Sunday, Nov. 17
The Rickshaw Stop
Better than: Curling up with a blanket and Sunday night television.
It was a killer lineup that night. Antwon, underground San Jose rap hero, and unhinged love-em-live Vancouver punk band White Lung. Circle pits as wide as the dance floor, steam rising off of beanie-topped heads and denim vests, condensing into raindrops from the ceiling, crushed cans of Tecate and Olympia flying in high arcs fore and aft, classic Vans and Nikes soiled with spilled drink and gobs of spit and sweat. At least, that's how I imagine that it was on Friday night in Los Angeles and Saturday night in Santa Cruz. This was Sunday night, in San Francisco, the final night of the tour.
Tonight, White Lung's circle pits go for five, 10 seconds max in the half-full Rickshaw Stop. Antwon pauses midway through his 25-minute set for a rest in the far corner of the stage, away from the lights, and says "This is the part where I chill." But it's not that nobody's trying: Antwon is pouring his heart out for his hometown(-ish) crowd, White Lung is ripping through songs off of their furiously intense 19-minute second album sorry, frontwoman Mish Way's voice has ground down into a low, almost voiceless howl, and when those 10-second circle pits erupt, whoa, you better get the fuck out of the way -- but hey, it's Sunday night. Everyone here -- Antwon, White Lung, and the gathering of punks here tonight -- lives by one rule: Give it as hard as you can until it runs out.
For Antwon, that translates to a quick set packed with minute-long snippets of tracks, usually a verse and a chorus of material, backed by hype-man Sad Andy (who is having a great time) and a laptop of backing tracks. Antwon spends the greater part of the set with a white towel over his head, rocking back and forth and looking up into the downward pointed mic. The short blasts of backing track (a mix of dark industrial beats and Sonny Crockett chillwave) sound real good underneath the speakers, but the hodgepodge of backing track, Sad Andy, and Antwon himself muddy some of the lyrics (alternatingly darkly intense and intensely sexual). Many in the hometown crowd know them well enough that it doesn't matter; in between songs they shout out requests for their favorites and make in-jokes that Antwon laughs at during the pauses. There's big cheers and chopped and screwed sways (joined by tourmates White Lung alongside the stage) to the sublime "Dyin' in the Pussy" (a must-hear Antwon track) as well as "3rd World Grrl" and "Boomerang" from In Dark Denim, released earlier this year. But just like that, after a strange a capella singalong of "I Want It That Way" and one more minute-long banger, he's done.
White Lung start up nearly an hour later, and the first thing to notice is how much the voice of frontwoman Mish Way has changed since White Lung's last album from 2012. On the album, she's got the razor-edged riot grrl snarl down pat, but tonight, on stage, she sounds like James Hetfield circa 1983. This is a good thing. Whether it's from pouring it out nightly on this tour, or just the ravages of the road, this is a voice. It's a voice to listen to, a voice to be frightened by, a voice that stirs crowds up into pits that start like fistfights. In fact, the whole band sounds a bit like Metallica at age 20, in those beginning years where the heshers -- were they heshers then? -- started listening to hardcore, though the comparison has to come with the following caveats: (1) Kenneth William's guitar riffs are certainly up there (both on the fret board and in levels of skill and riffage), but thankfully White Lung is not a guitar solo band, (2) there are tuneful harmonies, with help of new addition Heather Fortune, and (3) Anne-Marie Vassiliou on the drums is what gives this punk band their agitating, furious heart, and she's not nearly (or at all) as douchey as Lars.
But Mish Way, standing tall in leopard-print tights and bleached blonde bangs that have grown far past her eyes, looks just the tiniest bit ready to end this tour. You can't tell by her presence, one that demands that you put all eyes on her, even though what's going on with that awesome guitar riff, NO! you have to look up front and center and listen: "I WANT TO WARN YOU" even as her voice escapes her, begging for one night to finally be left alone. But she's ready for it to end: not with a bang or whimper or a burn out or a fade away, but with "Thick Lip," and the last 10-second pit of the night, and then layers of screeching feedback piercing the room, and then gone, unplugged, hopefully to return again. On a Saturday next time, we hope.
For the record: Luckily, White Lung has documented the current state of Mish Way's voice, on a new single, "Blow It South."
Next time: Though I was just a bit disappointed in the pair of under-30-minute sets, I was impressed enough that I'll make sure not to miss Antwon or White Lung when they come around again. I just hope it's the beginning of the tour and not the end.
The post show eavesdrop: "What are you guys doing after this?" says it all.