Walking into the Black Cat felt like a hug. After visiting on dozens of occasions over two years of living in D.C., the black and red checkerboard dance floor has been forever trapped in my memory. From pop-punk dance parties to local bands to sold-out shows, this venue has welcomed me with open arms since my freshman fall.
But today, I had no idea what to expect. Frankie and the Witch Fingers and Wine Lips had both crossed my playlists in the past but had never become a staple in my rotation. It’s difficult to get much insight into their performances online, but the large size of the crowd immediately gave me a grasp of their popularity.
Frankie and the Witch Fingers hail from Indiana and have been making music since 2013 in a unique proto-punk genre of their own, combining the elements of classic punk with groovy fun. After a decade or so of lineup switch-ups, the band has finally blessed the East Coast with a show to celebrate their first album in three years. Data Doom (2023), which features genre-bending rock ’n’ roll, presents a new twist on punk music. Some songs, like “Weird Dog,” could easily be from the 1970s, while others are more reminiscent of Joy Division’s haunting electric sound, with a dash of Led Zeppelin classic rock ’n’ roll just for fun.
Toronto-based Wine Lips opened the show, and the headbanging followed from their first snare hit. Genre-wise, they tend more toward garage-punk and psych-rock, with heavy bass lines similar to Rawhide (1982) by Dead Kennedys and the snare sixteenth beats of Fugazi. The synchronization of the crowd bore a hypnotic resemblance to some type of dystopian movie, of blind followers to an overlord. Clearly, they were ready for this show.
The Black Cat has a deep connection to punk history, and it’s clear the crowd did as well: the slightly more millennial crowd sported vintage Minor Threat t-shirts and followed the fast beats with ease.
Everyone in the crowd was moving like bees buzzing—by the end of the first song, the claps and screams almost drowned out the guitar feedback. For such a small venue, the Black Cat is a powerhouse when it’s packed.
A new vibe was introduced in the middle of their set. The bassline became more funky with the accompaniment of groovy guitar, and the headbanging turned into a slight sway of the hips with a small two-step. You could tell this wasn’t Wine Lips’s usual music, but the crowd openly embraced it.
“I love their fluidity,” concertgoer Thomas said. “Their blending of genres is impressive—you can tell how practiced they are. They will always put on a show, and I think they set good expectations for Frankie. They created so much energy in the crowd.”
But he seemed frustrated with the crowd. “I was waiting for the mosh! People don’t seem that into it but I know it’s coming.”
And he was right, almost.
When Frankie and the Witch Fingers stepped on stage, they beckoned the crowd to come closer. As someone who has been to countless punk shows, I immediately knew this was a call to mosh. They’re asking for intimacy, to be in close proximity with the crowd, who answered enthusiastically as the space around me quickly dissipated.
Their opening song, “Empire,” toed the line between classic rock and punk, holding a strong guitar melody that may remind some of the Home Depot theme song. A funky guitar sits on top of a punk drum beat, inviting a blend of dance styles from the crowd. Some were headbanging and hopping, with couples next to them engaging in a swingy grind. The crowd was clearly responding to the band’s call.
Their next song, “Futurephobic,” started off fast. Not yet a mosh-worthy level of fast, but similar to something you may hear in a ’70s car chase scene. The crowd was already jumping from the minute the stick hit the snare. By the middle of the song, the beat disappeared, with only a high-pitched guitar melody to lead the crowd.
I knew this was going to be the shift in the show’s mood. This song required a pit—the switch up to a noisy psych-punk chorus simply demanded it.
I leapt into the guy in front of me, who was definitely a former metalhead judging from his lack of a haircut and worn flannel. A shoulder check or two later, I could not move without getting slammed into. Limbs were flying, heads were banging almost into each other, and a wall had started to form. A mosh pit had finally been born after a set-worth period of anticipation.
And the crowd went bonkers. For the next few songs, all of which were very punky, half of the audience was engaging in the epic combination of light punches and extreme pushing. The music simply asked for it. The complicated guitar formed dissonance with the simple bassline that created chaos, with a strong hi-hat beat holding the crowd together.
It wasn’t all rock-fueled unruliness—the band also explored more of their afro-beats and funk influences. Mainly shown in the production of the percussion, Frankie and the Witch Fingers provided an unexpected genre blend. And the crowd was with it. When the mosh pits dwindled, fans were still swaying or giving spirit fingers to the guitarist.
When they left the stage, the crowd was expectantly waiting for a return. An encore seemed guaranteed, destined even. The crowd had been hype enough to deserve it.
Before long, that familiar chord progression that some may remember playing from their dad’s playlist, “I Wanna Be Your Dog” by The Stooges came through the speakers, igniting movement back into the mass of bodies.
Dylan Sizemore, the lead vocalist, joined himself, climbing into the crowd during the chorus. While in the crowd, Sizemore handed the microphone to a fan, who breathlessly succeeded at keeping up with the beat. Eventually crowd-surfing back to the stage, Sizemore’s stage presence shone during the encore, complimented by his intimate interactions with fans and their frantic dancing.
After the show, concertgoers described the encore as “glorious and sweaty” and “fucking awesome.”
Though slow at some points, Frankie and the Witch Fingers know how to put on a good show. The energy was there, it just needed a little push, literally and figuratively. By the end, the band had imbued the crowd with their funk-punk-rock element, making the Black Cat feel more like its own planet of rock fusion instead of a little D.C. venue.