Washington, D.C.’s Priests took the back room platform at Oakland’s 1-2-3-4 Go! Records on Tuesday night after a somber set from local droners Alien Tears. No pre-show ticket purchases meant that most of the crowd, which numbered about a hundred or so, had shown up around 7:30 p.m. to secure their spots and catch up with neighborhood friends. In cut-up band tees, pastel-colored hair (yeah, it’s still a thing), meticulously groomed mustaches, and even some flannel, most of the young adults seemed like regulars as they sifted through the store’s selection of old and local punk while staring wanly at the wall of off-the-wall music books. Billed to open the midweek gig, Beck Levy and her support musicians as Alien Tears plugged in at about a quarter past eight, alluring the crowd to stop shopping and file into the gig room. Attendees stood still, captivated, and possibly a little uncomfortable as Levy’s voice dragged along with her drowsy strum-work, chanting, “The body remembers and so does the dirt.”
“All of these songs are about killing your abuser and going to prison for it,” Levy told the room between songs, “and are dedicated to anyone who’s ever done that.”
Her admission contextualized the cathartic nature of the utterly depressing set and foreshadowed Alien Tears’ finale song, Ministry’s “Just One Fix“. Before slow-diving into the cover, Levy fixed her capo and gazed upward from the fulcrum of a pink shag mat, looking past the ceiling. The bassist kept pace wearing what looked like a Voivod shirt.
Priests were quick to file in after Levy packed up. Drummer Daniele Withonel positioned herself behind the set fifteen minutes before the band did their soundcheck, and despite the warm-up, Priests opened with a glitch. Bassist Taylor M problem-solved while lead vocalist Katie Alice Greer entertained the crowd with the help of a supportive Levy, who moved forward from her front row seat to whisper a whale joke into Greer’s ear, which Greer then repeated into the microphone. Most of the crowd didn’t respond to the punchline, but Greer kept the mood light and manned the downtime by getting a little honest with her audience. “Backstreet’s back, alright. . .” she playfully, and carefully, sang into the microphone, admitting, “That’s been stuck in my head all day.” It also wasn’t totally appropriate, Greer went on, because it was actually Priests’ first time in Oakland, so they weren’t technically back. She finally got a laugh when she explained why it was like, the best song.
“I always thought that part was funny where he asks, ‘Am I sexual?'” she said to everyone’s amusement. “I mean, he’s asking if he’s sexual. Like he’s confused about it, or doesn’t know. Sometimes I don’t know, either.”
And with that, Greer went from witty friend to riotous ball of energy in two seconds flat as the band charged into a brassy dancepunk number reminiscent of The B-52s — except imagine Cindy Wilson channeling the guttural choke of scene scion Lydia Lunch. Guitarist Gideon Jaguar, who provided the twangy surf rock hooks, beelined from onstage to the back of the small venue, rippling through the bodies without pushback. Greer joined her bandmates in putting everything into the performance, flailing her blonde wig and yelling so hard to hits like “Doctor” that her neck veins bulged to the size of her toned biceps. They all-out emoted the kind of no-reservations energy you’re figuratively asking for when you buy a ticket to a show at a punky record shop.
Unfortunately for the few show-goers willing to party along, not a lot of the crowd was was outwardly feeling it. It might have been the low mood of the opener, or that it was a non-weekend Wednesday night, but for all their effort, and as strong as their set was, Priests barely riled the crowd. Greer had to practically beg the timid frontline to meet the stage from their safe distance away. But, as many know from their own experiences, a viewer’s reserve also doesn’t mean a person isn’t totally internally enjoying it. After Priests wrapped up with “USA (Incantations)”, a fan in bright red pants offered praise about Greer’s showmanship that summed up the raucous and utterly fun nature the set.
“I couldn’t really understand what she was saying,” the fan told The B-Side, “but I liked the way she said it.” He ended up buying two shirts, a debut EP, and the literal Tape Two.
Check out our photos of the set below, and if you’re reading this from other parts of the West Coast, you can catch Priests soon at a venue near you.