This Weekend In New York: Habibi, Natural Child, Liturgy, And Zola Jesus Bring Catharsis To Manhattan


In Waste Of Paint, our writer/artist team of Jamie Peck and Debbie Allen will review goings-on about town in words and images.

This weekend we found ourselves in the rare situation that all the shows we wanted to see were in “the city”: one at the Lower East Side’s anachronistically good Cake Shop, the other at hulking mega-club Webster Hall. Maybe it’s time to remove that “give Manhattan back to the Indians” pin from my messenger bag.

Friday we hit up Cake Shop for a bill of bands all loosely associated with the American garage-punk scene, or whatever you want to call it. Following a grungy set from Dead Stars, Habibi took the stage. Fronted by the shyly charismatic Rahill Jamalifard, they delivered a competent set of midtempo guitar pop steeped in nostalgia, both in form (’60s girl group harmonies) and content (“the leaves are changing”). They could have moved around a bit more—that Vivian Girls circa ’09 stiffness seems to affect a disproportionate number of new female artists, maybe because women are disproportionately likely to be accused of poor musicianship—but their catchy melodies generated enough energy to get heads bopping, and bits of feminist satire like “she’s a tomboy, tomboy/ she’s got herself an ego, ego” seemed descended straight from Bikini Kill.

In contrast to Habibi’s crisp delivery, Nashville all-guy band Natural Child seemed utterly unafraid of messiness; in fact, I’m pretty sure it’s their “thing.” From the first moment of banter, they made it clear that they were dirty Southern boys there to help us get fucked up and party. “Well I guess it’s about time to do this, what do you say, Cousin Wez?” asked front dude Seth Murray in an exaggerated Southern accent. “Why don’t we show these New Yorkers what country music’s all about?” Then, later: “Where’s the joint, yo?” (Answer: In the front row and about to be passed to them.) The music was a rather straightforward rehashing of the four influences listed on their Facebook page (“BOB DYLAN: ROLLING STONES: BLACK SABBATH: THIN LIZZY”), heavily weighted towards the Stones. They also share the classic rockist’s fetishization of African-Americans, as evidenced in a roundabout way by lyrics like “white people can’t keep a steady groove/ ’cause there ain’t no rhythm in the way that they move.” (Black people, on the other hand, are perpetually groovy rhythm machines! And so good at singing! Do you see how these statements are potentially problematic? I should probably unpack this in a longer article or link to one that’s already been written.) This is starting to sound negative, so I’ll also note that the vibe in the room was beer-soaked, exuberant and massively fun… almost enough for me to ignore that the tagline in their press materials is “take a big whiff and suck our dicks.”

Saturday we went to Webster Hall for the mildly incongruous combination of Liturgy and Zola Jesus. Talk Normal started things off at the not-very-metal hour of 7 p.m. with sparse, percussive, art rock humanized by often wordless female vocals. A whole bunch of nerdy-looking folks arrived just in time for Liturgy, whose newly drummerless set-up reflects a departure from the traditional trappings of black metal. (Whether this will mollify or further enrage metal purists like the creator of the now-defunct Facebook group “Hunter Hunt0Hendrix Come Fight Me” remains to be seen.) Utilizing an electronic drum machine, the duo played re-worked versions of songs off Aesthetica; repetition, chaos, cacophony, drones, vocal roars, and the occasional monk-like chant evoked a sort of constructive, spiritual transcendence. This music is best experienced in small, dark rooms under the influence of mind-altering substances, but even totally sober in a huge, chilly club full of people who would not shut up during the quiet parts, it blew my mind.

*I guess I should add a “full disclosure” here about how I know Hunter from college. If that undermines my opinion on Liturgy, so be it, but I can also use my firsthand knowledge of him to answer a question posed by many who’ve read (or, more likely, heard about) his paper on transcendental black metal, namely: “is this guy for serious?” You betcha! Whatever you think of his ideas, there’s not an ounce of cynicism there. Dude lives and breathes for this stuff, and if you bring up Nietzsche at a party, he will discuss philosophy with you until everyone else has left. Also, he really does meditate.

After Liturgy’s elemental freakout, the bleak synth-pop of Zola Jesus felt like a veritable warm blanket, a reviving elixir to bring us back to the tangible, quotidian world of regular time signatures and human emotions. (This dovetails well with the fact that Zola Jesus, a.k.a. Nika Roza Danilova, is an avowed atheist.) As you may know, said world is full of suffering, and Danilova does an amazing job expressing that with her powerful alto. Although it would’ve been enough just to hear that voice, Danilova spiced things up by running around the stage in her white space cape making spastic movements with her arms and body, at one point even jumping down into the audience to dance with everyone. A look around at her singing, swaying, kissing fans confirmed it: Catharsis had been achieved.