Perfect P*ssy, performing at Three Links. Photo by the author.

Imperfect: What a Dallas Observer Show Review Got Wrong on Women in Music

We may not be able to publish their name, but we shall defend the singer's onstage comments.

The bombardment of noise that New York’s Perfect P*ssy delivers can be bone-rattling. I remember vividly, around the five-minute mark of the show last December, ducking to the very back of the venue to protect my ears. I’ll admit it: I even left early. Perfect P*ssy is loud. You can feel your eardrums pull taut inside of your head; their output is physically demanding of their audience. It’s an endurance test.

So maybe Perfect P*ssy had a bad mix at Three Links – that’s likely, as it was addressed in this morning’s Dallas Observer review of their show at the same venue last night, which was written by music editor Jeff Gage. That’s probably the lone point on which we agree. This article then takes little to no time to sensationalize a string of comments that vocalist Meredith Graves very intentionally saved for the tail-end of the band’s set, in which she takes a swing at the event flier used to promote the show. The flier depicts two topless women strung up by their wrists, and Graves connects this imagery to the fact that women aren’t taken seriously in her industry. To this point, Gage says the following:

To call the episode a rant, however, would be unfair, and also miss the point of her anger.

How different is a “rant” from an “episode” in this context? Here the terms seem completely interchangeable.

Most of the review is fine and entirely neutral, until he begins to actually, well, review the “spectacle” of Perfect P*ssy’s live performance, more specifically describing Graves’s movements and appearances through an overwhelmingly gender-biased lens.

As a matter of course, she wrings her entire body for every ounce of effort she can muster, but her vocals were almost completely drowned out in the mix last night.

Followed by:

Here’s Graves, her eyes rolled back in her head, sweating and turning bright red, hunching over towards the floor with her loose arm twisting behind her back. Moments later she’s smiling (sometimes while she’s still screaming), swaying and shimmying as though the racket behind her is somehow soothing.

And then directly after these marginalizing descriptors of her physical performance, he goes on to describe, of course, her … outfit:

The apparent disconnect is that Graves is, well, normal-looking. She has short, bleached blonde hair and last night was dressed in a not-at-all-punk-looking shorts and striped shirt that was tied off at the bottom. To some there may be no outward reason for her to be an angry person, a dissonance she no doubt plays off of. But that fact may also add to lingering questions around the band’s authenticity, as though the salacious name and pent-up posturing are mere ploys.

I will continually wonder how many punk shows one must attend to realize that wearing “not-at-all-punk-looking” clothing does not make someone “not-at-all-punk.”

The most important part of what Gage has said is that “there may be no outward reason for [Graves] to be an angry person,” which very neatly displays that the writer has a supernatural ability to peer into a stranger’s life to determine whether or not she should be an angry person. All that determined with just a haircut and a t-shirt style. Amazing.

But of course, this topic is not new in Dallas. Former Observer music editor Audra Schroeder neatly presented a rebuttal against similarly patriarchy-tinted music writing nearly two years ago. Someone send this story along to Gage, please. He must not have found it during his research of his varied predecessors.

Another Dallas ex-pat wrote out a thoughtful response to the incident at Three Links that actually brought it to my attention initially. Hat tip to another former Observer contributor, Chelsea Upton. She collected some event flier ghosts of Dallas’ embarrassing past that are worthy of your attention.

What the Observer has accomplished with this show review is that they have left an open-ended prompt for dialogue, without properly championing the bravery of Meredith Graves. Instead there is a venomous thread of comments spilling from underneath an article that ultimately paints Graves as a weak performer who demands (in a childish “episode”) that venues tear down fliers.

Gage mentions in a response to a commenter who calls him out on his description of Graves’s appearance that he was unable to “properly articulate” at 2:30 AM. I can admit I don’t often articulate well at that time of the night either, but I also don’t write about women’s rights after a night at a bar, philosophizing over what perfectly happy lives they must lead, with only their clothes and haircuts as evidence.