Yer Girlfriend Calls it Quits, Breaks Up after Final Concert

By Alys Willman

When singer Laura Shine stood on the edge of the stage, arms spread, with her back to the audience, she took a leap of faith in the form of a stage dive.

But she had no doubt her audience would catch her. Lifted on the hands of a loyal following, she surfed a circle through the dance area and landed gently back where she started.

Such is the camaraderie of Yer Girlfriend's audience. Since its beginning in May 1988, Yer Girlfriend has entertained and encouraged a loyal following in the lesbian community and in the general music community as well. But after eight years of playing benefits and rallies, shows and parades, Yer Girlfriend gave its finale performance June 30.

For almost an hour before the show, fans poured into Connections theater in Louisville, greeting each other and exchanging sentiments about the break-up. Band members circulated through the audience, striking up conversations with almost everyone they passed. It seemed more a party given in someone's living room than a stage performance.

"Before we get started, I just want to say that this concert is for you," began Laura as she took the stage. Dressed smartly in a tuxedo coat, she pointed to her watering eyes. "And these are tears of joy, and tears of pride. I'm proud and honored to be a part of Louisville's gay and lesbian community, and I think you should give yourselves a round of applause."

Over 500 people roared their appreciation.

The performance featured shows from each of the band's three albums. They began the show with "We Won't Be Silent" the first release and title track of their first album. The upbeat tempo sent waves of foot-tapping and finger-drumming through the audience, while the words: "We won't be silent / We won't back down" spoke encouragingly from the stage. Laura's trademark vocals were strong and clear, while Phyllis Free kept the beat on drums.

In between songs, both Laura and guitarist Carol Kraemer kept up a dialog with the audience, teasing each other and telling anecdotes about early shows. They even yelled out suggestions to the sound controllers offstage as "part of the show."

Yer Girlfriend's no-nonsense vocal style magnified the message in "The Ballad of Kevin," a song written for a local man expelled from the Baptist seminary when he admitted he was gay. The close three-part harmony of Laura, Carol and bassist Liz Welsh rang straight and strong, without gimmicks or vocal tricks. Shine belted out the lyrics "Hey Kevin, are you going to heaven? Were they gonna let you go yesterday, before you said you were gay?" with unbridled sarcasm, provoking cheers from the audience.

Lisa Cates' work on the bongos brought the audience down to the dance floor during "Fairness." Her enthusiasm on percussion added a certain jungle/funk element to the sound. This is music to move to, and Cates played it that way.

Shine let her hair down, literally, for the number "The Extra Bedroom Blues." She and Kraemer matched voices perfectly in a jazzy style as those who were on the floor stayed, and were joined by more. Cindy Campbell took over for her keyboard solo, executing the bluesy section that sent her strong hands up and down the keys as if the music were playing itself. Campbell's work in "Never Again" shifted gears to a slower, meaning-heavy ballad style. Coupled with Kraemer's high sweet vocals, Campbell's conviction produced an almost eerie, haunting sound that drove in its message about discrimination and homophobia.

Yer Girlfriend drew its energy from the audience, who offered up plenty from the dance floor and throughout the theater. Drummer Phyllis Free seemed to enjoy playing the most, as she rocked along in the back.

Bassist Liz Welsh added a groove to numbers like "Extra Bedroom Blues" and "Get Over It" that balanced and kept the music moving. And her passionate, almost angst-y vocals on her self-written "Wish I Had a Love" conjured up goose bumps throughout the audience.

Laura Shine's smooth, alto voice more than did justice to her lyrics in smooth ballads like "When I Find My Heart Again," and "Your Eyes." But she was also able to belt out rap lyrics to "Get Over It" with a raucous attitude that would intimidate anyone who hadn't heard the previous song.

Yer Girlfriend's audience had more than music to entertain them at the final concert. Manager Kay Milam put together a slide show in tribute to the band's final gig, which the band showed both before and as an intermission. The slides featured fans from different shows over the years, and past and present members of the band. Shine teasingly referred to the slide show as "a slide show of different Yer Girlfriend hairstyles."

Former Yer Girlfriend member Kathy Weisbach climbed on-stage, banjo in hand, for "Still Water," a country sounding tune that had the audience two-stepping on the floor. And Robin Mock, former percussionist for the band, took over the congas for a few tunes also.

As anyone familiar with the band will testify, Yer Girlfriend's music is not for the close-minded. Each song includes a strong political message that's impossible to miss. The band's main criticism has been that it is too political, and this accounts for its somewhat limited audience. Often, the message has overpowered the music. However, in this setting, among friends and fans, the message served to encourage and empower rather than weight down the music.

As disappointing as the break-up may seem, Yer Girlfriend members agreed that now was the best time to move on in different directions. "We were going in different directions. We had different priorities. It seemed the right time to go and do it," Kraemer said. Kraemer plans to invest her energy in a more political venture on the Fairness Campaign, in which she has been active for several years.

Laura plans to pursue more commercial veins of music through her new band. "I want [the music] to be a feel-good kind of thing, and not try and call anybody to action," she says. Laura, Liz, Lisa, and former Yer Girlfriend member Kathy Weisbach have already formed a new band, called "Unrelated Sisters," and plan to start practicing soon. Unrelated Sisters will focus more on music and less on message, says Liz. "We're looking for a different outlet. We want to play to the women's community but also to a broader audience." Unrelated Sisters is destined for success, with their fans and followers already in place.