After the events at the Pulse Night Club in Orlando, hosting a safe space feels like an act of defiance against the systems of fear and ignorance that permeate our culture. Aside from the everyday trials of being a queer person of color, concerts can be an especially daunting place to encounter microaggressions and even outright violence. Bands like PWR BTTM are making the most calculated efforts of any touring act today to foster a safe environment in any venue. From their advocation of gender neutral restrooms at all shows, to even preventing moshing at their shows until the band can find a way that all involved can give consent, Benjamin Walter Hopkins (he/they pronouns) and Liv Bruce (they pronouns) are unabashedly queer and caring for all of those in their audience. Especially, after having played in Orlando, at a venue a short distance from Pulse, only nights after the tragedy.
Opening for the show was Petal, the solo project of Philly singer Kiley Lotz. A signee of Run For Cover Records, her music has a folksy-tinged approach to emo/indie rock similar to labelmates Pinegrove, but undoubtedly makes her craft as a singer-songwriter present. Backed by members of Tigers Jaw, the singer opened with “Nature” off her debut LP “Shame” which features only Lotz’s vocals underscored with a single, pulsing floor tom. Many moments of the set featured Lotz solo, but the full band especially shined on a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Silver Springs.” Along with the music of Pity Sex, whose White Hot Moon tour brought along the three groups. With bassist Brandan Pierce repping twink-fodder pop artist Carly Rae Jepsen, the band played a distinctive blend of rock that straddles the line of indie and emo, the vocal dynamics of guitarists Brennan Graves and Britty Drake seem more akin to modern groups like The World Is a Beautiful Place and Modern Baseball, while taking reference from emo pioneers like Superchunk and alt-rockers like Dinosaur Jr.
Launching into their title track off their Miscreant Records debut “Ugly Cherries”, a gender-bending anthem featuring shredding guitar and thrashing drums, Bruce and Hopkins would command the stage with an undeniable visibility. Walking into the venue, I felt uncomfortable hearing a security guard make transphobic comments about “men in dresses” using the same bathroom as old ladies. For Hopkins, this is a non-issue, despite wearing a dress given to him by the PWR BTTM fan club in the audience into the men’s room despite casual microaggressions like “Are you sure you’re in the right bathroom?” to which he responds “Yeah, if this is the bathroom for your worst nightmare.” As the show took place in a Sports Bar (the event actually being billed with Pity Sex as the headliner), the vibe was different from the usual venues the band plays; namely Brooklyn DIY spaces like Palisades and The Silent Barn. With wall to wall screens of football and baseball and the usual crowd posted up at the bar, Hopkins used stage banter in between tracks, making fun of the overt bro-ness that comes tied to toxic masculinity. However, the band is always keen on how they are represented in queer culture, with songs off their upcoming release featuring strikingly powerful lyrics like “When you’re queer you’re always 19.” With Bruce being featured more on these new tracks, they ended the set solo, as they have since the massacre in Orlando, dedicating a cover of Judy Garland’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” in their honor, with some emotional resonance as the song provided motivation during their youth. After their set, Hopkins maneuvered around the crowd for photo-ops and probably one of the most genuine hugs of any musician, in spite of their athletic height.