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Photo: Trent Johnson
Photo: Trent Johnson

Queer Guitar Pros Partner Shred at SXSW

People say that I talk like Ellen Page // I guess that makes sense since we come from the same place // But it’s more than just a regional thing // Cause if it’s 50 percent maritime, it’s 50 percent lesbian

The opening lyrics to Ontario-based Partner’s “The ‘Ellen’ Page” pretty much sum up this quirky and insanely talented band’s vibe. Not yet on my radar before receiving a SXSW press email – even though they’ve been featured in NPR Austin 100, Stereogum’s Bands to Watch and Pitchfork – I was sold in the opening line of the pitch:

“Imagine if Beavis & Butthead were queer guitar pros who knew how to harmonize solos and spent too much time listening to Weezer and AC/DC.”

I mean, who wouldn’t be intrigued? And after Trent and I decided to end our packed first night at SXSW with their set at Valhalla on March 13, we knew within seconds of being front and center that we’d made the right choice. My spidey sense immediately began tingling when I caught NPR and Tiny Desk’s Bob Boilen out of the corner of my eye (if he’s in a room at SXSW, I know the band is going to be good) while Trent was just excited to be in a prime location for shooting photos (check out his excellent “Tuesday and Wednesday at SXSW” gallery here).

The five-piece band is led by self-described “lesbian stoner goofballs” Josée Caron and Lucy Niles, and backed by guitarist Daniel Legere, drummer Brendan Allison and bassist Kevin Brasier (who literally has the most infectious smile and unabashedly happy stage presence I’ve ever seen), and the description is spot on. Caron does have a striking resemblance to Page, both in her mannerisms and physical appearance, and offers up a half humorous, half this is probably for real “O” face during guitar solos that is…well, memorable, to say the least.

Niles is a bit more understated, offering up witty banter over the course of the set with Caron and handling a sore/worn out throat gracefully. The best friends, who say they’re “part musical act, part teenage diary and 100 percent queer,” both sing and can seriously shred the guitar. I say this as a pianist without any guitar experience, but who watched them play for nearly an hour about a foot away from me. The sheer talent pulsing from their fingers was palpable, and the music journalists (Boilen included, pardon me while I swoon) in the crowd were impressed.

The foundation of Partner’s sound is classic/garage rock, with some pop sensibilities and razor-sharp lyrics added to the mix. Songs like “Sex Object” about snooping in your roommate’s room and finding a sex toy (off of their 2017 album In Search of Lost Time) and new song “Big Gay Hands” (inspired by wanting their girlfriends’ respective, and big, hands all over their bodies) offer a glimpse into the subject matter they cover in their repertoire. After playing the latter, the duo joked about the fact that the song is both of their parents’ favorite, but that the parental units each have their own name for the song title that does not involve using the word “gay.”

Their set included a few covers – not very many bands can pull off Melissa Etheridge and AC/DC with the same level of energy and chops – and I was also very impressed with how vocal they were about their influences. Etheridge is chief among them, along with k.d. lang, Indigo Girls, Ween, and Tegan and Sara (Caron was sporting a T&S T-shirt), among others. In my humble opinion, it’s the most talented musicians that are quick to point out who they look up to, and who have their own fan moments about other kick ass musicians (and actors like Page).

I’m catching up with them on Friday, so check back this weekend for a full interview where I pick their brains about their garage rock sound, sick guitar riffs and Ellen Page.

Learn more about Partner here.