There seems to be quite a lot of all-female, or female fronted, bands or acts popping up on my Spring Dance Card this year… maybe I’m turning into my occasional gigging buddy “Beef” on the quiet! Anyway, here’s another distaff ensemble, namely Washington DC’s punky power trio ex Hex, who burst into my sightline with their splendid 2015 debut “Rips”, a collection of proto-punky riffery and New Wave harmonies that sounded as if it stepped out of Max’s Kansas City circa 1977. A couple of fine upbeat gigs around that time cemented Mary Timony’s latest project as a “live” staple for me, so I picked up a ticket for this Bank Holiday Monday gig when announced, following it up with new album “It’s Real”, which honestly lacks the immediacy of its’ predecessor, the tracks in general slower-burn, longer, and veering a little uncomfortably towards a more 80’s hair metal and occasionally AOR vibe. Not yet great then, so I was hoping that some of the effervescent buoyancy and fun of the live Ex Hex experience might elevate these numbers somewhat. Here’s hoping…
So I set off at 7.15 for a swift blast down a quiet Bank Holiday M4 (I wouldn’t say “reluctantly”, but certainly I felt less of the stomach-knotting excitement and anticipation that normally accompanies me along to gigs), parking up usual spot and hitting the very quiet-early-doors venue just after 8. Whiled away some time on my phone, in FB correspondence with my brother – earlier today I’d unearthed a copy on Flickr of a letter I wrote to “Smash Hits” as an indignant 15-year old, vehemently defending my then favourite band The Skids against accusations of poseurism! Said banter was certainly more fun than the support Rattle, a female drum duo – yup, that’s right… drum duo… They pounded out 3 numbers over their ½ hour slot, caterwauling over the 15-minute first, ooh-oohing over the thankfully shorter second, but when they announced their third number as, “one last one, but it’s long, so brace yourselves…” I got the hell out of dodge, continuing my FB chat from the safety of the bar, away from the efforts of Rattle… And Drum! (Groan…)
Hopefully from the ridiculous to the sublime – or at least musical… I grabbed a second row spot, house right, as the place filled up to a respectable level and the girls, in matching New Wave chic and spray-on jeans, set up. They took the stage at 9.15 to little fuss or fanfare, Mary Timony announcing, “what’s up? We’re Ex Hex from Washington DC!” and leading her charges into oldie opener “You Fell Apart”, all snappy, sassy, snazzy and singalong.
Sonically, the set unfolded as I expected; the girls interspersed new material in with old, the older proving generally more melodic, shorter, snappier, faster, punkier, more immediate and singalong than the newer stuff. “How You Got That Girl” oozed with Mink DeVille late 70’s insouciant NYC cool, “Beast” was superbly energetic, guitarist Betsy joyfully high-kicking her way through its’ denouement, and “Don’t Wanna Lose” was probably my set highlight, all slashing riffery and groovy, flippant chorus. By contrast, some of the newer numbers felt overlong and a little drab in comparison, “Another Dimension” in particular skirting uncomfortably close to that 80’s hair metal sound with some over-fussy middle-8 licks. However, the girls’ energetic and kinetic performance made up for the lesser quality of the new songs, Betsy and Mary swapping rock poses and often interlocking legs whilst riffing off each other, the addition of a “live” bassist freeing Betsy up to throw rock riff shapes and revisit “the leg”, our favourite Betsy pose from their last “live” go-around. They were clearly enjoying themselves, and honestly, so was I!
A swift 45 minute set was topped by the groovy “Radio On” and a splendid, Velvet Underground-esque “Hot And Cold”, the latter also borrowing elements of that classic Knack “My Sharona” middle-8 riff. At a shade under an hour, this was short but sweet, the band overall rising above their not-so-great recent material to deliver a fine showing overall. No list for me tonight though, as the devoted front rows beat me to it. Nonetheless, a quick chat with the sound guy – none other than Tim from The Woahnows! – on the way out was a nice way to end a fun night with the Ex Hex girls. I was looking for effervescence and energy – girls, you delivered!