They say the best cure for cold is moving around. If that’s the case, the Diet Cig show last night at Subterranean was probably the healthiest thing that’s happened in the city this week. It was also the most fun thing that’s happened in the city this week.
The show kicked off with two local openers: first Ditch Club, then What Gives. Ditch Club played voracious, straight-shooting punk at a pace that varied from snappy to self-indulgent breakneck. I was rather impressed with singer/guitarist Frank Okay’s solos–they were of the ilk you often don’t find in the genre, and occasionally he sang while performing dexterous countermelodies. From personal experience, I know how much coordination that takes. Meanwhile, Jake Levinson’s bass lines were spry and Lucianne Walkowicz’s bouncing stage presence channeled shades of Joan Jett. When the three sang in unison, they reminded me of a ragtag gang of friendly, vocally talented dogs.
What Gives stepped up next and carried on the punk aesthetic while adding a little more pop influence. They, too, had three vocalists, but key to the band’s sound was not their harmonzation but rather the overlapping of guitarist Andy Hendricks, bassist Joe Henderer, and drummer Marcus Nuccio. Their voices interwove to create some dense lyrical tapestries on songs like “Julianne” and the superbly-named “Slime Time Live.” Henderer, in particular, was a joy to watch on stage, at one point shaking his beanie from his head in mindless ecstasy. Meanwhile, keyboardist Delia Hornik hardly moved and her facial expression hardly changed from its base placidity, but her melodies were crucial to opening up the band’s sound and allowing Hendricks to do more interesting things on his guitar.
After the usual wait, Diet Cig’s Alex Luciano descended the iconic spiral staircase and immediately began jumping around and stretching like a track athlete. “My hardcore side project is gonna be called Deep Lunge,” she bantered to the front of the crowd, drawing laughter. But the stretching definitely wasn’t for show. Luciano needed every bit of flexibility and muscle looseness to prepare for the solid half-hour of constant workout she was about to put on display.
I’ve never seen a more energetic frontperson of a band. Whenever she wasn’t singing and shimmying into the microphone, Luciano was leaping and jumping and running to all corners and edges of the stage, throwing in leg kicks, standing on top of Noah Bowman’s kick drum before nimbly leaping off. Remarkably, none of the kinetic energy felt forced. Luciano’s natural state is a compact ball of stellar fusion, channeled whenever she slings her guitar over her shoulders and gets up on a stage. Even her banter felt like an injection of joy; it was impossible to get upset with the cold, because she could wear her favorite LL Bean vest, and her forays on Tinder to get people out to Diet Cig’s show in DeKalb on Tuesday were weird, but definitely a fun experience! Nietzsche would’ve been proud of Luciano’s life affirmation.
The most amazing thing is that when she descended into the crowd, pumping out the chords to “Harvard” at the end of the set, it became apparent that she’s tiny–probably a shade above five feet tall. She was a constantly smiling imp, and she put a spell on the entirety of the audience that made it impossible not to join in her joie de vivre. When the floor of the venue is quaking from the force of the crowd’s movement, you know the band on stage has them totally immersed–and SubT felt like at least a magnitude 5 on the Richter scale.
The music itself was just as infectious as Luciano’s dancing. It came in short bursts, proving that you only need two minutes to tell a musical story if the lyrics are blunt and the song moves fast. Diet Cig played their entire recorded discography to date–seven songs–in probably a hair less than twenty minutes. They supplemented that with a few new songs (one, called “Tummy Ache,” is about how much the patriarchy sucks), but still, after a half hour it was all over. I don’t know if that will fly when they invariably begin playing larger venues and having to charge more for tickets, but for now, it’s perfect; the set was everything I wanted, there was no time to get bored (or even a possibility of boredom–corpses would have imbibed the energy and pulled Bernies), and the songs left me feeling refreshingly satisfied with the state of humanity. Luciano’s songwriting talent lies in her ability to inject the mundanity of the world with emotion in the form of viciously strummed chords, crystal clear yells, and simple, catchy melodies, creating a perfectly wrapped bundle of distilled elation.
I’m not sure how anyone mustered the willpower to leave the warmth of Diet Cig’s blazing star and return to the frigid winter air.