On the seminal punk classic Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, lead singer Johnny Rotten, in the Pistols’ trademark virulent manner, offered his commentary on a woman’s right to choose: “Body screaming fucking bloody mess/Not an animal/It’s an abortion.” Twenty-seven years later, Rotten is fronting a warped, twisted, Sid Vicious-less version of the Sex Pistols in Las Vegas. Last Saturday night, a new generation of punks showed who’s in charge now. The Lunachicks, the Butchies and the Washington Social Club played at the 9:30 Club to benefit NARAL Pro-Choice America and Punkvoter.com.
Sandwiched between the IMF/World Bank protests and the March for Women’s Lives, Saturday night’s concert was a sonic representation that seemed to harness and concentrate the rebellious energy that permeated D.C. all weekend long. It was a smaller-scale chapter in the long history of protest rock; while Bono waved his white flag and Eddie Vedder shaved his head for peace, for one night, three groups of frenetic punk rockers 1-2-3-4’d for women’s rights.
The concert, however, was mandated by the Federal Election Commission regulations to be apolitical. Since NARAL and Punkvoter are nonprofit organizations that receive tax breaks, both groups were prohibited by the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform Act to advocate for or against any political candidate, political party or legislation. Of course, when compared to the likelihood of the bands at the show following these guidelines, Rush Limbaugh declaring his support for Roe v. Wade suddenly seemed plausible.
First up after a speech by NARAL and Punkvoter representatives was the Washington Social Club, a local D.C. outfit that sounded like the Buzzcocks if they didn’t know how to write a melody. Their spirit was in the right place, but no amount of chutzpah could save their sub-par songs and performance.
Following an introduction from a pro-choice Episcopalian minister and a former solicitor general of the United States, the all-female trio the Butchies began plowing through their set of bass-heavy, Black Sabbath-informed punk. Their set was not polite, say-please-and-thank-you rock; it was you’d-better-not-meet-me-in-a-dark-alley, sling-your-guitar-low ROCK ‘N’ ROLL. Frontwoman Kaia proved to be a sneering guitar goddess, standing on her monitors, crossing her guitar with Alison’s bass as if engaged in a Kurosawa-directed sword duel, soloing while lying on her back and tearing through Tony Iomme riffs with darkly angelic ease and grace. Between songs, drummer Melissa brought humor to the set, discussing politics in a thinly veiled, jovially satirical manner. “I have a white house, and there’s a bush in there I’d like to get rid of,” she said to the crowd’s delight. Grabbing her crotch, she said. “I’m thinking of getting it Brazilian-ed.”
Finally, a self-described “horny lesbian” from Punkvoter and Anti-Flag’s drummer Pat Thetic rang the bells that would spell certain doom for any audience member suffering from timidity or a heart condition. Dressed like the anarchist cheerleaders in the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video with guitars, the four horsewomen of the apocalypse ascended from the rock ‘n’ roll circle of hell and tore onstage in the guise of the Lunachicks. After a minute or so of banter from lead singer Theo, drummer Helen counted off at warp speed and the club exploded with punk rock rapture.
This was the first Lunachicks performance in three years, but as they hurled song after blistering song at the audience, there were no signs of rustiness. The band did not falter in its Machiavellian rule-by-fear style and blatant politics; guitarist Gina and bassist Squid designed their cheerleader blouses to read “My body, my choice” and “Hands off, asshole” when put together. Even a mishap in which Theo and Gina’s hair got stuck together seemed controlled and utterly badass.
For the last song before the encore, the band rearranged its lineup so that Theo was on drums, Helen was on bass, and Squid, the spiritual Sid Vicious of the band, took lead vocals. During the song, Squid demonstrated typical punk politeness by fondling her own breasts, bending over at the audience and hocking a loogie not at the audience, but straight up into the air; she caught the snot in her mouth on its way down from the heavens. The encore was played, the band vanished and the audience needed a cigarette.