TVD Live: Perfect Pussy at the Rock & Roll Hotel, 8/30

I hereby vow to make no off-color jokes about Perfect Pussy, the Syracuse, NY, noise rock quintet that has been winning plaudits from the likes of Pitchfork and Stereogum since it emerged in 2013 with the self-released demo, I Have Lost All Desire for Feeling. Nor am I going to beat around the bush (shit, so much for my vow) about what I think of Perfect Pussy’s frenzied and cacophonous forays into feedback, atonality, and dissonance. To wit, I consider Perfect Pussy the most annoying noise rock band to come our way since Sonic Youth.

Why? Because like Sonic Youth, Perfect Pussy’s music reeks of pretention. I’m talking the kind of pretention that comes of turning noise rock into Art with a capital “A,” which is an unconscionable thing to do to a genre I happen to love, and that doesn’t want to be arty but only wants to give you an earache while poking fun at anyone dumb enough to consider rock music ART. In short, Perfect Pussy has followed Sonic Youth down the primrose path of the avant-garde, and I can say that with certainty as I hear Sonic Youth in every atonal note Perfect Pussy plays.

One of the problems with the avant-garde end of the noise rock spectrum is that its purveyors tend to take themselves very, very seriously. Their earnest “product” could hardly be any more different than that created by the populist wing of noise rock, which consists largely of bands whose only agenda is to épater le bourgeois, or if not le bourgeois, the prevailing musical powers that be, as was the case with Washington, DC’s No Trend, whose only reason for existence in its early days was to piss off Georgetown’s identically attired hardcore punks by baiting them as insectile conformists. And such bands are invariably funny precisely because the bands or scenes they are reacting against are inevitably serious, and the last thing one wants to do is fight ire with ire. No, far better to turn to sarcasm and black humor, which weapons have been in the arsenal of the absurdist enemies of earnestness ever since Alfred Jarry wrote Ubu Roi.

So here we are with two wings of noise rock, and I have no doubt whatsoever which side Perfect Pussy is on. The band has no discernable sense of humor, and so far as I can tell is not rebelling against anything, and gives one the distinct impression that what it does—namely produce lo-fi, Mach I-speed tunes heavy on the clamor, caterwaul, and feedback, all of which succeed in burying the singer’s vocals deep in the murky mix, much in the same way Jimmy Hoffa is said to be buried in one of the end zones of Giants stadium—it does with the utmost seriousness.

Perfect Pussy’s members include vocalist Meredith Graves, guitarist Ray McAndrew, drummer Garrett Koloski, bass guitarist Greg Ambler, and keyboardist Shaun Sutkus. Formed in 2012 as a fake band to play in the Scott Coffey film Adult World, its members liked the results so much they decided to become the real thing. Thereafter the band went into the studio to record I Have Lost All Desire for Feeling, and then followed that up with a proper full-length debut, 2014’s Say Yes to Love.

Both releases suffer from two problems. First, they’re full of songs that lack melodies, in so far as I understand the term. And second, a very large majority of their songs sound so similar that, if one of Perfect Pussy’s tunes were to mug you and you were asked to pick it out of a police line-up that just happened to consist solely of other Perfect Pussy tunes, you’d be fucked. They all feature some brief and unique musical twist at the beginning, and then zoom—off they roar into indistinguishable sameness, with Graves machine-gunning the lyrics while the drums go crash, guitarist McAndrew produces shrieking and squealing sheets and washes of feedback, and keyboardist Sutkus produces droning noises, that is when he isn’t stabbing Perfect Pussy’s tuneless tunes with the knives of atonality and dissonance.

But it’s not just the sameness of the band’s songs that bugs me. In fact, just about everything I’ve read about Perfect Pussy bugs me. For example, they’ve been praised for their “radically honest lyrics” (although how anyone could conceivably make out a single word of what Graves is singing is beyond me), a phrase that sounds to me suspiciously like Orwellian doublespeak for emo. You know, that totally humorless form of musical shock therapy designed to induce an emotional catharsis in the audience through the synergistic effect of electrical instrumentation and the vocal expression of naked sincerity. It’s been said to make some people cry. Me, I have always found it to be less cathartic than coma inducing.

