Both of my parents are hardcore Southern Baptists. My dad was a deacon. My mom played piano for the choir. I fed them every white lie in the book so that I could stay home and worship the devil’s music. But even when my stomach did hurt, you best believe my parents were taking my butt to church.
I wouldn’t have been such a thorn in my parent’s side had they taken me to the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia. Since 1996, First Unitarian Church has rented out its large rec room to R5 Productions, who are basically the Ken Burns of Philly music culture. If you’ve ever fallen down a YouTube rabbit hole, then you’ve probably stumbled on their handy concert footage. R5’s shows at First Unitarian have documented the rise of local legends and future Grammy winners. This past weekend, the church ushered in one of the hottest band on the current scene.
Pinkshift have been on one hell of a ride. Two years ago, the Baltimore trio had their sights set on med school. Now, they’re a viral sensation who share a label with the biggest names in pop-punk. This summer, Pinkshift got their first taste of the road while opening for PUP. On Saturday, they closed out their own headlining tour with two openers who are also going places.
Before this year, Jhariah Clare had never been on tour. But don’t let his babyface fool you. Thanks to a PR boost from Spotify, his last album already boasts millions of streams. A Beginner’s Guide to Faking Your Own Death is more ambitious than some discographies. It’s like if Brendon Urie joined The Black Parade. “Flight of the Crows” crams big band horns, ragtime piano, glitch hop, yazz flute and theatrical emo kid wailing into just under 3 minutes. A small venue like First Unitarian simply can’t hold all that bravado. So Jhariah did have to scale down some of his performance, which was a shame. But his set ended on a high note with Pinkshift coming out for a sneak peak at his next album, which sounded like Bad Brains meets Broadway.
It’s no wonder that Kathleen Hannah loves Jigsaw Youth. After all, these three riot grrrls did name their band after a Bikini Kill song. Though they’ve yet to assemble a proper studio album, Jigsaw Youth have built a steady following over the past 5 years. Touring the Tri-state club circuit has taught them how to play to a crowd that’s just dying to slam into one another. Nastacha Beck seems like the kind of guitar player who’s never met a distortion pedal she didn’t want to curb stomp. She ripped through their new single, which rides a massive sludge riff that practically oozed from the church’s cruddy speakers, like some unholy miracle. Later on, Beck called for a split room and bassist/demonic vocalist Maria Alvarez cackled with delight as kids battled it out in the mosh pit. Anyone who braved that pit probably wasn’t old enough to recognize Jigsaw Youth’s grungy cover of a sports stadium classic. But that didn’t stop a kid who looked like he still needs floaties from crowd-surfing onto the stage and throwing up an adorable pair of devil horns.
This was the last stop on Pinkshift’s Forever tour. Last week, I wrote about how Love Me Forever is a heck of a lot heavier than the band’s breakout single. Their debut album leans slightly away from pop-punk and more toward metal and hardcore. Minus the one ballad, it goes hard and fast for 37 minutes straight. Performing these songs night after night has gotta be exhausting. Especially now that the pandemic has turned touring into a hellish grind. On Monday, I caught Origami Angel during the last stop of their first-ever headlining tour. They absolutely destroyed. But Ryland Heagy admitted that he was powering through a nagging cold.
Pinkshift have also hit their share of bumps in the road. Ashrita Kumar had to strap on an eye patch for most of their dates through the American South after getting slapped with a pesky infection. That kind of snag can take the wind out of a band’s sails. But Pinkshift had plenty of gas left in the tank to fire up the packed congregation at First Unitarian. The band wisely went out of their way to talk up just how great the crowd was at their show in Boston. Saying nice things about Boston in front of the Philly faithful is like dangling a can of cheese whiz outside a cave full of drunk grizzly bears. Chaos is bound to ensue. I survived, but my partner did get enthusiastically head-butted by a guy who was having way too good of a time to even notice.
The band fed off that deranged energy too. Pinkshift didn’t just play every song off Love Me Forever. They damn near played every song in their catalog. Kumar pranced and thrashed around on the floor during a torrential sprint through “GET OUT’. “Cinderella” came crashing down under Myron Houngbedji’s righteous breakdowns. Paul Vallejo shredded so hard on “nothing (in my head)” that I think his soul was momentarily ripped from his body before being resurrected in the fiery form of a finger-tapped solo.
There was one moment when Pinkshift slowed down to catch their breath. After hauling out Jhariah’s piano, the rest of the band took a backseat while Kumar prepared to go solo on “in a breath”, the album’s lone ballad. The song is slotted halfway through Love Me Forever and serves as a nice change of pace while also showing off their range. Kumar’s voice stretches from defiant, chestful belting to a cracked whisper. But “in a breath” is not easy for Kumar to sing.
Kumar has been chipping away at “in a breath” for years, before Pinkshift existed. But as they explained on stage, it was never supposed to end up on Love Me Forever. Instead, Kumar planned on keeping the song to themselves, for them to listen to alone in their car on bad days. It’s a deeply personal song, limped along by broken piano. It’s about feeling cut off from yourself, being trapped in your body. It’s about wanting to be changed.
As the final chord rippled over the hushed crowd, Kumar stood all alone, in silence, wiping away tears, before the band huddled for an embrace. Watching this band embrace each other like that was a beautiful thing to see. For a lot of young punks, shows like the ones at First Unitarian Church are a safe haven. But those shows still aren’t safe for everyone. I already pulled this quote during last week’s profile, but what Kumar told Kerrang! bears repeating. “When you’re the one brown kid in a venue full of white kids it’s like you’re outnumbered, and you don’t know that there’s so many people out there like you”. Pinkshift are changing that perception. They’re shaping punk’s future. If you’re skeptical, go and see them yourself. Heck, they just might turn you into a believer.
Pinkshift are coming back up north for one more show next month. But they’ll be closer to the Philly area come Memorial Day when they hit the Adjacent Festival. For now, check out some more photos from their FUT show.
All photos by Katelyn Reynoldson
i’m not crying, you’re crying
nothing (in my head)
cherry (we’re all gonna die)
in a breath
i’m gonna tell my therapist on you
the kids aren’t alright
Burn the Witch
let me drown
Love Me Forever
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