Coven Concert Review

What were you up to the Friday night before Halloween?

Oh, you know, just headbanging and flashing devil's horns with a bunch of witches at an occult rock show, while Jesus stands crucified in front of a backdrop of pentagrams and inverted crosses.

Just a regular Friday night.

The band Coven was formed in Chicago in the late 1960s, fronted by lead singer Jinx Dawson (now the only original member left in the band). Previously banned from performing in Boston, the group played their first show on their All Hallows High Ritual portion of the Magickal Chaos Tour at Sonia in Cambridge on Friday, October 26.

For a listener who has never been to see an occult rock group, particularly one as iconic as Coven, let me tell you-- it was wild. After an opening performance by the group Magic Circle (a Massachusetts-based group whose act was fast, exciting, and filled out by the ironically angelic vocals of lead singer Brendan Radigan), Coven started their act with lead singer Jinx Dawson emerging from a black coffin painted with a red inverted cross. The band's cohesive wardrobe consisted of long, hooded black cloaks, and for Jinx, a full-face mask of glittery jewels and matching gloves. Looking around, it was clear to me that black, silver, leather, and heavy makeup was the preferred fashion of the night. (Fortunately, Jinx approved of the black hooded raincoat I happened to be wearing that night-- the rest of my talk with her and the band shall be continued below).

Much of Coven's act comes directly from the shows they did in previous decades. Having no prior knowledge of any of it, I was frequently shocked and pleasantly horrified by every twist, as I imagine the audiences at Coven's first shows way back in the previous century must have been.

After emerging from a coffin, my personal favorite act of the night was when (as mentioned previously) Jesus traipsed onto the stage carrying a gigantic cross on his shoulder, crucified himself, and was whipped by Jinx. Then, two songs later, Jesus revived and inverted the cross he had been hanging from. (This act in particular has caused much controversy in the history of Coven's performance career.) Other highlights included Jinx holding a skull in front of her face while performing and a projected background of satanic imagery and video clips, and of course, her supremely powerful and gorgeous voice.

Perhaps unexpectedly, Coven's music does not sound particularly dark and demonic. (Okay, for the most part; quite often the music included chanting that, while slightly difficult to make out, undoubtedly included praise of Satan and possibly some actual spells.) The music was pleasant to listen to, and Jinx's fantastic vocals were supplemented by the talents of her significantly younger male colleagues, whose instrumentals were similarly beautiful and rather lighter than one might expect.

I really only emphasize the fact that Jinx's backup was exclusively made up of young men because she herself discussed this with me after the concert, telling me that these particular musicians had just sort of "shown up." Indeed, after the show, I learned a lot -- a lot -- about Jinx, her background, her personal history in music, her love life, and the impact she's made on many fans of metal and the occult. Honestly, too much to share here, and some of it wonderfully personal. (Fortunately, Jinx is writing a book on her life which hopefully will include much of her amazing life story!)

Jinx was born to a family that was the "real deal" in working with black magic; she has memories of rituals being performed in the basement that she wasn't allowed to attend. She was forbidden from sharing this information with the world, but in an act of reverse-teenage-rebellion, Jinx became very involved in her family's practices, bringing it to the rock stage (and subsequently getting into a lot of trouble for it). Her work is serious; spells, for example, are no joke to her, after having a mishap with her cat after attempting some witchcraft. Fascinatingly, after at one point in her career having been pronounced brain-dead, Jinx claims feeling a closer connection to the "other side."

Halfway through her act, Jinx proudly proclaimed, "They thought I'd died 30 years ago, but guess what-- I'm still alive!" before dissolving into cackles. And yes, Jinx is very, very alive. In particular, she is an icon, both as a prominent female in an exceedingly male-dominated field and as the "first" to have established many practices and traditions. Lacking the recognition they perhaps deserve, Coven plays a significant part in the history of underground rock music; their debut album Witchcraft Destroys Minds and & Reaps Souls presented a new form of rock which overtly included occult and satanic themes. Much of what Coven started (inverted crosses, the phrase "Hail Satan," the "Sign of the Horns" hand symbol) is now used extensively in metal, rock, and pop genres. A recent conflict with Gene Simmons from Kiss over the use of the "Sign of the Hands" (in which Simmons attempted to trademark the "Sign of the Horns," and Dawson threatened to sue) exemplifies her dedication, and while in my presence the lovely lady even dragged George and Ringo of the Beatles for their incorrect associations of hand signs (mistaking the American Sign Language for "I Love You" with the "Sign of the Horns"), and lamented the popularizing of the term "Coven," which nobody was familiar with in her time, by cultural movements such as the show American Horror Story.

Perhaps most importantly, Jinx and her band were very human, even refusing to let me walk back to the Harvard campus by myself and instead giving me a ride back. So to close this Halloween-appropriate show and personality review; try new things, talk to people who dabble in black magic, and don't be afraid of darkness. Out of all the controversy and shock surrounding occult rock, Coven and Jinx are undeniably some of the great influencers of all things rock and occult. I feel honored, and I would say "blessed" (although that doesn't seem quite appropriate here!), to have had the chance to listen.

Jenny is a member of WHRB.