I stood in the back room of New York’s now-infamous Pianos (the club whose monthly residency launched a little act named Clap Your Hands Say Yeah earlier this year) armed with only a pint of Guinness, earplugs, and a healthy bit of skepticism. While the joint’s newest resident, the Lolita Bras, has already been dubbed “a band to watch”, the anticipation (not to mention size) of the crowd hardly showed it.
Of the four Thursdays they played, I managed to catch the band twice. On that first night, I witnessed a sub-par, eleven-song set punctuated by regular alteration and tuning of equipment. Something was definitely missing: a spark of energy or motivation.
31 Dec 1969: Pianos New York
The second time around, the band delivered a vastly different set. Singer Patrick Harmon had a new haircut; bassist Erica D’Andrea Gray wore a new dress; and guitarist Hugh Crickmore looked as though he’d tidied his facial hair. The crowd had swelled as well, and the guitars appeared to glint a little more under the stage lights.
A Lolita Bras show is exactly the wrong event to take a date, a friend, a mild headache, or any other kind of distraction for that matter. The really, really good bits tend to be separated by vast swathes of average moments which can turn hope into frustration. Unless I missed something, the Lolita Bras is simply a nice group that plays nice songs to an equally nice crowd. For this reason, their residency might not go down as the dawning of a new day for New York’s music scene (as some may have predicted), but simply as a series of enjoyable evenings.
Like a mad scientist attempting to resuscitate Britpop’s leading men, Harmon carries notes with an affected air and intonation. He channels singers like Morrissey and Robert Smith, singing forlorn lyrics that leave a trail of frayed thread as if through puddles of tears. (You get the picture.)
The single “Her Own Conversation” is a charming pop song driven by a staccato riff, complimented by a playful guitar loop and a sappy, daydreamy series of lyrics that foretell an almost-love story. As Lolita Bras progress and develop their sound, “Her Own Conversation” may be surpassed by gutsier, thought-provoking sounds. But for now, the track just drags on that little bit too far. For some unknown reason a fifth member joined the band for the song’s live performance. Apparently, the ringer’s only job was to press the buttons on a keyboard very, very quietly.
But this was hardly my main point of confusion. The quandary I puzzled over throughout both Lolita Bras shows was that of Hugh Crickmore. For a guitarist with obvious talent and the menacing smile of one about to unleash a wall of unfettered, screaming, alt-rock feedback, he remains remarkably restrained. Perhaps I’ve become accustomed to the overzealous performances of half-baked wannabe Hendrixes, but Crickmore left me actually wanting more. I even took my earplugs out (twice!) to goad him into bursting my eardrums. His restraint certainly made for a neat and tidy set, uncluttered by extraneous personality, but that’s not always a good thing.
Paul Frick, the ever consistent percussion man, presented wave after wave of varied drum and cymbal combinations, never upstaging his contemporaries and even toying with silence in an assured, professional fashion. Faultless basslines from the delightfully striking Erica D’Andrea Gray underpinned a tight but ultimately underachieving four and sometimes five-piece.
The four-night showcase exposed Lolita Bras to the dedication required of burgeoning musicians. A likeable group, Lolita Bras plays honest, melodic, and emotive pop/rock that is entertaining. But so far it lacks the necessary stuff to take things to the next level. With a straightforward and uncomplicated approach to producing music they obviously enjoy making, it remains to be seen whether Lolita Bras are strong enough to evolve beyond “nice.” Sure, I’d add them to my list of bands to keep an eye on, but with a question mark, not an exclamation point.