The Coathangers - Live in Philadelphia (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

The Coathangers

Live in Philadelphia (2017)

live show

Listen, it’s never easy to rock the big stage. There is a lot of room up there. There’s a big barrier between the band and the audience. Even sound reverberates differently from massive speakers than it does from tiny club blasters, which often results in many-a-band (gulp) slowing down the tempo of their music for maximum “clap along effect.” AC/DC and Joan Jett, I am looking at you.

Many rising club bands have been cut down by this space, finding that while they can blast down 200 or so people, filling a warehouse with energy is an entirely different beast. So, I was curious as to how the Coathangers, who I have seen rock the club show, would approach Philly’s famed (and cavernous) Electric Factory- a venue that has humbled more bands that you can count with its challenging acoustics- at Project Pabst Fest. (The old school video games outside the venue were a nice touch, by the way).

Well, what can I say but masterstroke, Coathangers, masterstroke. Thankfully, the band did not take the stadium strategy and slow down and simplify their songs. To the contrary, knowing that they had a void to fill, they revved up their tunes and made them noiser and more chaotic. “Perfume” is a gauzy tune on the record, but when they played it live, they beefed up the riffs and turned it into a biting attack. Guitarist Julia Kugel both gave her riffs a cracking combustibility all while adding more bite to her vocal deliver. The line “Stop dragging me around” went from a languishing plea on the studio version to a hard demand in the live setting.

Likewise, when bassist Meredith Franco took the vocals on “Wipe Out,” the band pushed the song from speedy to new wave rocker to hardcore thrasher. Fittingly, Franco retained her deadpan-with-a-hint-of-derision vocal delivery, which underscored how much character these songs have. See also “Shut the Fuck Up” when Stephanie Luke left the drum kit (Kugel filled in) and paced across the stage ranting and raving in a way that was reminiscent of the artful nihilism of the early punk scene. It really isn’t easy to fill big room with the intimacy and ferocity of straight up punk ragers, but these three women did and made it look easy.

And then there was “Parasite.” Oh man. On record “Parasite” is a ’77 punk refereincg number with it’s compact attack and screamed lyrics. In Philly, they tripled down on their effort and when Kugel got to the line “parasites, they’re making me lose my mind” she actually hissed out “Parasites! They’re rrrrgggg arrrrggg rrrnnnnggg hssssss!!!!” Dude, it was intense and awesome and I don’t know if Coathangers really think of themselves as a “punk” or just “A band” but that line alone proved that these gals embody the danger, mania, and intelligence of the punk greats and are doing it right.

To further that point, their whole 45 minute set was composed almost entirely of songs from their last two releases, the Nosebleed Weekend LP and the Parasite EP. The fact is, these releases are a highpoint in the band’s career. So, similar to how the Stones played all of Some Girls on the ’78 tour despite having a massive back catalogue, and similar to how OFF! refuses to play any material from the earlier bands of the members, the Coathangers are making it a point to focus on the here and now and to show that their newest material is their nest material. Of course, that’s kind of easy to do when your new material is some of the best music of the past two years, but even so!

Not only are The Coathangers writing the best music of their 10 year career, but they are absolutely ferocious live- but in that ferocity, there’s still a core of thoughtfulness, style, and vulnerability. No easy task! As hard as it is to kick it on the big stage, it’s even harder to do it honestly. Mind you, you don’t do things like scream “rrrrgggg arrrrggg rrrnnnnggg hssssss!!!!” instead of actual words unless you’re being totally, completely honest.

Side note: Coathangers, please put out a live album. This needs to be documented!