The women of Warpaint took the stage Sunday at a packed Neumos bathed in red light. But with their liquid guitar tones and murmured lyrics, blue might have been more appropriate. Their music conjures an underwater world, with four mermaids at its center.
Singers (and Northwest natives who met as kids growing up in Eugene, Ore.) Emily Kokal and Theresa Wayman seem like the kind of popular girls who wouldn't talk to you in high school, now made more intimidating by their cool band. They didn't say much beyond perfunctory thank-yous, preferring to stand swaying, hidden behind their hair and waves of guitar fuzz. But their aloofness only heightens the appeal.
Their hypnotic, bass-driven songs and tribal toms entrance the listener, crafting an ominous spell like beautiful sirens luring you to your certain death. They even made the Motown hit "My Guy" sound sinister when woven into their song "Billie Holiday." "Nothing you can say can tear me away from my guy" turned into a vague threat.
Live, the slick production that marks their debut, The Fool, transformed into raw energy, especially regarding the vocals. As Kokal went for a high note, you'd fear she wouldn't hit it, only for it to evolve into a spine-tingling, ragged scream. It was like watching a trapeze artist take a jump you think is impossible--that same intoxicating tension. Warpaint are all about tension and release, in the surging bass lines and staccato guitars, the interplay of vocal parts, and the singing itself, sometimes gentle, sometimes desperate and edgy.
Watching them, you couldn't help thinking that the '90s are alive and well in music-- Warpaint's most obvious influences are Björk and Smashing Pumpkins. But in the '90s, there were many female artists in rock, even claiming their own genre. In the last decade, rock returned to its pickle-party roots. With the astronomic rise in the past year of artists like Warpaint, Wye Oak, Sharon Van Etten, Beach House, and Wild Flag, one can only hope this renaissance will continue.
The crowd: Guys with beards and Jesus haircuts. If lacking both of those elements, black-framed glasses. Truth.
FYI: There's no such thing as water-cooler gossip at a show. Even if you stand by the water cooler.