Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Mercy Seat

Gospel-Punk: An Easter Re-Up

Back in the eighties, during a mourning period for one of punk’s innumerable deaths, hyphenated-punk became the rage amongst critics and copywriters. You had your folk-punk, funk-punk, polka-punk, acid-punk, cow-punk and a thousand others including: gospel-punk.

Let us be terminologically clear; we are not discussing so-called "Christian Rock", though we have and will again. Christian Rock is not a style of music per se: it can include any rock sub-genre whose band members sign the Apostle’s Creed or (to paraphrase the Simpson’s) change the word baby to Jesus in their lyrics. Now gospel is a style of music with all the attendant trappings; a beat (easily parodied by rock bands trying to diversify) an attitude (“praise the lord”) and origins in a socio-economic class who could be stolen from (Southern African-American church-goers).

Few bands have willingly shouldered the gospel-punk label. A Google search shows up a few bands or artists with a dubious link between these two divergent styles of music, which are connected by often-manic tempos, direct connection between performer and audience and a fervency that is supposed to remain uncompromised by the world.

One band who got the label consistently was Violent Femmes leader Gordon Gano’s side project, The Mercy Seat. Their self-titled 1987 album (my vinyl was bought for me over twenty years ago by Doug over at Great White North) is gospel-punk in the sense that the Femmes were folk-punk. So maybe it’s gospel-folk-punk – what the fuck let’s keep those hyphens a-rollin'. The tempos bash (most of the time), bombshell Zena Von Hepinstall’s (who writes the songs that aren’t vintage gospel) raucous vocals clash with Gano’s adenoidal bray and you can hear why this gospel-punk thing is such a bitch to pull off.

Happy Easter.

The Mercy Seat - I Don't Need Nobody Else

{MRML Readers weigh in in the comments section: Whaddya make of this "gospel-punk" business?}

Download The Mercy Seat S/T LP

For a live bootleg of the Mercy Seat go visit Flipsideman


  1. The Mercy Seat:
    Jesus has arose...and kicked my ass! Hallelujah!

  2. Thanks for this post. I was probably one of the few people who actually got to see the Mercy Seat play a show. They played at a nightclub in Dayton, OH. The audience was made up of all the local punks & alternative crowd. I really don't they knew what to make of it. Most of the crowd had a confused look on their faces!

  3. Anon

    What I wouldn't have done to witness that!

    I saw the Femmes in '91 (their last good year) and they played a great show.

  4. I saw them in Hollywood (mostly because I head Gordan Gano was fronting). The lead singer was going through the crowd and wailed the chorus right into my face...I have to admit I was surprised and stoked at the same time! Great show...

  5. You, sir, are one fortunate man.

    Great vignette,thanks for adding it to the post.

  6. I was in love with Gordon Gano and the Violent Femmes at one time. I collected every side project there was, however I never owned this one though I borrowed it from th radio station where I worked. I looooooooved it. It was like seeing who Gordon really is, like in some of the songs on Hallowed Ground---Jesus walking on the Water and It's Gonna Rain. He was the other stuff, too, but seriously, he was being real on this.

  7. Diana
    I was obsessed with all things VF in the eighties as well (though I never had the other members solo stuff just this).
    I remember reading an interview where Brian Ritchie (I think) said something like, yeah at the start we refused to play Gordan's gospel stuff but then we realized it was some of his best so we HAD to play it.

    P.S. Read some of your pieces at the Examiner, way to go!

  8. zIs Zena still with you guys? Went to High school with her in New York.Would love to touch base.

  9. Hadn't thought of this band in years. Saw them several times at the Grotto in New Haven. They tore up the place every time. The album is nowhere near as good as the live shows were.

  10. thanks for this...been on my need-it-again-so-bad list for well over a decade.

  11. I saw Mercy Seat in Kingston, Ontario at a university and later in Minneapolis at The 7th St. Entry. Both shows amazing. I'd love to know the dates of those gigs, actually...

  12. Please reupload the link!

  13. Attention all: The Mercy Seat is now available at iTunes!

  14. We saw Mercy Seat in New Haven in 1986 or 1987. The band blew us away. We went back stage after the show and talked to Zina. It was all a blur, and I never new much about the band until I found this and other links. These guys put in a most memorable show and I now own the albumn!!!


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