Puget Sound palindromic punk outfit Tacocat, the aural equivalent of an explosion at a Lisa Frank factory, return to the UK with new album ‘This Mess Is A Place’ and transforming venerated Northern Quarter establishment Gulliver’s into a sold-out sweatbox. The foursome have built up something of a cult following over the years with their fiercely charged rhetoric and DIY philosophies, and with studio album number four unleashed into the world, Tacocat are receiving a well-earning hero’s welcome in Manchester.
Right now there is precious little of Twen available to hear via the usual roots. The Boston-via-Nashville outfit have only released a couple of singles over the few months, instead electing to record and release a tape of five tracks from their very first gig in 2016 straightforwardly titled ‘Twen Live’, and tour relentlessly – building up interest and support by word-of-mouth. This is all about to change with debut Awestruck to be released next month. The core duo of singer Jane Fitzsimmons and guitarist Ian Jones have history with Tacocat, having ran an indie venue in Boston that hosted them several years ago, and tonight they bring a lo-fi high-energy style of jangling college rock to the fore, previewing Awestruck material and doing just as they have been for the past few years, winning themselves new fans. ‘Damsel’ in particular shimmers, almost dreamlike as ghosts of Sub Pop past seem to possess the band, while Jane’s hyperanimated movements across the stage during ‘Bore U’, equal-part indebted to David Byrne and an inflatable tube man, punctuate and accentuate the free-form yet tightly-focussed music with songs shifting gears at the drop of a hat- it is fundamentally impossible not to smile watching and listening to Twen, the group also sharing Tacocat’s creative DIY punk streak both sonically and physically, with handmade recycled tie-dye t-shirts on offer- which got snapped up rather quickly.
“We’re gonna do something with some zing. Some pizazz. A little pep!” – ‘Horseblood’ surges forward, the carefree jangled slowed down into a sludge, Ian’s Replacements-style guitarwork overtaken by waves of feedback as the four careen effortlessly into debut single and set-closer ‘Waste’, a deliriously happy wash of sundrenched indie rock that throws strong hints at how good Awestruck may prove to be.
A quick aside – Tacocat bassist Bree McKenna came to the stage in a pair of silver glittered biker boots that had pockets up the sides of them. They looked amazing and if I thought I could pull that look off, I’d get a pair for myself. Sorry, back to the review.
The glitter-encrusted surf punk of Tacocat feels indebted to its environment – like Twen, there is a lingering feel of grunge in their music, in particular Veruca Salt and Velocity Girl (the latter were also signed to Sub Pop in the early 1990s), the golden California beaches traded for the drizzly Cascades, with jagged Del-Tone strumming from Eric Randall and Lelah Maupin’s splashing cymbals. The Seattle group offer some heavygoing subject matter but dealt with defiance and righteousness, as well as good humour – ‘Bridge To Hawaii’ deals with Seasonal Affective Disorder, to escape the gloom of the Pacific Northwest for the endless clear blue skies, while new song ‘Hologram’ is a powerful attack on unneeded artificial power structures (“Fuck the patriarchy!”, a shout from the audience. “That too”, giggle the band.) which serves as a counter to their ode to 90s screen icon FBI agent Dana Katherine Scully, managing to feel simultaneously silly while incredibly profound, a genuine tribute delivered completely straight as Emily Noakes, armed with tambourine, channels Kathleen Hanna and Karen O, mesmerising the capacity crowd as she adds just a touch of sugary pop sensibilities behind punk venom.
“You know when everything is so fucked you can’t even joke about it anymore…? yeah, that”. ‘Joke Of Life’ is introduced with a slightly defeated note from Emily but honestly it’s hard not to feel the same as the band- many of their songs are reactions to the modern world, a place that really does appear to be falling apart by the moment, from the aforementioned ‘Bridge To Hawaii’ and ‘Hologram’ through to ‘Crystal Ball’ which marries innately-relatable prose about the malaise of depression (“The past and present future/Stupid computer stupor/All my kingdom for some better ads”) to bubblegum riot grrrl sounds with insanely catchy melodies and close four-way harmonies- The Shangri-La’s after one too many Pixy Stix. Tacocat go a little more light-hearted too with hometown paean ‘I Love Seattle’ (seriously, the Washington State tourist board should snap this up) and turn up the humour and somehow their charm even further with menstruation anthem ‘Crimson Wave’, a beach party attack with Beach Boys harmonies kicked into submission as Eric, Lelah and Bree play their supercharged Ventures backbeat.
By the time of ‘I Hate The Weekend’ Gullivers is an inferno of body heat, the sweat pouring from Tacocat even with the best efforts of Emily’s towel (“Do I have lipstick everywhere? You can tell me”), but the crowd couldn’t care less – the set, a good mixture of old material along with tracks from ‘This Mess Is A Place’ goes down fabulously and this kind of environment is perfect for a band who remain fiercely DIY, selling handmade zines and jewellery along with the usual array of t-shirts and records – their creativity practically unmatched.
Tacocat + Twen performed at Gullivers on Tuesday 27th August 2019. Words and photos by Liam Moody.