The Raincoats
Warsaw, Brooklyn, September 16
by Stephen Slaybaugh

While on paper, the idea of a bunch of predominantly female bands playing at a Polish ballroom sounds a bit odd, but in practice it made for an exemplary night. Last Friday, the Warsaw, a Knitting Factory–run venue housed in the National Polish Home, hosted art-punk legends The Raincoats, who were joined by openers No Bra and Grass Widow, and in addition to the availability of pierogies and Zywiec beer, there were many reasons to love the setting.

Slow door people was not one of them, however. A line that wrapped around the Warsaw’s large facade meant that by the time I made it into the ballroom, Grass Widow was finishing up their set of herky jerky post-punk pop, which was a shame as the couple songs I did catch were on-point. Nevertheless, it’s not like I’m about to get on Yelp and complain, especially given the impeccable sound and general pulchritude of the venue.

Moreover, The Raincoats didn’t seem to wait around for anticipation to build, instead taking the stage as soon as it was set for them. They began with “No Side to Fall In” from their 1979 self-titled debut. With Anne Woods’ staccato violin notes weaving between the sung-shouted refrains and sparse rhythm and riffs, it was the perfect invocation as it sort of summarizes The Raincoats’ aesthetic in less than two minutes. Indeed, while Ana da Silva and Gina Burch formed the band during the heyday of punk, they, in many ways, anticipated the mutations of the genre that would incorporate worldly rhythms from abroad and pair things back to their most essential bits. Live, the band never attempted to fill out their songs unnecessarily. As da Silva and Burch traded parts and instruments throughout the show (with Woods getting involved in the instrument-swapping too at times), it became obvious that their every gesture was important.

Highlights of the performance came with “Shouting Out Loud,” the bittersweet swoon that leads off the recently reissued Odyshape, and “Don’t Be Mean,” the band’s rewriting of Patti Smith’s chapbook off of their 1996 comeback, Looking in the Shadows. Here, da Silva and Burch revealed that, though they’ve added some wrinkles over the years, their voices remain as honeyed as ever. Even, the oddball “Babydog,” an ode to choosing a pet over children also from Shadows, was strangely charming. Their set was not without a couple false starts as they struggled to remembered a chord or two, but they worked through them without the least bit of frustration. For their encore, they finished with standout single “Fairytale in the Supermarket” and the velvety “In Love” (from the debut), culminating in a joyful confluence of voices and instrumentation. If one had stumbled upon the show, whatever gravitas the occasion possessed certainly wouldn’t have been apparent, but the sheer beatitude couldn’t be missed.