Much of punk’s initial beauty was in its breaking of the fourth wall that arena rock had built–it allowed the kid who could barely form a power chord to start a band. The genre was an ideology as much as a style of music, and while no one would confuse 2018 for 1977, the ethos of that ideology are as alive now as they were then. The unwritten mindset could be boiled down to a striving for intimacy, for a feeling of unity and equality between the band and the crowd. Priests exhibited that right away at Lincoln Hall, when frontwoman Katie Alice Greer told a story about spilling nail polish backstage before the band played a note.
Throughout the night, the inter-song banter would be casual and conversational. That intimacy broke down, though, when the music began, and Priests seemed to rise above the crowd despite itself. The band has been touring on the back of Nothing Feels Natural since its release in early 2017, and has perfected a rip-roaring set that it has taken all over the world for festivals, supporting gigs and headlining shows. It has become arguably one of the best live bands in the country, and despite the intimate setting on Tuesday, struck a godlike presence.
The stage was decorated with bright flowers, and colored spotlights shined from above, illuminating the vapor that emitted from the smoke machine. It cast the band in a red, teal or purple glow. Strobe lights flashed throughout the set, pushing the many moments of managed chaos to the brink of control. When the music began it was an encompassing experience, a performance in the fullest sense of the word. While the space was small enough for the crowd to hear the jangle of Greer’s bracelets, the combination of a band incredibly in sync and the accompanying lights made the set feel far grander than a club show.
One of its most impressive songs, “Appropriate” began with the ring of Daniele Daniele’s drums before Greer roared in. Guitarist G.L. Jaguar ripped an ominous riff and the band started careening down a scale as Greer repeats “It feels good to buy something you can’t afford.”
It’s a mantra that is emblematic of the band’s satirical, biting political voice. Greer snarls poetic commentary until the abstract fades away and the truth of it sinks into your bones. She sings in the jittery “Puff,” “My best friend says ‘I want to start a band called Burger King’ and I say ‘Do it’/Make your dreams a reality/Achieve your dreams Burger King.”
Priests buzzed through “JJ”, the band’s poppiest tune that included their take on cigarette advertising (“I thought I was a cowboy ‘cause I smoked reds”). Greer introduced “Nicki” as a song “named after Nicki Minaj,” though one would have to stretch to find the inspiration. It played the grunge-funk “Suck” and keep the crowd captivated from start to finish.
But perhaps the highlight of the night was the group’s penultimate number, the title track from Nothing Feels Natural. The closest thing the band has to a ballad, the song is defiant and searching, with instrumentation that felt faraway and vocals which pulled it back to reality. Anyone who had ever talked down to someone felt Greer’s finger jabbing them in the chest when she sang “You can’t talk to me that way.”
It took Priests six years as a band to put together its debut LP. If that is any indication, the group will be touring behind it for a while. And from the way things sounded at Lincoln Hall, the performances will only be getting sharper.