Reviews

The Gossip + King Cobra

Cori Taratoot
The Gossip + King Cobra

The Gossip + King Cobra

City: Portland, Oregon
Venue: The Blackbird
Date: 2003-05-09
Sleater-Kinney love the Gossip. Maybe that endorsement will turn off some listeners, listeners who've never been able to tolerate Brownstein and Tucker's vocal shriekings, listeners who like to keep their pop separate from their politics. Sure. Count the geography and anthropology of the Olympia, Washington creative community as common ground walked by the two bands. The Gossip track the S-K scent, nostrils flaring, in a space where power is accessible equally to the rich and poor, the ugly and beautiful, the fat and thin, the queer and straight. But where the Gossip's heads and hearts bow to their Evergreen sisters, the band's raging hormones transcend the Olympia "sound." They've lassoed a spitfire brand of punk-rock/DIY/lo-fi/blues. Plus, they've got a nuclear weapon -- lead singer Beth Ditto. Beth Ditto is an atom bomb of a singer. She's a blues queen, a radical hippie mama, an unapologetic modern megaphone. She's Cass Elliot, she's Janis Joplin, she's Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Tharpe, a 1930s gender-busting black gospel-blues singer from Arkansas, walked between worlds, between God and gospel and Robert Johnson's soul-for-sale blues. In the middle of the 20th century, Rosetta Tharpe played a man's instrument, and she did it with wile and god-fearing seduction. Laying down mean snakey electric guitar lines, Tharpe was all woman in a man's world. Beth Ditto walks some of these same lines. She struts butch, bats her eyelashes femme. She sings black and Southern, proselytizes Left Coast and feminist. She's riotous, she's tender. She's all maternal sass. You can't help it: you want Beth Ditto to take you in her arms, press your face between her giant breasts, and howl her punk-rock blues inside of you. The thing about seeing the Gossip live is, you might wanna jump onstage with them. "This one's for all the fat bitches!" Ditto shouts, and every size 16+ in the house jumps. Every night with the Gossip is a dance party. If Sleater-Kinney were here, they'd be in the middle of the crowd, throwing their heads around. But S-K is on the road, opening for Pearl Jam, radicalizing the masses. The faithful semi-famous fan taking their place tonight is indie-rock goddess Tara Jane O'Neil (Retsin, Rodin). TJO and her band King Cobra (incl. ex-Need Rachel Carns on drums + vocals) are opening, making the 118 mile drive south from Olympia to Portland. King Cobra is an odd aperitif for the Gossip's meat-and-potatoes entree. Their demented blend of Devo worship, no-wave, metal, and math rock is all premeditated brain to the Gossip's raw impulsive brawn. During her band's set, TJO barely takes her eyes off the floor. But, when the Gossip hits the stage, TJO is testifying down here with the rest of us, burning in the white-hot flame, her eyes wide open. She's a surveyor and a participant of the purification that is the Gossip. And it feels like all hell's about to break loose. Beth Ditto is panting, and sweaty: she wants to let it rip. A friend turns to me and whispers: "Her clothes are coming off tonight." Intuition becomes fact. Ditto's nakedness isn't like a seismic event, it's more like a shudder. She's down to granny-panties and a black bra, and the crowd seems divided. Some of us immediately want to disrobe; some of us shift in our shoes, uncomfortable, watching. Outside, cars are flying by. Can they see us? Kids under 18 who couldn't get in are standing on the sidewalk, listening and peering through the glass. Occasionally Ditto waves to the kids. She indulges in monologue, something about keeping the crowd safe, or the state of her buzz. Drummer Kathy Mendonca and guitarist Nathan Howdeshell hold their cards close. Their faces are deadpanned, they don't look at us much. The two seem to subvert themselves to Ditto. Tonight this band seems less like a satisfying three-way and more like masturbation with talented onlookers. Ditto owns the stage. Her band succumbs. At their worst, Mendonca and Howdeshell come off apathetic. At their best, the two alchemize with Ditto in a display of raw potential, the kind that could give Jack and Meg White a good chase. Interpersonal subtleties aside, the Gossip make for a great spectacle. The set, over two hours long, covers most of the material from the brand-spanking-new Kill Rock Stars release, Movement. Where the studio flattens the band's mojo in places, the stage enlivens tracks like "Don't (Make Waves)" and "Nite". Ditto sings: "It seems like lonely is a friend of mine" and you can feel the surge in the audience, the push from the back of the room, the electricity transferring from one warm body to the next. Listening to "Nite", the opening track on the album, you might wonder how such a slow riff could instigate a mosh pit. But Ditto's kinesthetic delivery can turn a bad breakup into a redemptive celebration. Soon, the Gossip will relocate to Portland. Maybe we'll grow accustomed to having them around. But on one of our rainy dark nights, deep in February or March, I bet the Gossip, and the promise of Beth Ditto's delivery, will drag pale and wanting souls out of the house. Beth Ditto wants to be seen. She demands an audience. And she demands that you pay her some goddamned respect. I expect we'll accommodate her.

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