Two Shows, One Review: Kim Baxter & Genders/Saucy Yoda & Kitty (Née: Kitty Pryde) Wednesday, March 20. Mississippi Studios & Backspace

So, one of the hardest parts of living in Portland is frequently having there be TOO MANY GOOD SHOWS on the same night.  (I know, you have it so rough, don’t you?)

Tonight was one of these nights. And And And, Minden, The We Shared Milk and the Ecstatics were having a pre-tour send-off  over at the Holocene & on any other night, I would have been there in a heartbeat.

Also, Japanther, French Horn Rebellion, The Cry!, Destroy Nate Allen, Brakemouth and Dumpster Burger were all playing at the (newly-reclaimed from the patchouli, reggae & jam band crowd) Mt. Tabor theater, which, despite my mistrust of the venue (I have NO PROOF that Bob Marley won’t come out of the PA speakers in between bands) on any other night, I would have been there in a heartbeat.

The Silent Numbers, Shadow House and a band called Sex Church from Vancouver B.C. were playing a house show.  Despite the worry about seeing a band I know nothing about that call themselves Sex Church, on any other night I would have been there in a heartbeat, for the first two *for sure* & keeping an open mind about the headliner, because what’s in a name?
“It was a rhetorical question.”
“You’re a rhetorical question.”
“Do you even know what a rhetorical question is?”
“Do I know what a rhetorical question is?”

Was it Teddy Roosevelt or Groucho Marx who said, “Speak softly and carry a big shtick?

Anyhow, as things would have it, Kim Baxter, Still Caves and Genders were having a show at Mississippi Studios and Sistafist, Saucy Yoda & Kitty (née Kitty Pryde) were at the Backspace (far & away the best all-ages venue in the city & just a fun place to be, show or not.  Fer feck’s sake, there’s a treehouse in the middle of the venue!) I began the night at the free show, sponsored by OPB at Mississippi Studios.

I was super excited to hear Kim Baxter, having heard a while back about “The Tale of Me and You” being released, but not getting a chance to hear it till now. Familiar with All Girl Summer Fun Band, I was a bit surprised by the new direction her music has taken, which is more mature and less breezy that the stuff I’m used to hearing from her, yet still possessing the humanizing lightness of her twee roots, even when dealing with heavier matters of the heart.  Strong, psyche-era keyboards drive much of the music forward, as do fuzzy guitar lines, calling to mind a marriage of 90’s Olympia-style twee, 60’s revivalism (without the indulgent jazz-solo wankery) and early 80’s Britpopgaze, before everybody knew what a Damon Albarn was or found Mancunian brothers to be charming whilst fighting about which one got to be John  & who Paul, but after Creation Records had scarred our ears with the most beautiful sonic tattoos ever seen/heard. (Mixing metaphors like it was pancake dough).

Songs ranged in dynamism from full-band rockers to a delicate one with just Kim and the keys, and we were all spellbound for the duration. I picked up the album from tiny and adorable label “Expect Candy”, if whose hand-scrawled donkey drawing doesn’t make you stop and go “awwwr” at the unbridled cuteness, you must be made of stone. The songs on the album have a bit of that element too, but there’s much more going on here, as the live show attested to. As much as I wanted to stick around for Still Caves, who I quite like, opportunities to see the rarest of rare: well-deserved internet meme fame this up close and personal don’t come around too frequently.

Much has been made of Kitty.  She’s been castigated as a pretender and either shit-talked or laughed off by the hip-hop cognoscenti, but the fact of the matter remains: she’s quite good.  (Though not everyone is hating Actually, I don’t have the audacity to think I’m going to top this very well-written article; I only hope to add a few minor observations).   She’s incredibly self-aware and loves the genre like only true believers do.  She’s good, she’s hungry and she’s self-aware.  She is Kurt in Olympia in 1986, or Sean Carter in Marcy Projects in 1989.  If you find this funny, think about why?

Is it youth?  She may be just old enough to drink; at the very least she’s older than 16-year-old Alex Chilton circa “The Letter”, whose rock bona fides was never called into question.  (There’s a reason I didn’t choose Silverchair.  Not because of merit, of course, merely because of critical acclaim…or it’s polar opposite, which I hope we all can agree is not a science and is ultimately of no consequence, and I type this AS A MUSIC CRITIC.)

