Pussy Riot Rally Review

This is not a concert review.

Pussy Riot did not play a show at the Los Angeles club Echo Saturday night.

Pussy Riot are artivists who don’t believe in the commercial practice of concerts. As they say in a press release, “Events that we organize are political rallies, not concerts.”

Pussy Riot held a rally at the Echo Saturday. It cost $25 in advance to take part in this rally, $28 day of show rally. They also rallied Sunday night, and will do it one more time tonight.

I saw a really good rally at the Echo Saturday night.


Pussy Riot has changed a great deal since they first grabbed the world’s attention after they were arrested, prosecuted, and jailed for performing “A Punk Prayer” at Russia’s sacred Orthodox cathedral. The Pussy Riot that led Saturday’s rally was not an all-woman anarchist punk collective, but a coed techno/rap duo. The only recognizable member of Pussy Riot on stage at the Echo was Nadya Tolokonnikova, and by recognizable, I mean that even though her face was covered by a balaclava, everyone knew it was Nadya – she has the most famous musical lips since Mick Jagger. There was also a DJ/programmer, a man who goes by Chaika – every rally needs a DJ – and a woman who occasionally bounced around and shouted (every rally needs a gogo dancer/hype person too). It was unclear if we would have recognized these two even if their faces hadn’t been covered by cloth. “Anyone can be Pussy Riot,” Tolokonnikova said Saturday, a claim the group has always made. Still, it was a bit weird to see a guy on the mike. Aesthetically, Chaika seems like a good collaborator for Tolokonnikova. But is this what people want when they see Pussy Riot?

Tolokonnikova has become a skilled MC. Her word flows sound particularly mesmerizing with a Russian trill; she also raps in English, especially when it’s subject appropriate, as in the Trump takedown “Make America Great Again.” Chaika’s beats propelled the tracks into climactic explosions; the rally became a rave. Their songs remain provocations, with infectious agit-prop hooks: Nadya led the audience in chanting, “Pussy is the new dick!”

Pussy Riot are deft visual as well as musical propagandists. They performed rallied Saturday in front of stunning videos, including visuals by jailed Russian artist Oleg Navalny for “Election,” their timely commentary upon the recent “win” by Vladimir Putin.


Make no mistake, protest was the running theme of Saturday’s event, along with coalition building. Pussy Riot have invited community members to join them on all the stops of their current tour. Saturday, Fat Tony took the stage before Pussy Riot with a set that fused bass-heavy hip-hop with not one but two Ramones songs. In the music journalism biz, we used to call this “an opening act” – I’m not sure what the rally equivalent is. Pussy Riot seem to be particularly reaching out to black American artivists, a tactic that reminds me of the Clash.

I don’t really care if you call what I saw Saturday a rally or a concert, but then again, I got in free as press. It was cool to see Nadya hanging out in the audience of the tiny Echo and not acting like the kind of rock star she deserves to be; after all, how many other musicians have spent time in the gulag for their art? I’ve always said that the quality of Pussy Riot’s music tends to get eclipsed by the impact of their message, and I feel like that more than ever now. I’d pay money to see Tolokonnikova in concert, and she wouldn’t even have to call herself Pussy Riot.

 

 

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Dolores O’Riordan and Feminist Magazine

I talked about the death of Dolores O’Riordan, and the recent spate of deaths of musicians of her era, with the great Lynn Ballen on her Feminist Magazine show on KPFK. You can hear it here:

https://app.stitcher.com/splayer/f/40348/53003344

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Dolores O’Riordan Transcript

In either late 1994 or early 1995, I interviewed Cranberries singer Dolores O’Riordan for Interview magazine, over the phone. The article ran in the March 1995 issue, as an edited Q&A. When she passed away Monday, I dug up the old transcript; following is the unedited interview. She had just gotten married and the band had released their second album. It’s poignant, and powerful, to read now.

Interview with Dolores O’Riordan

By Evelyn McDonnell

 

EM: You’ve had more success in the U.S. than in England, haven’t you?

