Kimya Dawson + Slumber Party + Quix*o*tic + Bangs + The Gossip + Semiautomatic
Kimya Dawson + Slumber Party + Quix*o*tic + Bangs + The Gossip + SemiautomaticCity: New York
Venue: Knitting Factory
Photo credit: Barbara Billotte
Semiautomatic Kimya Dawson is giggling nervously. The art folk, or is that "antifolk"? singer is sweet and painfully self-aware when not wearing a costume or flanked by her band, the pranking Moldy Peaches. She is performing songs off her recent solo effort, "I'm Sorry That Sometimes I'm Mean" which is a just as endearing and vulnerable as her live act. Her trademark poofy hair is tucked inside a blue knit cap, with what appears to be wings sprouting from the sides. The dozen or so people that have come early to the Knitting Factory laugh sympathetically when she tells them that "I just want the kids to like me and not [say] she wasn't as cool as I thought". Dawson shouldn't worry about coolness; she can reference all manner of pop curiosities like Furbies, Garbage Pail Kids and Muhammad Ali in a single breath. You would think that she might actually be trying a little too hard to pack such quirky tidbits in, it is more like listening to the stream of consciousness diaries of a girl with a whimsical fantasy life. Kimya Dawson would be the type of kid to outfit the family dog in an elaborate costume, throw it a tea party, invite Mr. T and Transformer action figures and then sing about it. Maybe she already has. Tonight's bill is a real treat. Knitting Factory has been taken over by the eleven year old Northwestern record label Kill Rock Stars and its new, experimental sister label 5RC. Artists simultaneously play all three performance spaces of the downtown club, including a cramped room decorated with computer parts and circuitry called The Old Office. Not bad for a label originally started in the Olympia, Washington bedroom of spoken word artist Slim Moon. Kill Rock Stars is known best for female fronted punk and rock acts such as Bikini Kill, Bratmobile and the widely acclaimed Sleater-Kinney. Women are the rule here, rather than the exception in both the bands and the audience. Second to perform is the dreamy Detroit four piece Slumber Party. If any word could best describe them, it can be gleaned from their second album, "Psychedelicate". Drummer Julie Benjamin keeps time like Moe Tucker by not having any cymbals, although a well-timed ride or some washy crashes could really add to the introspective ditties. All members chip in on sweet vocal melodies that keep the audience blissfully adrift. At this point, more people have trickled in and are starting to fill the main performance space and the lower levels of the club. Downstairs on the 5RC front, Brooklyn electronic rock duo, Semiautomatic is battling technical difficulties. Legendary Slits singer Ari Up is in attendance as she is a big fan of guitarist Akiko Carver's booming growls and rebel yells. I know this because she is loudly proclaiming that she can't hear the vocals to the amusement of the small group and hand wringing of the flustered sound person. "We want more of Akiko's wonderful voice. Turn up the fucking microphone." When Carver and bass player-DJ noisemaker Rop Vasquez get rolling on ear blistering hits like "Dramatics", Ari Up bounces along and swings her floor length dreads like a lasso. Yee haw. Back in the main space, I grab a spot on the balcony to watch DC zombie garage and soul trio Quix*o*tic. I am won over by the richly somnambulant vocals and melodies of sisters Christina and Mira Billotte. Bassist Mick Barr is creepy in surgical mask and face obscuring hoodie. Unfortunately, his bass playing is also just as hard to detect against Christina's dexterous guitar playing and Mira's mournful Patsy Cline alto. "Ice Cream Sundae" is a hit as well as the shining Smokey Robinson cover that concludes the set. Both sisters sing and keep time by hitting wooden blocks with drumsticks in a somber and beautiful Motown moment. While the raucous rawk trio the Bangs are backstage, the audience is swelling in size. Fortunately for them, these three drinking and swaggering toughies have attitude big enough to take on the rowdiest of spectators. They open with "New Scars", one of my favorites and a track that appears on the recent "Fields and Streams" compilation. I'm pretty sure that the chorus is the simple but effective refrain of "fuck it up, fuck it up." This the Bangs do without fail for about half an hour, and then the lights go out. It goes black in the middle of a Cheap Trick cover, which guitarist Sarah Utter has good presence of mind to continue. But the unplanned pyrotechnics raise confusion and all around general annoyance. It seems that the band over extended their stay and this is the soundman's cue for them to leave the stage. They do, but not without first defiantly yelling at the person they presume to be sitting behind the controls. No one is there manning the booth, which just adds to the disorder. The Gossip is the sweet taste that erases any remaining traces of sour with the audience. The Olympia via Alabama three-piece command respect and attention from the moment they step on stage. Singer Beth Ditto is a bluesy gospel powerhouse, and the momentum that propels their sound forward. She swings, sways, and perspires to the burlesque beats coming from Kathy Mendonca's kit and guitarist Nathan Howdeshell's gooey hot tar string slides. These songs steam and sweat while Ditto strips and sizzles. She plays most of the show in her underwear and fishnet stockings, proudly declaring love for "fat women and the people who love them". At one point she hops offstage and into a throng of adoring ladies who dance and shake around her. Their set is hot and punches like a quick dose of whiskey. They leave the adoring audience thirsting for more.