NPR logo Concert Review: Viv Albertine Of The Slits

Concert Review: Viv Albertine Of The Slits

On Friday, I saw Viv Albertine of The Slits, Softpower (featuring Mary Timony) and The Raincoats play at the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn. How do I feel? Lucky.

As I wrote last week on this blog, The Raincoats influenced nearly every musician that sprang forth from Olympia and countless other similar towns and scenes across the U.S. Needless to say — or perhaps I do need to say it — so did The Slits.

So, at the Knitting Factory on Friday, watching not The Raincoats (who were fantastic, by the way) but Viv Albertine, I realized I hadn't really witnessed fearlessness in a long time, at least not at a rock show. As one of my friends put it, more succinctly: "This was one of the punkest things I have ever seen."

Here's what I'm talking about:

(For a version wherein the guitar sounds better but you can't hear the vocals as well, click here.)

If there is a voice in music that's seldom heard, it's that of a middle-aged woman singing about the trappings of motherhood, traditions and marriage. A woman who isn't trying to please or nurture anyone, but who instead illuminates a lifestyle that's so ubiquitous as to be rendered nearly invisible. She places in front of you — serves you up — an image of the repressive side of domesticity, the stifling nature of the mundane, and turns every comfort and assumption you hold on its head. It raises questions that no one wants to ask a wife or a mother, particularly one's own. Are you happy? Was I enough? What are you sacrificing, and are those sacrifices worth it? And when someone is brave enough — honest enough — to confront the difficulty of it all, the strange, often irreconcilable dichotomy of being a mother and an artist, a woman and an artist (and why should it be a dichotomy?), frankly, it's scary as hell. It makes people uncomfortable. And this sentiment of unease, especially coming from a woman in her 50s, sounds somewhat silly, even juvenile. Why? Because after a certain point, we're supposed to feel settled, or at the very least resigned.

As an audience, we can handle teenage girls and young women singing (sexily, coyly, prettily) about heartache and boys and loss, about unfairness, about redemption and about payback. But when an older woman sings of those same subjects, well, it wrecks everything. And, by that, I mean that we have certain expectations of older artists: They can turn into caricatures of their former selves, be campy or kitschy, sing stories of survival and resilience, and deliver pearls of wisdom. But that's about it. So it's shocking when an older woman gets on stage and basically says: This way of living and of being did not work, and the comfort that we all strive for was barely a comfort for me at all.

Viv Albertine did that. She did it with humor and with guts. And you can bet there were people who didn't get it.

I haven't even mentioned that Albertine's guitar playing is beautiful and unsettling in its strangeness. It's not simple, but rather a distortion of the facile. Sort of like the subjects of her songs.

I'll say it again: I felt lucky to be there.

Seen anything punk in a while?