See them now, before they implode like every other incredible punk band you’ve ever loved.
Polaris Hall, Portland, OR
Peter Shaver, who runs the Portland-based music and arts-based law firm Sound Advice, once described Portland’s Pickathon like this: “Your favorite band from two years from now are playing two sets this weekend!” Two years ago, I stumbled into the festival’s Galaxy Barn and was confronted with DC punks Priests, who I’d never heard of. Frontperson Katie Alice Greer stood before the crowd dressed in a poofy prom dress as they barreled through songs from that year’s fantastic Nothing Feels Natural. What began as a straightforward punk show unfurled itself with an inspiring level of energy, and I’d spend the next 12 hours feverishly demanding that every person I came across be there to see their second set. Priests are just the kind of band that inspire that: their energy is incendiary and they’re almost too smart – something they show off in every song of this year’s brilliant and underrated (even by me – it deserved at least a 4 in hindsight) The Seduction of Kansas.
Two years on, a sold-out Priests show at Polaris Hall is a wonderful prospect. The venue is still in its chrysalis phase, a couple years (and maybe some more minor renovations) away from ditching its “Community center with the best booker on the planet” vibes behind to become a North Portland powerhouse. The crowd was excited, which proved to be one of the most fun things about seeing them again. This one was populated by people ravenous to see them instead of just being curious people who were free at midnight. When you fall in love with bands at Pickathon, there can be this fear that the love you feel is just infatuation brought on by the magic of the farm. Let’s set this aside first: Priests are not that. They’re the real deal, and the sheer power I felt the first time I saw them has only gotten better since.
It starts with the fact that they’re all just so compelling to watch. Dressed in a gold spandex bodysuit with old-school wrestling boots on and her mess of cotton candy blue curls tied back, Greer is a force of nature, spending the length of the show dancing, thrashing, and stalking the stage in various ways. The closest thing to staying in one place she managed was for Kansas’s “I’m Clean” and “68 Screens,” where she handed the reins over to drummer Daniele Daniele – and even then, Greer opted to drum with plastic maracas. Guitarist GL Jaguar – his gold SG a great match for Greer’s bodysuit – wore a black cowboy hat (also present on Seduction’s cover), yet another piece of our cultural attempt to shift cowboy culture into something more inclusive. Jaguar, by the way, stood by the exit to high-five everyone leaving the venue. That’s just cute.
Sonically speaking, the show was a bruiser. All of the depth fades away when they perform live, their songs transformed into noise weapons. They played all but the final three songs of Seduction, with a handful of tracks from Nothing Feels Natural (including “No Big Bang,” the song that activated my adoration of the band, requested by yours truly) and – though it wasn’t addressed and blended into the mass of noise – a cover of Danzig’s “Mother” for good measure. I’m not shocked that the quiet moments and soft electronic manipulation of Kansas’s songs – the fingerprints of producer John Congleton, most likely – were absent, but even though I missed them, I have no reason to complain about how they’ve chosen to translate these songs.
This all lasted 45 minutes, an astonishingly short set, but not because it was too short, but because they managed to pack enough fury and energy into it that it didn’t matter. No good show is too long, and no bad show is short enough. This kind of set length isn’t uncommon these days – although usually we get at least an hour out of the headliner – but the growing trend makes us ask ourselves tough questions about the concept of “worth it.” Priest are, in no uncertain terms, worth it. See them now, before they implode like every other incredible punk band you’ve ever loved.