Infectious Lyrics, A Singing Mother, and an Incredible Night with PWR BTTM

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Ben Hopkins (guitar) and Liv Bruce (drums)

I first saw PWR BTTM back in October, at Villain. The show had originally been at Shea Stadium, but was then moved to Market Hotel by popular demand, later moved to Villain when Market Hotel was shut down. The show was phenomenal, but I had really been looking forward to them playing Shea.

So when they announced their America’s Sweethearts mini-tour of a handful of tiny venues, including Shea Stadium, I knew I had to go. The show sold out in half an hour, and luckily, my girlfriend and I were able to snag tickets.

And then, of course, because god hates me, Shea got shut down a few weeks before the show, which was subsequently relocated to Knitting Factory. Shea’s back up and running now, but the show remained at Knitting Factory since they had released more tickets as it’s a slightly larger venue. My PWR BTTM Shea Stadium show would remain but a pipe dream.

I ended up loving Knitting Factory anyway. It reminded me of the Echo, a favorite venue in my hometown of Los Angeles. Small (though no Shea) and very intimate, to the point where Liv Bruce of PWR BTTM was just hanging around the bar and merch table before the show, much to my girlfriend’s delight. Plus the merch people were super chill, and didn’t even bat an eye when I paid for my tank top with dollar coins. “Don’t even worry about it. Money is money,” the merch person reassured me, as I profusely apologized. The vibes were extremely positive, something I appreciate in a venue and a show. The intimacy, especially, was something I appreciated greatly. PWR BTTM’s next show in NYC will be at Webster Hall, and god knows if they’ll ever actualize a second set at Shea, given the success they’re enjoying this year.

The first band was Naked Giants, a three-piece who exploded into their set with no introduction. The drum set, in a twist on the traditional setup, was brought to the front of the stage, allowing the audience to view the dynamic expressions on the drummer’s face. After two songs, they introduced themselves, their speaking voices a lot shier than their singing voices. They hail from Seattle, and this show was their first in New York, which I never would have guessed had they not said so. They were utterly confident in their material and commanded the crowd with ease, at one point getting us to join in a call-and-response to one of their songs. Though their lyricism was at times lacking, their infectious, electric stage presence more than made up for any shortcomings.

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Naked Giants.

Next up was Mal Blum and the Blums, an indie rock band fronted by the titular Mal Blum. Their stage presence personified what I love about their music: the honesty, realism, and incredible self-awareness. They joked dryly between songs about depression, the complexities of gender, and their own material. They introduced their song “Better Go!” as a “super ‘90s breakup song.” At one point they introduced a new song, “Salt Flats,” as a song about driving through the Utah salt flats and letting someone “take out all their shit on you,” followed by a pause and a sardonic “Saturday night, woo!” They started playing a song, only to be called out by their other guitarist, Audrey, and being forced to retune mid-song. In a word, it’s the kind of stage presence that felt right at home at the Knitting Factory, but would also feel right at home in someone’s living room or garage.

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Mal Blum sharing the love with the audience.

Then PWR BTTM came on, Ben Hopkins’ face covered in glitter and paint, their body covered in a dress they categorized as “tablecloth fish” and Liv Bruce looking ethereal in glittery eyeshadow and a pale pink jumper. They began the show with their standard warning about respecting the space and respecting the crowd. Unlike most punk bands, PWR BTTM have a strict no-moshing policy as they have not, in their words, figured out how to make moshing “consensual.”

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Ben Hopkins (guitar) and Liv Bruce (drums)

That’s not the only thing that makes PWR BTTM a little different from most punk bands. Hopkins brought their mom on tour, and she came out on stage looking pleased as punch to be there. Her operatic vocals were jarring against an aural landscape of guitar and screaming, but they meshed well. Between sets, there was Hopkins’ and Bruce’s familiar campy rapport, including the jokes about Bruce sleeping with Hopkins’ dad. Yes, even in front of their mom.

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Ben Hopkins and their mother.

A large portion of their set consisted of material off of their forthcoming LP, Pageant, which meant that Bruce was up a lot more often on guitar and vocals, a refreshing change from their previous work which primarily featured Hopkins on guitar and vocals and Bruce on drums. Though their work has always dealt with queer themes, these new songs deal even more explicitly with transgender themes, such as dysphoria, misgendering, and, as explored in the lead single “Big Beautiful Day,” simply living one’s truth and not giving a fuck.

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Liv Bruce on guitar.

Toward the end of the show, Hopkins ripped off their dress and threw it into the crowd. They waxed poetic about the “spirit of unbridled potential” in New York City, and shouted out Shea Stadium and other DIY spaces like it. They preached about the power of punk to bring people together for the sake of political coalition, they preached of the power of queer creativity, they warned against the evils of fascism. And the show ended with a “poem designed to kill fascists,” a.k.a. “Trade” off of their debut EP, Cinderella Beauty Shop, a.k.a. a room of 300 queer weirdos caked in glitter screaming the phrase, “One man won’t ever love me like I need him to.”

PWR BTTM is truly unlike any other punk band out there. Though in form they sound like many bands that came before them, the raw, unapologetic queerness of the content is what distinguishes them from their predecessors. They don’t just stick out among other proto-typical punk bands–they stomp hypermasculine punk archetypes into the ground with heels and then throw glitter on the remains. They put their mom on their records, they perform in thrift store dresses, they refuse to let racism, misogyny, transphobia, homophobia, and other forms of oppression slide at their shows. Especially in today’s political climate, more bands would do well to be like PWR BTTM.

For more pictures, check out my other blog here.

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