Princess Superstar, Bush Tetras, and ESG at Ladyfest East September 19-22, 2002
Ladyfest East was back for a second year, this time it was held in Williamsburg, Brooklyn to the delight of many trendsetters. It gives me great pleasure to say that older women stole the show(s). But before I go there, I gotta drop a nod to the snow-white hip-hop hoochie, Princess Superstar. The New York City native got onstage at North Six wearing a long purple coat that was soon doffed to reveal a black spandex ensemble, complete with a gun holster hanging off her pants. "Today's your lucky fuckin' day," she shouted to the crowd of horny, dancing Princess Superstarfuckers.
As she threw down tracks like "Welcome to My World," "You Get Mad at Napster," and "Bad Babysitter," she frequently jiggled her booty. Thanks for being so generous, lovey.
And now, cue Def Leppard's "Rock of Ages."
In the 1980s, the Lower East Side of Manhattan gave birth to an extraordinary band that could make you shiver on a subway platform in July. Saturday night at North Six, Bush Tetras worked punk, rock, and gothic energy into songs that have managed to retain their intensity some 20 years later. Ladyfest East 2002 marked Bush Tetras' first live show in five years, and anyone who witnessed it will tell you the band burrowed itself into the crowd's collective joints. Guitarist Pat Place, drummer Dee Pop, singer Cynthia Sley, and their friend, bassist Julia Murphy, were hard, dark, and sexy.
"Just warning you," said Sley, "that we're gonna be arguing over the set list all night." They didn't. Instead, the band cut through classic tracks like "Rituals," "You Can't Be Funky," and "Too Many Creeps." Guitar notes sounded like softly crying horns, and Pop's drumming came off like a hailstorm. Bush Tetras also played new songs including "Color Green" from 1997's Beauty Lies and "I Bite My Nails Too Much." Throughout their set, the band dug underneath the bones of the songs and played so deep that they just seemed to eclipse the present. Murphy nodded her head back and forth, Pace scratched away at her strings, and Sley frequently rolled her eyes into the back of her head. Dee Pop sweat straight through his T-shirt. That's not to say the band isn't a bunch of regulars. For one song, Sley had the words written on her forearm and had to glance at it while singing. Then there was their choice of footwear:
Place wore red flip-flops, Sley wore knee-high black platform boots, and Murphy was barefoot.
The best band closed out Ladyfest East 2002 on Sunday night at North Six to a sold-out crowd that included the ubiquitous Moby. ESG are sisters Renee (lead vocals), Valerie (drums), and Marie (percussion) Scroggins and Valerie's daughter Chistelle (guitar) and Renee's daughter Nicole (bass). For over 20 years, ESG have been one of the most overlooked bands in the history of popular music. The minimalist funk band from the South Bronx has been sampled by Public Enemy, LL Cool J, and Doug E Fresh, to name a few. They've opened for the Clash, Public Image Ltd., and Gang of Four. You want to talk about the "New York sound"? You want to talk about the pulse of the five boroughs? Look no further.
The steady soul and funk rhythms rippled through the crowd and had every body moving. The most endearing quality of ESG's performance was its warmth. Renee's smile was contagious and when she said, "Make some noise!" the audience howled and hooted like it was New Year's Eve in Times Square. The ESG cannon of songs was presented in a laid-back manner. "You're No Good," "UFO," and "Dance" accompanied new songs like "Step Off" and "My Street." ESG lit the place up without extravagance, just a lot of heart.
The Sights at Southpaw, September 24, 2002
Park Slope, Brooklyn finally got a venue Southpaw. Nice, nice. But it's so dim I had to fight over the few candles that lit the bar. Good selection of beers and they even serve "malternatives." There's a cheeky little sign that says "No Dancing on Premises," which prompted me to do "the pony" around the room. Whoo! Watch out! So yeah, 40 minutes after the Sights were supposed to have started, the stage's cheesy red curtain parted and the quartet busted out their Detroit groove rock. Mash together the Kinks, the psychedelic portion of the Beatles' career, and a bit of the Beach Boys and you've got the gist of things.
The Sights' live performance isn't exactly gritty, but there's plenty of "Oooow!!" and "Hay, hay!" in their pockets to make for a somewhat dirty feel. With a waft of pot smoke and the shake of a tambourine, Southpaw was transformed into a set for "That '70s Show." The Sights' music moved with less mania and more of an up-tempo, grand sort of groove. Eddie Baranek (guitar/vocals), Matt Hatch (bass), Dave Shettler (drums/vocals), and Nate Cavalieri (organ/vocals) are fairly shtick-free. But what's up with Baranek's blond bob 'do? He looked like Gwyneth Paltrow in The Royal Tenenbaums. The Sights worked some lovely harmonies, notably on "Be Like Normal" and "Sick and Tired" from their upcoming album Got What We Want. "I'm gonna live the life I sing about," Baranek howled. If this garage rock resurgence keeps up, the Sights will be a band to look for.
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