set amid a stage decorated with fake flowers, twinkly lights, polaroids and banners hanging from the ceiling. Introducing themselves as "liquid fun, just add water..." they proceeded to shower us with sexually-smeared songs highly charged with the band's intense and driving rock style.
The very openly gay Pansy Division lyrically let it all hang out, so to speak. There isn't much left to the imagination, yet they pull it off with a kind of maniacal good-natured humour that everyone in their audience seems to appreciate. If you never saw them play, you might think they were just capitalizing on sexual schtick and well, maybe they are, but everyone involved always seems too busy having a laugh riot to notice anyway.
As a band, Pansy Division were really tight. Intense, fast, loud and guitar-heavy -- no limp wrists allowed. Their set emphasized newer material off their latest release Should Have Taken Pictures and included a more sobering solo performance of "Denny" -- a song about pride, AIDS and self-esteem -- by bleached-blond guitarist/vocalist Jon Ginoli. But Pansy Division didn't let us wallow in life's bigger questions for very long and quickly hit us over the heads with a cover of Judas Priest's "Breakin' the Law."
Pansy Division have the kind of crowd rapport where you sense that their audience is as much a part of the show as they are. The big smiles and uninhibited wild-eyed gesturing from the band just confirmed that this show was everyone's party and Pansy Division wouldn't have it any other way. The set concluded with a hilarious encore performance of "Bunnies" that saw bass player Chris Freeman wearing a wispy petticoat sans undies whilst showering all in attendance with string-from-a-can. And that was it. Another abrupt end to yet another queer night at the Starfish.
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