Pretty Girls Make Graves didn’t come on ‘til midnight. My friend Aliza and I snarked our way through a slew of not-terrible indie bands with names like Brazilia and the Panthers with a few drinks and a few passed notes between us (“I don’t feel inspired by this. All I want to do is maybe run with scissors.” “Spill grape juice on the carpet.” “Eat non-toxic paste.”) and peoplewatched at the bar. Once we were all drinked, smoked, and shittalked out, we found a spot in the corner and waited for Pretty Girls (a misnomer, ha ha ha—there’s only one girl in the band) to take the Northsix stage. (We didn’t even spend more than three seconds remarking on the guitarist’s green-and-white Schweppes T-shirt.)
15 May 2002: Northsix Brooklyn, New York
Seattle fivesome Pretty Girls Make Graves are led by Andrea Zollo, whose stage presence is part trashy girl-gang schoolyard-bully fuckshitupper, part Officer and a Gentleman drill sergeant. She’s got better moves than Sleater-Kinney’s Corin Tucker (who doesn’t have any moves), and her voice is a brash but fluid sing-shout-bark that offers a fierce response to the music’s call-out. The band has a good look: chop-shop Strokeswear and shab couture, the high watermark of which was Zollo’s two-dollar faux-tuxedo. And they play like they mean it. They have fun, and aren’t saddled with that face of worry young groups often wear when trying to impress an audience—Pretty Girls are just there to do their rock. Thank God.
The comparisons have been brought in by the barrelful: The Avengers, Mission of Burma, Gang of Four. And perhaps so: This is intellectual dance-punk with a rockist snarl. But those are awfully cool names to be throwing around right now—ask Liars and Radio 4! What I’m hearing isn’t primarily the ‘70s, it’s the mid-‘80s. “If You Hate Your Friends, You’re Not Alone” is a criminal rip (a criminally good rip) of Rites of Spring’s “For Want Of”. Zollo seems to be riding the same dynamic ebb and flow as Guy Picciotto, surfing through vowel sounds, chanting and toasting. This isn’t Minor Threat hatespeed goon-rock; it’s passionate, melodic, old-fashioned “emo” (sans the diaper rash).
Nice to see ‘80s hardcore emerging as a musical reference point—the ‘70s have been done to death, and most retrospectives fail to acknowledge any life in the punk movement after the final Sex Pistols show at the Winterland. But retro cycles being what they are, it was inevitable that bands like Pretty Girls would step forward and give a firm salute to a style of music that is now only in the beginning stages of a semi-widespread cultural exhuming (helped along by the publications of Our Band Could Be Your Life, Dance of Days, and American Hardcore).
It wouldn’t be gross exaggeration to call Pretty Girls Make Graves one of my favorite bands of the new decade—I hesitate to use any phrase containing the words “sliced bread,” but I’ve been on the warpath trying to find nervy, loud, rhythmic, bass-intensive punk that stands up as more than an exhausted retread of hip, namedroppy groups, and I think these guys are on the right track. If they come this way again I’ll pay the six bucks.