Friday, May 1, 2015

The Bush Tetras at le Poisson Rouge

Pat Place (left) and Cynthia Sley
Pat Place played guitar in James Chance & the Contortions in New York's No Wave movement in the late 1970s. By 1979, she left and formed the Bush Tetras with vocalist Cynthia Sley, bassist Laura Kennedy and drummer Dee Pop. The Bush Tetras dominated the local club scene and became forerunners of the indie movement, with quirky punky funky tunes like 1981's "Too Many Creeps." By 1983, the four members moved on to other bands but reformed in 1995 for live dates and an album released a year later. Kennedy left in 1997 and was replaced by Julia Murphy in 2005; after a two-decade battle with Hepatitis C-inflicted liver disease, Kennedy died in 2011. Cindy Rickmond replaced Murphy in 2013. The band's third and most recent album, Happy, was recorded in 1997-98 but shelved by the defunct record company; it was finally released in 2012.

The Bush Tetras performed a 35th anniversary concert at le Poisson Rouge tonight and revisited the sound that made the band unique three decades ago. As Place prominently played slicing, jittery guitar riffs in a Tom Verlaine style, Sley created a similar hypnotic monotony with sniping, repetitious half-spoken/half-sung phrases, and the rhythm section kept pace with a similarly sparse and jagged funk rhythm. Place's sometimes dissonant and distortion-filled riffs intensified the mesmerizing chaos. Opening with 1981's "Things That Go Boom in the Night" and 1982's "Cowboys in Africa," the Bush Tetras designed to revive an era long past. The band followed with a deep cut, "You Taste Like the Tropics," originally the b-side of an early single. The set also included a cover of John Lennon's "Cold Turkey," which the band originally recorded in 1983. The band was joined on stage for several songs by Felice Rosser of local band Faith. Bush Tetras ended with 2007's "Voodoo" and 1981's "Too Many Creeps." The band's scrappy funk style has been co-opted by newer bands like Savages, but tonight's performance accentuated that this is where it began.