Girls Got Rhythm Fest night one at Amsterdam Bar and Hall, 5/10/13
Photo by Erik Hess
Girls Got Rhythm Fest night one With the Avengers, the Gateway District, the Pinsch, Total Trash Amsterdam Bar and Hall, St. Paul Friday, May 10, 2013
While our local summer festival circuit seems to grow exponentially with every passing year, the 2012 maiden voyage of St. Paul's Girls Got Rhythm Fest made a strong case for its return by championing a criminally under-served pocket of our local music community. It's a strange irony that a town like ours, inundated with the rock 'n' roll feminism that gave birth to icons like Babes in Toyland, didn't have an event of this scale to celebrate women until a year ago.
While that first run of GGR may have suffered some of the setbacks that plague many festival start-ups, organizers Dana Raidt and Travis Ramin wisely decided to narrow their focus this time. Focusing on guitar-heavy, punk-minded groups created a far more cohesive experience, and landing San Francisco pop-punk archetypes the Avengers for the headlining slot made for a truly unique lineup on night one.
Apparently Raidt and Ramin have a sense of humor, as they decided to let Minneapolis hardcore wonderkids Total Trash kick off the festival with a characteristically caustic set on Friday evening. Not only are they good deal younger than GGR's target demographic, but they were the heaviest band on the bill for either of the festival's two days by a long shot. Fresh off of a barnstorming Midwest tour that seems to have honed their furious attack even further, Jessica Katz and co. ripped through a short but incisive set that may have been a bit too much for the still-warming crowd to handle. Never one to let a reluctant audience stop them, the band still brought the spitting, wild-eyed charisma that made their tape release back in March such a blast.
Photos by Erik Hess
For a pinch-hitter, second act the Pinsch did an admirable job of holding the room after Total Trash blew the doors off. Featuring Travis Ramin himself on drums and the terrible twosome of Miss Georgia Peach and Sheela Namakkal sharing frontwoman duties, the group specializes in sloppy, tongue-in-cheek power-pop. Possessing an impressive resume with names like Speedway, the Short Fuses and the Divebomb Honey on it, the Pinsch itself has a bit more of a weekend-warrior pickup band vibe about them, which isn't meant to be a dig at all. Instead, it makes for a lived-in chemistry and frequently hilarious banter that helped sell the already catchy musical material.
With open-throated, big-hearted harmonies married to crunching four-chord riffs, it's just impossible not to smile when watching the Pinsch. During their penultimate tune, bassist Francis Jimenez-Kloeckl broke his low-E string, which normally requires a pair of tin-snips or some seriously herculean strength and finished the song without breaking a sweat. When his bandmates tried to pause before the closer to get him a new bass to play, Francis waved it away and used his remaining three to finish out the night.
After one false start during their sound-check, the Gateway District returned to the Amsterdam's sizeable stage at 11 p.m. to kick of a gloriously drunken performance. While the phrase "local supergroup" is quickly becoming a cliché around these parts, Gateway District really does represent something of Twin Cities pop-punk dream team. Maren Macosko (known as Sturgeon in her Soviettes days) and Carrie Bleser, formerly of the Salteens make a fearsome duo on the microphone, singing together with such practiced ease that you'd think they grew up in bands together.
Rounded out by Nate of Rivethead and Banner Pilot on Guitar and Dear Landlord drummer Brad Lokkesmoe, the Gateway District has a deep roster. Still, all of this would mean nothing if the band's songs didn't back it up, but the Gateway District really knows their way around gritty, anthemic pop-punk with a slight tint of Americana, and had the chops to put it on live after what looked to be an impressive amount of beer. Shredding through a set that included some of their best tunes like the darkly infectious "Cario" and the criminally overlooked radio-friendly hooks of "Leaving Me Behind," the Gateway District kept the talking to minimum in favor of pounding power chord after power chord into the front rows. When she did decide to talk to the crowd, Maren humbly admitted how geeked she was to open for one of the favorite bands of her youth, and the influence of the Avengers was definitely present within The Gateway District's melodic yet raucous set.
Photo by Erik Hess
The Avengers themselves are a bit of an interesting anomaly of the american punk community, arguably setting the standard for the poppier, California sound that would later come to be associated with Los Angeles in their Bay Area home, all the way back in 1977. Only active for a few years as an original lineup, the Avengers never released a true debut album, and the group's widespread popularity in spite of this is a testament to just how innovative their sound was. Occasionally reuniting for reissues and other projects over the years, the two main Avengers, guitarist Greg Ingraham and singer Penelope Huston returned to being semi-active in the late '90s with a younger rhythm section.
The band is still in fine form, even as it's two main members' hair is speckled with gray, with Huston and Ingraham still producing enough energy to match their whippersnapper bandmates. Huston has an outsized personality to match her iconic look, and the years have been relatively kind to her voice, which has lost some of its youthful urgency and conviction in favor of more practiced tone and control. Indeed, the Avengers definitely play like a slick, modern pop-punk machine these days, as if they've been listening to all of the bands they've influenced over the years and tried to pick up some tricks to stay contemporary. In truth, they probably shouldn't have bothered, as their classic material like "We are the One" and "Teenage Rebel" still sounded just as fresh and innovative in 2013.
Photos by Erik Hess
During the anti-religion "Corpus Christi," Huston made a crack about all of the churches in St. Paul, and the band seemed to genuinely excited to headline the festival. Still possessing deep reserves of showmanship and chemistry with Ingraham, the two seemed to be able to communicate with a simple nod of gesture. The veterans made the most of their younger partners as well, with Huston frequently sharing a microphone with animated bassist for their songs' rich harmonies.
Closing the set-proper with their standout classic protest song, "The American in Me", the Avengers returned for a two-song encore with the garage-R&B chestnut "Money (That's What I Want)." A bit of a bizarre choice, but the Avengers made it work as a chugging riff, before closing with another seminal gem from their '70s period "Open Your Eyes", to the delight of the rows of badass babes who had gathered in the front row. Seeing such a strong showing of rock 'n' roll pride from the myriad of women who make up our musical community here during the show's final moments makes a strong case for a 2014 Girls Got Rhythm.
Critic's Bias: Definitely a dude.
Overheard in the Crowd: Confirmed reports that Neko Case stopped by after her Wits performance, bring the rock'n'roll ladies quotient even higher!
Random Notebook Dump:Still not convinced that the Amsterdam knows what to do with all of the space it has. Despite the sizeable crowd, the room still felt under-filled and the sound was a bit of a mess in the echoing warehouse space.
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