Ana da Silva, Anne Wood, and Gina Birch of The Raincoats (All Photos by Daniel Ahrendt)
I first encountered San Francisco post-punk trio Grass Widow last year smack dab in the middle of SXSW 2011, performing on Friday the 18th at Red 7. Almost exactly one year later and Ravon Mahon (guitar), Hannah Lew (bass), and Lillian Maring (drums) are in Seattle, skipping the psychotic festival sprawl and touring with one of the British post-punk scene’s most important bands. Being asked to join The Raincoats on tour would be an honor for any band, but this combination is just too uncanny to ignore. The seminal feminist punk band that Ana da Silva and Gina Birch started in 1977 not only instigated the casual, creative nature of Grass Widow, but each act’s female personnel (everyone except The Raincoats’ drummer) had a charmingly eerie physical counterpart in the other. In the video below, The Raincoats have come back on stage for their first of two encores, their first single “Fairytale in the Supermarket.” For both this song and their second encore (the infamous cover of Ray Davies’ “Lola”), Grass Widow joined them on stage to provide backing vocals and each member managed to stand next to their temporally varied doppleganger. Ravon stands next to violinist Anne Wood, Hannah next to Ana, and Lillian next to Gina. Weird, but undeniably delightful.
This has been quite the month for The Raincoats, starting with All Tomorrow’s Parties in Minehead, England curated by Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel and followed by the 35 Denton Music Festival in Texas. Add to that a fairly extensive U.S tour and I’d say they’ve had a positive, productive month. If the band performed each night like they did at Chop Suey, then each and every fan in attendance will be able to say the same of themselves. While charming the crowd with good natured quips and casual handling of technical difficulties, The Raincoats performed an ideal smattering of their catalog in the powerful, nuanced way only the playful use of simplicity will allow. Their voices, guitar usage, and the pentatonic noodling of Anne Wood’s violin combined with an uncaring approach toward abrupt tempo shifts have turned The Raincoats into a primeval scratch-disc of aural whimsy and charged political poetry. In a relatively new tune, Gina Birch creates emotional swells of pride by stating “When you ask me if I’m a feminist/I say why the hell would I not be?,” driving the crowd through her lyrical waves. It’s the best example of a modern, matter-of-fact, feminist anthem that I’ve heard in recent years. Listen to it in the video below.
To see a few more videos of The Raincoats at Chop Suey, visit the SSG Music YouTube channel
Although Grass Widow shares many visible similarities and piecemeal audible components with The Raincoats, the similarity ends when one listens to the San Fran trio’s steamrolled approach. Most songs follow Maring’s largely homogenous garage and surf drum beat, over which Mahon’s guitar and Lew’s bass express their noise and string cheese simplicity. It’s when the three members start singing that one really appreciates the laissez faire role that the instruments play in the creative mix. Each band member sounds similar enough to each other that their leaps and lilts sound like one person going three directions with different stresses, speeds, and notes. Their ability to remain tight while jumping around to not entirely logical sonic places makes this band the intriguing and satisfying whole that it is.
Seattle locals M. Women opened the show with a sound very much in bed with Grass Widow, contrasted with a stronger penchant for fuzz and slow speeds. With their mixture of male and female voices, the prevailing atmosphere was one of the B-52s forming in the late ’90s acquainted more with grunge and sarcasm than mutant disco.