Live Review: Tacocat, Chastity Belt, S, and Childbirth at the 2015 EMP Pop Conference 4/17/15

Local Music, Live Reviews
Jacob Webb
photos by Victoria Holt (view set)

The EMP Pop Conference covers a lot of ground in its panels, discussions, and presentations – where else could you find programming covering both a Missy Elliott retrospective and a roundtable seeking to find out what the worst song ever is? – so it only makes sense that for its Seattle artist showcase, it would try and cover an equally large amount of musical ground. Considering how much music continues to come out of Seattle, this is a borderline impossible task. But in the four acts on the bill on Friday night of the conference, the organizers picked four Seattle units that embody a new wave in Seattle's current musical spirit. A stark contrast (and perhaps a response to) the serious, bearded, introspective dudes who dominated the city's music venues for most of the 2000s, the artists on the evening's bill were (mostly) not bearded, incisive without being solemn, and, most of all, a lot of fun. There's no perfect metric for what parameters would decide which four artists are the best in Seattle – although it would be fun to have watch a panel of music scholars try to make one – but Tacocat, Chastity Belt, S, and Childbirth are definitely all in that conversation.

The night began with Childbirth, the hospital gown-clad "supergroup" of Chastity Belt's Julia Shapiro, Tacocat's Bree McKenna, and Pony Time's Stacy Peck. Childbirth's songs are brief, loud punk tunes with sardonic lyrics full of feminist smartassery, which, fortuitously, is just the kind of music that a room full of music critics and young Seattleites can get down to. Playing most of their eponymous album and a razor-sharp new song entitled "Tech Bro" (sample lyric: "tech bro/tech bro/take me to your condo/I can do my laundry while you code") across twenty five or so minutes, the band's opening performance never seemed like an opening performance, at least in a traditional sense. Although they played the shortest set and were up first, Childbirth's blunt humor and relative nonchalance were the best possible lead-off for a night showcasing some of Seattle's finest.

Out of the night's bill, S's Jenn Ghetto was the both the quietest and the most storied of the artists. As part of Carissa's Wierd or under the moniker S, Ghetto has twenty years of experience as a Seattle musician, and in her latest album, 2014's Cool Choices, the heartbreaking songwriter has a career highlight. Backed by a three piece band, Ghetto took the stage with a few modest comments that belied the quality of the songs that would ensue. "Vampires", "Losers, "Tell Me", and the rest of the Cool Choices played that night are small-scale emotional epics that sound great in headphones, a bedroom, or a tiny club. Unexpectedly, the songs emerged as adept for filling a (relatively) big room like the Sky Church, and along with Ghetto's dry sense of humor emerging sporadically in between songs, S served as the most emotionally moving act of the night without killing the night's vibe.

Chastity Belt have been played Seattle a few times over since the late-March release of their stellar sophomore album, Time To Go Home, but their hazy sound and wicked sense of humor has hardly lost its charm. Singer/guitarist Julia Shapiro's presence in Chastity Belt is more nuanced than her output in Childbirth, lacing her languid declarations with a subtle sense of reflection. This makes it equally as easy to get lost in the song's lyrics – "Time To Go Home" isn't just a narrative of an unsuccessful night out and "Cool Slut" isn't just a rallying cry for "all the girls trying to take off their shirts" – as it is in their gauzy grooves. Lydia Lund and Annie Truscott's melodic glide, the band's secret engine, was only magnified in the cavernous room, which shows the quartet are not only sounding more than ready than ever to take on their biggest tour to date (opening for Courtney Barnett), but a band continuing to get smarter, sharper, and overall better as they progress.

Up to that point, the artists who had taken the stage had imbued the night with strong doses of humor, empathy, and volume in various combinations across the night, so in Tacocat, a band who do all three in a direct and incredibly catchy manner, the night had a can't-fail closer. Emily Nokes, Bree McKenna, Eric Randall, and Lelah Maupin have been among Seattle's most beloved acts for a minute now and it's easy to see why: they're, simply put, one of the city's most outright fun acts. As Maupin bashes through uptempo surf beats (her awesome purple hairbow fell off before she could begin the second song), the rest of the band follow suit with as just much gusto, Randall and McKenna charging through fuzzy riffs and Nokes alternating between her chiming vocals and completely necessary tambourine. Their songs have plenty of smirk worthy turns – as a band called Tacocat should – but, as Nokes pointed out at a panel earlier that day, they're not a "joke band". Rather, their humorous takes on Seattle's crummy weather ("Bridge to Hawaii"), menstruation (the unbelievably hooky "Crimson Wave"), and coming of age via acid ("Psychedelic Quinceañera") give the songs a sense of empathy, if not a sense of being completely relatable, through earworm choruses and an undeniable affability. After their final song, Miley Cyrus's "Party In The USA" came over the PA and the band invited members of the crowd to dance onstage with them, Nokes made her final dispatch from the microphone: "Pop music foreverrrrrrrrrrrr!" In the course of a few hours, four of Seattle's best artists hadn't just showcased the songs that are working through patriarchal bullshit, loneliness, millennial existentialism, and the perpetual quest to have a killer night out with your buds, they'd thrown the best party of the weekend in the process. To paraphrase Nokes, Seattle music foreverrrrrrrrrr.

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