August 5, 2016
A Friday night at Walters: The distinctive smell of puke wafted through the dense August evening, as members of Rose Ette, El Lago, Giant Kitty and Dressy Bessy meandered through the outdoor patio's cigarette haze. Boys and girls alike drifted listlessly from stage to bar in combat boots and weather-defying flannel. The bar was out of Topo Chico, so we were all stuck drinking booze.
It was a night that was tailor-made for rock. Punk rock.
After lively and locally loved warmups from Rose Ette and El Lago, Giant Kitty took to the stage with its unique brand of irreverent takedowns and sociopolitical critiques. The band hit the ground running with a beguiling rendition of "Borrow My Skirt" and then oscillated through its repertoire of punchy, three-minute punk songs. Some were lighthearted, nostalgic and cheeky, like the frank and colorful "Old People Sex" or the Keanu Reeves love song "Don't Stop That Bus." But others confronted the quiet indignities of being a young woman trying her best to get along in the world. Whether it be the incurable disease of shitty friends, the exhausting posturing of hipster boys or the bitter pills of white patriarchy, Giant Kitty served things up with straightforward chords and a healthy side of cowbell.
You can tell that Giant Kitty is evolving as a band, trying to get to that sweet spot where they've polished things enough to hit that perfect, decidedly unpolished sound. They're not quite there yet; the songwriting sometimes begs for more diversity, and the band strains itself when it drifts outside of familiar strumming patterns and chords. But they've got a lot of verve and spark, particularly coming from their riveting lead singer, Miriam Hakim. Here's hoping they keep at it so we can start seeing them make their mark beyond the Gulf Coast.
Headliner Dressy Bessy has been at times a band of contradictions, and Friday's show was no exception to the rule. The group started their set with a fast-paced, lively rendition of "Lady Liberty," the first track from their most recent album, Kingsized. From there, they embraced the harder punk sounds that have come to characterize their later career. Even as they dutifully dipped into their back catalog, rolling through songs like "Just Like Henry," they rattled the concrete walls of Walters with punching 4/4 riffs and teeth-gritting crescendos. Aside from an errant, whimsical "whoo-hoo" shouted by lead singer Tammy Ealom, the band ripped through the first part of the set with true rock precision.
But the Walters crowd responded more to the moments where the band lightened up, recalling the effervescent indie-pop sounds the group is historically known for. As the band played through the bouncy "Just Once More" or the dreamy, interstellar "Flower Jargon," the audience grooved and swayed to the beat; a few even raised their fists in affirmation of old hit after old hit. This was the Dressy Bessy that the audience came for: one that was easy on the reverb and heavy on the charm, sheepishly admitting that they were "stoned as heck" and encouraging hecklers, offering the moniker "Dressy Shitty" as a suggestion. While the band delivered a respectable set with many of their chipper, early-aughts refrains, it's too bad the audience did not revel as much in the band's grittier moments. You can only chew on so much bubblegum pop before it starts to rot your teeth, and sometimes a thicker, heartier sound is just what the doctor ordered.
Perhaps most notable about the show was the warmth and camaraderie that the Denver-based Dressy Bessy displayed for its local openers and its Houston fans. During the band's final song, "Electrified," Giant Kitty drummer Trinity Quirk snuck up onstage with her cowbell, her head peeking out from behind the drum kit. Giant Kitty guitarist Cassandra Chiles soon joined her for a rollick onstage. While the band kept the beat going behind her, Ealom jumped down into the crowd, unabashedly giving hugs to fans as if she'd known them for years. For all the band's evolution over the past 20-odd years, they remain guileless and grateful, still loving a loud night in front of a loud crowd.