25 Mar 2006: The Knitting Factory New York
I’m a pretty lucky gal. I live in New York, and on any given night I have my pick of any number of awesome shows. And so, like many NYC concertgoers, I’m a little spoiled. We can sit (or stand) back and relax, content with the knowledge that, if a show sucks, we’ll probably catch a better one later in the week. Of course, there’s a downside to all this: being part of the privileged concert-going masses, I rarely see a show so good that I absolutely can’t shut up about it for days afterwards. Very rarely.
Originally from Arkansas, the Gossip may be a sweet and cute-looking bunch, but on stage they’re a force to be reckoned with. The band’s formula is simple: fierce disco dance beats (provided by drummer Hannah Blilie); rhythmic punk/pop/rock/twangy guitar and bass (the boy of the group, Brace Paine); and raw, soulful vocals that rival those of any frontwoman around (Beth Ditto). Lyrics confront issues of heartbreak, jealousy, loneliness, body image, gender identity, and discrimination and, in the end, celebrate a strong sense of self. The Gossip’s energy and enthusiasm is contagious—heck, even Le Tigre was in the audience—and it’s easy to see why hoards of savvy twenty-something lads and ladies (gay and straight) flock to their gigs.
Their sold-out show at the Knitting Factory was hosted by drag king extraordinaire Murray Hill who, after an unfortunate set from opening band No Dynamics (irony abounds in their name), prepped the crowd for the Gossip. By the time Mr. Hill had finished his hilarious routine, we were ready to rock.
The band opened with the firecracker of a title track from its latest record, “Standing in the Way of Control”. Upon hearing the first few notes, the crowd could no longer contain its excitement—at once everyone began jumping, dancing, and singing along. I was lucky enough to be on the upper deck and had a terrific view of the crowd, which was almost as fascinating as the band itself. I felt as though I were taking a mini-vacation from New York and had entered some weird alternate universe where people are actually moved by music—imagine that!
Rocketing on, the band played a set chock-full of fan favorites, including “Fire Sign”, “Ain’t it the Truth”, “Listen Up” and “Take Back the Revolution”. Everyone boogied down, completely transfixed by Ditto, who sings every word with an utterly convincing (and compelling) passion, honesty, and grit. Her voice resounds like it’s coming from the lovechild of Aretha Franklin and Janis Joplin—Murray Hill put it best: “My God! The pipes on that broad!” Short, full-figured, and sassy, Ditto radiates irresistible charm and sexiness. She gives generously to the audience, creating such intense moments of truth that when she proclaimed with fervor, “I don’t want the world, I only want what I deserve” (“Yr Mangled Heart”), she nearly knocked us over.
The whole evening was such a rare and unique experience, that we were all hesitant to let it go. Though we’d like to think we’re above it, we New Yorkers are spoon-fed just as much imagery as everyone else. It’s refreshing to hear someone as cool as Ditto implore us to screw all that and just be who we are. And, of course, the fact that the band’s music is so freaking good makes it easy to hear what she has to say.