All-queer punk band Pansy Division brought their sunny California power-pop to cool and rainy Williamstown on Oct. 15. The band played a free show at the Log, co-sponsored by All Campus Entertainment (ACE), the Dively Committee and the Queer Student Union (QSU), and was the last in a series of excellently planned Coming Out Days events.
There was some fear that the band would be greeted by a nearly empty room – a common occurrence at so many concerts in Goodrich and Lasell – but the Log proved a perfect venue for Pansy Division and their warm-up act, the Plus Ones. Throughout the opening band’s set, a crowd steadily grew in front of the makeshift stage, started dancing and didn’t stop. Whether or not the audience members were long-time fans, the Plus Ones’ songs were so catchy that standing still was nearly impossible. Even the most steadfast listener was spurred into motion as the band launched into the first of a series of punk-pop anthems spanning a lengthy career.
Formed in 1993 by guitarist and vocalist Jon Ginoli, Pansy Division rode the wave of success that broke over East Bay punk in 1994, spurred by the release of Green Day’s Dookie. The two Reprise Records label-mates toured together that year, further cementing Pansy Division as a crowd favorite.
In addition to Ginoli, the band’s founding members included Chris Freedman on bass. After a succession of drummers, the singularly-named Luis joined the lineup in 1996. Second guitarist Patrick Goodwin came on board a year later, marking the transformation of Pansy Division from a traditional punk three-piece to a quartet. Goodwin’s addition of a second guitar considerably broadened the band’s scope, enabling experimentation and a deeper, more complex sound.
The band’s songs sound sweet, but they’re a spoonful of sugar to ease down serious themes: growing up gay in a small town in “Deep Water,” body image in “Fluffy City” and sodomy statutes in “Breakin’ the Law.” Also included in the mix, of course, are a surfeit of love songs and a healthy dose of camp.
The camp factor was definitely high during Tuesday’s set. The audience was treated to witty banter between band members, with Ginoli and bassist Chris Freedman trading light-hearted insults left and right. About halfway through the set, the band left Ginoli alone onstage with his guitar for “I Wish I’d Taken Pictures,” a tongue-in-cheek lament to love lost. In the middle of the song, Ginoli’s bandmates returned, much to the audience’s delight, with Freedman decked out in a skimpy blue-sequinned number and brandishing a Polaroid camera. The most enthusiastic dancers had their picture snapped – an instant souvenir of the night. Ginoli mentioned a friend who had attended Williams and passed on his advice to the lovelorn: for off-campus love, he remarked that Bennington College students are the easiest on the eyes, even if they “don’t make the best boyfriends.”
Pansy Division seemed truly enamored of their audience in as intimate a setting as the Log. The band members hammed it up shamelessly, enlisting members of the Plus Ones to play the role of headbanging, swooning groupies and throwing drumsticks and guitar picks into the crowd. After a brief dash offstage, the band reassembled to take encore requests.
Following a request for “Breakin’ the Law,” Ginoli made his first overtly political statement of the night, telling the crowd that this was a particularly important song to play in Massachusetts, a state that still has a sodomy law on the books. The statement crystallized the entire spirit of Coming Out Days, echoing the messages put forth by the QSU’s chalkings and the good-natured debauchery of Queer Bash. For members of the queer community, sex can never just be sex. With sodomy laws still in place, it must remain a political act.
The same holds true for Pansy Division: for them, punk rock can never just be punk rock. As a queer band, their songs will always be inherently political. They took up their instruments for a few more songs, however, casting emotional and political baggage aside. It was great to look around the room and see students, both queer and straight, simply dancing to good, old fashioned punk-rock love songs.