If everything was always perfect, they wouldn’t call it punk, right?
The fortuitous night began with a performance from Oceanator, a fuzzy punk project from New York musician Elise Okusami. Channeling both grunge and punk sensibilities, Oceanator proved an effective opener, contributing to the anticipation bubbling up from the growing crowd. Next up was Philadelphia’s own Thin Lips. Lead by Chrissy Tashjian, the veteran punk trio built upon the venue’s energy with powerful guitar riffs and evocative lyrics.
With the two sets done and an audience closely packed in front of the intimate Subterranean stage, all that was left on the bill was Camp Cope, The Land Down Under’s holy trinity of woke-punk. However, it seemed the 4/20 Gods had other plans.
You have to figure a year of touring all around the world cannot leave one’s immune system in good shape, and for Camp Cope’s Kelly-Dawn Hellmrich, unfortunately that meant being too sick to the leave the couch Saturday night. Thankfully though, the band was able to cover the core of their small discography unscathed. With McDonald covering some material solo and Bristol UK’s Lou Hanman of Caves fame assisting on bass for other tracks, overall, the loss of Hellmrich wasn’t devastating — though her presence was certainly missed.
For one thing, the opportunity to see McDonald all on her own allowed her to showcase a tremendous amount of poise and a very impressive vocal range. McDonald’s solo effort on “Flesh Electricity,” a track off of the band’s 2016 self-titled debut, triggered a choir from the audience, voices all across the room hanging on each angular and frustrated lyric. Singing as if alone in her bedroom, McDonald’s ease and candor was almost hypnotic, providing a brief but welcomed break from the band’s headbanging-worthy set.
An even bigger treat was McDonald’s decision to cover a new unreleased track in her solo mini-set. Lucky for us, even just the guitar and vocal skeleton of the unnamed song was impressive, finding McDonald reaching towards both ends of her vocal register. The new track also hinted at the band’s continues effort in diving into more intricate and complex song structures.
Although its already been a full year since the release of the band’s latest record, How To Socialize and Make Friends, it’s content still feels very relevant, even urgent. The anthemic, melody-driven rock constantly treads in heavy water, investigating thorny but very real topics like misogyny in the music industry, guilt/shame induced by a sexual assault and the death of a family member. The result is album as entertaining as it is cathartic — making it one of the best from last year.
Filled with tracks from How to Socialise… including a rousing “The Opener,” as an ironic, albeit fitting, closer, the band’s set similarly did not disappoint. Even better, with every iteration, the band brought something special to the table, a testament to their toughness. And to be completely frank, on the evening of 4/20, I don’t think many people even noticed they were changing lineups the whole time.