Published Oct 20, 2016"I'm supposed to be watching the debate right now," said White Lung vocalist Mish Barber-Way, who moved to Los Angeles from the band's home base of Vancouver a few years ago. "But I'm here!"
I confess that, despite White Lung's best punk rock efforts, I did find myself checking Twitter on occasion during the band's opening-night set at the Halifax Pop Explosion, unable to fully pull myself away from the stream of headlines and hot takes from the third and final U.S. presidential debate.
Later, as I caught up on the full details of that horror-show, one phrase hit hardest: When Donald Trump turned to the camera and openly referred to Hillary Clinton as "such a nasty woman," followed by a smarmy smirk. To Trump, Clinton is "nasty" because she is confident, composed and refuses to stand quietly in whatever miniscule box he, as a man, thinks he gets to place her in.
Given the insult's concurrence with White Lung's set, it made me think of Barber-Way, an intense presence whose femininity is unmistakable — both noted openly (as the only band on the bill with women in the lineup, she called White Lung "the vaginas of the show") and performatively (her "jazz hand" style gestures, a set-ending curtsy). But it's then laced with guttural, soul-shattering rage and dissonance, her playful smile ready to turn at a moment's notice into a sneer or a snarl. She's the sort of honest, complex and ferocious performer that would render a Trumpist mute with confused disbelief.
Along with the thunderously propulsive drumming of Anne-Marie Vassiliou, Barber-Way's energy helped drive a set that opened and closed with tracks from 2014's Deep Fantasy ("Face Down" as the killer set-starter, "Drown with the Monster" to end) but was mostly built on songs from this year's Polaris Prize-shortlisted Paradise. Some of that record's sonic intricacy was a bit drowned out in the noise — guitarist Kenneth William's unique soundscapes felt unduly buried in the mix — but the sheer velocity (and ferocity) of songs like "I Beg You" and "Kiss Me When I Bleed" came through loud and clear.