Pitchfork Festival Day 3: Perfect Pussy (Review)

by Steven Spoerl

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It’s only fitting that the run of festival coverage ends with Perfect Pussy, a band that’s earned more words from this site than any other. They’ve been a part of the site since it’s very beginnings (vocalist Meredith Graves, now firmly positioned as this site’s patron saint, was one of the very first to know that it even existed). They’re one of the only bands that inspired me to break a narrative rule in order to use first-person by virtue of being so endearingly sincere about issues that are important to myself and to this site. I have lost desire for all feeling and Say Yes to Love earned two of the strongest reviews that this site’s ever given and their showstopping NXNE performance prompted the most personal thing I’ve ever written for any outlet. I have seen this band’s ascension and felt confident in my position to ally myself with them, even in the face of a staggering amount of backlash. Over the past 7 months, I’ve been fortunate enough to seen them play 8 sets (and in everything from a halfpipe in a bike shop to a fairly extravagant ballroom) and fully intend on raising that number at the next available opportunity. Of those 8 appearances, none felt as important as their showcase on Day 3 of the Pitchfork Music Festival.

I’d spent a large portion of the festival, and the moments leading up to their set, with a nerve-wracked Graves and watching her steady transformation throughout their set was nothing short of inspiring. All of her fears seemed to be coming to a head before their set even started when the sound crew ran into a technical issue with her vocal amp. This prompted a brief delay as a visibly distressed Graves did everything she could to attempt to assist them in resolving the issue as the rest of the band quietly set up around her. It was a matter of minutes before the issue was resolved and the band was allowed to breathe a collected sigh of relief. They took a minute (maybe less) to collect themselves sidestage before walking back out and picking up their instruments in front of a crowd of roughly 3,000 people, all of which anxious to have their opinions dissuaded or reaffirmed.

What happened next was nothing short of extraordinary: as the band tore through song after song with an indescribable amount of passion and meaning, the sound proved to be perfect. Graves was audible, no instrument overpowered another, and each member gave the performances of their lives. I’ve never seen Garrett Koloski, easily one of the most underrated and overlooked drummers out there, hit his drums with more fierceness or look more determined. Synth and noise mastermind Shaun Sutkus seemed like he was completely disconnected from everything but hitting every nuanced motion with an uncanny precision while occasionally being driven by the music into frantic, spastic movements. Bassist Greg Ambler ran into no problems with his cab, head, or levels and took the opportunity to thrash around without consequence, pummeling his bass to the point of abuse without missing a note. Guitarist Ray McAndrew transformed into a mode that bordered the animialistic, growing increasingly intense as the set’s momentum picked up before it’s final breaking point at the very end.

As for Graves… there are no words that can do justice to just how commanding of a performer she is. It’s an intrinsic quality that’s completely intangible and it was one of the things that made me fall for this band in the first place; her face is usually contorted in a manner that expresses the meanings she’s trying to convey because she can’t help it- she feels this music so completely that it seems to pour out through every fiber of her being. As a performer, it’s tough to tell if she animated the songs or the songs animate her, and watching her use her conviction to convince a crowd of thousands (easily one of the largest the band has ever played to) as they brought her to ecstatic tears was one of the proudest moments of my life. Every flower that was thrown at her (and there were several), and every tear that she shed, was earned- a culmination of understanding, validation, and the feeling of a moment.

Watching Graves’ transformation from fighting against some severe nerves and her total certainty that everything would go wrong (which, unfortunately, has seemed to be a trend at several of their recent shows) to the flower-adorned vocalist in the throes of one of the best sets I’ve ever seen, suddenly recognizing that everything was falling into place, prompted a feeling that’s literally impossible to put into words. It brought out the life in her, it brought out the life in the audience, and it sure as hell brought out the life in me- it’s those exact moments of subtle minutiae that I built this site to celebrate and to see it happen to someone who has become one of my closest friends was unforgettable. Being surrounded by strangers, all having extremely intense reactions that paralleled mine was an experience in camaraderie that all festivals are supposed to foster; where the setting suddenly doesn’t matter and everyone’s putting their all into the performance happening on the stage in front of them.

I“, “Driver“, “Bells”, “Interference Fits“, “Big Stars”, “III”, “Advance Upon the Real”, the songs came one after another, with no interruptions from the band other than an occasional thank you. The order didn’t matter because no one had time to react; every song felt like a perfectly-timed triumph that whipped the audience into a frenzy (shouting “Since when do we say yes to love?” during “Interference Fits” with 3,000 strangers and a few close friends broke the plane of ecstasy right into total catharsis). All of the front rows were doing their best to hold onto something, anything, for dear life as a mosh pit threatened to consume them. Railings were saviors, heads were kicked in, elbows were thrown, and everybody made sure that if someone else was in trouble, they were given the attention that they needed to prevent anything damaging from happening. Everything and everyone was unified in a staggering display of the exact kind of support the band does their best to endorse. No oppression, only care.

As the band wound their set down with Sutkus’ noise, sweat-and-tear-strained mascara was running down Graves’ unbelieving face; a lasting image of gratitude. She took out a camera to take a snapshot of an adoring audience, still in stunned disbelief, visibly overwhelmed, as everyone else quietly packed up, unable to contain smiles of their own. Nothing had gone wrong. Nothing had broken. Nothing had stopped the band- and it’s extremely unlikely anything could have stopped them after a certain point, anyway. As everyone left, Sutkus stayed, still completely entranced by the moment, doing one of his best noise deconstructions to date, as people in the audience caught their breath and looked on, either in awe, wonderment, or a state of complete and total confusion. Perfect Pussy had said just about everything they’d ever wanted to say with that set, in exactly the way it should be said. Actions became words, words became daggers with pinpoint accuracy, and no one could be bothered to tear themselves away. Each one of their thirty minutes (a marathon set, by their standards) was paid back in full by an unrelenting applause- and somewhere, off in the corner of my mind, that applause has refused to cease. Hats off to the band, hats off to the film crew (who provided some stunning visuals), hats off to the sound crew, and hats off to the audience who finally gave the band exactly the kind of recognition they deserve.