Ponytail @ Floristree

Ponytail @ Floristree Space 07/21/07

Photo 1: Edan Wilber

Photos 2,3: Frank Hamilton

I think I caught the words “Mai Tai” in the middle of “7 Souls”? It doesn’t matter, really; Ponytail have done away with words. Turns out they weren’t as important as we had thought. Singer Molly Siegel yelps and lunges across the stage amidst reports that she might have been sick, but if she performs every night the way that she has on the two occasions I’ve caught the band live — well, I’d be exhausted after one song. Ms. Siegel acts as a focal point for the sounds the other three band members produce, inserting punctuation marks into the musical phrases (instead of the music punctuating the lyrics) with wordless shouts and animalistic yips. The music is a fantastic burst of energy, exciting, flawlessly performed, even occasionally catchy.


I say this after just two weeks ago citing a lack of lyrical attention as a major flaw for many of the more conceptual bands out there. Ponytail doesn’t draw this reaction, and I’m struggling to figure out why their music is so immediately satisfying. If I’m focusing too heavily on the vocals, it’s because listening to this band for the first time, people will probably have a pre-concieved notion of what it means to be a band without lyrics and whether or not they like that kind of band. Ponytail do not play 23-minute epics, minimalist drones, musique concrete, atonal symphonies or found sound. They are not post-rock, they have not made up their own language, and as far as I could tell they don’t even play in alternate tunings. They are, in fact, very talented musicians with very exciting musical ideas. If you like indie rock guitars you will appreciate this band’s melodies, which occasionally have the same tonal qualities as J Mascis, had he preferred stimulants over marijuana (and had a drummer even more intense than Murph).


Also I need to clarify the term “conceptual.” It’s a dangerous label because the only rock artists who have ever made purely conceptual art, and I’m sure the MICA grads in Ponytail would back me up here, are Lou Reed and Sonic Youth, whose various methods of feedback experimentation were cool til about the mid-80s. Since then it has become passe to do so; Sonic Youth’s SYR series became increasingly grating, and they even seemed to recognize this fact with Goodbye 20th Century and their subsequent molt into a more tuneful act in the 21st. But plenty of bands have given preference to the methods of production, and the ideas behind the music rather than its execution. Thing is, if you’re gonna disregard the last century of songwriting tradition, you’d better have some equally cool ideas to take its place. Ponytail’s mode of expression is non-verbal, true, but they don’t fall that far musically from other bands of the early 90s who dabbled in math rock, psychedelic-sounding tube distortion and crashing, ecstatic climaxes. Whether or not the yelps are a good enough idea to take the place of acutal words is yours to decide, but no one who saw that performance on Thursday night could have walked away unimpressed.

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4 Responses to “Ponytail @ Floristree”

  1. ZACH! says:

    I think it’s a major mistake to distill successful conceptual experimentation within rock down to Sonic Youth & Lou Reed. Not to mention that Sonic Youth have never once made purely conceptual art. If by conceptual you mean playing guitars with drumsticks, screwdrivers, and/or feedback, then you have to open up the canon to many more artists: Can, NEU!, the Residents, the Red Krayola, Amon Duul, the Beatles, etc. Since this comment becomes more toolicious with every clause, I won’t belabor the point further, except to say that I think your article attempts to subvert a fine review with one mighty sweeping generalization that is almost impossible to agree with.

  2. I’ll grant that it’s a huge, somewhat uninformed generalization, largely because I haven’t listened to everything ever. Probably someone else has recorded purely conceptual art. Its important to be careful when using words of such finality as “only”, “all”, “every”, “never”, etc.

    But some of Goodbye 20th Century is purely conceptual, like a cover of Steve Reich’s “Pendulum Music”, in which a microphone is swung overtop of amplifiers to create feedback.

    Also there’s “Piano Piece #13″ where they take turns hammering nails into the keys of a piano until they’re all down.

  3. Caleb says:

    good show. first time seeing Ponytail.

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