There's been a ton of hype surrounding Ex Hex lately, and their performance at the Triple Rock last night was highly anticipated. Hopefully this review doesn't make me a ton of new enemies, but to be completely honest, I was way more impressed by Tweens, the second opening act. While Ex Hex did bring a tight set to the stage, I was absolutely blown away by Tweens vocalist and guitarist Bridget Battle, who put so much energy into her performance it was almost baffling as to how she could maintain so much head-swinging while totally shredding on guitar and keeping her voice at such a perfect pitch.
Local favorites Pink Mink opened the show right at 9 p.m. to a fairly decent crowd. Decked out in a glittering red dress with matching patent leather pumps, guitarist/vocalist Christy Hunt was simply mesmerizing. The band played tightly, but at no point did things feel too controlled. Each member has their own distinct movements and stage antics, and they were enthralling to watch. Hunt would occasionally bust out a karate kick while stroking her guitar, as co-guitarist and vocalist Arzu Gokcen swayed to the music, her glittery blue instrument shimmering under the stage lights.
The lights dimmed as they neared the end of their set and played "Werewolf Island," an instrumental track that showcased their abilities to combine surf rock and riot grrrl to create an intriguing new sound. Before their final song, an ode to summer in Minneapolis, Gokcen cracked a joke: "Christy always writes the sweetest songs about the city," she said. "I write really depressing songs. She writes about going to the beach and I'm like ... well, I dated another asshole." They then ripped into "Hidden Beach," which could easily be my new favorite feel-good song of the season.
Next up was Tweens, a fairly new band out of Cincinnati who take cues from acts like the Breeders — who actually helped them get their big break by bringing them along on their Last Splash reunion tour back in 2013. Bridget Battle's vocal style was similar to that of Hunt's, a sort of sing-talk mixture — surprising, considering the last band she performed with was her high school choir. Adorned in a Butthole Surfers T-shirt, she shook her head violently and played her guitar as if it were an extension of her body. Suddenly, it felt like all of us were packed into a basement punk show. The audience was absolutely eating it up.
Though they pulled off some ballad-like rock songs very well, Tweens are at their best during faster tracks. Drummer Jerri Queen, looking calm and collected under his baseball cap, kept a driving beat while bassist Peyton Copes alternated between wobbling contentedly about the stage or just swaying in a circular motion as he cradled his instrument. It brought me back to memories of my freshman year of high school and first discovering punk rock. Every song was short and punchy, and entirely satisfying. It was clear that Battle was born to front this type of band. Lipstick smeared and sweaty hair plastered to her face, she refused to slow for a single moment.
By now people were really getting down. A cute girl wearing a Sleater-Kinney shirt got as close to the stage as possible, bopping around. A kid with the biggest afro I've seen in quite some time was jumping up and down with vigor. An enthusiastic middle-aged dude was engaging in some of the most bizarre dance moves I've ever seen. As they played through "Be Mean," their second-to-last song, you could tell that they'd won everyone over. "Be Mean" is the kind of song that could get stuck in my head for days.
When Ex Hex took to the stage, it suddenly became clear why all the amps up there were covered in glittering gold tinsel. This band has a serious thing for all things shiny and sequined. Mary Timony was adorned in a black and white polka dotted T-shirt embellished with sequins, and bassist Betsy Wright wore teensy gold sequined shorts with a black sequined jacket. Watching the two of them was like staring at two human disco balls.
They started off with "Don't Wanna Lose," a catchy song in which Timony is joined by Wright on vocals. It seemed like there were some sound troubles, prompting their voices not to match up quite as well as they do on the recorded version of the single and causing Timony to complain about a strong presence of feedback from their monitors. "Don't Wanna Lose" got everyone in the audience moving, but the band wasn't quite there yet.
Timony seemed shy at first, and it took a while for the band to get fully into their groove. She did seem excited to be here, exclaiming, "Yay Minneapolis! It's so good to be back here, you guys," before heading further into their set. What Timony lacked in boldness, Wright made up for with an ample supply of energy and stage drama. At times she would learn backward, almost threatening to fall into the arms of awaiting audience members. Then she'd approach Timony, encouraging her to engage in a guitar duel during the instrumental moments of their songs. It's safe to say that Wright stole the show.
Several songs into the set the band's playing got a whole lot tighter as they seemed to settle into their roles. Drummer Laura Harris leaned back her shockingly white head of hair, tipping her face to the sky as if experiencing absolute nirvana while blissfully pounding on her drum set. I noticed Battle standing off to the side of the stage, double fisting cans of beer and nodding her head along to the songs. The crowd reaction was reasonably good, but Ex Hex just wasn't giving the most visually entertaining show I'd seen this night. They mainly stuck to their positions on the stage, and it seemed up to Wright to coax Timony into more dramatic stage antics. She even worked up some serious crowd engagement by getting us all to wave our hands in the air along with her.
Similar to Pink Mink, Ex Hex borrowed from many genres to create their sound, sometimes even drawing upon elements of '80s hair metal. But overall, it sort of felt like almost every song they played was directly inspired by a track by the Cars. Perhaps this could explain the audience demographic, which consisted almost entirely of grown men. The only word that kept coming to mind was "retro." Though the song lyrics are clever and modern, their actual sound seems borrowed from earlier generations. This wasn't entirely discouraging; it did provide somewhat of an immediate sense of familiarity with the material.
The trio exited the stage quickly after a seemingly short set, leaving their guitars hooked in and buzzing up against the amps, so we all stood in place waiting for the inevitable encore. When they returned, Timony again expressed her gratitude, saying, "You guys are so cool, thank you so much," before playing a cover of Johnny Thunders' "You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory," in honor of his birthday. Ending the show with their song "Everywhere," Timony and Wright held their guitars high above themselves as if making an offering to the skies.
Critic's Bias: I've been hearing lots of good things about Ex Hex and had checked out some of their YouTube videos and really enjoyed them, so I was disappointed that their live act just didn't seem to have the same punch as their recorded tracks. However, I was so impressed by Tweens that their set made up for any disappointment. I do have a pretty solid love for grunge, punk, and riot grrrl music though, so it's easy to see why I would enjoy a band like Tweens so thoroughly.
The Crowd: Predominantly male, white, and above the age of 30 (but I'm not always the best at guessing age).
Overheard in the Crowd:
"I feel like I'm seeing a gender-swapped version of the Cars."
"This is one of the rare occasions that I've seen him with a shirt on," said an audience member upon noticing Har Mar Superstar entering the venue
"He was a very good baseball player, by the way. Yeah. Johnny Thunders was very good at baseball."
Also, while outside smoking with a friend, we were asked by a random stranger: "Are you guys a band? You look like a band."
Random Notebook Dump: While I was watching Ex Hex play, my cohort held her phone out to me to show me a post that one of her friends had just made on Facebook: "If any of you are wondering where your dads are tonight, they're all at the Ex Hex show."
Only in New York
Earthquake on the Loose
Pretty Little Wreck
Campbell Soup Kids
After the Bawl
Trip Down Von Lane
Bored in this City
Don't Wait Up
Aches and Pains
Don't Wanna Lose
Waste Your Time
How You Got That Girl
Hot and Cold
You Fell Apart
You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory -Johnny Thunders cover