The Gossip | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Forming a band is a perennial means of escaping a drab or painful existence, but for out 'n' proud lesbian Beth Ditto, who fronts the Gossip, nothing was going to make life in Searcy, Arkansas, bearable. So she headed for Olympia, Washington, that notorious bastion of punk-rock liberalism, and her future bandmates followed soon after. She addresses her great escape on the title track of the band's new EP, Arkansas Heat, wailing, "Got my whole town sweatin' me / Got the heat and the humidity / And it's a wonder we're alive.... 'Cause they may run us out of our hometown / But they'll never ever keep us down." Bolstered by guitarist Nathan "Brace" Howdeshell's endless variations on Sonics riffs and drummer Kathy Mendonca's primal thud, Ditto belts out her defiant words with barely contained venom. But unlike most punk shriekers, she's got a real rock voice, throaty and powerful, and whether she's flirting ("Where the Girls Are," from the band's 2001 debut, Thats Not What I Heard) or sneering ("My mother worked every day of her life for a man who don't care / While all you do is criticize my body, my hair, or the clothes that I wear") she manages to sound simultaneously adorable and terrifying. Wednesday, May 22, 8 PM, Fireside Bowl, 2646 W. Fullerton; 773-486-2700. Thursday, May 23, 9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Rita O'Brien.

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