Priests feel at home for better and worse

Priests with Stef Chura and Lié at 333

Photo courtesy of NPR
Photo courtesy of NPR

Washington, D.C. punks Priests easily found themselves at home at 333 with help from Detroit tourmate Stef Chura, Vancouver trio Lié, and a welcoming, enthusiastic crowd.

Lié call themselves cold punk, a term that has stuck with reviewers, but the band exerted so much speed and fury that I expected to see smoke fume from their instruments and monitors. Across two EPs and two LPs, Lié have taken on rape culture and ego in raw, unmitigated detail, and their music was just as confrontational. Kati J smashed the skins as Ashlee Luk and Brittany West swapped vocal duties. Their bodies moved in a mix of bold and quivering motions like containing explosions as they unleashed blistering, relentless guitar riffs and laid on thick slabs of bass with uncomfortable intensity and staunch focus.

Despite having been a night of politically outspoken music, it didn’t matter that it was nearly impossible to make out Lié’s lyrics over the sheer volume: Lié’s fans knew what the band was about, and anyone who became a fan right there at 333 would go home and discover Lié’s records. The most important thing was that Lié made themselves heard and left an indelible impression.

Stef Chura was the ember to Priests’ and Lié’s flames. Her songs are usually described as lowly lit and mood-setting and praised for their intricate guitar- and vocal-work. But besides her warbly, stretched voice, her songs resembled any number of conventional indie rock bands from the 90s with a slight wilt & drawl countered by pop pep. Convention in her case wasn’t a negative thing though considering “You” sounded like the Go-Betweens’ “Magic in Here”.

Although Priests began working on their new album, last month’s Nothing Feels Natural, years before Donald Trump took office, the timing of the four-piece’s ascent could not have been better. With spiky punk anthems like “Pink White House”, “And Breeding”, and “JJ”, Priests took aim at branding, accelerationism, and the lack of real agency that consumers have in shaping their own identities. The band summed up the resultant disaffected daze of modern existence with the album’s title-track.

Aggression coursed through Priests so strongly during “Personal Planes”, an indictment of ego and class privilege, that drummer Daniele Daniele nearly knocked her kit out of place; singer Katie Alice Greer’s normally snarling voice vibrated in her throat like she was choking on her own rage.

“So lately, we’ve been dedicating this song to not like, Donald Trump, but like, ‘Fuck Donald Trump,'” Greer explained before launching into “Right Wing”. The problems of prejudice and injustice, she continued after the song, are “so much beyond him, like, it’s not just one person.”

“No Big Bang” was the most impressive highlight, with Daniele pounding away and shout-speaking the song with tireless stamina all while guitar and bass swarmed around her and Greer chimed in with coo’ing vocalizations. G.L. Jaguar’s buzzing guitar and Taylor Mulitz’s trembling bass never relented during the band’s set and could have induced panic attacks (as if the social and political afflictions Priests rage against don’t already).

Pitchfork has suggested that “the title Nothing Feels Natural could also signify that the abyss has started to feel like home.” Perhaps, but on a more positive note, what seemed certain was that Priests felt at home amongst the crowd at 333 who cheered them agreeably all night. Greer also repeatedly expressed her gratitude over the supportive, hospitable treatment they’d received on this their first visit to Vancouver. If we keep opening our arms to our neighbours, maybe this feeling of being welcome will start to feel natural, as it should.

Leslie Ken Chu

Leslie Ken Chu