(Le Butcherettes at Lollapalooza)

The best live show that I have seen so far in 2011 has come courtesy of Le Butcherettes. Minding my own business and casually stopping by to check out what their performance was like this past summer at Lollapalooza, I became so enamored with what they were doing on stage that I could not pull myself away to go see the other bands I had also marked off in that time slot. The promise I made to myself at that time was that I’d never miss another Le Butcherettes show in Chicago again. They were simply too good to miss. There are very few bands I can say that about, because while so many have energy and are sonically virile, few actually embrace the idea that a performance can also be art. Naturally then, I was excited to hear that Le Butcherettes were coming back through town on a fall headlining tour, making a stop by the under 500 capacity venue Subterranean. Tagging along with them would be two great Chicago bands, White Mystery and Gypsyblood.

While I tried my best to make it for the very start ot the show, I unfortunately missed the entirety of White Mystery’s set. I’ve seen the duo perform live before and they’re excellent and worth seeing even if you do have to show up early to see them. Gypsyblood was the meat in this band sandwich, and thankfully I was able to catch all of their 30 minute set. The band released their record “Cold in the Guestway” this past spring, and it’s a pretty solid lo-fi post-punk collection of tracks, one part Black Lips, one part Liars and one part Joy Division. The ramshackle garage sound echoes well in their live show, which was largely fuzzy but never to the point where it degraded any of their melodies and hooks. The sheer number of “oohs” and “aahs” and “woos” also made it easy enough to sing along even if you didn’t know the words, and it was clear from the packed house that was the case with many. But the band appeared to be having a blast on stage, bringing a fun energy that charmed upon impact and had more than a few people close to the stage dancing like nobody was watching. The further towards the back you went though, the more people you spotted randomly chatting or paying closer attention to their phones than what was happening on stage. Not everybody could be considered a fan and not everybody was willing to be won over by these clearly talented guys. Still, expect to hear more about Gypsyblood sooner rather than later as they do more touring and charm more people.

There are a few things about Le Butcherettes’ set at Lollapalooza that didn’t make for easy repetition. First and foremost was the stage size, as festivals build huge spaces to accomodate the crowds, and Subterranean is miniscule by comparison. Secondly, for this tour normal drummer Gabe Serbian and bassist Jonathan Hischke were not along for the ride. Whether or not they’re simply out of the band or just not tagging along for the handful of November dates, their presence was missed anyways. Teri Gender Bender is obviously the central focus of any Le Butcherettes live show, but those two guys both brought a dynamic energy all their own to the point where Serbian began violently puking during the band’s Lollapalooza show out of sheer heat exhaustion. Hischke bounces around the stage with a style that draws some solid comparisons to Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Replacing them on Friday night and for this brief fall tour was Omar Rodriguez-Lopez on bass and an unnamed female on drums. Rodriguez-Lopez you may be familiar with either for his work in At the Drive-In/The Mars Volta or even solo, but he’s also the one credited with “discovering” Le Butcherettes and pulling them from the clubs in Mexico and onto the worldwide radar. He produced and played bass on all the songs on the band’s debut record “Sin Sin Sin” as well, so there was some charm in seeing him reprise that role for this tour. Yet he also shied away from any sort of spotlight or distinction on his own, standing off on the side of the stage the entire show next to the drum kit and giving Teri all of the spotlight. She of course is more than equipped to take the reins and run with it, which she did with her usual gusto and aplomb.

Things started on a relatively quiet note for Le Butcherettes, with Teri Gender Bender behind her keyboard and grinding out a moderately subdued (and ultimately lengthy) melody. It was a relatively odd choice to open with, particularly because most bands come charging out of the gate with something high energy and fun to immediately get the crowd in a good mood. What this did instead was lull much of the crowd into a false sense of security while quietly building tension for exhilarating moments of release. It wasn’t altogether perfect, but it worked in its own sort of way. Things didn’t really settle into a groove until Teri picked up a guitar, at which point the thrashing and head banging truly began. “Bang!” was most definitely an early highlight, as was “Dress Off”, both largely encapsulating what Le Butcherettes do best on stage, with Teri showing off her unique dance moves and getting interactive with the crowd. She was relatively restricted in her movements, given the small space on the Subterranean stage, but still managed to thrill by relying on the power of her own vocals and singing sans microphone a couple different times. There were also multiple stage dives that only moderately succeeded due to some of the people at the front that were not fully prepared to provide the necessary support for such a feat. The biggest overall reaction of the night came from “Henry Don’t Got Love”, naturally because it’s the single that has a music video and earned a bit of radio airplay in Chicago and around the country. Many were already jumping around and head banging before the band played it, but anyone that wasn’t yet at that point quickly got there during it. “New York” was also met with a similar sort of passion, even if most of us Chicagoans wished it were about our city instead.

After powering through an hour-long set that included almost the entire “Sin Sin Sin” along with a few older cuts, the crowd was more enthusiastic than ever as the band said goodnight and exited the stage. Naturally, an encore was demanded, and Teri was kind enough to give one, albeit in her own sort of way. Taking the stage solo, she picked up a drum stick and climbed atop the bass drum. No guitar and no keyboards, she relied purely on percussion and vocals for a quick 90 second song as one final treat for devoted fans. Above all else, that was a remarkable example of the power of Le Butcherettes – specifically that Teri could probably have spent the entire set with just a drum stick in hand and a microphone at her lips (or, some would argue, no microphone is needed) and it would have been just as engaging. The music is an important part of the equation for any band, but the performance art aspect of it bears an equal or greater share with Le Butcherettes. From Teri’s intense stares to her vocal tics to her stomps, head bangs and dancing, it’s tough not to watch such a spectacle without your eyes wide and mouth agape. While their Subterranean show lacked some of the fluidity and overt drama of their Lollapalooza set, Le Butcherettes remain a must-see live act no matter the venue. Hopefully as their star continues to rise, they won’t lose any of that magic.

Le Butcherettes – Henry Don’t Got Love
Le Butcherettes – New York

Buy “Sin Sin Sin” from Amazon

12/01 – Los Angeles, CA @ The Palladium
12/04 – San Francisco, CA @ The Warfield
12/06 – San Francisco, CA @ The Warfield