Warpaint live is a disconcerting experience. They're smiling! The bass player is dancing (and wearing overalls)! People in the crowd are dancing! There's a crowd at all! You're not alone in your bedroom, curled up in the fetal position, bawling uncontrollably! The all-female L.A. quartet generally seems built for solitude — for abject 4 a.m. dark-night-of-the-soul solo wallowing.
Their stupendous debut full-length, The Fool, triangulates Moon Pix-era Cat Power's ghostly, morbid, gorgeous bedroom folk with the Slits' lithe, muscular post-punk, but onstage at New York's Webster Hall Studio earlier this month, the latter style dominated, thanks mostly to drummer Stella Mozgawa, a dervish of brash snare cracks, liquid drum rolls, emphatic soundman-hailing gestures and rampant giggling. Everybody uncurl, stop bawling and get ahold of yourselves.
On The Fool, breathy, mournful voices dart at you from everywhere, an omniscient and anonymous Greek chorus of woe, but live it's slightly more linear, Theresa Wayman and Emily Kokal trading off jagged guitar lines and forceful lead vocals: "How can I keep my composure?" howls the latter; "Why can't I just get it together?" laments the former; "You could have been my king," they note in unison.
With Girl in a Coma, Ume, The Ton Tons, Tax the Wolf, The Handshake, Young Girls, Fat Tony and B L A C K I E, 8 p.m. Friday, December 31, at Groundhall, 1515 Pease, 832-287-5577 or www.facebook.com/groundhallhouston .
Whereas the quietest, least audacious songs hit hardest through headphones — the devastated, uncomfortably intimate acoustic-guitar waltz "Baby," say, or the particularly Cat Power-indebted "Billie Holiday," off last year's Exquisite Corpse EP, wherein they spell out Billie's name for the chorus ("B-I-L-L-IIIIIII-E H-O-L-I-D-A-YYYYYYYY") and refashion the lyrics to "My Guy" into a tearful eulogy — neither showed up in the Webster Hall set list. Too emo, too insular.
Instead, Mozgawa and bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg kept things from wallowing with a rumbling, constantly shifting, surprisingly loud Public Image Ltd. sort of menace, brittle and ominous. The best songs tonight are wracked with tempo-altering mood swings, several top-shelf Cure riffs fused together, "Composure" opening with another funereal waltz but speeding up into a percussive Bloc Party jam, "Beetles" veering back and forth between a shuffle and a sprint.
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There's a lightness, a glee, to even their darkest odes to abandonment and alienation, their goofy between-song banter further lightening the mood ("This song's called 'Set Your Arms Down,' bitch," or maybe it's "This song's called 'Set Your Arms Down, Bitch'"). The crowd hooted at every bombastic drum break, and there were plenty to hoot at.
It's startling to watch people enjoying themselves while playing these songs, and watching people in the crowd enjoy them. It's also a relief.
In a status update on the Meridian's Facebook page last Tuesday, the troubled Chinatown venue said it had closed for good, with only the comment "lots of reasons" given as explanation. The news was hardly surprising, considering Meridian's most recent outbreak of problems that began a few weeks ago when David Allan Coe's band showed up to find both no electricity at the club and, according to employees who quit soon after, no money to pay them. (Coe has been rescheduled for March 26 at Numbers.) Owner Gary Katz has effectively disappeared, and the Wu-Tang Clan ticket debacle remains largely unresolved after the December 12 show (but not the tickets) was moved from Meridian to Numbers; however, Paypal has been crediting the accounts of people who file claims. Jerroy Germaine, who leased the club from Katz shortly after all the Wu-Tang trouble began, told our Rocks Off music blog on December 10 that he planned to renovate the club and reopen on New Year's Eve as The Capitol, but last week our call went straight to voicemail and his mailbox was full.