We stepped inside Le Poisson Rouge, which was wonderfully chilly with air conditioning and a welcome reprieve from the oppressive August humidity currently plaguing the city. In the basement of the venue, we found ourselves a spot and assumed our "New York music snob stance," arms folded in front of us, daring performers to just try impressing us.
I had never heard of Hank and Cupcakes, but apparently this was the New York record release show of their new album, Cheap Thrill, which debuted July 1. After the (rather forgettable) opening band departed the stage, setup for H&C began, which included a standing drum kit, a bass guitar, and network of interconnected stretched fabric painted over with hearts and eyes suns and moons in bold colors. I wondered what we had gotten ourselves into.
Shortly, the band came out. It was just two people: a slim, mohawked, shirtless man with a ruff of black chest hair who wore skinny jeans and black Chuck Taylors and a teeny little woman who had shaved sides of her head, her dark hair twisted up into a bun. She was shoeless, wearing only leggings and a minuscule crop top that read "Bitch Relax." Oh, and she was pregnant (about seven months in, she'd say later). Her naked-and no-fucks-given belly hung like some kind mystical orb above her hips as she took her place behind the drums.
And then they started playing. It was truly something electric to watch them, to watch Hank annihilate the strings of his bass and Cupcakes thrash her drum kit while her Beth Ditto-like voice gorgeously shrieks out of her mouth. I have never seen a pregnant woman rock so hard, and the experience of seeing her has reversed (well, let's be real, diminished is more like it) my fear of having children. With each song, the hard rocking escalates and I am moved to shake with abandon, untwirling my hair from its bun and banging my head to the beat, stamping my feet and swiveling my hips in time with the beat of her drum, the thrum of his bass. I love a good concert, but it takes a lot for me to be physically moved by it. But at a certain point I can't control it and my body is just moving independently of me. "TAKE ME TO CHURCH!" I shout through a smile as my arms fly upward. I am a congregant at the temple of rock and roll, possessed by the spirit of an unrelenting drumbeat. I am saved.
Cupcakes radiates energy and though Hank is playing that bass for his life I cannot stop looking at her. YOU ARE EVERYTHING! I think to myself. Has there ever been anything more punk rock than this petite Cupcakes pounding her drum kit while a life two months from beginning grows inside of her? What a way to start off in the world. I am almost jealous of this unborn baby: its home is a rock and roll machine, its blood pulsing to the time of a snare.
At one point Cupcakes climbs on top of the drum kit and sings an acoustic song about the importance of religious freedom and the crowd goes quiet, singing along and using only hands patting against chests as their instruments. I don't like to sing, but my hand beats against my own sternum in solidarity. The crowd is small but enthusiastic, their eyes not turned toward phones but to Hank & Cupcakes, the way concerts were when I was a teenager. The way I wished they still were.
Cupcakes speaks in an accent I can't quite identify, but I've learned now that it's not an Australian one as I had thought, but Israeli. The band formed in Tel Aviv in 2008 and are now currently based in Atlanta. They named themselves after Charles Bukowski's alter ego, Hank Chinaski, and the nickname of a lady friend, Pamela "Cupcakes" Wood. By day they are Sagit Shir (Cupcakes) and Ariel Scherbacovsky (Hank), and they met while serving in the Israeli Army. Cheap Thrill is their third album.
After the show, AR and I make a point of going to their merch table and making a purchase. For me, it's a t-shirt, and for him, it's their new album. "If you put on a show like that, I'm going to buy an album as a thank you," he says as we leave. I can't help but agree.