EX HEX – @ VILLAGE UNDERGROUND, 28 MAY 2019

Live review by LornaMyles (photo by IG: @wunmio)

Before Ex Hex play a note tonight, I’m already in love with them, although I don’t even know who they are. Crazy, right? I mean, I’ve played on or been in the audience for similar bills as them since the early 90s, yet somehow until 6 months ago I’d never even heard of Ex Hex, Mary Timony, Helium, Betsy Wright, Bat Fangs, Laura Harris or many of their other bands. But then a Spotify algorithm gifted me one of their tracks, setting me off on a sporadic search for further tiny nuggets of info, and by the time they came to the UK for this tour they’d taken on the quality of mythical beings in my imagination, avatars from a parallel world that I’d barely glimpsed and which wasn’t quite real to me.

I’m here to review the rock show, but first I need to tell you: sometimes, when I’ve been drinking wine at friends’ houses and playing Rock Band with their children, I go home full of intentions to write the next Hit Me With Your Best Shot. But I never do.

So it’s pretty great to discover a separate thread of musical herstory, which I’d somehow completely missed, which leads to the reinvention of classic rock by three women of a similar age and musical intent. If I’d dared dream it, would it have been this good? Probably not.

I match the faces to their names afterwards, so I can describe their arrival onto the stage thus: Mary looks mellow, serene as she sets up her guitar, exuding calm focus, as does Laura as she fine-tunes her drums just right to punch right through the mix. Betsy comes on dressed like Elvis and struts the stage like she’s in the Revolution… and then the show starts, and immediately the energy changes, it’s POWERFUL, tight, it’s like you went down to the Bronze and discovered your new favourite band and left ready to fight vampires.

There’s a guy there too, on bass – until this point I’d assumed Mary played guitar and Betsy played bass. Maybe on the recordings that’s the case, but live at least they both play guitar, switching between rhythm and lead, trading a few bars each in the solos, back to back or head to head. It’s exhilarating to watch. Occasionally one of them will come out and pull a rock pose, head out over the crowd, foot on the monitor, and it doesn’t seem arrogant or posturing, just cool, and I can’t decide if I wish I were in this band or just want to watch them.

I’m so lost in the moment, that I forget to make notes of the set list, the order. I can tell you that Cosmic Cave and Tough Enough and Rainbow Shiner and Radio On were the ones that stuck out, the first three because I already knew them pretty well and the last one just because. During Rainbow Shiner, which has a guitar break that gives me the same rush as Back In Black by AC/DC or Can You Hear Me Knocking by The Rolling Stones, I’m totally rocking out, no longer bothered about getting the best view. There’s no pit here, I’m close to the front and it’s quite safe, no flailing limbs or elbows knocking me sideways, and that’s cool but I wonder, why aren’t this band massive, and why do people prefer to take photos than to dance?

Well, those are questions for others to think about, and by the end I confess I can’t contain myself but am on my phone as well, grabbing a couple of blurry shots and exuberantly messaging a fellow guitarist, “watching EX HEX I am in LOVE.”

For yes, I am a guitarist myself, and I am of a similar age (possibly older, if I’m honest), and yet I’m still able to babble incoherently at someone after a show, like a teenage fangirl. I guess maybe I’ll always be liable to succumb to the crush/hysteria-inducing power of “classic rock”, as re-imagined by bands like Ex Hex, and this is the triumph and tragedy of my life.

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