I’m hardly anti-emotional—shit, I cry at the drop of a hat—but I am anti-diary entry rock. What the emo crowd has always needed is a tutorial in the philosophy of Oscar Wilde, who would have loathed emo based on his distrust of both naked revelation and sincerity. He once said, “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.” He also said, “A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal.” Emo never wears a mask, and its sincerity levels give every indication that its supporters suffer from a serious irony deficiency.

Of course, I could be wrong about every single thing I’ve said above. I could furthermore be wrong in thinking that if both Pitchfork and Stereogum like Perfect Pussy, it’s a virtual certainty I’ll find them loathsome. Finally, I could be totally off base on the emo front, in so far as it’s conceivable that their “radically honest lyrics” could be bona fide amusing bullshit, and hence not antithetical to my belief that the best way to tell the truth is by telling nothing but lies. And besides, Meredith Graves is hot, hot, hot.

Which is why I made a point of trekking to the Rock & Roll Hotel on Saturday, August 30 to see Perfect Pussy in person. Who knows? Maybe they’d be fun. Or maybe they’d make me cry. Or maybe I’d get kicked in the head, the way I always do when a mosh pit breaks out. Why, I might even experience a catharsis and become a new and more emotionally vulnerable individual, and become so intolerably sincere I’ll be forced to cut myself dead every time I pass myself on the street.

And? About all I can tell you is that Perfect Pussy played a brief 9-song set that might as well have been a very long 1-song set, seeing as how its show was a high-speed blur with one song bleeding into another, and I couldn’t possibly begin to describe to you the individual songs they performed because, just as on the record, they all sounded pretty much the same. Hell, the only reason I know they played nine songs is because I managed to bum rush the stage after the show, and a kindly stage hand whom I promised to say was a member of the band passed me a copy of the set list. Unfortunately kindly guy gave me his e-mail address but failed to include his name, so he won’t go down in history as a member of Perfect Pussy. I’ll catch your name next time, pal.

I may, or may not, have been correct in branding them as emo—or more aptly, screamo—because if Graves’ lyrics were radically honest there was no way of knowing it, as (again, like on the album) her vocals were deeply submerged in the mix and utterly unintelligible, to the extent that on more than one occasion I couldn’t hear her at all. So I didn’t have to worry about suffering a catharsis, which I’m pretty certain my shitty HMO doesn’t cover. All I had to do was put up with 45-minutes or so of non-stop, hardcore-velocity sonic dissonance and squealing feedback in the form of songs that for the most part had no melodies, the exceptions being “Big Star” and “Interference Fits,” on both of which guitarist McAndrew toyed briefly with melodies using a guitar tuned (imitation being the most sincere form of derivativeness) to the pitch of Thurston Moore.

Graves opened the set by saying, “I don’t usually talk during our sets,” and then went on to kindly praise both the band’s audiences and the other bands with whom Perfect Pussy was touring. Then the band launched into opener “Bells,” and between McAndrew’s shredding, shrieking, sheets of feedback, the unrelentingly dissonant drone being produced by keyboardist Sutkus, and one big pounding blur of a rhythm section there was very little to hang on to, especially since Graves might as well have stayed home, that’s how little an impact her vocals had on the band’s overall sound. I will say that “Driver” sounded kinda like a Cows’ tune, but sans Shannon Selberg’s loony tunes antics and heroic bugling it was a poor cousin at best.