DO: It was hard to take off here because of bad marketing, I think. The two singles were released on a demo a year before they came out as singles, so most of the press had already heard them. They’d hyped up the band a year prior to the release of the debut. So when the debut came out it wasn’t anything new to the English public. They started going against them, backlashing, saying the demo was better and whatnot.

EM: How is the English press treating you this time?

DO: I don’t really read them anymore. The band’s happening around the world, everywhere except Japan. So at this time in my life my perspective is more global, so I’m not really worried what an English paper says, or what an Irish paper says.

EM: Are you at all reluctant to do interviews?

DO: No, but I suppose I’m getting a bit cagier.

EM: Where are you living now?

DO: In the south of Ireland. I’m building a house there overlooking the sea. It’s really quiet and peaceful. We haven’t actually started building, we just got planning permission.

EM: Are you building a dream house?

DO: Yeah, it’s a nice big house. I’ve never really been that type of dream-house person, ‘cause I never grew up with too much materialism around me, so it wasn’t as if I longed for it. The idea of having a gymnasium in your house, or a bar, would just not be in my mentality, because you don’t see it that much. But as you travel and stuff, you realize you can’t go out to public places that much, so you put it all in your house — your own little gym and your bar, everything you need in there. You can go there for peace and tranquility, when you need to get away from everything. Continue reading

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Dolores O’Riordan Interview

Dolores O’Riordan had one of the most distinctive voices in rock’n’roll: an angelic brogue, like a rose and briar entwined. “I grew up with a very strong Irish accent, and I didn’t see why I should put on airs and graces for anything or anybody,” she told me when I interviewed her for Interview magazine more than two decades ago. You can see that article below; I’m working on getting the whole transcript typed up (feel free to contact me if you’re a Cranberries fan and would like to help out). You can also hear a snippet of what I told NPR’s Andrew Limbong about her.

https://www.npr.org/player/embed/578247252/578247253

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Sewing a Revolution

Faith Ringgold self portrain

Faith Ringgold was already an accomplished artist in her forties when she wrote a memoir of her life. Still, no one would publish it. Instead, the painter turned to a new medium, creating quilts that — via images and words — told the narratives not only of her life, but of other black women. “I decided I would write my story on my art,” she told the crowd packed into the atrium of the California African American Museum yesterday at the closing ceremony for the exhibit We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965-85.

One of the earliest figures whom Ringgold depicted was Aunt Jemima. When her daughter questioned her inclusion of the controversial syrup idol, the artist said, “She’s a black feminist hero.”

“She’s not my black feminist hero” replied the daughter, Michele Wallace – an acclaimed scholar and author.

Mother and daughter shared the dais at CAAM Sunday, a formidable pairing at an event packed with powerful personages. Before their panel, three women of the Saar family (the Saarority?) stood together: the legendary Bettye Saar with her daughters Alison and Lezley. If, goddess forbid, the CAAM ceiling had collapsed yesterday, a few generations of important, inventive artists and their acolytes and analysts would have been buried beneath the rubble. Then again, these are women who have already busted through several glass ceilings on their own; maybe they would have just weathered the crash then begun making sculptures out of the debris.

We Wanted a Revolution gathers  drawings, paintings, photos, videos, pamphlets, letters and more from a period when Black and female artists were forcibly fighting against their exclusion from museums and the mainstream. There’s Adrian Piper, Lisa Jones, Emma Amos, Lorna Simpson, Carrie Mae Weems, and  more. Many of the artists, including Linda Goode Bryant, Maren Hassinger, Dindga McCannon, and Senga Nengudi, were part of the closing symposium.

“Have friends and don’t stop working.” That was Hassinger’s advice to young artists trying to persevere, progress and prosper. “Music can be your friend; art can be your friend,” added another speaker.

