nyrock.com: amy ray and the butchies at the bowery ballroom
I know rock journalists don’t usually do this, but I’m going to take a moment to acknowledge Amy Ray’s opening act.
Tami Hart, an incredibly endearing singer-songwriter, opened the evening with songs from her 2000 album, No Light in August. Hart was not a stranger to many in the crowd, as people sang along and shouted out their love. “This song’s about makin’ out with cute girls,” Hart said in a slow drawl. “It’s called ‘Drunken Love Song.'” Other songs included “You’re No Good” and “The Kids That Called Us Clowns,” a track about growing up queer in a school that was less than supportive. Hart did a damn swell job getting the crowd ready for the Butchies.
North Carolina’s dyke-punk trio the Butchies have given queer-core a new life since their 1998 debut album Are We Not Femme? They added grace and kookiness to a style of music that too often was regarded as a heap of indecipherable noise. The band is fearless when it comes to spilling their collective guts in their music. On stage, bassist Alison Martlew’s aw-shucks cutie-pie persona is in direct contrast to drummer Melissa York’s class clown and guitarist Kaia Wilson’s mega-rocker. And, oh, how the crowd loves them.
After a rabble-rousing instrumental intro, the always-in-matching-outfits Butchies set it off with “More Rock More Talk” from their 1999 release, Population 1975. It’s almost a good thing that women can’t impregnate each other or else there would have been a score of conceptions thanks largely to Wilson’s sexy-aggressive style of playing. The crowd’s screams were a mixture of hormones and adulation. And with a raised eyebrow and guitar hoisted in the air, Wilson is a confident leader who doesn’t hesitate to strut her goods.
After the first song, there was the customary audience address by York. The Jersey girl (word up, my sista) walked to the front of the stage and pointedly said in the mic, “I hate this song,” before breaking into a robotic “Come m’lady, come come m’lady, come come m’lady” a la “Butterfly” by Crazy Town. “And that part that goes ‘buttafly shuga buttafly shuga.'” I need a moment of silence for this homegrown gem.
The Butchies played a couple of songs from their latest release, 3, including “For Kay” and “The Wedding Disaster.” Before launching into “Anything Anthology,” the band asked an audience member to climb on stage and play the cowbell. The lucky girl that got the job had, according to York, been following their tour since the Atlanta show (that’d be March 29th). Looks like someone doesn’t have a 9-to-5 job, damn it. “You can dance,” suggested Wilson to the bell girl. The band’s set was rock to the bones, and even though the Butchies are Amy Ray’s backing band, the audience wouldn’t let them off the stage.
When Amy Ray first surfaced from behind the stage’s curtain, the shrieks were startling. I can understand someone having a fierce devotion to the Indigo Girls because they’ve been writing and touring for almost 20 years, but since Stag is Ray’s first solo venture, I guess I wasn’t expecting people to go as nuts as they did (especially when she was only setting up her equipment). But at heart, Amy Ray is as punk as Joey Ramone (R.I.P.), and there’s no disputing the intensity she exudes.
“This is a song I wrote for… someone,” said Ray as she stood alone on stage with a yukelele and played “Johnny Rottentail.” Either the Bowery Ballroom had God as the sound technician or Ray is that damn good live. When the song was over, the applause and screaming and sea of raised fists created an overwhelming atmosphere that could’ve supported the weight of the earth. Creeping concern: Ray’s CD is only 35-minutes long so how’s she going to pull off a full-length show?
“Please welcome the Butchies back to the stage,” Ray said. The trio walked out wearing ruffled tuxedo shirts (Wilson was sporting a green bandana headband) and black pants. Ray insisted that she doesn’t make them wear outfits.
The next song up was “Laramie,” and as Ray sang the somber lyrics, Wilson and Martlew harmonized better than the Vienna Boys Choir. On the sneering rock track “Lucystoners,” Ray stood fiercely righteous as the spokesperson for all the women shut out of the boy’s club, also known as the music industry. The crowd shouted along: “Lucystoners don’t need boners!” Hearing the combined musical might of Ray and the Butchies made me sweat in some completely new areas of my body.
When Ray played the sentimental song “Lazyboy,” written for her departed grandmother, the stage emptied and the crowd went mute. It was so quiet that Ray herself was shocked. “Y’all are great listeners,” she said graciously. The silence didn’t last long. Ray brought out guest drummer Kate Schellenbach, guest bassist Josephine Wiggs and guest glockenspielist (It’s a word, damn it – I just made it up!) Tami Hart for the song “Hey Castrator.” Other guests of the evening included two of Le Tigre girls: Kathleen Hanna and Sadie Benning. Ray closed the set with “a feminist interpretation” of Tom Petty’s “Refugee.” Never thought I could rock out to that song, but Ray taught me how.
As the band exited the stage, the crowd started stomping its feet, chanting “Amy! Amy!” but to no avail. It was time to go home. Okay, but hey Amy, please don’t wait another 20 years to put out your next album.