Is it because she’s seemingly of suburban middle-class roots? Thankfully, I think most of us have moved beyond primitive notions of requiring a certain type of performative class authenticity (so easily feigned) to believe that an artist’s words have validity; on the offhand chance we have not, can we just say that the meaning exists external to biography.  Does Juliana Hatfield’s song “My Sister” mean suddenly less because she doesn’t actually have a sister?  Do you have to have a sister to enjoy it? If it touches a nerve about sibling ambivalence and mentor-ship  who cares?

Granted, hip-hop is a bit more initially murky, since it is so much of it has about relating the authenticity of personal experience, but with a bit of perspective. But since when has that *not* been the case?  The Lyrical I, and the attendant concerns about authenticity, is a concept dating back to Sapphic-era poetry.  All that has essentially changed has been our fascination with seeing artists perform this, or fail to, or refuse to. In short, Kitty doesn’t need to have shot anyone, or have been shot or have slung rock to be real.  The days when hip-hop necessarily had to be about a very narrow-defined set of things made by a select group of people trying to perform “toughness” in the guise of hyper-masculine thuggery is over.  The tide has long ago turned.

What she has to be is good.  And clever.  And fun to listen to.  She’s all of these things.  Now anyone can make hip-hop.  We’ve known this.  Now anyone can be good at it.  Known that, too.  What’s new, however, is that now we can recognize and celebrate people who are doing it their own way.  You can book your own musical life, thanks to the wonders of the internet, and ad hoc genre creations such as Tumblrwave (or the far more fitting appellation I just not-so-humbly coined: “Ponycore”….hoping/pretending for a moment that this isn’t an existing thing.  After a second thought, I’m actually a bit afraid to google it, and find out) will not just embrace it, but add it to the ever expanding musical library of Babel that the internet is.  (Sorry, am I Borges-ing you?  I don’t mean to Borges you…I hope you heard Bono in your head with that one.  And if you didn’t go back & listen to “Rattle & Hum” and hate me for it…until you get to “Heartland” and “All I Want Is You”.  LOOK, THEY’RE GOOD SONGS, EVEN IF THE LAD *IS* A BLOODY FECKIN’ WANKER).

The deluge of possible information to sort through is overwhelming, but rewarding to anyone with the patience to look, or the cleverness to seek out the right sorting device. Kitty’s website is so deliciously web 1.0, with its Myspacey flourishes that seem culled off of some Geocities web designers’ foray into eating mushrooms while drawing Lisa Frank designs and watching My Little Pony episodes.  Or just a 13-year old girl reveling in her 13-year-old girliness circa 2001.  Kitty takes all of this and plays with what expectations are associated with this type of experience and cleverly expands on it, while never denying that it is her experience, too.  She’s clearly fighting with how to view herself with confidence vs. a real and hard look at where she fails her own expectations, i.e. like anyone growing up ever.

Lines like, “So shawty yr a 10 I wait for your drunk dials at 3:30 AM I love them so call me sober when your ready, not going steady but babe I planned our wedding already” seem to showcase this, expressing admiration for a would-be beau, laughter at his clumsy attempt to meaninglessly hook up, a demarcation of basic respect (“call me when yr sober, not going steady”) and yet, behind it all, the dreamer that refuses to hide, planned wedding & all.  It’s not clear if she’s making fun of this person or is/identifies with this person or both, and that antagonism is compelling. Laugh at my grandiose accusations, but it’s the deliberations of a Hamlet on romance, instead of more dire matters, and yet coming to a far more sane conclusion.  “I want you, but I won’t let you walk all over me, so do right by me and this might happen and my hopes are dreamily high,” might be a more artless way of expressing the same sentiment. It might not be the most unique feeling, but it’s one that most, if not all people I know struggle with, and one that countless songs, (both great and less-so) have addressed.

In short, if you’re laughing at Kitty, then it’s who she is that’s getting you down.  That she’s a young woman with the attendant thoughts and experiences her intersectional location in the world has provided her.  If you find something inherently dismissable about that, then my reply is: you’re a dinosaur.  Time is passing you by.  Soon people that write-off other people’s legitimacy based on an eyeball-test will be things that we see on museum walls, or on tumblr pics made to look like them.

