As summer wanes around these parts, the pace of things we need to do seems to pick up. The evenings cool a bit quicker. Minnesotans begin to hustle before the busy outdoor months draw to a close. Last night was the first time I felt a bit of autumn in the air. Like many, I was on the go trying to take in as much as possible. Some free music in Lowertown, the Twins in a pennant race against a division rival. Even thousands flooding CHS Field for Cat Videos. Yes, that’s right. Thousands for cat videos. Anything to get outside before it’s gone, I guess.
But the focal point of the evening was making it to The Entry in time to catch the opening night of Portland’s Summer Cannibals North American tour. The hard rocking quartet is looking at 40 nights criss-crossing the continent while introducing their new album Can’t Tell Me No to a legion of fans. If last night’s fireworks were any indicator, a lot of folks across the country are in for some great rock and roll.
A couple months back, I was shown some statistics that for the first time in history, half the first time buyers of guitars were women. Don’t look now, but there’s been a revolution going on. Much of it has been driven by a resurgent Grrrl Riot scene. (Apologies to all those female dominated rock bands that really don’t deserve to be labeled in such a narrow way). There’s always been Patti Smith and Joan Jett out there lighting the way. But maybe it began with the likes of Babes In Toyland. Whomever you choose as the progenitor, the torch is certainly being carried by a slug of young bands. Locally, consider the success of bands like Last Import, Bruise Violet or Gully Boys.
The shift is remarkable. The novelty that was once ‘girls with guitars’ has become something much more important. This generation of women are simply rockers. They spend their time shredding away like anybody else. Quite frankly, they don’t give a rat’s ass about what anybody thinks about what a woman’s role in rock and roll is supposed to be. They’re too busy being themselves.
We’re living in heady times because so much of our music is coming to us unfiltered. Platforms like Spotify have democratized an industry which was historically curated by cigar smoking, dollar driven record company bigwigs. The range of what we get to hear nowadays is greatly expanded. Women bring a different point of view. An approach dimmed for so long by the industry detailed to support them.
Thank goodness for the rise of labels like Summer Cannibals’ Kill Rock Stars. Seriously, how many women found themselves pushed to the top based more on looks than talent? Or never had their music heard simply because they didn’t follow the rules and fit the profile the industry had established? How many had to be somebody other than themselves to share in the dream?
So if you’re like Summer Cannibals’ front woman Jessica Boudreaux, you have a couple options. Either you play by those old rules and hope somebody hands you something. Or you just kick the door down and rock. No doubt which option Boudreaux and all these young guitar buying women are choosing. They are coming at us in a veritable wave. Summer Cannibals is out there on the crest. This is not a girl rock band. Not so much because the powerful rhythm section is held down by bassist Ethan Butman and drummer Devon Shirley. More because Boudreaux and Cassi Blum simply strap on their guitars and wail. It’s a rock band. Nothing more. Nothing less.
The best rock and roll, to me, is visceral. It leaps from the stage. Something primal animates the players. Heads bang and sweat flies. A bit of glitter goes a long way. I wrote a note last night that all guitar players should begin their careers with rock and roll haircuts. Locks that fly and grab a note to fling it to the back of the room. When Boudreaux and Blum face off with their screaming guitars, it’s a voodoo dance. Possessed by higher powers, free of affectation and imbued with pure rock and roll energy. Summer Cannibals plays with wild abandon. Careening around the corners but staying firmly on the tracks.
Generally, I’m not one who is interested in hearing what an artist thinks. I’m interested in what they play. Using a microphone to espouse a personal belief has always seemed narcissistic to me. So there’s always this fine line between making a personal point and alienating half your audience. Can you cut enough of a vein to let the audience see something of the real person behind the performer? Can you do it without crossing that line?
Jessica Boudreaux did a remarkable job of that last night. This is a woman who is angry about many of the things she’s sees in the world. She’s even more angry about an abusive relationship, from which she is recovering. At the same time, she is inspired by music and loves to perform. There was a lot of opening night laughter and smiles from the stage. I think we got an honest look at the woman behind the guitar. The bond between audience and band occurred within minutes of that first grinding chord.
Pieces fell together for me early on when the band launched into the title track from the new album. As Boudreaux screamed “I’m not your bitch!” I could see in my imagination a young Patti Smith. I came to fully appreciate the choice of Patti’s hard rocking song title as the band name. Like Smith, the objective of Summer Cannibals’ Boudreaux is clear. Judge the music on its merits. If ever you decide to treat me like a stereotype or try to rein in my behavior, you’ll reap the whirlwind. Rock and roll comes in all shapes, sizes, colors and genders. Get used to it. Or get run over.
Step one is all those young girls buying their first guitars. Step two is finding somebody who can be a guiding light. Summer Cannibals would be a hell of a good place to start.