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Veruca Salt at the Tractor Tavern

Veruca Salt @ Tractor Tavern

Veruca Salt Live at Tractor Tavern (Photo by Alex Crick)

The backstage exit door at The Tractor Tavern is almost always open during a show – rain or shine; consequently, in the winter it can be downright chilly to stand on that end of the stage. But on a pleasant day in June such as this, a cool breeze wafted in to air out the otherwise stuffy, sold out venue. The fans were packed in for Veruca Salt, a band whose first 7″ single, “Seether,” was scarfed up by indie radio back in 1994. “Seether” begat the full-length American Thighs, which was produced by Brad Wood (Liz Phair’s  Exile In Guyville, anyone?).

Veruca Salt’s story is similar to many other bands who came together during that period: Labels clamoring to sign them, a large push on the first album, grungy nineties videos, and then, as the market spills over capacity, it all falls apart. Nina Gordon left the band after 1997’s Eight Arms to Hold You, while Louise Post soldiered on with a mish-mash of various musicians gathered under the Veruca Salt name. In 2013, Gordon and Post resolved whatever issues they had, and started making music together again (also with original bassist and drummer Steve Lack and Jim Shapiro). The result is MMXIV, a special 10″ Record Store Day release (now available on iTunes) with promises of more to come, and a tour that is selling out venues  left and right. So yes, The Tractor was full. And stuffy.

The Echo Friendly, a Brooklyn/Memphis hybrid were there to warm up the crowd. Frankly, they were neither the best nor the worst opening band I’ve ever seen. With their shoegazing, 80s whingey-keyboard breakup music, vocalist Shannon Esper and co-vocalist/guitarist Jake Rabinbach led the crowd on a tour of their sad, sad slow jams and hyper-anxious almost-punk. Esper reminded me of Ally Sheedy during her stint in “The Breakfast Club,” while Rabinbach fit in with more of the Booger stereotype. In any case, it could have been better.

The Tractor’s stage lights were off for a good half hour and changed between acts; I suppose to build excitement and yadda yadda yadda, whatever. Theatrics like this bore me at small venues, honestly. The grating wait in the dark finally came to an end and Veruca Salt took to the stage. Gordon and Post grasped each other’s arms and pogoed together like little girls for a moment before going up the steps. Beginning with the American Thighs opener “Get Back,” and proceeding through a lengthy set list that mined heavily from the years when Gordon was still with the band, Veruca Salt just played, hard and well. It was really good. It blew away all of the shininess and MTV glaze; tossing off the dross and leaving the glowing, yet unpolished jewel. I was happy to hear songs like “Forsythia” and “Spiderman ’79.” ones that I recall repeating over and over in the days of yore. But new songs such as “It’s Holy” and “The Museum of Broken Relationships” fit in well, which I didn’t expect. Post and Gordon appeared to be pleased as punch to be onstage together again, and Lack and Shapiro filled out the band’s sound with expertise. Was “Seether” played? Of course. “Victrola'”and “Volcano Girls” also made appearances, much to the delight of the crowd. It was a hot, sweaty night, and after the closer (“Wolf” off of Thighs) the toasty crowd spilled out of The Tractor. It’ll be interesting to see what the reunion brings, as Veruca Salt still seems to have energy to expend. We await.

Christine Mitchell has been poring over album liner notes pretty much since she acquired the skill of reading, and figured out the basic structure of rock songs at an early age. Whether it’s the needle popping into the first groove of the record, the beeps that signal the beginning (or end) of a cassette tape, or digital numbers ticking off the seconds from zero, music brings Christine happiness, ponderous thought, opportunities for almost scientific study, and sometimes a few tears. When she started attending live shows two decades ago, a whole new piece of the puzzle clicked in and she has been hooked ever since.
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