Live: Warpaint Cheerfully Bust Up Your Sad-Sack Reverie At Webster Hall


Webster Hall
Wednesday, December 1

Better Than: Another night trapped in a space the width of your headphones, that’s for sure.

Warpaint live is a disconcerting experience. They’re smiling! The bass player is dancing (and wearing overalls)! People in the crowd are dancing! There’s a crowd at all! You’re not alone in your bedroom, curled up in the fetal position, bawling uncontrollably! The all-female L.A. quartet generally seems built for solitude — for abject 4 a.m. dark-night-of-the-soul solo wallowing. Their stupendous debut full-length, The Fool, triangulates Moon Pix-era Cat Power’s ghostly, morbid, gorgeous bedroom folk with the Slits’ lithe, muscular post-punk, but the latter style dominates onstage, thanks mostly to drummer Stella Mozgawa, a dervish of brash snare cracks, liquid drum rolls, emphatic soundman-hailing gestures, and rampant giggling. Everybody uncurl, stop bawling, and get ahold of yourselves.

On The Fool breathy, mournful voices dart at you from everywhere, an omniscient and anonymous Greek chorus of woe, but live it’s slightly more linear, Theresa Wayman and Emily Kokal trading off jagged guitar lines and forceful lead vocals: “How can I keep my composure?” howls the latter; “Why can’t I just get it together?” laments the former; “You could have been my king,” they note in unison. Whereas the quietest, least audacious songs hit hardest offstage — the devastated, uncomfortably intimate acoustic-guitar waltz “Baby,” say, or the particularly Cat Power-indebted “Billie Holiday,” off last year’s Exquisite Corpse EP, wherein they spell out Billie’s name for the chorus (B-I-L-L-IIIIIII-E H-O-L-I-D-A-YYYYYYYY) and refashion the lyrics to “My Guy” into a tearful eulogy — neither show up in the set list tonight. Too emo, too insular.

Instead, Mozgawa and bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg keep things from wallowing with a rumbling, constantly shifting, surprisingly loud Public Image Ltd. sort of menace, brittle and ominous. The best songs tonight are wracked with tempo-altering mood swings, several top-shelf Cure riffs fused together, “Composure” opening with another funereal waltz but speeding up into a percussive Bloc Party jam, “Beetles” veering back and forth between a shuffle and a sprint. There’s a lightness, a glee, to even their darkest odes to abandonment and defenestration, their light between-song banter further lightening the mood (“This song’s called ‘Set Your Arms Down,’ bitch,” or maybe it’s “This song’s called “‘Set Your Arms Down, Bitch.'”). The crowd hoots at every bombastic drum break, and there are plenty to hoot at. It’s startling to watch people enjoying themselves while playing these songs, and watching people in the crowd enjoy them. It’s also a relief.

Critical Bias: I recently declared my love for The Fool, and someone’s response was, “Have you cried yet?”

Overheard: No wise-ass one-liners tonight, perhaps because MTV’s cameras are all over the place and everyone’s busy trying to look cool.

Random Notebook Dump:I get all excited when I glance at the marquee and see that Donovan is playing Webster’s main stage tonight, but nah, it’s Donovan Frankenreiter.

Set List
Set Your Arms Down