Warpaint live in Madrid, 2014.
Warpaint is a band I’ve wanted to see live since the first time I was arrested by their exotic mix of post-punk, Paisley Underground psychedelia and folk pop. I had always got the feeling that neither my headphones nor the speakers of my hi-fi were adequate to capture the expansiveness and sonic ambition of the LA-based, all-girl four-piece. Madrid’s Sala But is a small enough venue (capacity is circa 1,000) but I reckoned it would do the job and I wasn’t disappointed. From the outset Warpaint filled the venue to bursting with their soundscapes, at times conjuring up a Siouxsie-and-the-Banshees-esque sepulchral storm, other times quelling the waters with a slow and dreamy number like “Billie Holiday”.
Their sound — or, more correctly, the palette of sounds within which they operate — is one of the band’s unique selling points. They skirt the worlds of shoegaze-influenced guitar bands and melody-based electronic acts like Poliça without ever being a cheesy “fusion” band. They dredge up and reanimate chorused guitars from A Kiss in the Dream House and combine them with Red Hot Chili Peppers baselines and it somehow seems right. Then, later on, they can stop you in your tracks with four voices and an acoustic guitar.
Warpaint are regularly described as a “jamming band”, which means their songs are hewn out of nothingness during practice sessions, the same way a sculptor will slowly hack a shape from a lump of rock. On record, this means that their longer and more serpentine songs can seem overly lose and unfocussed. Live, however, being a jamming band really stands to the girls. Songs are given room to breathe, new dimensions are added, new angles sculpted. With the material from this year’s eponymous album showing a more dance-oriented approach, the Madrid crowd were charmed into groovy, sensual pools of textured sound and tribal beats. As well as jamming their songs to within an inch of their lives, the band has been together since St. Valentine’s day 2004. All this time spent playing together shows; it is clear that the four of them know each other inside out, bounce off each other like housebound quadruplets. They seem to share a telepathy; each seems to know what the other will play before that person themselves does. Needless to say, this outfit is tight. No bum notes. No false starts. No messing around. The only clangers on the night were their faltering but good-humoured attempts to speak Spanish to the crowd.
Theresa Wayman, Warpaint.
Watching them on stage, the dynamics of this band are very different from an all-male or mixed set-up. There is no clear leader, no star, no frontman. Warpaint is a multi-headed beast — a hydra, if you like. Bassist, Jenny Lee Lindberg, is the engine — or more like the warp-core — simultaneously holding the whole thing together and driving it forward. She also does the best line in hollering of the four. Drummer, Stella Mozgawa, gives them oomph and drama and sometimes takes the reins from Jenny in the field marshal department. Then we have the conundrum of singers/vocalists Emily Kokal and Theresa Wayman: neither is a star and both are stars. They alternate on lead vocals and lead guitar. Emily has a staunch, powerful voice. Theresa’s is delicate and sweet. They both kick ass as axe-players. Perhaps the difference between this pair is what makes being a Warpaint fan so rewarding: it’s not unlike being a fan of two not-too-dissimilar bands who have put out a record together, or getting to see, for example, Feist and Broken Social Scene on the same night. Anyway, if this is the difference between your average band of guys with a single monstrous ego driving the whole thing and a “democratic dictatorship” — as the girls themselves refer to Warpaint — then I’m decidedly going all-girl.
Some lovely surprises on the night were Theresa doing DJ type-stuff at her side of the stage during the more electronic, dancier numbers off the new album, Emily’s solo version of “Baby” which mashed up with Patti Smith’s “Because the Night” and a kick-ass “Composure”. The “clit cuts” indeed!