So I’m all about seeing the self-described Rap Game’s Taylor Swift with an open mind. Saucy Yoda is up first & is already on when I roll in through the front door, late from Mississippi.  She’s got the crowd in a bouncing fury; our own local Kitty, but with a more heightened appreciation of randomness and a little less relationship-y angst.  She’s got two hype women on stage dancing with her & the entire crowd is moving.  Kitty (aka Katherine Beckwith) sits at the back of the room, quietly talking to her DJ/brother, unaccosted by people who will soon be taking her photo, screaming for her and dancing.

Does no one recognize her?  I don’t believe that. Is it just that no one has anything clever to say?  I’ve lived here long enough to know that can’t be it.  Are we all hyper conscious of respecting artists’ personal space? I love and support that notion, but find it the hardest one to believe. Or is it just that there exists a divide between online experience, which is inherently more personalized and directly interactive in a way that print media just could not be, and regular life?  That how we consume media has institutionalized how we interact with the producers, even when they are right there in front of us?  Is it akin to a difference in social language?  This is nothing new, I see performers by themselves all the time, and wonder the same thing to varying lengths.  I guess what surprises me is that Kitty is so directly solicitous of social interaction in such a personal way online, and here she is sitting essentially alone.  Odd. Kitty steps on stage and shyly-yet-enthusiastically exhorts the crowd to get into it. Camera-phones pop out & flashes go off.  Kitty seems a bit uncomfortable with this, despite very clearly wanting this sort of attention. She parses out the distinction after the first song and says, “Listen, shawty, you can take my picture if you like, but only if you’re dancing.  I want to see you having fun! So, no photos if you’re just standing there.”

And that’s what it is.  She’s hyper-aware that she’s been (and is being) fetishized for her youthful good looks, and doesn’t want creepy people taking photos of her for any kind of weird reasons.  I wonder for a second if I was being addressed as part of that group, since I took some crappy phone pics for this site (I’ll put ’em up when I get around to it, but they’re wicked bad. Any savvy photogs wanna come see some shows with me?), but I realized that I had been doing my awkward indiepop shuffle (not exactly the coolest hip-hop move ever, but feck it, I’m having fun & it’s what happens when I hear music I like) and was dancing with a wide grin, unlike several guys with baseball hats on, standing motionlessly and stoic, as if paid and bored paparazzi.

You get the feeling watching her perform, that you’re a sibling who is standing at the open door to her room, looking to borrow a shirt or something only to discover her singing along and dancing unbridled to her favorite album, in a way that she might be sheepishly embarrassed about should she see you standing there.

The show ended & without bothering to catch my breath, I’m off running, with an newly made friend, back over to Mississippi Studios to catch the last act of the night.

So, not to get all academic up in this (too late, mate), but if gender is a construction as Judith Butler correctly tells us, then Genders is also a construction; a perfect Portland balance of disparate parts, melded together in a pot of post-rock, jangle, enthusiasm, and the slightest hit of Americana, so faint, it’s as if it’s the third note in a coffee-tasting description: you’re not sure if it’s actually there, or if it’s just implanted itself into your mind by the powers of suggestion.

Formerly 3/4s of Youth, where the Americana influence was more on their sleeve than merely an occasional slight timbre in lead-singer Maggie Morris’s voice, the group has moved on from that sound into something more dynamic and complex & I’m just gonna go ahead and say it: more exciting.  There’s an exuberant energy that effuses through these four, playing songs that are involved without being indulgent and are layered without being wanky.  As compelling as the singing is, the band is really driven forward by the energetic drumming, that provides a giddy rawness and counterpoint to the well-wrought songs.

You know that feeling when someone wildly charismatic has entered the room, and you haven’t even turned to see them yet, but you can feel the entire mood lift, expectantly?  That’s the sound that Genders have.

I know I’ve raved about this band for a while now, but srsly: Genders like whoa.  Don’t say you weren’t warned.  Free show at Rontoms this Sunday.  Thinking about staying home instead?

Listen to K tell you what he thinks of that.

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