Atlanta’s beloved punk trio the Coathangers return to the EARL for another two-night round to ring in the new year
Happy New Year, everyone. Well, to be more specific for the purposes of this article: Happy New Year, Atlanta.
Just like every year before this one, there have been gains and there have been losses. Births and deaths. Shedding and renewal. It’s important to understand as we enter what is slated to be a turbulent and tumultuous year ahead, that none of this is by mistake (I mean that in a near-conspiracy-theory type of way as well as in a spiritual, trust-the-universe type of way). To truly ride the wave of the human condition is to fall susceptible to everything. And when I say everything, I mean everything. To put it plainly, we get the good and the bad.
So, before we ram on into 2020, let’s take a moment and appreciate a part of everything that brings us together: the ceremonious tradition of gathering as we say fuck off and goodbye to 2019. However, this is a bigger one, as we bid adieu to the last decade.
There’s plenty of things on the radar in terms of things to do during the final stages of 2019, but my attention was drawn to the Coathangers’ (like it has been since around 2007) second annual pair of New Year’s Eve shows at East Atlanta mainstay the EARL. I missed the occassion last year, but no hang ups there, especially since they’re back at it again. Interestingly, my Spotify’s “2019 Wrapped” told me that the Coathangers was my number one artist for the year. I chuckled at this news, not because I didn’t believe it, but because it’s not entirely indicative of my music tastes (which I would say is pretty diverse and I discovered/listened to a lot of new bands this year). It simply means that the Coathangers got me through a lot of shit this past year. I don’t think it’s an accident I turned to them when the abortion bans were passed in Georgia and other states across the U.S. this last spring. My affinity with these women runs pretty deep, and it’s personally appropriate that I’m blowing out the candle on the 2010s with one of their live sets.
Apparently, I’m not the only one. The venue was filled wall to wall.
Before I go any further, let me announce that my heart was quickly stolen by new wave rock Tampa four-piece Glove. I arrived in time to catch most of their set and was immediately stunned by drummer Brie Denicourt, with her stoic facial expressions, precise technique, and a black furry Russian army-style hat. She momentarily took to the front of the stage as lead vocalist and in the same song she returned to the drums to finish its final measures, her and the rest of the band never falling out of sync. Her compact and almost militant drumming soldiered on while the guitarist writhed on the stage floor, intermittently banging his guitar’s body to the ground over warped bass and wonky synths. Eventually, the synth player took to her knees on stage with her Moog on the ground, like a guitarist would be at their pedal board. Something about their performance secured them a place in my immediate future, and I suspect that rabbit hole awaits me on the flip side of writing this article.
Next was Tuk Smith & the Restless Hearts. The guys took the stage all glammed up and energetic as ever, and put on what I considered to be the “Spectacular, Spectacular” of old school Atlanta rock ‘n’ roll. The guys each theatrically winced away from their guitars’ fretboards as if to not be singed by the seething of their own riffing, and they worked up the crowd with a showmanship that’s indicative of a lot of time on stage and on tour. These self-appointed hype men of the “rock ‘n’ roll gods” did some crowd-work that appeared to be effective for most of the folks who turned out. People sang along, singing “yeah, yeah” while clapping their hands above their heads to these so-called rock ‘n’ roll deities above. I’m not sure if my rock ‘n’ roll gods are the same as theirs or if they were even listening, but yeah, yeah, whatever. Big props to the drummer and the sound guy for switching out a snare drum mid-set, literally without missing a beat. They’re pros, no doubt about it.
After a swift and efficient set change, the Coathangers made their way to the stage in matching hooded dresses that had golden scaled patterns like that of a mermaid’s fin. Something I noticed outside of their impeccable performance skills—with Julia’s slaying guitar complimented by her charming squeals and yells and smirks, Meredith coyly playing bass, Stephanie methodically and ferociously raging on the drums while singing, all as usual and never disappointing—except there was an atmosphere brimming both with pride and community in the crowd immediately surrounding me. That could be projection, sure. I recall seeing the Coathangers play house shows before the 2010s even began. And of all the bands to bubble up and burst in that time period, the Coathangers have had the most solid trajectory and have continuously put out actually good shit since their inception. Seemingly effortless, too. (Which, surely, it’s not.)
The three played merry-go-round with their instruments and swapped roles a few times, putting Julia on drums at one point and Meredith behind them at another. For two songs, Stephanie was at the helm of the stage with the guitar and the mic, letting out some seriously cathartic energy that one might assume had been relinquished behind the drum kit. Again, never holding back. By the end of the set, which was complete with a two-song encore, Julia whipped out some fierce vocals, practically screaming into the mic with no holds barred. It was as if the first 35 minutes of the set was just a warm up.
All of this with no more than two distortion pedals on the stage, minimal flare, and no extra bells and whistles. This is what’s so great about the Coathangers: there’s no need to impress here. They don’t need to. They just are themselves.
In a time when things can feel overly complicated and extremely convoluted (the word of the year for 2019 was “existential,” for Christ’s sake), seeing the Coathangers reminds us how to be in a simple way, without extra distortion, glam, or delays. This mode of being gives us room to breathe as well as the wits to fearlessly say in the face of destruction, “I don’t want this shit,” “no more sorry’s,” and “fuck the NRA.” Because it’s with this type of composure in the face of hard times that we are likely to find our liberation.
Fortunately, you don’t have to take it from me. Catch the Coathangers tonight at the EARL for their second night with PLS PLS and Rude Dude & Creek Freaks. $28. Doors at 9 p.m.