Donald Trump and Bill Cosby took it on the chin onstage at Cafe Nine Saturday night. Even if you couldn’t make out the words.
The words matter in an album’s worth of new songs indie rocker Juliana Hatfield brought to the Crown Street club during a stop on her latest national tour. But their honesty and raw power came through even when the syllables were indistinct.
Massachusetts-based Hatfield performed new songs from Pussycat along with older material from more than two decades making hard-driving punk-inflected indie rock. Anger over Donald Trump’s ascent and the general mood of the country inspired her to pen many of those new songs, which tackle, among other themes, sexism and male domination.
New Haven’s Ports of Spain opened the evening, producing a full band’s worth of sound from a drummer-guitarist duo, in part thanks to guitarist Ilya Gitelman’s use of loops to play rhythm and lead, bringing the crowd into the zone and preparing it for headliner Hatfield. (Read a full story about Ports of Spain here.)
Appearing in a trio with bass and drums, Hatfield handled the guitar old-school — rhythm beneath her urgent vocals, then breaks for the leads, as on this rendition of Credence Clearwater Revival’s “Bad Moon Rising.”
The bulk of her show consisted of originals, including the numbers from Pussycat. Hatfield is no pussycat. Lion is more like it. A lion with heart and soul but no illusions.
She kept her patter brief (and warm and heartfelt) between numbers Saturday night, launching relentlessly into non-stop fury and bared pain ...
... tempered occasionally with introspective numbers like the new “Wonder Why,” in which she revisited childhood dreams. “I wonder why the aliens who landed on the roof left me there / and didn’t take me to the sky,” she sang. Even if you couldn’t make out the lyrics, you could tell how honest, these songs were just by the passion and openness with which Hatfield sang, attacked her guitar, interacted with her fans.
As Hatfield’s set at Cafe Nine showed, Donald Trump’s presidency, for all its problems, has sparked valuable new work from her. And not just music, but articles like this one about how his “pussy grab” remarks brought back memories of the sexual harassment she faced upon entering the music business.
“So many men are being accused of sexual harassment [and assault], it’s hard to choose one to write a song about. I chose one,” she said at Cafe Nine in introducing a song called “When You’re A Star.”
“You can have any girl / come up to your room / and if she won’t lie still / just slip her a quaalude,” Hatfield sang. “She won’t remember a thing / and even if she did / the law is on your side / they never prosecute your kind.” The blues shuffle from the rhythm section dug up musical dirt.
“There’s never any backlash / you make a face and everyone laughs / you’re still America’s dad,” she sang. “So grab another girl / against her will / maybe she will be the one you kill.”