Some Girls is the latest musical enterprise of Juliana Hatfield and Freda Love, two members of the Blake Babies, a much-loved trio that were a staple of late ‘80s and early ‘90s college rock. Love was the drummer, Hatfield the bassist, main vocalist, co-songwriter, and breakout star who achieved a briefly successful solo career (the third member, John Strohm, played guitar and was Hatfield’s songwriting foil). The idea for Some Girls apparently grew out of the brief reunion/renaissance the Blake Babies had in 2000 and 2001, when they recorded a new album and toured together for the first time since breaking up in 1991. At the end of that tour, Hatfield realized she didn’t want to keep working with Strohm, but she did want to keep working with Love, and Love with her. So Hatfield moved to guitar, they added a female bassist, Heidi Gluck of Indianapolis’ the Pieces, and the three women started recording the songs Hatfield and Love had composed (mainly through the mail, as they were living in different states at the time) into a full-fledged album. In September 2003 Some Girls released that album, titled Feel It and produced by Love’s husband Jake Smith, and embarked on their first tour, of which the Knitting Factory in New York was the third stop.
18 Sep 2003: Knitting Factory New York
It should be pointed out that Some Girls does not and is not intended to answer the question “What would the Blake Babies sound like with an all-female lineup?” (just as Antenna, Love and Strohm’s band after the original Blake Babies breakup, didn’t answer the question “What if the Blake Babies were a male-dominated four-piece?” or the Juliana Hatfield Three, “What if you replaced Strohm and Love with two anonymous guys and turned Juliana into an alterna-girl pinup?”). Some Girls are a different band altogether. The music is bluesier, the sound more stripped-down and dirty, the lyrics straightforward to the point of brazenness. It’s a style that in many ways echoes and pays tribute to the Rolling Stones era which Some Girls’ moniker references.
The Rolling Stones’ legendary machismo didn’t carry over to Some Girls’ live performance at the Knitting Factory, however. Hatfield claimed to be anxious because of the celebrated “tough"ness of New Yorkers. But the assembly of aging Gen X’ers at the Knitting Factory that night was far from a “tough crowd”; in fact, it was a mainly polite and supportive one, that paid attention throughout the set, rarely called out requests or comments that weren’t 100% appreciative, and didn’t even commit the pervasive sin of drowning out the band by chatting loudly amongst themselves. While engaging, Some Girls gave a less-than-spontaneous performance, probably, at least in part, because they are a newish band and only have 10 originals to their credit. The whole show had an air of studied concentration about it, from the cheat sheets of lyrics to the set list that was followed to the letter. Interaction between band and audience came in waves, complete silence for three or four songs at a time, then an outpouring of nervous chatter from Hatfield, including a plea for a shot of tequila to buck up her courage. This was clearly a band still finding its feet.
Considering that this show had originally been advertised as a Juliana Hatfield solo effort, and later as “Juliana Hatfield and Some Girls,” there’s a good chance that a fair number of people came expecting a Hatfield star turn. But Some Girls does seem to be a real collaborative effort, at least from outward appearances. Gluck provided harmonies and strong bass and steel guitar work, Love her signature skeletal drums and a vocal turn on “Launch Pad”. Some Girls didn’t play any Hatfield solo material, and only offered one Blake Babies song (the Love-penned “Nothing Ever Happens” from 2001’s reunion album God Bless the Blake Babies). If people were disappointed by the emphasis on new material and covers, they didn’t let on. Well, except maybe by heading for the exits a touch early, but given the average age of the audience members, that could have been more of an indication that there were babysitters to relieve or trains to the suburbs to catch or early meetings to get up for. The band left the stage abruptly after the set’s final song, and didn’t return for an encore, so those who left early didn’t miss all that much.
“Do you guys like the new songs?” Hatfield asked at one point. Some Girls played their entire album, so it’s a good thing that, for the most part, the answer was “yes.” “On My Back”, which was bouncy and fun, and “Almost True”, which featured a harmonica and beautifully wistful lyrics, were particular standouts. But “the new songs” were also somewhat monotonous in tone and structure. After all, how many compositions can you have that follow the format of “verse-chorus-verse-chorus-brief guitar solo that echoes the melody line-chorus?” Luckily, the set was sprinkled liberally with covers both canonic (“Let Me Go” by the Rolling Stones, “Last Time I Fool Around With You” by Muddy Waters, “Malted Milk” by Robert Johnson) and obscure (“He’s On Drugs Again” by Sardina, two songs by a previous Freda Love band called Mysteries of Life), to break up the procession through the album tracks and add other colors to the performance.
While it didn’t make for the most exciting evening of entertainment, Some Girls provided glimpses of promise and seem to be off to a good start. They’re not yet a rock ‘n roll force to be reckoned with, they’re not even yet on par with the Blake Babies’ last tour and record. But with some work, and maybe a few more shots of Dutch courage, they very well could be.
// Notes from the Road
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