Live review: Ex Hex

Betsy Wright on lead bass. Photo by Guy Christie.

Betsy Wright on lead bass. Photo by Guy Christie.

Ex Hex
The Green Door Store, Brighton, Sunday 15/2/15

You know it’s going to be a good show when it’s the first song and the bassist already has one foot up on the monitors. Ex Hex may not deliver anything new, but they do excel at something that’s been missing from the scene for far too long; kick ass rock n’ roll pop music, with great tunes and a sense of serious fun. And pouts and poses aside, it wouldn’t work if the deceptively simple songs weren’t also undeniably brilliant.

With a bare bones power trio like Ex Hex there are no frills or gimmicks to hide behind, and the likes of ‘Don’t Wanna Lose’ and ‘How You Got That Girl’ recall nothing so much as the Go-Go’s- whose debut album, Beauty and the Beat, remains one of power pop’s greatest overlooked classics. Ex Hex also nod to several more of humanity’s finest bands- the Ramones, Cheap Trick, the Runaways and, on ‘Radio On,’ even throw in some metronomic boogie worthy of AC/DC or ZZ Top. But beneath the surface the lyrics are far from good-time froth; songs such as ‘You Fell Apart’ and ‘Warpaint’ deal in alienation and unsentimental regret, born not of teenage angst but years of experience.

At 44, singer-guitarist Mary Timony is already a veteran of American indie rock, having played in Helium, Soft Power and Wild Flag as well as under her own name (the band shares its name with her 2005 solo album). The other two-thirds of Ex Hex- Betsy Wright pirouetting around on lead bass in sequinned hotpants, Doc Martens and a Van Halen t-shirt, and Laura Harris pounding out the backbeat behind a curtain of sweaty blonde hair- are both in their early thirties, and all have paid their dues on Washington DC’s defiantly DIY post-hardcore circuit, with friends and supporters including Fugazi’s Brendan Canty and the Make-Up’s Ian Svenonius.

The songs from last year’s debut album Rips are still punk rock, but there’s no whining or passive-aggressive nihilism to be heard; just grin-inducing harmonies, air-punching aggressive melodies and a surfeit of snappy hooks. Tonight, Timony and Wright duel matching cherry red Gibsons, facing off like Bowie and Ronson; Timony drops to her knees for a guitar solo, and Wright executes a high kick to signal the end of a jam. It’s appropriate that they close the last night of their British tour with a cover of the Sweet’s glam rock classic ‘Fox on the Run,’ “for all the UK people.” And if not all the UK people seem to recognise the song (number 2 in 1975, pop pickers), then even less knew the earlier cover of Boston band the Real Kids’ 1977 punk nugget ‘All Kindsa Girls.’ But no matter: Ex Hex have just given them the most enjoyable history lesson they’ll ever receive.

Mary Timony, photo by Guy Christie.

Mary Timony, photo by Guy Christie.


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