Two Friday nights ago- or very early two Saturday mornings ago- the month of badass lady shows came to an end. I would have been sad to see it go had I not been too busy headbanging (uh, yeah, it wasn’t cute) to “Pedestrian at Best” as Courtney Barnett and the Courtney Barnetts dissolved one of the best songs of the year into a fit of cacophonic, beautiful, ecstatic noise.
The month of badass lady shows probably wasn’t as cool as it sounds. There were only three badass lady shows to speak of- a few other fun shows in between, of course, and plenty of regular ol’ drinking-and-dancing nights- but those three shows were, in many ways, pivotal moments in this weird and wonderful year of mine.
I’m maybe being a little melodramatic here. But stick with me.
The month of badass lady shows began with Torres. Torres (also known as Mackenzie Scott) is a fucking goddess. Watching this slight, black-clad woman not much older than I am transform into a growling, roaring musical force was indescribable. Her angry-raw sound is irreplicable. Her emotional investment in these songs is stunning. The climb of her voice from whisper to strangled scream is exhilarating. Just go see Torres, alright? My only complaint is with her choice to project El Topo- which, as I learned that night, is a very weird cult film- behind her throughout the set. I have no problem at all with El Topo or any other weird cult films, and connecting the messages and symbolism of the film with those of Scott’s music was quite fascinating. But, y’know, sensory overload. Torres is transcendent enough on her own- I’d have preferred to save the absurdist cinema for another, less captivating artist (or a really fucked-up movie night).
A week or so later I found myself at Red 7 (a solidly okay venue with an enjoyable outdoor stage) for the first time, anxiously awaiting Speedy Ortiz. I’m a recent convert to the cult of Sadie Dupuis, thanks to my friend Dustin (to whom mad props are in order, as he accompanied me to all of these shows and is an equally devoted fan of badass lady rock).
This was a particularly friendly show. I’m not much of a chitchatter, but I met some cool folks in the crowd that night. I also met Sadie herself- she drew a dog on my phone case and then tweeted about it. It was cool.
Anyway, as you could probably imagine, Speedy Ortiz was absolutely fucking amazing. Was the sound kinda shitty? Yes. Did I care in the slightest? Nope! Sadie & co. played superbly through an excellent set list that included new stuff, several songs from Major Arcana, and even a couple of deep cuts I didn’t recognize. Speedy Ortiz, to put it simply and cheesily, fucking rocks. Also, shouts out to good ol’ Mass and Allston basement nights (cringe).
Plus, Sadie Dupuis is one helluva FEMINIST ICON. She’s also a killer writer. I may or may not want to be her when I grow up.
Speaking of killer writers and people I want to be when I grow up, let’s talk Courtney. I stumbled across Courtney Barnett on Spotify about a year ago and was instantly enraptured by her clever lyrics and ability to shape a song around a situation. I missed her at SXSW, as I did with everyone at SXSW, because I have no money and also happened to be in Mexico (y no tengo ninguna queja sobre eso). But after her star-making turn at ~South By~, I figured Courtney wouldn’t be back around for a while- and if she did blast into town on a tidal wave of split peas (geddit?) tickets would be pricey and sell fast. So imagine my surprise when I scored a spot at the venerable Mohawk for a mere $15- a fucking steal, if you ask me.
Anyway, long story short, Courtney Barnett and the Courtney Barnetts rounded off the Month of Badass Lady Shows like no other. Courtney is a stunningly talented musician with an irreplicable presence. Her setlist was excellent and included tracks old and new, as well as a heart-wrenching cover of You Am I’s “Heavy Heart” that she played solo, before rejoining the band (also excellent) for a crashing finale of “History Eraser”.
(Scene: between songs, mid-set)
Drunk dude in crowd: “PLAY SOME ELTON JOHN”
Courtney: “Elton John? Alright. This one’s called Tiny…AvantGardener”
Did I mention that Courtney Barnett also tops the list of people I’d sacrifice a minor limb to hang out with?
I’ve heard some complaints from women in music about identifying bands as “female-fronted”, or some deviation of that term. I totally think that’s fair, as the frontperson’s gender shouldn’t really matter- what matters is the music, man. I definitely don’t think that girl bands and badass ladies in rock music should be lumped together under a vague vagenre (get it???!!1?1!!). But with that being said, I think there’s a certain power to be found in reclaiming the label “female-fronted”- or what have you- from unoriginal dudes who still don’t think a woman can play or write as well as a man and fucking running with it in whatever way one sees fit. Torres has this incredibly understated, androgynous appearance that gives way to a powerful voice and equally powerful ~emotions~. Sadie uses her music as an instrument of FUCKING FEMINISM as well as a personal tool for sorting out her shit. And Courtney has this excellent goofball persona that meshes raw feeling with whip-smart irreverence – because fuck anyone who says that women can’t write anything but love songs. These badass ladies certainly aren’t defined by their womanhood, but they fucking own it, each in her own unique way. They inspire me to do the same.
Coincidentally, Torres, Speedy Ortiz, and Courtney Barnett are all playing a show together in New York next month. To see the Month of Badass Lady Shows condensed into one night would be overwhelming, to say the least- and really fucking awesome. As for me, I’m grateful for gnarly little clubs, cheap tickets, and the ability to elbow past tech bros to dance at the feet of some of my heroes. The Month of Badass Lady Shows was one I won’t soon forget.