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Are Local Punks Waitress Just Misunderstood?

If you’re looking for a young punk band to fill the bleak, austere hole in your already darkened heart, Waitress is not the band for you. Sure, the local quartet takes its stylistic cues from some of the most talented rebels of the late ’80s and early ’90s—Fugazi, Drive Like Jehu and Jawbox, among others—but that’s where the similarities come to a screeching halt.

Blaring guitars are present, as are pummeling, math-y drums. The bass throbs at its lowest end, and the vocals occasionally reach a guttural crest. What Waitress adds to this tempered recipe, though, and what has made it the subject of some mild controversy, is a playful, subversive sense of humor.

Take the band’s genesis—an accidental butt-dial from Family and Friends drummer Ryan Houchens to singer and guitarist Brian McGhee that prompted a follow-up jam session—and you begin to get an idea of how seriously these guys take themselves. A few rehearsals with guitarist Scott Chalfant and bassist Kip Conway yielded enough workable material to book a show, even though some of the songs were still incomplete.

“’Peaked in High School’ was the one that we pretty much wrote at practice without having any of those riffs from that song written beforehand. With the other ones, we composed them at practice but had at least some riffs and ideas in our heads,” says McGhee, confessing that three of the five songs from the then-unreleased Peaked in High School EP were written a week before that first show.

As Waitress played more, the group set plans to record, stepping into The Glow Recording Studio during early summer 2014 to track Peaked with engineer Jesse Mangum. Their fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants attitude proved to be essential during these sessions.

“The beauty of [the EP] was that we recorded everything live,” says McGhee with a lighthearted, laid-back drawl. Furthermore, a large portion of the lyrics were written on a discarded PBR case before entering the booth. “I don’t really write lyrics. Period,” McGhee says.

Yet those lyrics are what Waitress has been most scrutinized over. EP opener “Year of the Spider” is a collection of unconnected vignettes, most of which are ambiguous enough not to warrant further inspection, especially live, when they’re buried beneath a mix of guitar squall and cymbal crashes.

But McGhee has caught flack from some, including Flagpole, for one line in particular: “So what if I want to kiss black girls?” he deadpans, a thought that he says occurred to him after overhearing a group of guys talk about a female passerby. (“She’s pretty… for a black girl.”)

Though McGhee clarifies that, for him, skin color doesn’t dictate beauty, the irony in Waitress’ music has tended to get lost in translation, perhaps because of the seriousness the genre is known for, or because few have taken the time to try to understand its context.

McGhee adds that he has attempted to reach out to those offended to apologize and offer a frame of reference, but also that doing so usually does not generate a reply. “I like to think I’m a decent guy,” says McGhee.

Waitress’ show this Thursday at The World Famous serves as the CD release for Peaked in High School, which they released digitally Aug. 15, 2014. The show will be donation-based, and local post-hardcore trio Nurture and Philly punks Dirt Queen share the bill.

WHO: Waitress, Nurture, Dirt Queen
WHERE: The World Famous
WHEN: Thursday, Feb. 26, 9 p.m.
HOW MUCH: donations