[21 October 2003]
One would have to do some serious, pilates-enhanced stretching to make a case for any kind of similarity between Pretty Girls Make Graves and the band who wrote the song that became their name. In brief, isolated moments, PGMG’s jittery guitar noise hints at Johnny Marr’s note-bending genius, but that’s where the similarities end.
Not that a band named Pretty Girls Make Graves is necessarily required to pay homage to the Smiths. Maybe to them, it was just a cool-sounding name. Whatever the case may be, PGMG’s punk-pop, decidedly non-Smiths sound has won the hearts of many a suburban 18-25-year-old. These rock veterans (the members have played in a variety of other bands, including the Murder City Devils) revel in spastic keyboard and guitar-informed rock, and singer Andrea Zollo is unafraid to let emotion be a prominent part of the mix. At times, PGMG come perilously close to sounding as if they could be filed under the ignominious non-genre known as emo, but their dynamism and smarts save them the blackballing. Ultimately, they’re more punk than pouty; more hysterical than histrionic.
If you’re already a fan of the Graves, you know about the hyperbolic talk that bubbles up when journalists start talking about their live show. If at this moment you were to click to a few other music-oriented sites and peruse reviews of PGMG’s new album New Romance, you’d read about how, although the album has its moments, it still fails to bring to the life the (choose your adjective) furious, jaw-dropping, unbridled, mind-bending energy of PGMG’s live show. With this in mind, I attended the Graves show in hopes of seeing something transcendentally cool. When my always-safety-conscious girlfriend offered me earplugs, I shrugged them off. I wanted my PGMG experience pure and unfiltered. I wanted to walk away with bloody eardrums.
Did the Graves’ performance do all of the press-generated mythology justice? No. But who could have lived up to that kind of hype? Who could have come into a half-full club at 10:30 p.m. on a Sunday night and rocked to their full potential? The brevity of PGMG’s set, as well as the absence of an encore, suggested that the effort on the part of the band was at least a little mitigated. Not to disparage the band—they played a pretty good set. Better than average, no doubt. But after the many paragraphs of hype that’s been written about their live show, one couldn’t help but feel a little cheated that they never buried the needle in the red.
I do applaud the band’s uniformly electric presence. There wasn’t a shade of listlessness to be found among them—no wax-figure bassist, no yawning drummer (this is rare, but it happens). They bounced around the stage like marbles in a blender. Especially compelling were the C3PO-like gyrations of rail-thin guitarist Nate Thelen. Every time the band would follow a brief stop in the action with another explosion, the visual effect was dazzling. Those were good moments, but unfortunately they happened too infrequently to confirm that Pretty Girls Make Graves are rock and roll’s most vicious, most savage live performers. Not on Sunday nights, anyway.