Ex Hex – Rips // Live at Broadcast, Glasgow, 13/02/2015
Mary Timony seemed half cut from the moment she hit the stage. It took her longer than it should have to work out that she didn’t have a microphone while the band were setting up, and when this problem had been sorted, you could see her scoping out the low beam of the ceiling in Broadcast as if to say, “You could be trouble!”
Having identified this potential barrier to achieving rock godhead, Timony proceeded to accidentally clatter the neck of her guitar off it three, maybe four times. She wobbled back from this each time, played bum notes, flubbed solos, stomped on her peddles a few seconds too late, but it didn’t matter because she was kicking out the jams, leaning in on bassist Betsy Wright, making bedroom rock fantasy vivid, drawing energy from Laura Harris’ drums. There’s a particular pleasure in hearing a tight, worried player like Timony cut loose, and Wright knows how to keep heads bobbing, but those drums were the biggest revelation of the night, so much more powerful than the muffled storm of the album, to the extent that I now suspect that the producer of Rips, Mitch Easter, was trying to save us all from having to buy replacement speakers!
Listening to the album, I keep coming back to the Borges story ‘Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote’ (excerpted above), in which the titular character makes it his life’s work to write not a pastiche of Don Quixiote but Don Quixote itself. As Borges’ narrator tells us, the most radical challenge Menard faced was arriving at the writing of the Quxote while remaining himself: Ex Hex seem to have set themselves a similar set of goals.
The possible iterations of the bad-ass male rock band have been thoroughly tested, and various models have been allowed to age in front of our eyes, but there’s still a wild frontier there for women. Like your man Pierre Menard, Ex Hex are committed to exploring it, and so when they arrive at ‘Crimson and Clover’ or ‘Hold On Loosely’ these songs are rendered new, different, by virtue of the fact that they are now songs about having hot times with deadbeat guys written and performed by grown women who seem to be having more fun than a whole generation of Wyld Stallyns.
Put it this way: Betsy Wright busts out a ‘Heroes’ bass flourish on no less than three tracks on Rips, and every time I find myself thinking, “Yeah, maybe we can!” for the first time in forever.
If you like hearing music take shape and shake down in front of your eyes you should go see Ex Hex if you have chance because they will convince you that rock’n’roll doesn’t have to be boring. This seems like the sort of revelation people usually have to tight deadlines, but it’s how it felt to me at the time so fuck it – go see them and tell me I’m wrong!
You’ve experienced most of these moments before, but how often have you felt them happen right in front of you, and how often has it felt like something that could just as easily not have have happened?
If you’re in Ex Hex and you see something that’ll get in the way of you throwing your guitar hero pose, you go ahead and throw it anyway. Some people might scowl when their guitar inevitably bounces back down at them, but Timony knows that all she has to do is smile and riff her way back into the groove that Wright and Harris are locked into, and that the crowd will cheer her on because this version of rock and roll is both tough AND vulnerable, messy and AND controlled, and we love it for its cheerful indifference to its own contradictions, for the signs that the people on both sides of the stage might not have seen it all before.
Shame about the bit where Timony asked the crowd if any of us considered ourselves to be “beasts” before playing ‘Beast’ though:
Someone really should have told her that that word has a different meaning around here…