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Coachella 2009: Guitar heroines

April 20, 2009 |  1:25 pm

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The role of guitar hero has and continues to be an unnecessarily male-dominated domain, which made Sunday's offerings at Coachella an unusually rich opportunity to hear what happens when the best dude for the job is a woman.

My Bloody Valentine's Bilinda Butcher stood stoically at the mike during the Irish group's reunion set last night, calmly pealing off gargantuan towers of sound. Devoid of any cliched male-style hair-tossing, prancing or undulating, Butcher, playing as equal partner with MBV's Kevin Shields, must have approached or surpassed whatever world record exists for loudest guitars ever, thanks to the help of Coachella's 12-zillion watt mainstage sound system.

How loud was it? When I headed off near the end of their set to catch Throbbing Gristle at the opposite end of the Empire Polo Field a good half mile away, I could still hear -- and feel -- stacks of shattering chords. In the men's room. With the door closed. Over the air-conditioner.

It was the perfect setup to experience Gristle's deconstructive industrial music, which relies heavily on the flights of fretboard fancy by guitarist Cosey Fanni Tutti. She hit notes, seemingly at melodic and rhythmic random, fueling the recorded tracks and eerie violin lines from her bandmates, all of it cranked to eardrum-pounding levels to defy conventional notions of song structure and chord progression. 

Shortly before that, the Kills' Alison Mosshart picked up her big-bodied electric guitar to play off partner Jamie Hince's fierce licks, as sexy as any man who ever picked up a six-string ax.

Okkervil River's Lauren Gurgiolo plays a crucial role in the Austin band's sound, and the emotional peak of that group's afternoon performance came when she translated singer-songwriter Will Sheff's anguished cries for connection into great sheets of distortion-soaked guitar soloing.

During the inspired teaming of soul instrumentalist par excellence Booker T. Jones with the Drive-By Truckers, bassist Shonna Tucker had the unenviable task of following in the footsteps of Booker T.'s fabled bassist Donald "Duck" Dunn. But she exhibited neither intimidation nor a shred of hesitancy in her powerful bass work that laid down the foundation for this instrumental workout.

Girls rock.

-- Randy Lewis

Photo: Shonna Tucker. Credit: Getty Images

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