Power Play: the Coathangers, Diet Cig, and L.A. Witch at Beat Kitchen, 7/23/16

By Eileen Marshall

The room's temperature was warm, and so was its mood.

Fans braved heat topping ninety degrees (plus a pretty fearsome thunderstorm dwindling into drizzles) to pack Beat Kitchen in Chicago's Roscoe Village neighborhood last Saturday evening. I don't know if I'd ever gotten so sweaty at a show before, but the Coathangers, as well as opening acts Diet Cig and L.A. Witch, made it worthwhile by delivering the fiery yet playful punk rock we all wanted.

The Atlanta three-piece is made up of Julia Kugel, Meredith Franco, and Stephanie Luke (AKA Crook Kid Coathanger, Minnie Coathanger, and Rusty Coathanger, respectively), who got together a decade ago on something of a whim, mastering their instruments after the fact. Their fifth and latest studio album, Nosebleed Weekend, sees the band bolster their long-sustained attitude and energy with a solid technical proficiency; their chops were on display in the live setting, too.

 The Coathangers. Photo by Mark Little.

The Coathangers. Photo by Mark Little.

Like fellow fierce and fun riot grrrl revivalists Kitten Forever and Skating Polly, the Coathangers' members trade off vocal and instrumental duties over the course of their performance; even with these shake-ups, they played a mostly-uninterrupted set Saturday night, never really needing a breather despite high temps augmented by body heat and stage lights. They executed the role rotations seamlessly, and their passing around of the mic meant lead vocals ranged from a Kathleen-Hanna-like sassy squeal to a menacing growl closer to Courtney Love. Their music melds (girl) power and playfulness, a dynamic that's especially evident on standout number "Squeeki Tiki", where the aggressive refrain—"You can have it / I don't want that shit / It's just a bad memory / Of what I did"—prefaces a squeaky-toy solo that actually manages to be quite catchy.

Sorry-not-sorry to harp on the heat: you might expect warm bodies in close quarters to succumb to sour moods, but this crowd stayed overwhelmingly positive throughout all three sets. Mosh pits and crowd surfing were friendly; applause was generous. Some even called for an encore! (There wasn't one; however, the Coathangers turned up at the karaoke bar where I was hanging out later on that night, suggesting that they really do love their jobs.) And, though not big on banter, the band did take a moment to express their gratitude for the audience—not just the obligatory thank-you, but something that felt heartfelt.

Diet Cig, the night's second act, also made sure to show the crowd their appreciation. Alex Luciano, the Brooklyn band's guitarist and vocalist, gave a special shoutout to the women and trans and nonbinary folks in the audience: "It's hard to be a marginalized person in this world ... but you're not alone. We love you." (The "women in music" trope is tired, but when the scene is still largely dominated by dudes, I can't avoid mentioning that of the eight musicians on stage that night, only Diet Cig's drummer, Noah Bowman, was a man.) Bubbly and undeniably cute, Luciano shared that she was turning twenty-one in two days, showing us the "x"s on the backs of her hands. For someone so young, her confidence and skill with managing a crowd were impressive.

 Diet Cig. Photo by Maggie Boyd.

Diet Cig. Photo by Maggie Boyd.

Musically, what Diet Cig does is not unique: theirs are fast-paced pop-punk earworms; stripped of words, they'd blend into the œuvres of countless other bands. But the project is special in what it has to say about punk femininity. Luciano's lyrics, as well as her stage presence, dispose of dichotomies between cute and edgy, vulnerable and tough. (A comparison with Perfect Pussy's Meredith Graves is partly superficial but seems apt nonetheless.) The complex interplay of hardness and heart is encapsulated in the closing lines of "Sleep Talk": "If I told you I loved you, I don't know who / It would scare away faster." Luciano brings no shortage of energy to her performance, which featured plenty of high-kicks, a jump up onto an amp, and tireless bouncing and bounding across the stage (did I mention how hot it was?). She proves that a high-pitched voice doesn't have to be a small one.

L.A. Witch kicked things off with a solid set of songs that take a surfy sixties-girl-group sound and imbue it with punk edge and a dark sensibility.

***

Check out a Coathangers show when the band resumes touring mid-August, and see Diet Cig, too.