For the past year, I personally wondered if Ex Hex, one of the strongest bands to emerge from DC in quite some time, were going to be a one-album project. After all, their debut album Rips dropped in 2014, and the last 12 months were relatively quiet for the female power pop trio.
Ex Hex crushed my fears in a sold-out show at Black Cat on Saturday, remarkable not only for the wall-to-wall crowd but also the wall-to-wall sound in an upbeat performance that included several new songs! Every show I’ve caught by the band has been good, but this was simply the best.
New songs suggest that perhaps a second album is on the horizon, presumably with Merge Records, who released their first record. The new songs, with titles like “Tough Love” and “Another Dimension” as I heard them, truly seem destined to be new favorites upon repeat listens.
One of the fascinating things about Ex Hex is how each of the 12 songs sounds like a timeless classic that peeled off the radio in the late ’70s or early ’80s — like the whole album is a string of hits from a girl band you never discovered but counted The Knack, The Romantics, The Plimsouls, and even Cheap Trick among their contemporaries. You can listen to the songs on repeat endlessly and never get tired of them, and then seeing them live imbues them with new life.
On Saturday, those earworms indeed soothed an expectant crowd. In hearing them again, I gained new appreciation for several of the band’s songs that weren’t prominent singles. For example, “New Kid” is an intoxicatingly catchy number with a touch of glam in an irresistible guitar riff from frontwoman Mary Timony, who manages to sing the song in a manner that’s somehow both tough and tender.
Drummer Laura Harris seemed positively unleashed all night, her snappy drumsticks alight in an impenetrable bubble — “another dimension” of its own where happiness comes in the form of nonstop percussive beats. The continuity of the Ex Hex sound owed a great deal to these wondrous drums, which roll seamlessly from song to song. And another standout number on Saturday arrived with “How You Got That Girl,” a sonic challenge issued by bassist Betsy Wright with a devil-may-care snarl that inevitably melts into a sly, satisfied smile. As ever, Betsy was the most mobile member of Ex Hex, throwing down basslines in a solid rhythm section with Laura, but also strutting to the center of the stage to form an aural force field by crossing her bass with Mary’s guitar.
Ex Hex presented a pair of well-established favorites in their encore, first with “Radio,” where Betsy again took lead vocals for what is a relatively mellow and pleasing number for the band. The chorus provided another opportunity for Mary and Betsy to harmonize, which they do quite well. Then, Ex Hex close the show with “Hot and Cold,” their smashing debut single.
It may be reductive, and not fully representative sonically, but perhaps this is still a handy parallel if you don’t yet know the band: Think of Ex Hex as DC’s modern response to The Go-Go’s — frontwoman Mary is a rocker Belinda Carlisle who lives and breathes guitar; bassist Betsy surely has a dash of Jane Wieldlin in her style; and drummer Laura is certainly every bit as fierce as Gina Schock.
Ex Hex have no tour dates schedule at the moment, but with a second album apparently on the way in 2018 (fingers crossed!), it shouldn’t be long before we see them again. When those new tour dates come, make plans to catch this fantastic trio live and experience their superb music firsthand. (Can’t wait for more Ex Hex? Betsy’s other band, psychedelic rockers Bat Fangs, play a record release show at Comet Ping Pong on Feb. 9! Buy your tickets online.)
Here are some pictures of Ex Hex performing at Black Cat on Dec. 30, 2017.