In short, Perfect Pussy produced a resounding and tornado-like roar that made me want to crawl into the nearest bathtub, but otherwise left me utterly cold. I don’t ask for much from this life, just a song with a melody and some words or antics that’ll make me laugh, and neither is part of Perfect Pussy’s Art Noise agenda. Forty-five minutes of tuneless no-wave thrash and tumult is what I got, and it didn’t make me happy, or laugh, or move me in any way whatsoever. Hell, I didn’t even get kicked in the head, which might have scrambled my brains onto their wavelength. Come closer “Advance Upon the Real” everyone left the stage but Sutkus, who played his keyboards like Keith Emerson gone bonkers, and if I didn’t particularly enjoy it I did find it intriguing, both because it was the one song that didn’t sound like every other song and because to me it sounded like a machine slowly bleeding to death.

I may have written “avant garde crapola” in my notebook, but I will say this for Perfect Pussy—I have never witnessed a band so utterly committed to creating pure atonal mayhem. But oddly enough the crowd remained completely immobile, which tells me something. This was the kind of music designed to stir up a mosh pit, but nobody made a move. Which I attribute to the fact that the audience, whether consciously or not, knew it was witnessing art, and not rock. It might have helped had somebody on stage done something interesting, like set themselves on fire for instance, but it didn’t happen, and I was left hankering for the golden days of Shannon Selberg and Gibby Haynes.

The only question is where Perfect Pussy will go next. I predict it will follow the Sonic Youth template and ultimately evolve into a band that plays unique and recognizable songs with actual melodies. Or so one hopes, anyway. I still consider the band a hype—all sound and fury, signifying nothing—although that may not be Perfect Pussy’s fault, but the fault of those critics who have seized upon the quintet of noisemongers as the next big thing. Still, there’s no denying Perfect Pussy was the most unrelenting, tuneless, and perhaps dullest hype I’ve ever heard, which is an achievement in and of itself, and I can hardly wait to never see them again.

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  • ChrisO1

    I certainly enjoyed reading your comments about the band called Perfect Pussy.  I chuckled more than once, probably due to the recognition of my own opinion of the band.  While I have never analyzed them in any context larger than themselves, I could never stand their “music” and I never understood what all the fuss was about.  Being in town last weekend, I thought of going to the show, but H Street is a bit of a schlep for me, and I generally don’t go to shows where all I care about seeing is one of the openers (Joanna Gruesome).  Thanks for the review of the show – I feel better already.

  • Michael Little

    Thanks Chris01: I appreciate it. That was my feeling exactly–I couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about. Others have every right to feel otherwise, but all I heard was a largely tuneless din, with nothing interesting behind it. Perhaps if I could have understood what Graves was singing, or they’d put on a stage show designed to outrage, but they did nada. I go to shows to be entertained, and I was not entertained by Perfect Pussy.  About all they succeeded in doing was make me think nostalgically about all the defunct noise rock bands I do love–Flipper, Cows, No Trend, Killdozer, Butthole Surfers, U.S. Maple and the list goes on and on–and how I never failed to leave one of their shows happy, half-deaf, and chuckling. Maybe someday Perfect Pussy will put out a song half as good as Cows’ “Big Mickey” or Killdozer’s “Hamburger Martyr,” but I have my doubts. I’m betting that by their next release, Graves’ vocals will be comprehensible and they’ll offer something in the way of sonic variety. In short, I think they’re young and out to shock, but will quickly figure out they’re walking a dead end street. They seem like a smart bunch. I’m sure they’ll figure out that nothin’ plus nothin’ leaves nothin’, and you gotta have something–and why in the world am I quoting Billy Preston?

  • GG

    As a woman, I find the band name offensive, not Little’s review. The band and their “punk” followers need to grow a pair. They could then change their name to Big Balls.

  • Michael Little

    Thank you, GG. I appreciate your support. It was very kind of you.

  • MonkCrabbs

    “avant garde crapola” That’s all I needed to see.

  • Michael Little

    MonkCrabbs That was the only phrase that stuck out in the notes I took. In fact that was the only phrase in my notebook.

  • http://rockscissorsgun.tumblr.com/ Dave Brushback

    Kind of ironic that you’d call Perfect Pussy ‘unrelenting and dull’ when you took 15+ paragraphs to convey one simple idea — that you don’t think there’s anything substantial about this band.

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