Photography by Laura Knapp
Is there a more appropriate album title this year than Rips? The album is just 35 minutes of pure bliss, a quick punch to the gut of anyone who dares say that rock is dead. It hits that sweet spot between high voltage riffage and sweet pop melodies: “Yeah yeah yeahs”, “Oooohs” and all of the other vocal idiosyncrasies that have prevailed throughout pop’s history are in full force and are forcefully placed over Mary Timony’s buzzsaw chordology, putting Rips somewhere in the intersection of Richard Hell meets The Go-Gos. There have been plenty of great major rock records this year, but Rips might take the cake for pure, power-pop energy.
However, I do get the feeling that it may have been, perhaps, unfairly overlooked by some because of the news of Ex Hex pal Carrie Brownstein getting her old band back together. I’m not trying to make things into a contest here, the reunion news is unfathomably awesome, but let’s just not forget that Rips is a kicking record that seems almost tailor-made for a great live show.
I’ll admit that I’m also guilty of drawing that comparison. After seeing Wild Flag (Mary and Carrie’s recently dissolved supergroup) kick ass four times during their short-but-sweet existence (hey, here’s hoping for another album one day?), I was a little nervous I’d miss the near telepathic interplay that Mary and Carrie shared. However, the classic power trio formation really fits Ex Hex. Laura Harris (drums) and Betsy Wright (bass and lead vocals on a couple of tracks) brought a Moon/Entwistle-esque thunder to Allston’s Great Scott with Wright doing her best impersonation of The Ox by throwing out a handful of quick riffs and fills.
It also helps that Mary Timony is one of the raddest guitar players around. Her tone is always spot-on with a beautifully sizzling distortion that exudes power and confidence. With a sly smile on her face, she tears into the most melodic guitar lines with relative ease and a set of chords that are inspired by some of the late 70s finest: Johnny Thunders, Tom Verlaine, and Robert Quine.
This was a no-frills, all-thrills, pure rock show: No light show and not even a banner in the background. Great Scott doesn’t have the means to put on that type of show, though it makes up for it in spades with a great, fun atmosphere. The only real prevailing aesthetic were the two Orange amps tightly packed near an orange drum kit whose bass drum was adorned with a drawing of a massive spider threatening to devour the Ex Hex logo.
If you want the setlist, just pick up a copy of Rips and check the tracklisting on the back. The trio tore through the majority of that album with the exception of “War Paint”, which was replaced with a cover. And even though they’ve been playing it for most of the tour, their cover of “All Kindsa Girls” by Boston’s very own The Real Kids went down as a real treat for most of the audience and got, perhaps, the biggest response. Considering the song features a line that goes “I’ll take the green line girls, she’s going to the square,” and Great Scott is on the green line … Well, it was pretty location perfect.
The simplicity of Ex Hex is their most charming and appealing feature. What you see is what you get, and it’s damn good stuff. Banter was at a minimum with Mary saying a quick hello after a few songs, but it was mostly just riff after riff. It was almost as if they were recording Rips before your very eyes: every song a thrilling prospect, played with precision, passion, and energy.