Midway through her set at Cafe Nine on Wednesday night, Lola Pistola had a few words about the act that opened for her.
“Wasn’t Witch Hair amazing?” she said. The crowd responded with cheers and woos. “Witch Hair was insane. Maybe they put a spell on us.”
The crowd at Cafe Nine that night was doubly enchanted by both two sets of music that rocked the joint hard and, for a couple of hours, dispelled the gray and gloom of the past month.
Witch Hair, a three-piece band based in New Haven, came to the stage after a self-described winter hiatus to write songs. According to guitarist and vocalist Joe Russo, the group has about eight songs that “have come to fruition over the past two years” that are now ready to be released as an EP, hopefully in late March. The band members also used the time to sharpen its focus. “We’re looking to be more earnest and want to have a message, to speak about political causes near and dear to our hearts.”
Bassist and vocalist Ashley Kenney agreed. “All of our new songs are politically bent and activist forward. We want to draw attention to what sits in the dark. We are all adults and we all do care, and there is too much to care about to be blasé about it. We want to motivate.” The band was involved with two fundraisers at Cafe Nine last year — one for Planned Parenthood and one for IICONN — and look to organize even more in the coming year.
Along with drummer Tom Connelly, Kenney and Russo tore through a 10-song set interspersed with laughter and banter with each other, the audience, and “our new friends Lola and Bob” from Lola Pistola. Playing songs better known to them and the audience as well as brand new ones that Kenney told the audience were written two or three days ago, the band was tight as can be. Connelly, Kenney, and Russo are distinct musicians who come together for hard and loud rock ‘n’ roll, the kind of band you would want to have at your house party so all of your friends would think you were cool. But the messages in the music were never sacrificed, as in the song “You Are Not a Surface,” with Kenney singing the lyrics.
If heaven’s not a place and hell won’t let you in
You’re welcome in my house
Welcome to my house
Take a look around
Your family is safe now.
Backed by minimal instrumentation that then built and got a little psychedelic, the piece eventually led to a mantra-like chant that brought it all to a close.
The Brooklyn-based Lola Pistola came to the stage for the second set with her guitar and two mics, backed by Bob Preston on drums and vocals. She launched right into her 13-song set and left the crowd in awe. She shouted out to “Cafe Nueve” after the first two songs, blistering pieces that saw her pacing the stage between mics and delivering the lyrics quite softly and sweetly at times and then becoming rougher as the music asked. The audience was always with her, even if, as she mentioned, she could not see it well from where she was on the stage (she joked that she and Preston were “all alone ... we are all alone in this world”). Pistola’s songs exemplified that loneliness but also the glimmer of hopefulness felt amidst the chaos, as in the song “Everyday”:
Lost in conversation
Trying to keep my head up high
Dancing around flowers
Laugh is not an option when you fight
She told the story of her first trip to Coney Island after coming to the U.S. mainland from Puerto Rico. After going on “that wooden roller coaster, I wanted to go home,” she said. “Welcome to my own personal rollercoaster,” she added.
She made her way down to the floor in front of the stage, shushing an audience member who yelled “sing it, Lola!” during one of her more delicate pieces. Pistola often reminded one of Patti Smith, marrying lyrical beauty with bursts of high-energy punk-punctuated rock.
“When you are on tour you don’t make a lot of money, but you do so much,” Pistola said toward the end of her set. “My favorite thing has always been meeting people, going places I haven’t been before. So much stuff can be in your face all the time, and you miss other things. What I am saying is, I would have never known about them” — Witch Hair, that is — “unless they were given to me. You see a band like that and say ‘why aren’t they in my face all the time?’ But doing this, they get to be in my face.”