Rubella Ballet - live in Philadelphia (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Rubella Ballet

live in Philadelphia (2019)

live show

Even the strings on the guitars were Dayglo colored at Rubella Ballet’s Philadelphia show. The anarcho-punkers reformed some time ago with orignal members Zillah Minx and Sid Truelove, but this was their first Philadelphia stop ever and it was clear they wanted to make a statement. Minx and Truelove were literally covered head to toe in their iconic dayglo flair (as opposed to anarcho-punks standard black on black styling). Everything from hair to faces to shoe laces was painted a neon orange, yellow, green, or blue, and just as they cut the lights and flicked on the black lights, the entire band morphed into some kind of electrically-lit aliens. Even their skin changed into a glowing purple, as accentuated by the now brightly charged oranges and greens painted from eye to eye.

The fact is, many modern punk bands could learn a thing or two from these icons. Sure, the wild and perhaps contrarian clothing style can only go so far, but just as it appeared that the band might be all flair and no fire, they kicked into an hour long, wide ranging set. At the root of their sound was the classic early ‘80s anarcho stomp- charging drums, driving bass lines, and guitar lines that are more atmosphere and walls of noise than riffs or notes. But, for every Flux of Pink Indians style blast, the band interjected some classic punk homage, or new wave bounce, goth creepiness, or even avant-garde soundscapes.

Both Minx and Truelove were in fine form. Minx’s voice is still fantastic, and maybe it’s richer than before. One might not appreciate how much vocal acrobatics there are in Ballet songs, but Minx’s switched from cooing out “ooo ooo ooo’s” to screaming in Crass style to cutting melodies that compete with the Go-Gos over the course of a single song. Many singers sort of settle into one style or another, but Minx was able to project different sorts of characters over the rumbling guitars and bass all while keeping it unique and uniquely weird.

Truelove might be something of an underrated gem. He’s not often talked about when referring punk, or even anarcho-punk guitarist, but the guitarist relay staked his claim at the Philly show. Ballet songs range from a variety of styles, but with his meaty, but sharp approach, Truelove was able to weave disparate styles together. He favors the less-is-more approach, opting for walls of distortion and a solid line buzzing as opposed to fancy fretwork, and really, broad powerful strokes is what makes this music great- and allows Minx a platform upon which to do her fancy footwork as well.

Truelove, who is a mountain of a man, was amusingly anchored on the other side by newer guitar player Matt Voodoo, who is equally a mountain of a man. Just as the band makes a visual statement with their clothes, they made a visual statement with their own bodies- two titans standing on either side of the diminutive Minx, who was constantly switching dancing styles from a ‘60s mod boogie to a striking, orator’s pose, to a Stevie Nicks style fluttering, to just freaking out.

Interestingly, the band played tracks from throughout their history, covering about 32 years of active history, yet all the songs seemed to snap together into one sort of codified unit. Just when they got aggressively heavy, they would snap to pop sensibility. When things got too light, a discordant soundclash would blast away the pop remnants. Midway through the show, Minx stated something along the lines of “this song was written about how bad things were… and they’ve only gotten worse since then…” That may be true, but at least rubella Ballet is there to not only continue the art-weirdo fight against normality (and even oppression), but they’re here to inspire others to do the same.

Before Rubella Ballet, local Philly goth punkers Haldol cut a half hour set of distinctively ‘80s influenced grim-punk. The band drew equal parts from the Cure, Joy Division, and Bauhaus, pushed that into a more punk realm. Each of the bands just mentioned were relatively mainstream, or at least well known underground, but Haldol’s approach seem to favor the darker, and more obscure side of all those things. So that, while, say the Cure might relax things with a sing-a-long chorus, Haldol turned the other direction and went heavier and grimmer. Despite all that, at parts, their music had a certain light creep through, which is why they were compelling- if it’s all doom and gloom, then what’s the point. A little bit of hope highlights the rest of grim reality.

The show opened with new Philly goth-punkers The Ire. Singer Maya is a powerful singer with deep pipes and it’s a nice contrast to this style of music. Goth or goth-adjacent bands often have wispy or fluffy vocals. Maya does not do that. Instead, she a has a rich strike that she’s able to wield with a certain deftness, so that when its loud, it’s loud, but she’s also able to retreat from the rumbling mass. The band themselves craft ghostly soundscapes that are spooky and delicate. They’ve only released a demo so far, but this combination surely could put out a great album- the live show itself is already developing into something exciting.