The work in We Wanted a Revolution is phenomenal, though the show, which was originated by the Brooklyn Museum, is traveling on. You still have a month to see Salon des Refuses, the intense, imaginative exhibit of works by Lezley Saar also on display at CAAM. Saar’s paintings and assemblages are psychedelic and psychological in their exploration of the unconscious and of alternative states of being. Deconstructing – literally – and then reconstructing books, she breaks down definitions of race and gender. She paints Renaissance portraits of dandies and rebel girls as Edgar Allan Poe might have imagined them, with mushrooms coming out of their heads, or bats for ears.

Lezley Saar’s Salon des Refuses

It was moving to think about how Lezley Saar is carrying on the legacy of her mother, Bettye, and how Wallace has dedicated much of her career to chronicling the life of Ringgold. The ghost of the previous generation was in the room as well, as Faith talked about the influence of her mother, Willie Posey Jones, a fashion designer. Mama Jones, as the family called her, helped her daughter make her quilts. Wallace recalled that in her foremothers’ time, all women knew how to sew. But her mother corrected her. “I refused to sew,” Ringgold said. She repeated the statement a few times, emphasizing refused. So, perhaps the most famous quilter of all time was a storyteller, not a seamstress. Yesterday, she made sure her story got told – and we listened.

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Lou Reed and More in NYTBR

I’d almost forgotten how much I loved Lou Reed’s music. Then I read Lou Reed: A Life by Anthony DeCurtis, a meticulous, thoughtful, and humanistic biography of a difficult, brilliant subject, and suddenly, I was pulling those records off the shelves again. DeCurtis’s was one of six books — including tomes on Gucci Mane, Stevie Nicks, Al Green, and TLC — that I reviewed for The New York Times recently. Story publishes in print Sunday, but you can read it online now.

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The Incline of Western Civilization

Phag!

Los Angeles punk has always had its own distinct aesthetic, inspired by New York and London but shaped by its environment: the West, Hollywood, the ‘burbs.  Somehow, LA punks seem to be aging more relevantly than their peers. This weekend I saw three artists from the earliest, old school days of Los Angeles calling: Alice Bag (the Bags), Phranc (Nervous Gender), and John Doe (X). Punk’s disruption of traditional beauty standards and of heteronormativity always seemed particularly radical in the shadow of Tinseltown, but these AARP-age idols show that choosing original style over the surgeon’s knife is the best revenge. Their music has also matured not declined. Chops may not be punk’s raison d’etre, but these three have them: Doe has always been the genre’s most golden-voiced crooner, but Bag and Phranc are also skilled singers. They flubbed some lines but their harmonies were pitch perfect as they played their second gig as the act with the best “shipped” name ever …. wait for it … PHAG!

IMG_0851

Phranc (I love the guitar sticker!)

If you don’t know what a shipped name is, then clearly you don’t have a teenager:  Short for relationship, it means the single name that results from the union of two, such as Brangelina, Kimye, and now, Phag. Phranc and Alice have known each other since at least the early ’80s, when they both were in Castration Squad. As that act’s name indicates, they were (and are) gender warriors. They found refuge in punk’s embrace of outsiders, as they discussed on a panel at the Grrrls on Film festival at Loyola Marymount University in 2016. But Phranc in particular also found racism and homophobia, and eventually she rejected the scene and rebranded herself as the “All-American Jewish Lesbian Folksinger,” revealing the warm, womanly tones underneath punk’s noise and her flat-top ‘do. She’s still a little bit folky, while Bag’s a little bit rock’n’roll, as they sang Friday night at the Razorcake 100th issue party at Avenue 50 Studio. They were parodying Donny and Marie, but the original goal of their union, they said, was to be the Smothers Brothers. And sure enough, their act is satiric, slapstick, and also pointedly sincere. They sang songs dissing Mike Pence and praising Malala. They passed around their prototype for a new $20 bill, featuring Harriet Tubman instead of Indian killer Andrew Jackson. They were funny and sweet and sloppy and pissed. I told my compatriots Allison Wolfe and Sharon Mooney that we had to start their fan club now, and I have the perfect name for it: The Phag Hags! Continue reading

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