Veronica Lip Gloss
The girls were late, of course — I say “of course” not because they are girls, but because Amanda was leading them and she is perpetually late. It was the night before Amanda’s birthday and I had given her tickets to Gravy Train!!!! (each exclamation point represents a member of the band). Despite being 15 minutes late myself, I ended up waiting another 15 for them to arrive. So I waited outside, fiddling with my phone amidst the gaggle of smokers: transvestites, scenesters, lesbians, and punk rockers. We missed most of the first opener, V.I.P., but slipped into the main performance space just in time for Veronica Lip Gloss. VLG’s set, about a half hour, was typical of a band opening for Gravy Train!!!!, which means they were incredibly atypical. They had the same sort of riot grrrl, queercore set up, singing in an almost cabaret style mixed with punk and new wave instrumentation. Junx of Gravy Train!!!! came into the crowd to dance and then went up on stage to do some guest vocals with the band. But still, with all their vulgarity and posing, VLG was just an appetizer to the Gravy Train!!!!. After VLG left the stage and the lights came up Amanda started to move up to the front. ”You gonna come dance?” she yelled back to me. ”I have to take notes,” was my excuse. I have this thing: I can’t dance unless I’m drunk. Actually I’m pretty sure I can’t dance when I’m drunk, but at least I am more confident about it. The girls headed to the front and I slipped into the back to enjoy the riot that was to be Gravy Train!!!!. Some background before we get to the ruckus: Gravy Train!!!! is a queercore/riot grrrl/rap act on Kill Rock Stars, home of Bikini Kill and Sleater Kinney. There are four performers who each play some combination of guitar, bass, vocals, and keyboards. The band began as the vision of singer/songwriter Chunx, who sings and provides the group’s foundation. Funx, Hunx, and Drunx are the other three members. They provide the dancing, music, and have a flair for exposing themselves. Drunx left the band and was replaced by guitarist Junx. Gravy Train!!!!’s music, rapping, and dancing aren’t the only interesting aspects of the band. The lyrics may be the cornerstone of the experience. For example, the song “Hella Nervous”, which is from their first album, and which is a crowd favorite, reads like this: ”‘Cause you are long in the pants/ short in the weiner, suckin’ my muff like a vacuum cleaner/ Yeah, she doesn’t have the titties/ she doesn’t have the ass/ She doesn’t have the thick-ass Mexican thighs that I possess.” When I first heard the band I had an instant reminiscence of the first time I heard “Suck My Left One” by Bikini Kill. (Of course as much fun as Gravy Train!!!! is, it will never be better than Bikini Kill.) The band took the stage in all their queer glory. Chunx, the vocalist, was dressed up with her hair cut like a slightly fuller version of Deborah Harry’s ‘do. The band immediately went into a song off the newest album, Are you Wigglin?, and, despite the heat and sweat and smell of stale bear and body odor, the kids immediately started dancing. From the back I could see this mass of bodies moving back and forth, side to side. At one point, Junx dropped his briefs (as that was all he was wearing) and exposed himself to the crowd. ”Uh-oh, I just broke a cabaret law!” he screamed. The set was about an hour long and the kids never stopped moving. Chunx said it was the best gig they ever played in New York and, save for a few incidents when some assholes got on stage and started grabbing at her, I can’t see how any other gig would have been better. Gravy Train!!!! is a dirty band with dirty lyrics and the sweat and skunk of the Knitting Factory crowd presented an appropriate backdrop. I left the club a bit disturbed, a bit dirty, and a bit refreshed. The air was a lot cooler outside and out of the club poured a hundred kids that, for better of worse, looked the part of Gravy Train!!!! fans. I took the A train back home, a bit shell-shocked and a bit mystified. I was confused. The show’s vulgarity made me want to laugh and pass the group off as a joke band but I felt something a bit more than that. Gravy Train!!!! may not directly speak about serious issues but it is a group that takes the gay stereotype and has some fun with it. And that alone can be seen as a comment on society. Humor and vulgarity can work just as effectively as academics and education. In fact, in a pop culture sense, they can sometimes work even better. And what’s most important, it’s all part of one of the most reckless and explosive live shows I have ever seen.