They came on stage to the sounds of a vicious hip-hop instrumental. Four women with a batch of songs they needed to get out. The set was mapped meticulously, featuring moody harmonies that clung to shifting time signatures and dissonant key changes. But it also rang of that easy-come, easy-go jazz that old friends know how to make. On Monday night at the Black Cat, Warpaint got up and made exorcising demons seem like second nature. As if the band has used music to work through some things before. They worked the crowd in the process.
Emily Kokal and Theresa Wayman met in choir practice in Portland, Ore., when they were 11 years old. They became friends, traveled the world and eventually wound up in Los Angeles, where they met bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg. In the beginning, Lindberg’s sister, actress Shannyn Sossaman, was their drummer; she was eventually replaced by Australian Stella Mozgawa, who was with the band for its 2010 debut album, “The Fool” and January’s self-titled follow-up.
In interviews, the members of Warpaint have indicated that their songwriting is born out of jamming together. On Monday, it was easy to see how this could be the case. Wayman, Kokal and Lindberg sounded best when they looked like they were letting go, when Kokal opened up her lungs with a somber lead line, for example, and Wayman and Lindberg harmonized in ominous tones. Or when the three riffed back and forth atop each other’s guitar and bass licks, sending their sounds through reverb and delay pedals, making it all sound a bit woozy.
Except for the drums. There was nothing woozy about Mozgawa’s time. She shifted from slow crawls to swinging 4/4 grooves with a tip of her elbow, and with the tap of her toe sent hats driving into the offbeat. Mozgawa’s steady war mallets drove the thick-lunged harmonies of Wayman, Kokal and Lindberg into the back of the Black Cat and down the spines of those in the crowd.
It all came to a head during the encore. Lindberg was laughing with Mozgawa as they rocked back and forth. At the front of the stage Wayman and Kokal were standing a few feet from each other, picking furiously at their solos. It sounded as if they’d worked this thing out a long time ago, and still do it because working it out is all there is.
Yenigun is a freelance writer.