Reaction to death in the rock world is often glib (if well-articulated), but the July 1993 murder of Gits vocalist Mia Zapata brought Seattle’s underground community together in a shared sense of tragedy, fear, sadness, horror and anger. (Her killer was finally identified via DNA evidence and arrested in January 2003.) Zapata was special, and those lucky enough to have seen the Gits live can testify to the vocalist’s gritty, raucous performances. With her ragged vocals, Zapata sounded like a punk Janis Joplin, spitting soulful tales of desperation, hard living, drinking and pain.
Frenching the Bully bears out her spirit and charisma. The music is basic, punchy and jagged — part hardcore, part hooks, all heart — and Zapata is searing and powerful. “Another Shot of Whiskey,” “Second Skin,” “Absynthe,” “Insecurities” and “Kings and Queens” rock fiercely, but the more dynamic and darkly sultry “It All Dies Anyway” might be the record’s best track.
The posthumously released Enter: The Conquering Chicken builds on the group’s punk roots, expanding into more-developed territory on “Bob (Cousin O.),” “Guilt Within Your Head,” “Seaweed,” the emotional “Precious Blood” and a beautiful cover of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.” “Drunks,” while delineating a band philosophy, is hedonistic good fun; “Beauty of the Rose” recaptures the debut’s hard-hitting fury. The album was incomplete at the time of Zapata’s death, so the Gits chose to flesh it out with credible filler items: her solo performance of “Social Love” and a compilation contribution, “Drinking Song,” which poignantly functions as a farewell from the late singer (“So with this pint I toast to you/To all my friends — keep healthy and good/I clench it tight and I raise it high/May the spirits runneth over/And drinks never denied”).
Zapata’s surviving bandmates — guitarist Andy Joe Spleen, drummer Steve Moriarty and bassist Matthew Dresdner—mounted fundraising efforts to support the criminal investigation and continued playing music together. With Spleen taking over lead vocals and guitarist Julian Gibson joining, the Gits became Dancing French Liberals of ’48.
Produced by Jack Endino, Scream Clown Scream is a raw, sloppy blast of barely premeditated punk aggression and personal turmoil. Addressing both the past and the present, the five songs are fairly captured by titles like “Scream Clown Scream,” “Bottom of Our Career” and “Off the Deep End.” Potent stuff.
Powerline is a healing sonic adventure, a chance for the Liberals—who audibly miss Zapata’s vocals and lyrics here—to release a host of complicated emotions on one charged disc. “New Drinking Song” honors the late singer as “The Queen of Table Waters”; “Spit in Your Eye” addresses anger; “Total Seclusio” envisions a dying person’s last moments. “Daily Bread” is purportedly the last song Zapata ever wrote. Despite the circumstances, there’s a surprising buoyancy to Powerline. Joan Jett, who sings backup on “In a Past Life” (the only song remade from Scream Clown Scream) later joined forces with the group to tour and record as Evil Stig.
Album tracks by the Gits, Liberals and Zapata—as well as otherwise unissued contributions from Evil Stig, Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Soundgarden, 7 Year Bitch and nearly 40 other artists—fill the two discs of Home Alive, a fundraiser arranged by and benefiting a Seattle-based organization opposing violence and abuse. The album is dedicated to Zapata, whose murder inspired the Home Alive collective into existence.