November 23rd, 2016 at Once Ballroom
By: Jason Crouse
Just two trains and a bus ride away in a tiny club in Somerville, Boston natives PWR BTTM and friends kicked off the Thanksgiving season with a night of tacos, witty banter, deafeningly loud rock music, and a whole lot of glitter. Leading up to the duo were Lisa Prank and Bellows, two acts you may have never heard of before who, after this national tour, have definitely received a great deal of the recognition they deserve.
Robin Edwards, better known by the pseudonym Lisa Prank, was first to warm up the crowd. With her upbeat pop tunes that combined tracks played from an iPhone with singing and bright guitar accompaniment, Prank was able to take a seemingly minimalist setup and fill the entire room with a raw, emotional sound. Aided by her charm and positivity, Prank captivated the entire audience and each and every person was doing so much more than the “pity head-bob” that smaller, less well-known openers usually receive from the crowd. Some were dancing, many a dab occurred, and a few lone souls in the crowd even knew her lyrics well enough to sing along. Lisa Prank’s very presence couldn’t help but put a smile on the face of everyone in the room, and her music was thoroughly enjoyable and noteworthy as well.
Following Lisa Prank were Brooklyn natives Bellows, who created a moderate contrast to Lisa Prank as they blended a folky sound with heavy distorted rock vibes to create a fairly unique combination. I wasn’t sure whether I was meant to dance or just calmly sway while Bellows played, because the feel of their performance changed drastically with each successive song, but this unpredictability kept everyone on their toes and actually encouraged me to pay attention more than I already was. Bellows were also able to create rich vocal harmonies that were simple in construction yet sounded full and powerful, they even had me floored for a good minute at their sound. As a whole, this band was impressive as a live act, although their music itself didn’t stand out to me as much as I would have hoped. Their sound was interesting and engaging, though if I were to hear one of their songs prerecorded I likely wouldn’t realize that it was Bellows.
PWR BTTM isn’t the kind of band to show up to a performance unnoticed. Members Liv Bruce, Ben Hopkins, and touring bassist Nicholas Cummings took the stage to raucous applause, sporting their signature iconic fashion — Hopkin’s face was covered in heaps of glitter and each member wore outfits that defied all concepts of a gender binary. Having seen PWR BTTM once already only a month or two ago, I knew that I was going to have a great time for the next hour, though after recent events, it was evident that the mood of this show would be quite different. Not only was the stress and worry surrounding the recent election on the minds of everyone in the room, but the band itself was still recovering from a robbery where their van and all their equipment was stolen (though thanks to a crowdfunding effort, their goal of $16,000 to replace everything was met in just about 24 hours). Much to everyone’s delight, it seemed as if these musician’s spirits were not very easily crushed. Hopkins and Bruce went back and forth with their typical peppy repartee and only occasionally paused to address more serious topics, whether it be the fundraiser being held at the merch table for Standing Rock or their policy of inclusivity, where they reassured the audience that each PWR BTTM show was to be a place of comfort and safety for any and all of their fans.
Along with the banter that went on between songs, Bruce and Hopkins wowed the audience with their incredible musical talent. Despite remarking that they “never really learned to play guitar,” Hopkins’ intricate guitar riffs and solos were nothing short of spectacular. Bruce began the evening on drums, though halfway through the performance the two switched spots to display their proficiency in not one instrument, but two. While some of PWR BTTM’s songs brought back feelings of teenage angst and frustration that make you want to head-bang like nobody’s watching, others evoked common feelings of nostalgia or a yearning for love and romance that is oh-so-relatable for the audience of older teens and young adults. The duo’s spot-on way of capturing the most revealing and basic emotions in the clever complexity of their lyrics and music is likely why so many fans flocked to this show and caused it to be one of the first shows on the tour to totally sell out. Though most of the band’s songs deal with Hopkins’ and Bruce’s own personal experiences with love, sexuality, gender, family, and the world around them, every listener is able to find some sort of connection in the experiences of their own lives. The entire night felt warm and happy, and even a little cathartic, as if everyone in the room was letting out the same frustrations and lifting each other up in the process.