PWR BTTM at the Starline Social Club, by Marc Fong
PWR BTTM (by: Marc Fong)

Early last year, I went to PWR BTTM‘s first San Francisco show ever. On Thursday, February 23 of 2017, I witnessed their first Oakland show, which sold out weeks before.

A constant thread between most of the bands that played that night was that they were ones I had been following for a while, watching blossom into something unbelievable. In 2015, I saw The Total Bettys ‘ third live show ever, in a lightly crowded apartment of a college friend. In 2016, I went to SOAR‘s first live show as a whole at Thrillhouse Records. The only band in which I had little to no connection with was CHAOS CHAOS, that changed on this night.

The night before, I had hung out with Ben Hopkins and Liv Bruce at Diet Cig’s show at Brick and Mortar. Ben’s father was there, as well as so many other friends I admire. In a little over one year, both my life and those darlings in PWR BTTM has changed into something that I don’t think any of us could have expected. My change is a little too complex to explain, but PWR BTTM went from a small DIY band on the best local DIY indie label (Father/Daughter) to touring the world, getting little kids to send them very strange fan tweets, and getting signed to major indie label Polyvinyl. I mostly went from a shy little stranger who was too anxious to interview them on the phone to someone who attack-hugs them when I see them in public.

I watched a quiet and empty venue become packed and vivacious by the end of the night. I also watched The Total Bettys win over the little baby PWR BTTM fans and I sobbed. I sobbed so much. My Pisces heart is too sentimental, not only because it’s my season (my last week of my early 20s), but also because I have been to all the PWR BTTM shows with the members of The Total Bettys. To watch them sing the song that made them win me over and win over the crowd that was already covered in glitter and sequins (“No Kings”). To watch them tell the crowd how important PWR BTTM is to them and their partners. To have been there, watching it all happen from almost the beginning…I am sobbing right now.

SOAR is a calmer band, but one that is kind of like a super band, with members of Joyride, Watercolor Paintings, Void Boys, and Dreamspoiler. Their energy is a sweet, anxious one — excited to be there, but also in disbelief that they belong there. They freaking belong, OK? Their talent is more subtle in the sense that they don’t dance around and make that stage shake, but more in the sense that they release that energy through their music. They calmed the crowd, but there were still kids screaming with joy to them. I also sobbed.

CHAOS CHAOS (formerly Smoosh) are a Brooklyn-based sister duo; Asy and Chloe Saavedra. They’re originally from Seattle and, before this week, unknown to me, but now I am beyond in love. Their sound was a lot more synth-pop, and they were the only band that had a keyboard. That keyboard, however, was double-deckered and embellished with different pedals. By the end, they let the keyboard go and sang to the little queer angels in the crowd, making anyone that listened become obsessed. Also they have been a band since they were like 10, and have toured with Pearl Jam. Yeah, Chaos Chaos is like the pop She’s.

At the end of the set, our writer Kaiya came to me, telling me that Ben’s dad was looking for me, so I went out into the crowd with a slight limp and a mission (I messed up my left knee this past December). I found the dad by the bar, who then was overjoyed by the sight of me. The night before, we totally bonded, and he interviewed me about my own career. This night, he told his family friends that I was a “bad b!tch” who ran this scene and Noise Pop. I tried to protest, say that I really do not run Noise Pop, but when a white man gives you fake power, you take it.

When it was time for PWR BTTM to go on, I watched it all from a perfectly elevated booth in the back. It was the first time I was not front and center, screaming along, for a PWR BTTM show, but in the back, I was screaming and slightly sobbing along. Before playing anything, Ben and Liv took it upon them to talk about the state of the country. Mentioning how the current administration had issued new guidance outlining which restrooms transgenderstudents can use, sowing confusion in schools, angering LGBTQ rights groups, and adding uncertainty to an already precarious situation. Last time I saw PWR BTTM live, was the day after the election. Every time I see them I feel solidarity, freedom to not be judged for my appearance or questioned of my identity. I feel valid. I feel real. I feel semi manic. Especially, they have made it necessary that every venue they play at has gender neutral bathrooms. Liv brought up something even more necessary, the fact that white folk can not just avoid the issues that burden people of color. To listen to our complaints, to not only show up Planned Parenthood, but for Black Lives Matter, and the rights of Immigrants (I am a non-binary first-generation chicanx, hello). I felt safe there, I was not alone in this feeling.

They went on to perform to a loud, proud, queer, and accepting sold out crowd. Singing all the hits, no misses from Ugly Cherries released on Father/Daughter and a few of their new album, Pageant that will be released in may by Polyvinyl. Also, oh my goodness, the biggest surprise of the night was when Ben Hopkins’ mother came on stage and sang on those new songs. She apparently actually sings on the new album, and it’s really wonderful to see where Ben gets his talent, because her voice is amazing. Ben’s family perfectly explains PWR BTTM’s kindness and talent.

I should always mention that, the moment Liv and Ben switch places, I get so ecstatic. Liv Bruce is a living angel, and their songs are my favorites. The songs Liv Bruce sings are the ones I completely scream along to, and to witness this sold-out crowd sing along to “I Wanna Boi” was my sobbing moment of the set.

Additional photos by Kaiya Gordon