A band can be a political statement through its existence alone. Portland’s Team Dresch was that sort of band, but they were much more, too: After their now classic queercore disc, Personal Best, was released in 1994, Spin compared Team Dresch to Superchunk and Dinosaur Jr. on the merit of accessibility. Indeed, what always shone best and brightest with the Pacific Northwest quartetco-founded by former Durham resident Kaia Wilson and later joined by current denizen Melissa Yorkwas always the music.
Sure, the band had its overt political intentions: A touchstone of the surge of lesbian and queer activism in punk, Personal Best contained the burning anthem “Hate the Christian Right,” ignited by guttural screams but cooled, surprisingly, by a punchy melody and cooing harmonies. Unlike many punk records of the day, this one played heavy on real, soulful singing.
“Queer folks want to try and avoid becoming ‘pigeon-holed’ and therefore distance themselves from anything queer/political in hopes of being recognized ‘more for the music,’” says Wilson, days before hitting the road with a reunited Team Dresch. “I am not in favor of either of these points. You only live once. You might as well be who you are and free as you can be.”
No, this wasn’t a band out for the sake of doing it alone: What they were talking aboutfrom intimate stories of queer love and loss to rails against the establishmentmade them culturally important, garnering a devoted cadre of women who benefited from the band’s strength. Team Dresch helped people deal with coming out and being gay. They were a raw inspiration saying something through immediate and often beautiful music.
Team Dresch participated in DIY culture both by necessity and solidarity, too. Best was originally co-released on Donna Dresch’s Chainsaw Records and member Jody Bleyle’s Candy-Ass label. After Wilson and York left the band in 1995 and formed The Butchies in Durham, Wilson co-founded Mr. Lady Records, a beacon label and distributor for queer and feminist music. The Butchies moved on after four albums, Wilson heading back to the Pacific Northwest and York staying in Durham and eventually joining The Ex-Members. They’re back, though, with an apparently unflinching run of reunion shows and work on a new record, due in 2008.
“We’re all a solid decade (plus) older and (wiser),” the band said in a recent release announcing its upcoming tour. “Somehow, we found ourselves coming back together to play and write music together again. What started as a ‘reunion’ show at homoagogo in Olympia, Wash., Summer 2004 sparked the beginning of a new beginning for our band.”
Team Dresch plays with The Ex-Members and Des Ark at Cat’s Cradle Tuesday, June 19, at 9 p.m. Tickets are $10-$12. Kaia Wilson and Melissa York play an acoustic set with Des Ark and Midtown Dickens at Bull City Headquarters on Sunday, June 17, at 3 p.m.