TVD Live: Ex Hex and The Messthetics at the 9:30 Club, 5/10

PHOTOS: RICHIE DOWNSMixed amid the sheer exhilaration of an Ex Hex gig at the 9:30 Club is the added pride of a hometown date. The DC rockers led by Mary Timony, once of Helium, Wild Flag, and Autoclave, quite rightfully nearly sold out the place, but I’m wondering why the trio isn’t selling out everywhere they go.

The songs are catchy, the guitars rock out, the female harmonies alternately bracing and empowering. Female-led bands aren’t the novelty they once were, thankfully, and the trio has moved into trying to recreate the crunching, double-guitar attack of arena rock. But they’re better than that, with catchier songs that are smarter and more fun. One quietly has to be happy they aren’t bigger than they are, or they’d be in some cavernous theater or arena instead of a cozier rock club.

Closing out a six-week US tour to boost their newest release on Merge, It’s Real, the band seemed as fresh as if starting it, a big neon logo behind them underscoring their determination to glow. Topping a bill that also boasted the best of DC rock, particularly The Messthetics, the instrumental power trio of guitar whiz Anthony Pirog with the Fugazi rhythm section of Brendan Canty on drums and Joe Lally on bass, the night seemed to make a case of the health of rock in the Nation’s Capital.

Ex Hex is almost sunny compared to their darker sound, but there’s every indication that Timony wants to stretch things out on guitar as well, even if her songs seem best suited to be short and exuberantly punchy as anything from the Ramones. She means to get more textures and aggressive sharpness with every release, though, with a couple of the tracks on It’s Real clocking in at over five minutes.

On stage, she trades riffs with Betsy Wright, as the music shifts and changes course, the two egging each other deeper down a psychedelic worm hole. Joined on tour by David Christian on bass enables Wright to stay on guitar all night, as Laura Harris wallops away on the unerring beat.

Timony’s got a kind of sob to her vocals in the tradition of Sleater-Kinney; Wright has her own style and holds her own while singing lead as well. Songs like “Another Dimension” has echoes of “Rock You Like a Hurricane,” but “Cosmic Cave” is just driving fun. It helped close the succinct show, segueing sonically into “Everywhere” from their first album, Rips, now five years old.

Stretching out as much as they could, a 12-song set still seemed awfully short. They returned for the two song encore, though—happy conquering hometown heroes, with the terrific double punch from Rips. First was the glorious singalong of “Radio On,” extending the joyful refrain from Jonathan Richman’s “Roadrunner.” Then came “Hot and Cold,” seemingly built on timeless “Sweet Jane” chords of old Velvet Underground before revving their own majestical anthem.

They certainly could have played longer if they wanted to, but leaving the crowd wanting more as they pack for a UK tour seems about right.

THE MESSTHETICS

SETLIST
You Fell Apart
Diamond Dave
How You Got That Girl
Tough Enough
Another Dimension
Beast
Radiate
Good Times
Rainbow Shiner
Don’t Wanna Lose
Cosmic Cave
Everywhere

Radio On
Hot and Cold

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