You don’t need to be a musicologist or own an extensive collection of Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Sleater-Kinney records to know that women can play guitar as well as men. But in a 70 percent male-dominated music industry, that fact often has gone unnoticed.
Just ask postindustrial punk duo Bones UK performers, who formed in 2014 and remember one especially Spinal Tap moment during an early gig on the outskirts of London a few years ago.
“We did this show in Camden, where we’re from,” said singer/guitarist/lyricist Rosie Bones, whose British accent hasn’t been diminished by the band’s relocation to Los Angeles two years ago. “And this guy came up to us after the show and was like, ‘Oh my God, your band is amazing. But your band will never be as good as my band, because girls can’t play guitar as well as boys.’
“And then he went on to say that it was biologically impossible, because girls have got small hands. So our male friends got involved, and we ended up having a fight with him, and the next day I wrote a song called ‘Girls Can’t Play Guitars.’”
So who exactly was this guy?
“No, we’re not going to say who they are, or where they’re located,” guitarist Carmen Vandenberg said. “But yeah, it was somewhere in Camden.”
“It was John Mayer,” declared Bones, prompting the women to break into laughter. “Who does he think he is, anyway?”
It wasn’t really John Mayer. In fact, they both love Mayer’s work, particularly his cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Bold as Love.” They’re also fans of classic American blues-rock, with Vandenberg citing her guitar influences as “Stevie Ray Vaughan, Hendrix, Albert Collins, and the three Kings: B.B., Freddie and Albert. All of those.” Also, Jeff Beck, who caught the band at a gig and enlisted them to write and sing most of his 2016 album “Loud Hailer.”
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The blues-rock influence is apparent on the band’s swampier songs, when Vandenberg turns her fuzztone pedal past 11 and delivers blistering guitar leads.
But that isn’t necessarily the first genre that comes to mind when hearing Bones UK’s self-titled debut album, which was released in July on Sumerian Records and garnered the duo a Grammy nomination for Best Rock Performance on the single, “Pretty Waste.” The band is coming to the U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids on Saturday night (2/15), opening for Breaking Benjamin and Korn.
With Bones’ and Vandenberg’s grinding guitars and industrial electronic beats — which their tour drummer triggers from behind his kit — more obvious points of comparison would include Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor and Garbage frontwoman Shirley Manson, both of whom have been name-checked in the band’s increasingly rapturous reviews.
And then there’s Rosie Bones’ brazen lyrics about sex, gender politics and what the band has described as the “beauty-industrial complex,” delivered with a mocking intensity that suggests a more aggressive version of post-punk frontwomen like The Au Pairs’ Leslie Woods or Bush Tetras’ Cynthia Sley. One example is “Beautiful is Boring” lyrics:
“Do we make you sick? / Do our imperfections make your blue breath run thick? / Give me scars and stripes / It does not please me to be easy on any of your eyes. Any of your eyes.”
As provocative as Bones UK’s music can be, one song that’s earned the duo negative reactions so far on tour, is their take on David Bowie’s “I’m Afraid of Americans.”
“It was mostly in Florida and Texas,” Vandenberg said. “Just a couple of middle fingers and a quick booing. And then those people must have figured out that it was a Bowie song, and that they were insulting his lyrics instead of ours.”
So are the two expats afraid of Americans?
“Obviously, there are a few Americans we’re afraid of, and there’s one American who’s absolutely terrifying,” Bones said. “But there are really scary English people, and there are really scary Europeans, too. There are really messed-up things going on, and they’re happening everywhere.”
• What: Bones UK, opening for Korn & Breaking Benjamin
• Where: U.S. Cellular Center, 370 First Ave. NE, Cedar Rapids
• When: 7 p.m. Saturday, (2/15)
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• Tickets: $49 to $89, venue box office, (319) 731-4510 or <URL destination="https://www.creventslive.com/">Creventslive.com
</URL>• Band’s website: Bonesuk.com