Classic DC punk: nothing more, nothing less
Though Ex Hex’s high voltage power-chord rock evokes the folklore of denim and leather and keg parties from 1980s America and is founded on the most basic of garage-rock frameworks, it’s actually a very evolved form of pop music. They use everything that has worked for punk rock bands in the past—for example, “yeah yeah yeahs” and “ooh la la las” are a staple of most of their choruses—and leave out everything that doesn’t (i.e. prog). Their album sort of ‘Rips’ off the last 40 years of garage-pop, but in the process pretty much upstages the entire genre.
This is not to say that the music is artificial in any way. It just means that Ex Hex have absolutely mastered arguably the most valuable and elusive form of music: The perfect 3-minute pop song. They released ten of them last year on Rips, an album’s worth of the catchiest group of songs since sliced bread. To put this into perspective, if the CIA looped Rips instead of Britney Spears songs to torture prisoners, it would be a total failure—the detainees would never get sick of it, and suspected terrorists would probably be released from captivity as born-again DC punks.
The most charming aspect of the show at Soup Kitchen was that based on the album, the crowd were most likely expecting a trio of cartoonish ‘riot girrrls’ all up in their faces, but what they actually got was a sweet, slightly self-conscious performance. The undiluted innocence and purity of these songs becomes so much clearer when watching Mary Timony, wearing sequins and pigtails, singing the impossibly loveable chorus to ‘Waterfall’ (“you’re my little waterfall… waahhh ohhhh!”) and bashfully lolling her head from side to side. The closest we get to a punk rock affectation is a few self-deprecating (but still textbook) power stances. Bassist Betsy Wright fully embodied the dichotomy between Ex Hex’s sonic velocity and sweet-hearted sensibility when she appeared to proposition the crowd—“It’s getting hot in here…” – only for us to realize that she was genuinely concerned that the room temperature might be too high—“…are you guys OK?”
Naysayers might have craved some Kim Gordon snarl or crotch-grabbing fem-punk iconography to thrust this gig into bedlam, but essentially Ex Hex take a no-nonsense approach to their live shows, and if you’re a fan of Rips—an exercise of potent simplicity—then that should make total sense.