Thursday, September 29, 2022

Energy! It's my currency!

DOWN AT THE ROCK AND ROLL CLUB—I caught Amyl and The Sniffers at The Vic in Chicago last night—a packed show on a Wednesday. I was hopeful to hear the great Amy Taylor and her band play two songs in particular. One was "Control," and the band obliged by opening the show with it. I was taken aback, as I'd imagined that the manifesto would be an ideal mid-set scorcher, poised as a kind of sonic ballast for a show that might come undone by its own energy. As an opening number, "Control" had a different role, laying down the law: I like control. It's the reason I exist.

And Taylor was in full command, bounding onstage with her mates precisely at nine o'clock wearing tight, bright-blue short shorts and a midriff-baring monokini, a grinning, bleached-blonde dynamo running circles around the stage that she owned. The band—Fergus Romer on bass, Bryce Wilson on drums, and Dec Martens on a Flying-V guitar—anchored Taylor, or tried to, with their stocky riffs and low-end rumble. Wilson and Romer were shirtless within a couple of songs. I was three-deep in the roiling crowd at stage right, feet away from Martens and a mammoth speaker stack and had to fight a muddy mix all night. Martens's melodic leads, so distinctive and propulsive on the band's newer material, were sometimes lost in the roar, and even Taylor's considerable pipes lost out occasionally to the venue's acoustics, a problem I hadn't experienced before at The Vic. But no matter: neither a murky sound nor Taylor's thick Australian-accented, between-song patter interfered with the show's message. Amyl and the Sniffers' blend of righteousness, intensity, and grins (there were fart jokes) makes for a lively, thrilling night. (Energy they can muster even while serenading a river at dusk.) I left covered in sweat and not a little beer. This is an exciting time for the band, as it feels like they're in ascension. This was their second visit to Chicago in 2022 on the Comfort To Me tour, and most post-show accounts along the long road indicate panting adoration. The leap in ambition from the band's debut album to last year's remarkable Comfort To Me was startling and exciting, and I can't wait to see where the band takes their stomping punk rock next. 

There were so many highlights in the barreling, nineteen-song set: the mini-narrative of "Security" had the crowd sing-yelling along to Taylor's efforts to get into a pub where she's looking for love, not for trouble—the sentiment seemed to warm an already humid room—; the brilliant road-trip tale "Hertz" careened as it should, Martens's riff driving the song around dangerous curves and bends (the impression was of the century-old Vic itself creaking and banking into the hysterical chorus, where Taylor commands "Take me to the beach! Take me to the country!" like she's got a gun to your head); the anthemic "Got You" turned into a declaration of love between the crowd and the band, just as I'd hoped, and figured, it would. And "Shake Ya" positively shook us. The elated "Guided By Angels" was especially remarkable, a song which declarations of personal agency and spirit-lifted independence was mirrored in the crowd's response. I took note of the many women around me vibing off the tune: two in front of me turned to each other during the chorus and loudly sang along to the lines "Energy, good energy and bad energy, I've got plenty of energy, it's my currency!" They were hyped and plugged in, and Amy Taylor was their source. Her onstage rambunctiousness—the toothy smile, the speed walking, the body-building poses, the slaps-on-the-ass (hers)—is not only a blast to see, it's empowering in the best ways, as she's clearly being herself, and having a lot of fun doing so, strutting with dudes behind her. Freaks to the front.


The second song I'd hoped for was the extraordinary "Knifey," one of the most powerful and moving rock and roll songs I've heard in years. Sensing the occasion, the normally scurrying Taylor stood still in front of her mic, bathed in a bit of blue light. She sang about the anger and frustration she feels being unable to walk by a river in the dark or enjoy the evening stars alone without fear of assault, and the performance was forceful, the band pushing the raw lyrics with the assertiveness that they deserve. I think that Taylor is sensing that "Knifey" is becoming her signature song. The identification with the women in the crowd was palpable, and poignant; so many around me were singing along in bittersweet recognition, playing out their own vexed memories or imagining a nervous walk home from the show. It was a killer, mid-paced performance, the anger tightly controlled, and when they followed the song with the savage set closer "Some Mutts (Can't Be Muzzled)," the segue felt redundant. Taylor had already bared her fangs. 

After "Knifey," Taylor stepped to the mic and said that she knows that the women in the room understand that song, but she bets that some of the men do, too. A moment later a guy behind me turned to his friend, another male, and asked, "What did she say?" His tone was earnest, not dismissive. He was curious. My bets are with Taylor: he got the message anyway.

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