Baby Shakes (photo: Robert Alleyne)
“Next up, a girl group with one guy, or a boy group with three girls?” proclaims announcer John Waters while introducing the next band to the Gone Shrimpin’ stage at Burger Boogaloo. It’s 3pm in Oakland, the sun is shining, and Mosswood Park is packed. Everyone is waiting for Baby Shakes, a four-piece power-pop/punk quartet based in New York.
The set starts with “Do What You Want,” and they seem to find their stride quickly. The music is quick and fun. Guitars soar, and the vocals work together in a gritty, yet melodic harmony. The heads nodding at the sides are met with mildly frantic dancing in the middle, just behind those crammed up against the front of the stage. As the set goes on, the cheers get louder and Baby Shakes appear to get swept up in the excitement.
The 30-minute set builds towards a crescendo of energy. During the last song, guitarist Judy Lindsay affixes her right foot to Ryan McHale’s bass drum and leans back. She continues bending backwards into an arch, like a rock and roll contortionist, as her guitar wails out the final notes. She almost stumbles under the ferociousness of her playing, but catches her balance under the exuberant display.
When the last note hits, the cheers do not seem to finish. As they attempt to walk off stage, they look a little surprised by the reception the short set is receiving. Following the request for an encore, lead singer and guitarist Mary Blount whips off her jacket under the heat of the afternoon, and they play one more song for the thirsty Oakland crowd.
A few days later, they play their second show in the Bay Area at Hemlock Tavern (with Oakland’s So What and Genuine Parts opening the night). It’s a much smaller affair. The tiny back room of the deceptively large pub only holds around 80 people and has the feel of a grungy punk rock club with storied walls and beer-stained floors.
We catch up with Baby Shakes just before the show. During our interview, they fondly joke about their introduction at Burger Boogaloo, “a boy group with three girls.” The band has always had male drummers, the latest of which is McHale, who joined Baby Shakes two years ago. “I’ve been a fan of these guys before I played with them, and I filled in on a show when I was really young (when I was like 21 or something), and then when they asked me to play again it just worked out,” he says.
Shedding the “girl group” label was a battle they had to fight at their early shows when the band was first formed over a decade ago. “When we first started as a band, people would talk to our drummers — basically, they wouldn’t really deal with us,” explains Blount. “We would show up, and they’d think we were a joke.” By delivering blistering live performances and letting their music do the talking, the band overcame this prejudice. “They’d see us play and