Local musicians join the campaign to support Pussy Riot

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The Fire Tapes puts its dreamy, sprawling rock into global politcal action on Saturday at the Southern. (Publicity photo) The Fire Tapes puts its dreamy, sprawling rock into global politcal action on Saturday at the Southern. (Publicity photo)

Fired up

The Moscow-based punk rock/performance art/feminist collective known as Pussy Riot gained significant international attention earlier this year when three of its members were arrested, following a filmed protest performance inside a Russian Orthodox cathedral. Outraged by their leftist rhetoric, which is openly critical of Putin, patriarchy, and traditions of conservatism, the Russian judicial system made an example of them, and the three women faced the possibility of up to seven years in prison for “extreme hooliganism” and “religious hatred.”

Their trial was widely criticized by numerous human rights organizations and fellow artists, and was frequently compared to the show trials of the 1930s, as “witnesses” cited YouTube clips in their testimonies, Russian officials made increasingly extreme reactionary statements, and the defendants were kept in unnecessarily harsh conditions, eventually prompting a hunger strike. Throughout the trial, the members of Pussy Riot remained eloquent and determined, claiming that their case was in fact an international referendum on the behavior of the Russian state, and their cause soon caught the attention of the international media. Many Western celebrities jumped on the bandwagon of those calling for their release, while respectable international news organizations struggled with how to report on a band with the word pussy in its name (you could almost hear the NPR announcers blushing over the airwaves).

In August, the band members were sentenced to two years in a forced labor prison, although one of them has since been released on appeal. This week, Amnesty International is organizing a series of events with the goal of raising awareness about the issue and sponsoring a letter-writing campaign aimed at Russian penitentiaries. Charlottesville will contribute to the campaign with a concert on Saturday, December 8 at the Southern, with performances by two local groups, We Are Star Children and The Fire Tapes.

The Fire Tapes are one of Charlottesville’s finest rock groups, a dreamy, shoegazing outfit reminiscent of beloved college radio groups of the ’80s, with a dash of country. They compare to the Cowboy Junkies, early Yo La Tengo, or Galaxie 500, although frontwoman Betsy Wright shows far more confidence than the shy singers of those groups. Comparatively soft-spoken guitarist/singer Todd Milton balances out those accessible elements with wild, occasionally abrasive guitar playing, for a perfect balance of catchy choruses and sprawling, improvisational jamming, cemented by a solid rhythm section. It’s the sort of band where more than one band member has a Velvet Underground tattoo.

The band has recently released a single on local label WarHen Records, and is currently working on a new album. “We’re very excited to do the second record,” said Milton. “We’ve learned so much, through trial and error. We’ve been recording our practices, we’re going to be recording everything live as a band, trying to keep the live feel. But the songs are always changing. We record them, but they keep changing after that. We’re always adding new parts.”

We Are Star Children, which began its career several years ago as a one-off joke band (formerly named Straight Punch to the Crotch), has gradually evolved into an ambitious, freewheeling collective. Most know it as the former house band for CLAW, but its list of accomplishments extends far beyond that. This event marks a return to performing after a one-year concert hiatus, during which it made several recordings (which incorporated both string arrangements and a brass section), and expanded the line-up to include a new bass player, an additional singer, and a teenage intern.

“We’ve always had a soft spot for busking and theatrical street protests,” said the band’s Gene Osborn. “Pussy Riot being arrested for not much more than political street theater really struck a chord. Both our band and friends are free to express ourselves artistically without fear of detainment. The women in Pussy Riot are no different than any of the artists we work with in town. It feels right to join a global movement and demand their release.”

At Saturday’s event, attendees will be encouraged to sign petitions, write letters, and prepare care packages for Russian political prisoners. “At the very least, we’re hoping to raise consciousness,” said Osborn. “Political actions get people talking, and it’s incredible how many people don’t know about their arrest. Our action is really just one of many.”

Crafting for good

Holiday shoppers looking for local alternatives to the big box retail chains have several promising options this season. On Friday, December 7, New City Arts will host a combination art auction, pop-up shop, and open studio at The Haven. The auction includes work by several notable local artists, including Hannah Barefoot, Josef Beery, Patrick Costello, Kaki Dimock, and Matt Pamer, as well as The Haven’s resident artists Elizabeth Kleberg, Victoria Long, Chico Lorenzo, and Meagan Dye. There will also be an assortment of homemade goods for sale, ranging from jewelry to jam. The doors open at 5:30pm, with the silent auction running from 6-7:30pm. There is a $20 cover charge, and in addition to checking out the art and supporting The Haven’s goal of providing care for the local homeless, attendees will be served drinks and hors d’oeuvres made in The Haven’s kitchen.

There is also a wide variety of art offered at The Bridge PAI, which hosts the third annual Great Gifts event this month. The event boasts a wide selection of prints, postcards, and paintings from artists from around Virginia, as well as both screen printed and vintage clothing, pottery, and everything from food to used vinyl records. The sale began on Monday and continues through December 24, with daily hours from 11am-7pm and 10am-6pm on weekends.

Have your say. Drop a line to mailbag@c-ville.com, send a letter to 308 E. Main St., or post a comment at c-ville.com.

 

  • PR for P.R.

    “Pussy Riot” is the greatest band name. Ever.

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