An unseasonably warm and wet Wednesday night at Boot & Saddle on the eve of Christmas Eve would have been perfect for The Shondes, the headlining Bikini Kill-like Brooklyn band whose name means "shame" in Yiddish. Their vocals are liquidly melodic and their lyrics are politically heated.
Alas (and for reasons still unknown), The Shondes canceled the Boot & Saddle show, leaving the highlight and headlining slot to the much loved, predominantly female Philadelphia power pop-punk quartet Callowhill and their opener, the moody, one-girl-band Hot Tears.
Callowhill started in 2014 as a Philly supergroup with its membership coming from Trophy Wife (drummer Katy Otto), Make a Rising bassist John Petit, True if Destroyed guitarist/singer Julia Gaylord, and guitarist Nikki Karam. They band gigged hard, earned a name and a following, and altogether were on a successful trajectory until Otto's pregnancy - something she joked about on Wednesday, saying her home partner was on duty with the baby.
Which was a very good thing. On her first night back in the saddle, mom was ready to rock. She and Callowhill drove hard, but they also were capable of nuanced rhythms, which came home on tracks such as "Parting Gifts," with its surprisingly jazzy harmonic vocabulary, Nino Rota-like lullaby melody, and dreamy lyrics about the things left behind in the hasty finale of a troubled romance.
That slant is what made them more like Television, than say, Sleater-Kinney. On the rousing but nervous "Our Time," Petit's moaning background vocal - a whisper really - set the stage for Gaylord's penetrating coo. On top of Callowhill's whisper-to-scream vocal ranges, there was a country/western lilt to the song with an eerily metronomic, krautrocklike groove.
"Philly or the Seashore" played with surf-pop motifs as well as cutting grunge rock. These kids didn't play power-pop-punk straight - which is probably why Boot & Saddle stayed packed despite the original headliner's absence.
Opening for Callowhill was an up-and-coming Philly favorite, Hot Tears, the one-woman-band of Molly Fischer, the lovely, low-voiced (think Nico of the Velvet Underground, in tune) singer and guitarist. With harmony background vocals looped and drum machine with full-battery capacity, Hot Tears' Fischer went from the spooky jangle of "San Francisco" to the angelic but aggressive "Heartbeat," before winding up at "Cliffs." Written for her mother, that last, softly strummed song was epic, tender, but tough - a dramatic end to a crowd-winning set.