The sun was setting over the Schuylkill River as a crowd of all ages began to congregate on the steps of the First Unitarian Church on Saturday April 27th. Young men and women were eagerly exchanging hushed whispers about their excitement that the “three hurricanes from the bottom of the earth,” Camp Cope, were back to the city. Fronted by the ferocious “Georgia Maq” McDonald along with bassist Kelly-Dawn Hellmrich and drummer Sarah Thompson, the group has been touring the US in support of their 2018 album How To Socialize & Make Friends. The album, which gets its ironically hilarious name from an imaginary man’s self-help diary, was released last spring to great acclaim, noted for its poignant lyrical work and musical mastery on pieces such as ‘The Opener,’ ‘The Face of God,’ and ‘UFO Lighter.’ After missing what was undoubtedly an amazing show at PhilaMOCA last June opened by local rock group Petal, it was no question that I’d be one of the first in line to see them tear apart the church basement for a few hours on Saturday night.
Nestled between the stage-front amps and the ever-worrisome First Unitarian stageside mobile scaffolding (when the hell is it going to collapse?), I got comfortable and prepared myself for some great opening groups. Brooklyn’s Oceanator, the project of musician Elise Okusami, opened the show with pieces ranging from moody post-rock to introspective punk, warming the crowd up and pulling everyone close to the stage. Next up was crowd and Philly favorite Thin Lips, fronted by well-known local musician Chrissy Tashjian. Backed by her brother on drums, Kyle Pulley of Headroom Studios on bass, Lou Hanman on guitar, and Lauren Adams on keys, the band played multiple new songs as well as their well-known favorites including ‘Gaslight Anthem’ and ‘Never Again.’ Tashjian, who I had last seen playing with Hop Along at their huge Union Transfer show last May, reflected on the theme of her recently released EP Carrot Milk in between songs, telling the heartbreaking story of how she couldn’t make it to her grandmother’s funeral due to the group going on tour. She painted a brutally detailed picture of how difficult it is to balance the battles of an up and coming female musician with life’s sometimes hectic twists and turns. Her emotion spilled into her vocals as her staunch concentration and Kyle Pulley’s headbanging drew screams from the crowd.
Camp Cope took the stage soon after Thin Lips finished up their set, with Hellmrich almost immediately jumping into the well-known bass riff of their 2016 single ‘Keep Growing.’ After repeating the riff a few times as the rest of the group tuned up, McDonald unexpectedly shouted into the crowd for someone to come up. Kiley Lotz of Petal suddenly jumped up the steps to the stage, taking the center microphone as McDonald’s guitar screamed to life. In between harmonies, Lotz jumped around the stage as McDonald joined her, at one point laying back on the alphabet carpet to tear out some riffs. The group went on to weave their way through songs from their two albums, starting off with ‘How to Socialize & Make Friends’ off the album of the same name. Before their next piece, ‘The Face of God,’ McDonald expressed her disappointment in the fact that this ‘keeps having to be fucking said’ in reference to the song’s portraying McDonald’s harrowing victimhood of sexual assault. An outspoken opponent of industry sexism, especially in the indie music scene, McDonald has made waves in Australia with her #ItTakesOne initiative, which promotes concert safety and an enjoyable listening experience for all members present, regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation, or race. The crowd took her advice to heart and (consensually and peacefully) danced with each other as the group went from hit to hit.
After a few more raucous jams, McDonald took a brief pause to play a new solo piece in a toned-down and quieter interlude. The crowd hushed and came together, but the anticipation for their hit ‘The Opener’ was noticeably starting to bubble over. Finally, when it was almost too much to bear, McDonald called up Okusami of Oceanator to play guitar so that she could roam the stage freely. Hellmrich’s bass riff began, while Thompson’s first bass kick set McDonald off like a starting gun. She seemed to somehow take up the entire width of the stage, sprinting back and forth while the crowd screamed her lyrics bashing the male-dominated music scene right back at her. The song is a thematic melting pot, not only bashing sexism but invoking commentary on music festival misogyny and even the death of McDonald’s father. An absolutely mind-blowing piece, it is no wonder that the whole crowd knew almost every word to the song. When the band finished up and walked off stage, I turned around and saw just how packed the church basement was. Hundreds were sandwiched person to person back to the merch tables, and I was in awe at the success of this truly independent band’s success. They fought back against the industry standard, refusing to sign with a label that would stifle their opinions, voices, and passion, opting to instead take the risk of headlining huge shows with openers of their choosing and having faith that their message would be heard by their listeners. After seeing how many people showed up on Saturday night, I have no doubt that their voice is not only being heard but is being burned into the memory of thousands of impressionable young people across the world.
How to Socialize & Make Friends
The Face of God
Jet Fuel Can’t Melt Steel Beams
Untitled – Georgia Maq Solo
Flesh and Electricity