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EX HEX: live review

Review by Anna Graham-Martin – Deaf Institute 25/5/19 (with apologies from Loud Women for the lateness in posting this but better than never!)

Ex Hex are one of the many bands I’ve discovered this year through listening to a lot of ‘women in rock’ playlists on Spotify, and when I began seeing their posters outside one of my favourite Manchester venues, I got quite excited to finally see these ladies in action.

As much as any fellow music lover, I have attended many a gig, but I have never been part of such an eclectic crowd as this one. At the front was an older looking, long haired rock uncle (you know the type), in front of me were a few younger artsy looking kids with bright coloured hair and denim jackets, then right next to me was a man I was convinced was Noel Gallagher for a good minute. It felt equally exciting and welcoming to be in an audience with such a vast mix of people, and to me it showed that Ex Hex’s music really can appeal to anyone.

As the Washing trio Mary Timony, Betsy Wright and Laura Harris glided on stage, I was in awe of the air of effortless cool that surrounded these three. Rock uncle dude was having the time of his life “wooing” as loud as possible and flashing the horns with an unbelievable energy. This undeniable coolness was only heightened when they began their opening number Another Dimension which came with such ease you could’ve told me they’d written it 20 years ago and I would have believed you.

Throughout the set, Timony and Wright shared out lead guitar and vocals, whilst Harris was constantly adding the perfect sound of some heavier rock drum work that was also beautifully simple that blended amazingly with the sound of the other two ladies.

Wright and Timony’s guitar work was incredible to me, especially during the extra long solo of Rainbow Shiner, where I was extremely captivated by them both and their effortless stage presence, and if I closed my eyes could’ve easily been at an old school rock arena concert.  Timony’s smile as she held her guitar up to the crowd, or put her leg on the monitor made my night and I have never seen someone look so humbled whilst having so much fun.

As Cosmic Cave began, I was pleasantly surprised as it was not a song I thought would hold as much weight as it did live, and at one point the friend I’d brought along turned to me and said “I honestly thought this was a Blondie song for a bit” and if that’s not a compliment I don’t know what is.  

I was surprised at the calmness of the crowd, despite Ex Hex’s music being easily moshable, if not definitely deserving of a hard boogie- maybe this was because of the slightly older average age of the audience. It was strangely refreshing to be listening to rock music without being punched in the face, but also having the freedom to dance like a mad woman if I wanted to (I did.)

Having been in a bit of a bad mood earlier that day, I came out of the deaf institute pretty damn refreshed and inspired by Ex Hex and even got a cheeky poster off the Institute door to remember the evening. For three women significantly older than me and most of the current bands I listen to- they sure rocked. All I can say is I hope I am that cool later in my life, and I hope they don’t leave it too long to come back to Manchester so I can introduce more friends to them.

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.