White Lung - Mercury Lounge - 6/26/14
Better Than: Many of the riot grrrls who inspired them.
Photos by Rob Menzer the previous night at St. Vitus
"Thanks for coming to our matinee," White Lung singer Mish Way said in a voice dripping with sarcasm, as if that were another self-aware punk-rock trope the band were adding to its arsenal. (Judging by the packed room, no one seemed to mind the hey-we-can-get-dinner-after-the-show 8 p.m. set time, anyway.) But as much as this Vancouver-spawned outfit plays by the (loud fast) rules, they're more unusual than they seem at first blush.
White Lung's skill as musicians is rarely -- OK, never -- the first thing you read in articles about them (that would be spokes-frontwoman/feminist-fatale Mish Way, but more on her in a minute). But they're brutally tight, with the rhythm section laying down a bruising foundation for the hard-riffing, lockstep-structured, two-and-a-half-minutes-and-out songs. And what makes them different musically is a melodic element that few bands of this ilk possess: Guitarist Kenneth William piles on the volume but also the effects -- primarily digital delay -- which give his riffs a chiming, harmonic quality that prevents the band's repetitive songwriting style (hey, it's punk rock) from becoming boring. Likewise, Hether Fortune's motorcycle-rumble bass and powerful backing vocals -- "harmonies" isn't really the word -- bring a melodic heft that helps the choruses jump out. The Mercury's forehead-level PA played right into the group's hands, delivering a loud-but-clean midrange and chest-rattling bass.
But of course the focal point and frontal lobe is Way, whose harrowing, lay-it-all-out-there lyrics -- "His Southern hand drags me down to the white bowl/ They got my name cut in the tiles, wet and cold"; she's a mean writer -- are, sadly, rendered completely unintelligible by the roar of the band and her sharp, yelling style, which is basically Courtney Love minus the whine. Like the band itself, she's a commanding and repetitive performer, with manic, emphatic hand gestures and headbanging that leave a GIF-like visual impression: a violent blur of bleached-blonde hair, black dress and a slash of red lipstick. And even if you can't understand a word she's shout-singing, it's like watching a passionate speech in a language you don't know: The point comes across even if the particulars don't.
The band opened with "Drown With the Monster" and tore through a set drawn from their last two albums -- 2012's sophomore, put-them-on-the-map LP Sorry and their just-released Domino debut, Deep Fantasy -- and were done in 40ish minutes, no slow songs, no encore, boom, out. Like most of their songs, they said what they had to say and left it at that.
Overheard: "At least that girl who just barged past you is the singer."
Random Notebook Dump: "This band deserves a better moshpit."
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