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Dressy Bessy + The Jessica Fletchers

(7 Jul 2005: Emo's — Austin, TX)


Dressy Bessy
The Jessica Fletchers


I can’t really explain my recent lack of live music outings except to blame that early-30s existential inventory. For me it means holding the world at arm’s length while I try to figure out what the fuck I’m supposed to be doing with my life. Often, I can barely hear the show that I’m attending over my own internal monologue, the superego cacophony of “shoulds” blending in with the jostling crowd murmurs.


It’s also that I’m doing so much music writing; the idea of seeing a band can, if I’m not careful, become like some early morning farm chore. I can’t tell whether or not music criticism is making me jaded the way working at the porn store made me believe that Charles Bronson movies should be made into legislation. Thankfully, Thursday at Emo’s was one of those nights when the fates handed me a pageant sash and trouble played dead.


The night started when I had to run several blocks to the show in a sky-cracking storm—one that was blissfully breaking a scorched earth dry spell here in Texas that has meant days upon days of walking out the front door and into the mouth of a hair dryer. As I arrived at the venue looking like a used mop, the band was cheerfully assembled outside watching Mother Nature growl. It’s always awkward meeting a band in the context of reporting on their show. I’m hyper-sensitive to my own social retardation and shaking hands and doing shots with an English-as-a-second language band offers many opportunities for clumsy tongued idiocies. Jokes about PCP? Not as funny in Scandinavia.


It’s easy in this situation to have ego-by-proxy, to believe that you’re somehow more special than the regular concert folks because the band is tolerating you for good ink. So I tried to leave them alone as much as possible lest I come across as a starfucker barnacle. Speaking of which, The Jessica Fletcher gents have sizzling, poster boy good looks—all scruff and dog-eared blue jeans, five o’clock shadows and sleepy eyes—just the kind of road life youthfulness you want poured into hot pants and served with filterless ciggies.


A few beers, a burger, and a Xanax later, the Jessica Fletchers took to the stage and launched into a bone-rattling set with the kind of balls out introduction that lets you know tonight the music will not only be played, but will inhabit you. They’ve polished themselves on tour right down to their shimmy-quake pelvis moves and facial expressions somewhere between ecstasy and fury. Though they seemed to wince at my evocation of ‘60s rock bands during our conversation, it’s hard not to see the Stones in their performance bravado and to hear the Kinks bursting from the finely calibrated pop structures of their rock songs.


The entire onslaught sent horny kinetic energy brushfiring throughout the crowd. When each song ended with a rollercoaster rush of screaming in a club half full, you knew the band had properly taken people to the “don’t give a fuck” zone. And that’s where I haven’t been at shows lately. Before the Jessica Fletchers hurricaned the indie tight-ass cobwebs off my face, it had been ages since I was at a show with an atmosphere deep enough to shake me into my own skin.


Watching lead singer Thomas Innstro play his guitar into one of my girl friend’s crotches after stunt jumping off the stage was just the sort of rock theatricality that makes a show feel more like an event. Ivar Johansen played the tambourine like he was going puncture it and the keys like his fingers would slam straight through the floor. In fact the entire band mauled their instruments with spastic and muscular electricity, like every single riff was being channeled in from the lightning outside.


And I danced. Danced like I wasn’t in public, shaking along to every single song wishing I had my own maracas. I screamed at the end of every track like I was my mother fainting at an Elvis concert. I can’t describe how wonderful it felt to abandon all critical pretenses and to just go dementedly native. The Jessica Fletchers are rock god eye candy with more than enough mad skill to tear shit up. Adore them with me, please.


As much as I love Dressy Bessy, it was damn near impossible to reach the riling intensity of the Jessica Fletchers. I would call the night a tempo mismatch. When you get that revved, you want to be equally revved by the next band, if not more so, though anything short of Motorhead would probably not have sated me that night. But Dressy Bessy are a well-oiled pop outfit, relentlessly head bobbing, and the kind of band that makes you want to chew gum, buy silly shoes and play a toy tambourine.


Tammy Ealom has mastered a peppermint stick hook that’s filled with coy surliness, a polite snarl and all kinds of emotional nuance that prevent pure tooth decay. The new material snapped tightly into place, deserving of every ounce of praise that new record, Electrified has received, including the painfully idiotic beef that music critic Ken Tucker set up in his NPR piece (Morning Edition, June 22nd, 2005) pitting Dressy Bessy against Coldplay as if pop songs should be like a skull cracking cage match.


Tucker is certainly right; a night with Dressy Bessy beats two weeks worth of Chris Martin’s mumble-mouthed angst, but on this night, the paisley popsters got upstaged by the raucous Norwegian upstarts whose names didn’t even appear on the poster. But, as I’ve just said, this isn’t a contest and any night where you can experience two sets by musicians at the top of their game is a night to go home thankful.

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