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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Original girl punks still one of a kind

    The Slits, seen here at the height of their noisy glory. The punk rock legends are doing their first tour in more than a quarter of a century.
    The Slits, seen here at the height of their noisy glory. The punk rock legends are doing their first tour in more than a quarter of a century.

    The surprisingly sparse audience that showed up to see The Slits at Club Congress on Tuesday night seemed a bit dumbfounded by what it saw.

    Arriving onstage shortly after midnight, the legendary all-girl punk act took nearly five minutes to warm up, adjusting their sound and playfully preparing the audience for a “”Slits seminar”” before launching into a version of their ominous, dub-influenced classic “”Man Next Door.”” They turned it into a virtual jam, complete with tall, dreadlocked lead singer Ari Up chanting deliriously over the top like a reggae disc jockey.

    Anyone who expected to hear a straightforward rock show from one of punk’s founding acts must have been baffled, but the small crowd seemed delighted by what had to be one of the strangest shows to hit Tucson all year.

    “”This was the most laid-back audience we’ve had,”” Up said after the show. “”Usually (it’s) a lot of young people, a lot of screaming, a lot of fun.””

    “”Punk wasn’t about being a follower, it was about creating your own thing.””

    Tessa Pollitt,
    bassist

    Part of the problem may have been that the show was 21 and over, she said.

    “”I just found out that the college kids couldn’t come,”” said Up, who was 14 when she started the band. “”Usually we have all-age gigs.””

    The band got back together after a 25-year hiatus to reach a new audience, not one expecting to hear punk revival show, Up said.

    “”People think it’s going to be retro, just the old songs,”” she said. “”Or they don’t believe it’s really us.””

    But the show was still a rousing success. Three songs into the set, The Slits launched into a scorching version of one of their earliest songs, “”Shoplifting,”” written in the days when the band – famously – couldn’t quite play their instruments.

    When The Slits formed in 1976, there was no Sleater-Kinney, no Courtney Love, no Madonna. An all-girl band was radical enough in itself, but The Slits took it further – when they formed, they couldn’t even play their instruments. Their earliest records are a virtual cacophony of demented shrieking.

    By the time of the first album, Cut, the band had settled into a sound for which there was nearly no precedent, alternating between frenzied, fast-paced punk and dark, dub-influenced, almost funky material – sometimes on the same song. But commercial success never came their way, and in 1981 they quietly dissolved.

    This year, Up and bassist Tessa Pollitt decided to reform, taking on three new members (original members Viv Albertine and Palmolive opted out of the reunion) and releasing a sharp new EP, Revenge of the Killer Slits.

    “”You have to know this album,”” Up told the audience when she prepared to play a track from the band’s long-out-of-print second album, Return of the Giant Slits. “”Get it from Japan.””

    “”Arizona is my favorite state,”” Up said, dedicating one of the new songs, “”Kill Them With Love,”” to the Navajo. She added that she had spent much of the ’80s living in Arizona “”riding horses with the Navajo.””

    After an hour-long show, the band returned for one encore performance of the rollicking “”Let’s Do the Split.””

    On one of their great, forgotten records, The Slits declared that “”Silence is a rhythm too.”” It was hard not to be reminded of that while watching this show, which rolled giddily from genre to genre, by turns menacing and exhilarating.

    As Pollitt once said: “”Punk wasn’t about being a follower, it was about creating your own thing.”” Most bands that call themselves “”punk”” these days can’t be accused of originality, but even after three decades, The Slits couldn’t be accused of anything else.

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