Shopping – Concert Review
Throughout history, the most interesting and exciting music often happens on the edges where the most marginalized artists reside. The epicenter for change occurs on these edges and sends seismic waves outwards until it engulfs the already grown stale status quo. Shopping, along with support bands Von Kim and French Vanilla, did their part to challenge the norms on a quiet Wednesday night in Las Vegas. Fresh off a massive set at the San Francisco Pride festival, Shopping delivered a fresh, uplifting take on late 70s post-punk that injected an overdose of fun into serious explorations of identity politics and consumerism.
Unfazed by a near empty room, local support act Von Kin dazzled with their aggressive take on the alternative Brit pop sound of bands like The Smiths. The members of Shopping, especially guitarist/vocalist Rachel Aggs, were out on the dance floor offering their support which set the tone for the whole evening. All three bands sent out an inclusive vibe where audience and band members mixed freely. Hailing from East Vegas, a modern version of Manchester, UK in the late 1960s in many ways, Von Kin played with purpose, determined to let their life experiences come through in every song. For a local support act in a tiny room, their commitment to craft was a great addition to the evening’s festivities.
Los Angeles based art-punks French Vanilla sounded a bit like I imagine The Slits covering Talking Heads would sound. Using their inexperience as musicians to their advantage (guitarist Ali Day never took formal lessons which allows her to sail against the current), the music maintained a sparse, melodic rhythm while vocalist Sally Spitz’s voice offered an cathartic emphasis to the otherwise bouncy music. With saxophonist Daniel Trautfield providing the hook, the band’s cover of ABBA’s “S.O.S.” worked amazingly well and the band’s underground appeal is well justified.
Produced by Edwyn Collins, leader of the influential 80s band Orange Juice, Shopping’s recent album The Official Body mixes the seriousness of life in a post-Brexit, post-Trump world with undeniable hooks. The result is one of the better post-punk albums to come along this century. Recalling the political agitation of Gang of Four and pioneering dance-funk of New York City’s ESG, Shopping have chosen to make uplifting, defiantly positive music without losing their focus on the social challenges of today.
Taking the stage casually, the three-piece slowly pulled the audience close to the small stage and eventually erased the boundary itself with Aggs often stepping off the riser to interact with the audience. The unchecked joy with which the band played made the evening a celebration of being different using the language of music. Relying on a small synth only once during the infectious “Wild Child”, the band’s razor tight arrangements were straight off the record. No samplers. No backing tracks. Just three musicians sharing an experience with a small group of friends.
As a person of color fronting a queer-punk outfit, Rachel Aggs undermines the rock-n-roll status quo when it comes to guitar gods but her sharp, clean playing and playful thrust of the guitar as phallus were that much more effective as a result. Inventive riffs that moved freely between ska and surf rock gave every song a unique tone while Billy Easter added new sounds to the post-punk encyclopedia for bassists. Keeping everyone on their toes, drummer Andrew Milk’s vocal counterpoints to Aggs recalled the dynamic between Fred Schneider and Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson in The B-52’s.
The band’s sense of humor constantly undermined the expectations of what rock-n-roll was supposed to look and sound like. Isn’t that what punk was supposed to be all about? Amplifying marginalized voices with enough talent to blow away bands playing far bigger rooms, Shopping offer hope to anyone who strives to connect with a band on a deeper level than occasionally streaming them over a phone. They challenge preconceived notions and the structure of society as a whole while showing us how much fun the alternative can be.