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

The Coathangers

live in Philadelphia (2019)

live show

The Coathangers took to the stage of Philly’s Underground Arts on April 20, 2019 looking extremely blissed out. Guitarist/vocalist Julia Kugel announced to the crowd, “Happy 420 y’all!.. I know I sound like a 16 year old, but I don’t care, I still celebrate!” The trio then pulled up the hoods sewn to the back of their dresses and suddenly morphed into a trio of druid Alices. To that end, they opened the show with the new, slow burner “Lithium,” which walks that fine line between Jefferson Airplane and Bauhaus. Kugel herself is able to summon mood-pieces like it's nothing and it truly felt like a personal moment as she detailed pill-horror.

If the gals’ new album The Devil You Know proves anything, it’s that they’re as adept at mood and texture as they are at kicking out razor blade riffs. Case in point, just as the whispery “Lithium” shushed the audience and floated away in a warm haze, the group suddenly launched into an explosive take on “Watch Your Back.” Throughout the night, moreso than ever before, the trio shifted back and forth from mood pieces to sheer sonic destruction. That is to say, the Coathangers have always had a baleful energy that was as exciting as pretty much any ’77 era single, but now they’re underscoring that sound with an oft-dread inducing musing that somehow, kinda, really, super, totally rocks out.

All of that rambling is to say that it was apropos that the costumes on this tour are Wonderland ensembles coated in gold because the Coathangers are in a golden era. The set pulled all its tracks from the last five years save “Cheap Cheap” and both their last two LPS, Devil and Nosebleed Weekend took up the majority of the set. Nice play. Devil and Nosebleed contrast each other nicely with the former exhibiting a sort of interstellar view of how things are and the later being an ID driven punk rock basher. Live, this was true too with the Nosebleed tracks REALLY being jacked up. The hardcore breakdown on “Down, Down” ripped like Minor Threat. “Burn Me” manifested in a super interesting version with the lyrics stripped all the way back to just the refrain and nothing else, approaching a, dare I say, Samhain-ish haunting violence?

Likewise, Devil tracks are perhaps a bit more nuanced, yet live, the group kept the unspoken emotion in the songs . Nearly the entire album was played and tracks like “5 Farms” and “Stranger Danger” flipped from cold spookiness to hot fire. “Junkies climbing up the walll…” Kugel snarled whiled drummer/vocalist Stephanie Luke smashed back with those wonderfully sparking vocals. Also, “Fuck the NRA.” C’mon man. That track puts most D-Beat bands to shame.

It’s not secret that the power of the Coathangers comes from their combined skills. Throughout the night, Kugel kicked out snare-trap riff after snare trap rift while flipping from a crazed maniac to a sort of wounded soul, only for Luke to come in cut everyone down. (How about when she went full on Alice Bag during “Shut Up!” WHOA). Then, just as those two went for the one-two punch, bassist Meredith Franco exhibited a sort of eviscerating, cold glare with the knee breaking version of “burn Me” and perhaps moreso, “Wipe Out.”

The Coathangers are on a hot streak, for sure. They’re evolving while keeping what makes them special at their core- and that’s making its way to their live set and creating, perhaps, amore varied and potent live show. They’re not doing exactly what they were doing ten years ago, or even five, but if their earnest lyrics suggest anything, it’s not about being what you were, it’s about being what you are. And, what the Coathangers are, right now, is on fire.

Before the Coathangers played, Seattle’s Big Bite rumbled through a full set of full on grunge-punk. While 2018’s Big Bite seemed to have a sort of cold, Joy Division dread to it, live they were a bit looser and aggressive. The result was a set of enjoyable, bare-knuckle rock that was both introspective and forceful. Bassist Erica Miller (who played a substantial part in making the live renditions of Big Bite tracks so vibrant) kept talking to her 88 year old Grandma, who was in the audience, throughout the set, which was hilarious and cute.

The show opened with Philly’s own Sixteen Jackies which took the classic garage rock formula and twisted in some John Waters’ style commentary and flair. It was a good play. Stright up garage has pretty much been mined to death, but by applying a new texture over the old skeleton, the group was able to do something new all while being reverent to those Nuggets classics.