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Gustaf – Crofters Rights, Bristol, 14/05/2022

New York punk is a strange animal.

One would think that a notoriously blunt, brash city like the Big Apple would produce big, no-nonsense punk rock bands.  If you go back through the best-known bands in the city’s scene, though, back to Television and the Talking Heads, through the Strokes and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, right up to Parquet Courts, they have all been, well, a bit arty.

Could it be that in a forthright city like New York, being a bit pretentious is an act of resistance?

The latest arrivals on this quirky conveyor belt are Gustaf, from Brooklyn.  Comprising Lydia Gammill (vocals), Tine Hill (bass), Melissa Lucciola (drums), Vram Kherlopian (guitar), and Tarra Thiessen (backing vocals and rubber chicken), Gustaf’s weird and eminently danceable art-punk has earned them lots of paragraphs containing the ultimate lazy-journalist word, ‘buzzy’.  Lucky Gustaf.

Support for tonight’s show, the last in a 13-date run across the UK and Ireland, comes from Toronto’s Bad Waitress.  In a weird inverse to Gustaf, Bad Waitress come from a country with the nicest damn people on earth, but make raw, uncompromising punk rock, reminiscent of L7.

The band’s debut album, 2021’s No Taste, was just a hair short of being a masterpiece.  Varied and ambitious, with lots of clever guitar work and tempo changes, it was a cut above other punk rock releases last year, even if it did lose a bit of steam towards the end.

Tonight, we get to see just how good Bad Waitress are.  In the realm of DIY punk, you get bands who are high-energy, bands with outstanding musicianship, bands who deliver precise, tight performances.  It is vary rare that you see bands who have all three, but that is what Bad Waitress give us tonight.

Highlights of the set are the dark, brooding ‘Rabbit Hole’, the catchy and rumbling ‘Strawberry Milkshake’, and the ferocious ‘Lacerate’.

“Is it always like this in your city?” asks guitarist Katelyn Molgard.  The Stokes Croft Block Party has been raging all day outside the doors of the Crofters Rights, and it’s starting to get messy.  Molgard looks impressed.  Yes, Bad Waitress, it’s always like that here.  Come back soon, come back often.

“Tonight is the first sold out show of the tour.  That’s not a coincidence, right?  You know people.  We know the same people.  Hmmmm.”

Gammill seems to be suggesting that most of us are only here because Gustaf toured with IDLES in the US recently.  Hey, this is Bristol!  Folks know who is buzzy around here, you know.

Wait – rubber chicken?!?

If Gustaf had a Wikipedia page, it would probably describe Thiessen as being ‘backing vocalist’, but that would be akin to describing Bez as ‘roadie’.  She does perform both female and robot-male backing vocals (using a distorted mic), but also adds a wide range of percussive colour, including what appears to be an empty pineapple can, and yes, a rubber chicken.  Wild.

Only slightly less surreal is Gammill pulling out a flute.  You don’t see the flute at a punk rock show very often.  Still, if you’ve got it, flaut it (groan).

Much of the hype around this band seems to have been around the way that Gammill, formerly an improv comic, takes the songs off in unique directions in the live arena, telling random tales as the band plays behind her.  Tonight, though, the main attempt at this, a twenty-minute drunk-philosophy-at-3am discussion of the word ‘strong’ (wait, it was only three minutes? Felt like twenty) during the breakdown of ‘Mine’, falls painfully flat.

This really typifies a lot of what comes through in this set.  There’s a lot of fairly inane lyrics, and a lot of repetition too.  Plenty of words, but not much being said.

That said, tonight’s set has much to enjoy.  The songs are groovy and uptempo, the delivery is chirpy and sharp, and there isn’t a soul in the crowd who isn’t moving along in some shape or form.  Sonically, there is definitely some interesting stuff going on at times.

There’s plenty of style here.  Whether there is the substance to back it up is debatable.  As a fun dance-punk knockabout (think Radio 4 – the band, not the station), though, it is more than adequate.

All in all, a very fun time.  Thanks for the recommendation, Mr Talbot.

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.