Velocity Girl, Tuscadero, POHGOH, Black Cat, Washington DC, December 2, 2023
February 12, 2024 10:24PM
Velocity Girl, Tuscadero, POHGOH
Black Cat, Washington DC, December 2, 2023
Back in the autumn 2023 I saw one of Velocity Girl’s first shows in decades at the Black Cat 30th Anniversary two-day festival. It was an absolute delight. Given the tremendous response from the audience, the band quickly booked a set of headlining shows in December, and I snatched up a ticket. To add to the attraction, fellow 90s indie pop survivors Tuscadero and POHGOH were added to the roster, Tuscadero from the same DC-area scene and POHGOH from the hinterlands of Florida. While the bands differed, they were inspired by some of the same influences: jangly strumming, energetic and willfully naïve composing, and lyrical content focused on validating the desires and confusion of teens and young adults, as in the twee and sometimes sexless Sarah Records content in England and the likeminded Simple Machines and other labels in America.

Sadly, Velocity Girl as a headliner fell short of the charming show at the Black Cat 30th Anniversary. The setting at the Black Cat was the same; the setlist was not demonstrably different, but it was longer — and Velocity Girl don’t have that many good songs outside of their two key albums Simpatico and Copacetic, their pre-Sub Pop singles, and their one or two other decent singles. Unfortunately Sarah Shannon’s voice was suffering, and while the band had abundant energy the rapport with the crowd sagged with the lesser material.

Tuscadero was one of those bands I never followed, but I saw their one core album, The Pink Album, in CD stores incessantly in the mid- and late-90s. Its design was a hallmark of the Teenbeat era with a black-and-white composition notebook and famously girly cursive handwriting in purple and pink marker; truly exemplary work that gives away the band’s entire aesthetic: the rebelliousness of teenage girls couched in the signifiers of middle-class suburban comfort. And, of course, naming your bratty teen-punk-pop band after the “bad girl” from Happy Days afterschool reruns from the 1980s is relentlessly on-the-nose. Melissa Farris, the band’s lead singer and songwriter, and Margaret McCarthy, were just kids when they formed Tuscadero and released The Pink Album in 1994. It’s almost thirty years later and … they’re not kids anymore. But the music is irrepressible, silly but also poignant. Indeed, decades later, it’s hard to think of a more salient and trenchant contention for the value of maintaining a library of physical media than “Nancy Drew,” the band’s petulant attack on parents who carelessly discard the tokens of one’s childhood and all the memories contained therein. Coming after decades of society discarding its physical library of movies and books and music, it packs an unexpectedly resonant punch. Other songs like “Latex Dominatrix” were silly in the sense that any teenage provocation will seem silly in the subsequent years, but on balance the Tuscadero performance was surprisingly effective, if undeniably slight.

POHGOH was the band of which I was least familiar. They did singles and compilation tracks and a scant few album tracks from something called In Memory of Bab, and said goodbye. In their original incarnation, their vintage was a very brief one: 1994-1997, and following a farewell show in February 1998, they were donezers. But of course, even the most niche band can accrue some degree of retro cachet, and in 2016, the members reformed. Clearly the band — although not from Washington themselves — felt themselves a part of the scene from which Velocity Girl and Tuscadero originated, so it must have made sense for them to trek up to DC to join the reunion show in December.

I didn’t mind the POHGOH opening set, but the set didn’t stand out in my mine: neither as jangly and energetic as Velocity Girl, nor as brattily catchy as Tuscadero, and heavier despite the charm of a whispy female vocal over knotty electric guitar chords. In retrospect POHGOH came along at an intriguing moment in alternative rock, aligned with twee and indie-pop but at the intersection of what become first-generation emo (they shared a split single with Braid). It’s not really my kind of thing, but I think they were probably important to a small sector of the listening audience during their moment of resonance, and they got back in 2016 for periodic reunion shows, and eventually full-lengths in 2020 and 2022, like du und ich, with a really-quite-good single and video, “Hammer.” Susie Ulrey, who sang with the whispy vocals over the electric guitar back in the 1990s, was in a wheelchair for part of the show; she apparently was sidelined for some time with multiple sclerosis. A historical footnote in American indie rock, but possibly an intriguing one.
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