LIVE: Bodega @ YES

WORDS: TOM BRANFOOT      PHOTOS: PIRAN ASTON

Ordinarily, bands don’t sell out two consecutive dates at the same venue without having something really special about them. Such is the outlook I had about to see Bodega live in YES’ rapidly popularising pink room, soon to host northern soul legends Martha Reeves & The Vandellas. 

Seemingly coming out of nowhere, or to be more accurate, from the shadow of Parquet Courts and gaining exponential interest at SXSW 2018, Brooklyn based punk band Bodega released their debut album Endless Scroll last summer. Totaling just over 30 minutes in length, the album provides condensed, vivacious and irrepressible energy which their live show harnesses and gives space to explode.

Support comes from Beijing based duo 工工工 or, decoded and script-stripped, Gong Gong Gong. Overall a flat performance, only hitting their stride after wading through droning, psychedelic blues numbers which culminate in a deep throbbing motorik rhythm with the bass permeating the chest cavity in a way only Swans can do best. The bassist here is pulling the wagon along, providing some groovy, smoothly-angular riffs a la Tina Weymouth. Talking Heads seem to be an inspiration to this group as a recurring rhythmic motif throughout is one extremely similar to that of Psycho Killer. An interesting melting pot of inspiration nonetheless. The percussive guitar work becomes gradually grating throughout their set, sounding more like Bo Diddley playing a washboard than anything.

Through a duly-deserved barrage of cheers and amidst the pink smoke Bodega man the stage. Hurtling through a couple of powerfully pithy art-punk hits, homaging The Ramones with a 1,2,3,4 count in, the band are slowly unleashing their potential energy. Adorning a black top with white handprints painted on, singer/drummer Nikki Belfiglio, is both magnetic and alluring whilst being completely in control of her strong feminine sexuality. The masturbatory hymn Gyrate showcases her Joan Jett style vocal delivery as she simultaneously swings a light box above her head and drums with the other hand – not missing a beat. 

Radio favourites How Did This Happen?! and Jack in Titanic (dedicated to all the handsome boys in the room – at which point I blush) are played to a full crowd who would rather stand listening to the music and watching the display as opposed to going crazy. Which is a testament to the band’s captivating quality.

Lead singer Ben Hozier has a sardonic approach to lyricism whilst still keeping the truth at the centre, a perfect mix between Andrew Savage, Mark E Smith and James Murphy. Clearly, an ethically driven songwriter, pointing out members of the crowd whilst he wavers at the precipice of the stage shouting “And you! And you! And you! And you!” as if everyone on this earth is to reconsider their actions at the failure of the world. Most impressive is the fact that when we regard the obvious influences of Bodega, no melodies, rhythms, lyrics or platitudes from their antecedents have been regurgitated, their music is wholly fresh.

An extended rendition of album-ender ‘Truth Is Not Punishment being the pre-encore ender, culminates into an apocalyptically screeching, enveloping the room in a tense frenzy of perfectly accumulated noise. Guitarist Madison Velding-VanDam is a master of their craft, falling with the guitar in a Stop Making Sense-style and providing meticulously crafted tones and melodies.

A blink-and-you’ll-miss-it gig, Bodega are a quintessentially American band, who have a clearly refined and politically adept outlook to music and performance. With no lyrical clichés in sight, they are harnessing an endless store of post-frontier energy, responding to current social issues without being hackneyed. Their live show seems to say “if we don’t do this now, we never will”. A staggering performance in the true faith of their ethos.

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

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