In advance of the release of Bodies and Control and Money and Power, you may have noticed the majority of news outlets nationwide had decided to heap large amounts of love onto DC punk stalwarts Priests. That may, quite possibly, be an overstatement. But if you kept your head up walking down the street or your ears open as you searched for something to listen to at work, you heard reputable people talking about this band -- and deservedly so. For the last couple of years, Priests, made up of Katie Alice Greer, G.L. Jaguar, Taylor Mulitz, and Daniele Daniele, have been working tirelessly to earn this adulation. The slog meant playing a shot anywhere that would have them, anywhere in the United States, to any size crowd. And when the punk rock on stage was through, it was smiles when they were slinging tapes and t-shirts to friends and fans alike. If you didn't know any better, no one would suspect that they may just be on the precipice of something bigger than you and me.
Leading up to June 2nd, it felt as though every conversation I had ended with a simple rhetorical question. "See you at Priests?" It felt impossible that everyone in DC would fit into the backstage space at Black Cat, but it seemed as though they might try. And according to plan, on June 2nd, the show sold out. For a few hours, Priests may have been the hottest ticket in town.
Joining the headliners were DC ex-pats Pinkwash and Brooklyn's The Shondes. By the time the music was scheduled to start at 8:30, the masses were already huddled by the inches high stage. The room was beginning to fill. The excitement was palpable. How could it be that this readily available band had attracted this crowd? The years of hard work were paying off.
Before 10:30 had struck, Dischord boss Ian MacKaye had taken his regular perch. Made sense. Dischord Direct had long been a source of distribution for Priests. Ian seemingly has good taste, so why wouldn't he be in attendance? Nothing to see here, right? But Dante Ferrando, Black Cat owner and DC music legend in his own right, took a break from talking to his old pal Ian, to help Priests bring in their gear. As he began walking drums and cymbals to the back corner of the stage, a friend and I stared. Could very well have been a case of a couple music nerds making much ado about nothing, again, but it felt, to us taking note, as a seal of approval and a passing of the torch. A Black Cat staffer remarked aghast after the show, "I have NEVER seen that happen before."
And then, when there wasn't an ounce of oxygen to spare in the now oppressively hot room, Priests began, or more accurately, they exploded. Amid pleasantries, niceties, introductions and hilarities from Greer, the band burned through much of their catalog. With the organized chaos of a controlled experiment, Priests precisely executed a set for the ages. Borrowing from moments from each part of their short career, the band ignited the crowd in joy and frenzy. Friends exchanged knowing looks during favorite songs; strangers lovingly slammed into each other with reckless abandon; and we all sang along. The crowd was sweaty and exhausted, but we weren't ready to leave. Not yet. Not even when the band signaled that the night had drawn to a close. With many a punk rock show, and previous Priests performances have been no exception, there is no perfunctory encore. When the band leaves the stage, it's time to talk among friends, buy the band's record, or go home. You can do anything, but under no circumstances are you seeing more live music. But tonight, of course, was different. Nobody moved. We clapped. We cheered. We weren't leaving until we could greet our friends and neighbors as heroes. Then came the great death knell of "One.More.Song!" attempts: the house music. But still, nobody left. We stood lockstep. We clapped some more. And then came the house lights. They were smoking us out. The crowd, only mildly deterred, remained. And then, to our delight, the band reemerged.
Before being treated to more music, Greer extolled on us the virtues of Chris Rock, which they as a band had embraced. Your set is your set, she explained. But we were friends and this was home. Tonight, there would be an encore. The crowd and band together, standing on its last legs, seemed to extoll more fury than it had at any point in the evening. To paraphrase Grateful Dead bass player Phil Lesh, the circuit between band and audience had been completed. We were rewarding each other.
And when it was all said and done, we all agreed: Something special had happened.
Priests are currently embarking on a nationwide tour.
Follow Ben E. Kessler on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ben__k