June 25, 2014
by Bryne Yancey

“Here’s the thing,” White Lung frontwoman Mish Way somewhat sardonically said into her microphone. “He has these pedals that make us sound good, and when you step on them, we don’t sound good.” She smiled. Bassist Hether Fortune motioned to the congested, sweaty crowd and added, “It’s a catch-22, because while we want that, we also want that,” shifting her, and our, attention to guitarist Kenneth William’s arsenal of pedals. Indeed, the Tuesday night crowd at West Philadelphia’s Golden Tea House was something of an occupational hazard (probably a fire hazard, too), nebulously encroaching closer and closer on the band’s performing area with each ferociously passing song. No one else stepped on William’s pedals for the rest of the night except him, but there were several close calls as a tightly-packed crowd of 150 or so enthusiastically pinballed into each other during the band’s 30 minute set on the kitchen floor.

Yeah, the kitchen floor. The Tea House isn’t a typical DIY space by any stretch. In lieu of say, a cramped basement, the shows—of which there are several a week, nearly year-round—are hosted in the rowhome’s large kitchen area, with high ceilings surrounded by an elevated and pillared walkway, a realtor’s dream of an exposed brick wall, and a far better sound system than even some traditional venues have. Show spaces come and go, sure, but this one is special and when it inevitably ceases to exist, the Philly punk scene will endure but be a little less uniquely awesome because of its loss.

White Lung, originally from Vancouver, were at the Tea House kicking off a tour in support of their dense, heavy new album, Deep Fantasy (Domino). The frenetic half-hour set centered mostly on material from said record, with a few deviations like “Two of You” (from their 2012 self-titled 7-inch) and “Take The Mirror” and ”Thick Lip” (from Sorry, their 2012 LP.) In addition to the amped up production and thicker, less caustic sound of Deep Fantasy, one of the album’s most immediately noticeable characteristics is Way’s much-improved vocal work, which has translated to the band’s live performance as well. Her mannerisms and gestures are as animated as ever, even where there’s little room to move around, as was the case last night—she began most songs standing on a cinderblock in front of Anne-Marie Vassiliou’s kick drum—but she sounds more assured, well-rounded and altogether powerful behind the mic than ever, especially when performing material from Deep Fantasy. William’s guitar work continues to be otherworldly, his fingers quickly, meticulously and seamlessly navigate the fretboard, shifting between power riffs and solos on a dime. He has Greg Ginn-level ability. “Drown with the Monster,” “Snake Jaw,” “Down it Goes” and “I Believe You” were all serious highlights.

There’s been a lot of Important Punk Records released so far in 2014, at least according to much of the Internet (including this very website). And as blanket a term as it might be, it’s true in this case: Deep Fantasy is an important feminist punk record that tackles sexuality, body dysmorphia, rape, and antiquated gender roles in a very compelling, direct way that is sorely needed in our scene. And in a live setting, these topics seem to carry even more weight. There’s something to be said about experiencing a “release” at a show, with otherwise well-adjusted people freely and openly allowing their pent-up energy and aggression to wildly and enthusiastically exit their bodies. In that respect, White Lung are liberators and empowerers for this generation of marginalized, overly and reluctantly sexualized, dehumanized people in the punk scene. We’re extremely lucky to have them here.