Punk shows are always more visceral when you’re hurting. You’re feeling a mix of emotions, and despite how cheesy it sounds (no pun intended), sometimes the best way to let them out is to thrash around in a mosh pit and sing your heart out. Saturday night, during The Coathangers’ headlining set at the Highline, Crook Kid Coathanger (Julia Kugel) told the crowd they’d been robbed the night before in Portland, and how they’d lost a friend this week too. Her and her bandmates, Minnie (Meredith Franco) and Rusty (Stephanie Luke), wailed on their instruments as the crowd crashed forward over and over, flattening the front row against the monitors. “This has been great,” Crook Kid said. “I really needed this.”
It was the third and final night of Pizza Fest, a punk festival dedicated to the love of bread, cheese, and tomato sauce. It was first started in 2009 by Brian Costello, Ruben Mendez, and Pete Capponi of the Coconut Coolouts, when they realized how many songs they had about pizza and how much they loved the cheesy treat. They teamed up with Tyvek from Detroit and Personal and the Pizzas from San Francisco on a U.S. tour, and the last night was the first Pizza Fest in Chicago.
It was then held at Brian Foss’s legendary Seattle club the Funhouse for 2010 through 2012, with the help of Lacey Swain, a fellow member of the Coolouts. Brian brought his fantastic talent for booking local under-exposed bands (such as TacocaT, who’s first shows he booked and promoted). The festival took a year off in 2013 after the venue’s closure, and in 2014, as involvement from Costello, Mendez, and Swain had diminished, Capponi reached out to Jen Knight of Suicide Squeeze Records to lend her booking skills.
This year the event was back with a vengeance, booking bands like Acapulco Lips, Ubu Roi, Dreamsalon, Big Eyes, and The Black Olives (who turned out to be surprise guests La Luz), and hosting nights at the 2-Bit and the Highline. Capponi’s dream was to have The Coathangers headline the final night, and when he met with Knight, it just so happened she needed a Seattle show for them on August 16th. It was one of many acts of serendipity leading up to Pizza Fest 2014.
Atlanta band The Coathangers have a few releases on Seattle’s Suicide Squeeze Records. Their fourth album, Suck My Shirt, just came out and references an attempt to rescue spilled tequila while recording. Their titles are a testament to their sense of humor, like “Nestle in my Boobies,” “Shut the Fuck Up,” and “Haterade.” But they have the capacity for deep, dark material as well, oscillating between raucous headbangers and reflective, softer pieces. “Johnny” was a treat last night, between verses of meandering catchy bass and explosive choruses of mayhem and screams. The first chorus stunned the crowd, but once they knew it was coming, they went wild for the others.
What started as a party band (where none of the members knew how to play an instrument) has grown into a fully fledged punk presence. Earlier bands on the bill talked about The Coathangers, excited to play with them. During their set, Rusty, Crook Kid, and Minnie even traded instruments, cycling through and sharing vocals. They powered on, cranking out track after track of attitude.
In a poignant moment, Crook Kid introduced one of their older songs, “Don’t Touch My Shit.” It’s the chaotic rant of someone anxious to protect their stuff, whether possessions or boyfriends. Rusty chimed in that the Portland thieves were “sick,” and that they took their dirty underwear and t-shirts. The band launched into the track, channeling all of their negative energy into a killer performance. Crook Kid sang, “You say you like my boyfriend, you think he’s really hot. You look at him like that again, I’ll punch you in the twat!” She sang into two mics, flailing them wildly. I was standing in the front row, and as she sang the line, she reached down with one mic and jabbed me in the boob. Honored.
Seattle’s Lisa Prank opened the evening with her charmingly awkward love songs, featuring power chords, a popping drum track and ironic lyrics. The pinnacle of the set was her hilarious cover of Blink 182’s “Dammit (Growing Up),” as the ’90s references (“Lisa Frank,” her sunflower dress, her mint green electric guitar) all fell into place.
Next up was Freak Vibe, also of Seattle, a punk foursome with seriously weird swagger. The singer sauntered around the crowd, crawling on all fours, writhing, throwing beer cans into the obscure darkness in front of him. The bassist was a stern, focused musician with a pizza tattoo on her bicep, and the guitarist flailed back and forth, headbanging during even the more chill parts of their songs. Their drummer completed the spectacle, dripping from head to toe in sweat and pounding on the skins. It felt like a great kick start to the evening, loosening everyone’s joints, getting us ready to dance.
Third was a personal favorite, Seattle’s Pony Time. Luke Beetham (vocals/bass) and Stacy Peck (drums) churn out track after track of bass-heavy dance jams, peppered with precise drum rolls and catchy, playful lyrics. Crowd faves included “Go Find Your Own,” and “What If You Caught Me.” This night of Pizza Fest felt pretty lady-punk heavy, with The Coathangers, TacocaT, Lisa Prank, and Stacy of Pony Time, so when the band played their song “Kathleen Hanna,” about the Riot Grrrl matriarch, it was very fitting. They opened with newer track “Lori & Judy,” which has an entertaining video by Emily Denton of Stickers, where two hooded ladies steal Pony Time’s instruments as they perform on a tennis court. Live, Beetham switches quickly between a smattering of effects pedals, filling in melody that might otherwise come from guitar, playing his bass right up at the top of its notes. Despite having only two members, Pony Time create a big sound, and get the crowd dancing and sweating.
