Some spazzy garage rock in prospect tonight to continue my current ferocious gig pace; Ex Hex, a new band whose debut CD “Rips” I picked up on thanks to a good NME write-up, and thoroughly enjoyed thanks to its’ ramshackle, NYC/ CBGBs 70’s new wave vibe. Led by Washington DC indie rock veteran Mary Timony, a singer-songwriter whom I’d vaguely heard of but whose back catalogue, with the likes of Wild Flag, Mountains etc. I’d not explored, this all-girl 3-piece nevertheless promised some potential punk rock electric guitar fun and frolics, particularly at the sold-out tiny sweatbox that is the Louisiana, so off I go for my 4th female-fronted band in a row to start 2015!
The gig sold out in pretty short order, and definitely before I was able to recruit any gig buddies to join me, so I flew solo down the M4 after the kids went to bed, parking up outside in the final “free” parking spot on the left hand side of the road, and heading into the pub just before the rope was taken down to let everyone upstairs at 8.30. We didn’t have long to wait for openers Princess, a young 5-piece, on at 8.45 to an already-full venue. They played some generic but dramatic and soaring indie-pop which wouldn’t have been out of place on a Big Country or Alarm support slot circa 1984 (Zerra 1, White China, Silent Running; where are you now?). Windswept, widescreen and predominantly bass-led, their 3rd number featured dynamics straight out of the U2 “War” songbook; no surprise they were Dubliners! Their chiming, flag-waving guitar pop needs a fair amount of rehearsal and refinement, but there’s some darkly anthemic promise there.
The place, full from minute one, got uncomfortably crammed thereafter, the Ex Hex girls having to squeeze onstage for a final soundcheck, and off again afterwards past the ubiquitous Jeff, leaning on the speakers! I kept a watching brief stage centre, a few rows back, for their eventual re-emergence at 9.45. Led on by Timony, herself resplendent in black sequinned dress and lurid red tights, a whirl of rock shirts and tight hot pants, they came across visually like a female American Hi-Fi, ready to bring the rock! Timony’s introduction of, “We’re Ex Hex, we’re from Washington DC, thanks for coming out,” underlined this, as did opener “Don’t Wanna Lose”, all chunky powerpop chords and bratty hooks. Good stuff for openers, despite initial poor vocal sound (quickly sorted out), and it set the tone for the performance; primarily short, snappy bursts of fun, upbeat garage rock, simple but very effective. “Waste Your Time”, next up, had a more sexy NYC glam strut, “New Kid” was faster and punkier with the nagging “you’re a warrior, warrior, warrior” hook, and “Hot And Cold” a slower Velvet Underground-like sleazoid stomp, the elongated riff outro also recalling The Knack’s “My Sharona”!
“This song is for all the party animals out there, how many of you are there?”, announced Mary Timony before the thrashy punk of “You Fell Apart”, another duelling riff outro this time dominated by bassist Betsy Wright, pouting, strutting and holding her bass neck aloft as if strafing the ceiling. Final number “Everywhere” again stretched into a duelling riff-fest to conclude a breathless 40 minutes, the girls hugging together at the side of the stage before retaking their positions for a 2-song encore which culminated in their best number, a chugging, hook-tastic “Waterfall”. Cool!
Snuck through the crowd and onto the empty stage afterwards to grab drummer Laura’s set-list, then chatted with a couple of fellow punters, including Jeff and the chap who took my pic with Bob Mould at The Fleece last Autumn! Got the set-list fully signed by the band, hanging out downstairs, and enjoyed a brief chat with Betsy before heading home. For a Washington DC band in 2015, Ex Hex sound awfully like the Max’s Kansas City house band circa 1977 – no bad thing really in my book – but more importantly, they’re taking a basic, well-established and occasionally tired formula and making it sound fresh, vital and now, which is a pretty neat trick. Good work, Mary Timony and Ex Hex!