Mannequin Pussy deliver brash rock show fans

“Hairy Armpits” might be two unorthodox words with which to begin a music gig review, but during the last song of Mannequin Pussy’s set, leadsinger  Marisa Dabice lifted up her arms to reveal a couple of little patches of woman jungle.

The glimpse instantly reminded me of a song and associated sentiment from the fairly forgotten early 1980’s anarchist punk band Crass. Their track “Shaved Women Collaborator” was a song about women shaping and sculpting their bodies to meet some kind of media Nazi ideal and to feel more attractive to men, when how nature built them should be the most beautiful. The more women shave the more the ideal alters and the concept of a natural slightly fuzzy woman becomes an increasingly alternative look. Let’s not forget that women who were Nazi collaborators were humiliated by being shaved after the Second World War. It’s a little sad to reflect, but thirty five years on from the days of Crass, we are in an era where there are now also plenty of volunteer “Shaved Men Collaborators”, so perhaps its shame on me for highlighting that Marisa Dabice’s natural look might be felt to be a proud statement.

In a word UNCOMPROMISING.

If you were to cut Mannequin Pussy in half, that word “uncompromising” would be stamped throughout the band in bold capitals. In style, Mannequin Pussy actually rather reminds me of a manic bi-polar Wolf Alice; there’s a very heavy hard guitar backing, frantic drums and alternatively soft cutesy girl vocals, or a harsh woman primeval howl. If you like raw emotion in your music then Mannequin Pussy are certainly primal scream material.

That word uncompromising is good; it’s clear that Mannequin Pussy have a very clear sound in their head, and that’s what they produce with littleconcession to fashion or popularity. Marisa Dabice has spoken about being angry, paranoid and anxious and that’s the mood she shares. I can get that Mannequin Pussy are and will become a cult band; already highly rated by Rolling Stone magazine, I can see Mannequin Pussy achieving the kind of status that other uncompromising artists such as Patti Smith acquire.

Many of the Mannequin Pussy songs last a scant minute, there’s no time for repetition or space to allow that anguish, energy and anger to dissipate. When asked why they don’t make their songs longer, Mannequin Pussy simply said that if you want it longer with repeat chorus and lyrics then play it again back to back.

Even by looking at their name, everything about Mannequin Pussy is about challenge and discomfort. In my middle class British way, I kind of like to imagine a plastic cat modelling cat collars when I think of the name, but let’s be honest. The band are American (from Philadelphia) and my version of the name doesn’t really fly.

I was in Leeds Headrow House to see Mannequin Pussy live. The music stage is on the first floor above the main bar area and below the duo ofoutdoor terrace bars. I had forgotten just how horrible the backdrop behind the stage at Headrow House was; a lit up panel of mess which reminds me of a dodgy 1980’s album cover (err Duran Duran?). It pains me they spent good money on it when a black sheet, a clothes line and a couple of pegs would have done a much cooler job.

So live Mannequin Pussy have an impressively full sound; it was one of those gigs which left my ears satisfyingly buzzing a tad (but not bleeding like after a 1980’s Killing Joke gig). Some female vocals are forceful in the studio but not strong enough live; that’s not the case with Marisa Dabice who is every bit as powerful and masterful on stage as she is in the studio.

Behind her the band are tight; at that speed they have to be. Colins Regisford (known as “Bear”) is a cuddly looking bloke with a cool relaxed bass style; it feels the world around him is going on at three times the pace. The guitar of Thanasi Paul takes the strain and the beat; the drums of Kaleen Reading perhaps lag a touch in the mix rather than lead, but that’s the case in the recordings too,and it lends a pleasing slightly loose feel to what is a tight sound overall.

Mannequin Pussy’s signature song is perhaps Romantic which for this band in a hurry is a leisurely 2:40 in length. Like the band’s music overall, it consists of pulses of gentle quiet and phases of intense emotion. Mannequin Pussy offer anxious paranoid anger for a confused age where there is immense pressure to conform, and in the time of social media where everyone can feel micro managed and commented upon.

Pledge was another song that really caught my imagination. There’s not much time for lyrics in 80 seconds so the message here is clear; a simpleanguished: I pledge allegiance to myself and nothing else, oh nothing. No matter what you do they’re watching you and listening too. The track Kiss meanwhile has a lyric that’s made me think all week since I saw the band: I am not ashamed to be lonely. But I’m afraid to feel it so deeply.

Mannequin Pussy have released two albums so far; one lasts 18 minutes and the other 17 minutes. I was therefore kind of wondering how long the band might manage on stage and had already guessed that a “Cure” style 3 hour ramble was unlikely. In the end they were on for a tidy 40 minutes or so, and given there were 3 support acts I certainly didn’t feel short changed with the overall evening.

Mannequin Pussy are occasional UK visitors and I felt that the evening was a special occasion where I was seeing talented artists with a clear and emotional message to share. If you like your music loud and EMO then you will not regret your evening in the company of emotional genius.

CHRIS READ

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