A beat-up DiPinto guitar shines stage right and blares out, roaring, into the hall. Thrumming, churning drums and bass pummel the roar forward. Ringing vocals of defiance and disapproval ride over it all. This was Brooklyn-based band TinVulva opening the June 15 benefit show for Dyke March, which was held at the end of June. True to its idols — mainly Sleater-Kinney, Le Tigre, and acts they overlap with — the band reconciles raw power with the grace of subtly-crafted, layered guitar and drum parts. It’s exhilarating stuff.
Singer-guitarist Sarah Soller-Mihlek’s timbre is startlingly akin to that of Corin Tucker of S-K, but there’s also a hint of the strident elasticity of Theo Kogan from The Lunachicks. Soller-Milhek also coaxes a number of sounds out of the old axe, from grungy mud to silk threads and rusty screws, and some of the “clean” guitar passages evoke S-K’s Danelectros. She switches a good deal between singing and talk-singing, highly effective in each without any letup in momentum.
Kat Wong takes more or less the subliminal approach in holding down the bass end, rarely gurgling or snapping, always guiding the chord progression firmly along and blending right in with Soller-Mihlek for some of the vocals. She also carries fairly long solo passages without running out of steam, a tricky test that not all bassists can pass.
Vanessa Rondon stamps the rhythm into place with unfailing thunder (along with yet more vocals), and if you really listen to the odd beats, with their occasional two-bar tags and lopped-off quarter-notes, you can hear subtle, intelligent choices that make those beats sound perfectly natural and unobtrusive. Rondon also proves that even the highly-technical drummers can beat the living crap out of their equipment: a forty- or fifty-degree edge of each crash cymbal is so cracked it looks like a map of Antarctica — but, of course, this only boosts her punk bona fides.
The announcement of songs is bracingly direct — not coy or self-conscious or overwrought. This is standard, of course, for the aesthetic heirs of Kathleen Hanna and L7 (who, in TinVulva’s case, actually wrote a song called “What Would Kathleen Do?”). Indeed, the group may feel they owe it to the fans. “This is about shitty music on the radio,” Soller declares evenly, and off they go. “This is about the riot grrrl scene and how we didn’t feel welcome in it,” she proclaims matter-of-factly, and they’re off again (this time rhyming “riot grrrl” with someone’s dismissive injunction to “Be quiet, girl!”). You know there’s a pretty rich, detailed, even painful story behind everything, but the Ramones-like economy of presentation couches the deceptively ornate material perfectly, just as a severe black leather jacket provides the backdrop for a dozen snarky and colorful political buttons.
This show, it should be noted, pulled in a good crowd — at least as the performance went on. Fickle as audiences are, and warm and inviting as the sun was on June 15, TinVulva was faced with a fairly small trickle at 1:00 in the afternoon, though it grew as they played. They do seem to enjoy a healthy following in New York, judging by their Facebook likes and videos of their shows. No matter — the band projected the unflappable poise and confidence of a seasoned, well-rehearsed act, and played just as though the club were already jammed with rabid fans pumping their fists in the air to match the latex-gloved fist, all ready to become a verb, on the show’s poster.