The Birth Defects from San Francisco and Los Angeles took the stage with their aggro-dude punk. They couldn’t have been further from TacocaT or Lisa Prank’s candy pop punk, but that was what made the lineup great. The show was booked in such a way that each band gave you a bit of a break from the previous band’s style, to clean your palette for the next band. The Defects were masters of the head-nod, frenetic chords, and started the first proper mosh pit of the night. Freak Vibe had inspired some moshing, but the crowd was too captivated by the singer’s movements to dance. During the Defects, the tallest guy in the room whipped around, possessed by the punk, bowing down aggressively in front of the stage in worship of the music. Others joined in and the floor was a blur.
Oakland’s Musk opened with a track they dedicated to fellow performers Freak Vibe, an intense hardcore number that reminded me of Trash Talk’s singer Lee Spielman’s style. They segued into tracks with more of a sludgy swagger to them, returning every so often to heavier thrashers. Singer Rob Fletcher made flippant observations and jabs at crowd members in between songs, to good-natured laughs, and told everyone he doesn’t give a shit if anyone doesn’t like them, because there’s plenty else to do on a Saturday night. At one point, a crowd member dressed as a pizza walked out the front door, and Fletcher called out, “The pizza has left the building!” The crowd let out a collective “Nooooo!” but the show went on.
White Fang are a band I’ve been meaning to see for awhile, and who I assumed would be like fellow Portlanders White Orange, or Seattle’s Sandrider. Though I love the two latter bands, the former were much more of a party punk band, like if Andrew W.K. moved to the Pacific Northwest and chilled out a little. White Fang’s set was riddled with goofy antics, as singer Erik Gage danced around the stage, miming along with the lyrics and gesticulating wildly. It was like The Dude embodied in a band. The crowd went nuts for the jam, “Can’t Deal With Being Real,” and Gage lifted up his shirt for all to see. He looked at the mic for a second, then stuck it in his bellybutton.
A few songs later, during the climax, Gage picked up guitarist Kyle Handley and carried him around the stage while playing. But the real spectacle came when, during their last song, drummer Jimmy Leslie went off stage and Gage took the reigns drumming, and Leslie returned with a ladder. Handley and bassist Chris Uehlein continued to play, building the momentum. Leslie set up the ladder in the center, and as the energy built, he climbed and sat on top. The band members shouted, “Are you ready?” and as the song reached its climax, Gage returned to the front and Leslie jumped on his shoulders. The two careened around the stage until the song ended, singing all the while and collapsing into mayhem.
The crowd grew considerably more packed in preparation for TacocaT’s set. The Seattle pop punk foursome have been garnering attention for years in the DIY circuit, and recently put out their second full length, NVM. It’s their first release on Hardly Art Records, and after a spot on the sidestage at Sasquatch in May, along with opening for HAIM Friday night at the Paramount, these punks are blowing up like a big bubblegum balloon, and they’re only getting better. NVM may sound more refined than their previous release, 2010’s Shame Spiral, but their live show still holds the gritty dance floor magic it always has.
After playing newer tracks, “Bridge to Hawaii,” “Psychedelic Quinceañera,” “Party Trap,” and the menstruation-inspired single, “Crimson Wave,” the band harked back to olden days with “UTI,” “Spring Break-Up,” “Volcano,” and “Cat Fancy.” The show felt like a perfect blend of old and new. The band even played “SK8 or Die,” their older homage to the controversy surrounding Tonya Harding and her figure-skating opponent, Nancy Kerrigan, where singer Emily Nokes shouts, “You better watch out…yeah you better watch out!” Nokes remarked how excited they were to see The Coathangers, and how the latter have their own T.H. song, “Tonya Harding.”
Just before The Coathangers’ set, it was time for the Pizza Eating Contest. Contestants were challenged to be the fastest to eat an entire 17” pizza from Big Mario’s. Two tables were set up in the middle of the floor, and the crowd gathered around on all sides. Ringleader Pete Capponi gave the countdown, and the race was on as the seven contestants dove into their pizzas. Some ate slice by slice, some ripped their pizza up into a greasy mess, and others tried to fold the entire pizza into an enormous calzone burrito.
Through the mayhem, the crowd noticed as one man squirreled a glass of water, dipping his pieces in before choking them down. The other contestants grew angry, unsure what the official rule was for water. A little pizza was thrown and some angry words exchanged, but in the end, he was declared the winner, receiving the Pizza Fest Party Pack, which included a shirt, some beer cozies, pins, and a poster.
M.C. Victoria Liss, clad in a skimpy pizza costume and short-shorts, offered the winner two drinks on her, and some other things which can’t be repeated here. Capponi recruited the local stand-up comedian, knowing she’d be a perfect fit for the slime and sleaze of Pizza Fest. The contestants gave it their all, and even if they lost, they got to eat some pizza. We’re all winners at Pizza Fest.
See more of my photos here.