But as profound a moment as it might’ve been for Ditto and the band, it was the audience, and specifically one girl in the front, who left changed.
Many critics have decried Gossip’s fifth album, A Joyful Noise, as having surrendered the band’s punk-fueled bluster for a glossy dance floor sheen. Kicking off with “Love Long Distance” from Music for Men, Ditto, guitarist Brace Paine, drummer Hannah Blilie, and two touring musicians exhibiting that the bluster was not only still there, but in full glory—Ditto’s voice snow balling like an avalanche, driven by Paine’s stuttering guitar and Blilie’s thundering drums. They also showed that played live, some of Noise’s more lackluster songs are just as good as Gossip classics. For instance, “Get a Job,” which on the album involves some uncomfortable white girl rapping and unfortunate auto-tuning in its derision of trust fund girls, was an altogether different beast live: chanting replaced rapping; a rending scream followed the line, “Who’s gonna wire you the last of your inheritance;” and in general a rawness imbued the message of the song with far more soul and pathos than autotune ever could. Similarly, “Get Lost” had so much more heart that ultimately made it far more danceable (Ditto introduced it by saying, “If you can’t go to the rave, bring the rave to you. Of course, I’m talking about the mall store.”)
Which isn’t to say all songs were better live. The album’s breakout track, “Move in the Right Direction,” rang somewhat hollow in its arrangement, lacking the force of their other hits. The synths didn’t carry it live, and I found myself wishing desperately for a horn section that would match the funky, stuttering disco beat.
Throughout, Ditto, dressed in a gold Heffner smoking jacket, teased her hometown crowd—consisting of probably one half lesbians, one quarter queer boys, and one quarter everyone else—with her TMI stage banter. Opening with the revelation that she was wearing Spanx, she kicked off a Spanx and panties theme for the night, abetted in no small part because audience members kept handing her theirs—Spanx, tank tops, panties, and all; it’s a miracle anyone came out still clothed—which she would brandish around like a tawdry biohazard, saying, “I’m starting to think I’m going to get bedbugs,” or, “These Spanx are $70 dollars a pop; you gotta take them back.”
While the band worked the crowd into a frenzy over and over again, nothing prepared for the encore. The band kicked off with a prog punk intro, then Ditto started singing Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” offstage, before appearing in a black, Elvira-like evening gown with sequined sleeves to launch into a rendition of “Eyes Open” that infected the audience like a dance plague. They followed with a distinctly disco-punk tinged cover of “What’s Love Got to Do with It,” before diving into “Standing in the Way of Control” with a screech. Rarely have I seen an audience give themselves so fully to a band. At its climax, Ditto stood on the speakers, screaming at the audience “Why!” with the audience roaring back “Because we’re standing in the way of control!”
That was supposed to be the end of the show. But after the band exited, Ditto lingered, not wanting to leave, saying that there’s nothing like playing to your people. “This is for Whitney,” she said. “This is the truth; this is how I feel. I grew up in the We Are the World generation,” and she began to sing Houston's "Greatest Love of All," a cappella, stepping back out onto the speaker. Just as the audience started to sing along, Ditto stopped. “Where’s that voice coming from?” she said, before handing the microphone into the audience. A woman’s voice rocketed into the stratosphere with Whitney’s propulsive grace. Ditto pulled the girl onto stage and then literally turned it over to her, stepping off, as the girl sang the next verse, and the audience went batshit. In what can only be called Portland’s punk rock take on the Susan Boyle moment, the girl broke down in sobs, overwhelmed by the excruciatingly raw, explosive adoration of the screaming ballroom full of strangers. Ditto, like a queen bee, stepped back on stage and asked, “What’s your name?”
“Kayla,” the girl responded quietly.
“No, what’s your name!” Diddo screamed.
“I AM Kayla Schultz!”
And the audience was gone. Deafening thunder and applause. And the realization that we had just witnessed a profound metamorphosis—a defining experience in this one person’s life.
And though that should be the end of the review, I can't not mention one of the opening acts, Portland band Magic Mouth, which on any other night would have been the standout. At their best, their contagious, punk-infused soul and funk was every bit as danceable as Gossip's, making them a perfect pairing. Lead singer Chanticleer has a voice that can sweep deep and soulful before launching into somersaults. He kicked off their own song about control, “Speak Softly,” with the refrain from Prince’s “Pussy Control,” while drummer Ana Briseño wore a pink mask in homage to Pussy Riot. Pretty soon, he was spinning, his face tilted to the heavens, his whole body shaking like his tambourine, while the band kicked into a tight and heavy groove, like the Holy Ghost of R&B was flowing through a radical queer church revival. Can we get an "A-MEN"?
They're definitely a band to witness. I suspect they’ll be converting many followers to their funky testimony in the coming years.