Morningwood: Inevitable Dysfunction

I was at the fourth-to-last Sleater-Kinney show of all-time… It was the most powerful experience of live music I’ve ever witnessed… This week I attended Morningwood’s fourth-to-last show of...

I was at the fourth-to-last Sleater-Kinney show of all-time… It was the most powerful experience of live music I’ve ever witnessed… This week I attended Morningwood’s fourth-to-last show of all-time… Well, it was the best thing I’ve seen so far this year… and the highlight of my Spring Break.

I recently interviewed Mindless Self Indulgence’s Jimmy Urine to preview the band’s return to the road and their March 6th performance at the Trocadero.  However, it was Jimmy’s wife, Chantal Claret, and her Morningwood’s opening set that turned out to be the highlight of the evening.  While the tour was a reunion of sorts for both MSI and Morningwood, who have each been off of the scene for a few years, the East Coast leg of the tour is a farewell for Morningwood, whose final show is this Sunday at Irving Plaza in New York City

Morningwood are Chantal and Pedro Yanowitz; one-time drummer for The Wallflowers, Natalie Merchant, Yoko Ono, Allen Ginsberg, and Wilco; who handles bass duties (along with Will Tendy on guitar and Jonathan Schmidt on drums for the live lineup).  The duo released two of the last decade’s most brilliant (and critically underrated) exercises in Power Pop and Dance Rock.  2006’s self-titled LP produced the vulgarly aerobic single “Nth Degree,” which seemed to make its way into nearly every facet of our society of the spectacle and led the band to several years of touring alongside the likes of Head Automatica, Gang of Four, Kasabian, and The Sounds.  2009’s Diamonds & Studs, a far sassier, slinkier, and sexier record most famously produced the theme song to VH1’s Daisy of Love (“Best of Me”), but wielded little more activity on behalf of the duo.  Well, Chantal is moving on from Morningwood, with her The Pleasure Seeker EP out May 8th and an LP out June 19th.  However, hubby Jimmy convinced her to take the Morningwood show on the road one more time, for another seven shows as the opening act for his own Mindless Self Indulgence (pun intended).

Although Morningwood are a duo, it is Chantal who has “called the shots” when it comes to their live shows.  I’ve often described her performance style as being “Seemingly indebted to Divine’s nightclub act in Female Trouble… except sexy as fuck.”  This past Wednesday she appeared as an anti-Venus onstage, in a skintight houndstooth cocktail dress, contorting herself in the haphazard fashion of punk-performance-art and banging her head in a violently exorcised fashion.  At one point she found herself climbing speakers to stalk the balcony of the century-and-a-half-old theatre.  At another, she found herself taking a piggy-back ride through the audience on the back of the venue’s largest security guard.

Although those in attendance had tightly-packed the venue quite early, they seem to have done so to secure a spot for MSI, and were largely unfamiliar with Morningwood’s output.  However, they did seem to have their rocks gotten off by Chantal and Pedro.  The 45-minute performance began with “Nu Rock,” a gritty hard rock number that embraces all of the beautifully epic griminess of Sleaze Rock and nothing of its pompous cheese (see: Betty Blowtorch), followed by “Killer Life,” possibly their most accessible testament to 80s sugar-coated pop rebellion, just as adorable as it is demented… perhaps Morningwood’s work has lacked a common aesthetic, but it certainly has displayed an ability to appropriate all of the most satisfyingly playful styles of the past thirty years.

The rest of the band’s set bounced back-and-forth between these expressions-of-badassedness-from-the-cutest-girl-you’ll-ever-know and perfected-pop-inspired-by-painful-dissatisfaction.  Highlights included their sassiest, “Sugarbaby,” a hyper-bitchy and hyper-anthemic sendoff to a less-than-worthy lover; “New York Girls,” which was affectionately changed to “Philly Girls” for the evening; and the band’s most infamous number, “Take Off Your Clothes” (Which I recently realized includes no actual singing… only talking and shouting.), which had Chantal joining the audience on the floor and promising that this would be their only chance to feel her up without getting Jimmy upset… and there was a morbidly obese gentleman in glasses and a Green Lantern shirt that promptly made his way to the front of the stage upon this proclamation…

Morningwood’s set ended with “Jetsetter,” off of their debut LP.  Although the track does embody the band at both their sweetest and most raucous… and their poppiest and most pissed-off… I was truly hoping for “Cat in a Box.”  The ballad that closes Diamonds & Studs not only displays Chantal’s pipes at their most soulful and sincere, but recounts the existentially epic emotional aftermath of a one-night-stand in a manner that my most romantic of selves would love to envision the ending of a beautiful Rock’N’Roll band…


During the day Izzy Cihak teaches transgression, subversion, and revolution at Temple University. At night he haunts Philthy's best venues to cover worthwhile acts for Philthy Mag. Morrissey is everything to him and, in their own heads, all of his friends see themselves as Zooey Deschanel.