Manhattan weirds me out more and more every night, but an underground band like Pill still makes navigating through parts of new square town worth it. At the back of the literally underground Alphabet City basement venue Elvis Guesthouse is where I recently caught the Brooklyn punk band on a sweaty night, and it only got sweatier inside. Taking a glance at the walls and ceiling, saxophonist Ben Jaffe remarked that he liked the place, “It’s like a shoebox full of razors.” Then they launched into their set.
Vocalist Veronica Torres picked up a bass for the first tune, and a handful of other tunes before handing off her beer and pushing into the crowd. Her bass lines sounded especially good on “Personality Flaw,” along with her speak-singing “personality flaw / my personal draw / I always want more / always want everything / the most fun.” Then when they hit the breakdown about halfway through, cued by Veronica’s banshee scream and the drums breaking through everything else, the whole band went wild, as did the crowd.
Pill possesses a strong punk ethos, and jazz influences in the way they parody pop music. They pair vocals like spoken word poetry with sax skronk, like if Patti Smith and X-ray Spex had a musical baby. Veronica’s vocal style is packed with such power, especially when she’s asking with repetition, “Are you keeping my feelings and my body safe? I think this is an opportunity for you to be more flexible.” And Ben Jaffe’s sax wails and squalls were majorly channeling some Albert Ayler all over the place. The synth/guitar combo was a little like circuit bent psych, and the percussion held it all up and filled in all the right places. Together it all sounded like ridiculous indulgence in the way that is absolutely necessary. The music isn’t just to wild out to, it’s also an empowering platform to vent about real shit, social and political.
By the time Veronica abandoned the stage without abandon to jump into the crowd and get down and dirty on the beer-splattered tile floor, the energy was peaking in the Elvis shoebox to an extremely satisfying level. The animalistic dissonance with the repetition of choice lyric phrases the band blends had the power to really pierce your psyche and pump your heart with that wild blood. It’s shows like this that are a rare but important experience. I’m not old enough to have the privilege of remembering real punk days, but I can surmise that the kind of shows Pill delivers is one of the closest comparable things in current day DIY music. Social commentary that encourages giving fucks about the important things to give a fuck about. To remind you that “Privilege is a warm body that loves you.” A visceral pill to swallow and choke on, because everyone knows the more you cough the higher you get.
Find Pill’s EP on Dull Tools, and look out for a full length coming soon.