Live: The Raincoats Keep It Like a Secret at the Knitting Factory

The Raincoats, Soft Power, Viv Albertine
Knitting Factory
Friday, October 16

The Raincoats can't play their instruments any more professionally than they could 30 years ago, which is a relief. The band's sound was predicated on sacred simplicity anyway: Punk, sort of, but more like knotted folk-rock, full of thuds and chops, fraying at the edges. Guitar, bass, violin, drums. No pedals, no fuzz, no glitter. Four women (tonight, there's one man, filling in for first-gen drummer Palmolive). It's playful music, sometimes even child-like, but never cute. Onstage, they radiate joy without smiling much--you can see it in their body language, they way they drift toward each other and then fall away into their own corners.

Why their brief reunion tour isn't an overwhelmingly big deal, I'm not sure--I remember a lot of noise being made around the reunions of other post-punk-era bands like Wire and Gang of Four. Maybe it's because fewer people like the Raincoats than I imagined. But the people who do like them are reverent about it: the band sold out the Knitting Factory's new venue in Williamsburg, though the show still felt like a kind of secret.

I'm physically incapable of straightening my mouth out of a smile during their set. They play a song called "Fairytale in the Supermarket." They play another called "Adventures Close to Home." Supermarkets: I know those. I go there all the time. They jerk the music around the room like dogs playing with rope. The whole first verse of "The Void" goes like this: "When I looked at the streets and when they looked at me: the void." That's how it feels to have a bad day in the city. Could it be simpler?

The opening acts were strong. Viv Albertine--from the Slits, another wonderful female punk band from the '70s and '80s--played crawly, odd-shaped songs on electric guitar punctuated by anecdotes about the punk days. (Sid Vicious--"a softy underneath"--taught her about the right collars.) The theater was nice, the songs were fine too. Nothing groundbreaking, but there didn't need to be: She entertained. Her closer: "Confessions of a Milf." My commentary could only be incriminating. Soft Power--lead by Mary Timony, of the 90s indie-psych band Helium--played second, a buzzy set of off-metered songs; pretty, poised, completely indifferent to music of the past ten years, and not at all worse off because of it. But the night belonged to the Raincoats.

We saved our mistakes for New York," bassist Gina Birch says midway through their set, half-joking, half-apologetically. No worries. They look right on you.

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