Reviews

The Kills + The Sights + Pearlene

Chris Bailey
The Kills + The Sights + Pearlene

The Kills + The Sights + Pearlene

City: Chicago
Venue: Abbey Pub
Date: 2003-07-24
Pearlene, who boast members of blues-rock heralds the Soledad Brothers, have a better grasp on the American roots tradition than many of their contemporaries, but this doesn't necessarily translate to a better understanding of what the blues can mean today. They also carry more of a country-western edge (frontman Reuben Glaser's absurd striped pants would be perfect for playin' the hell out of a county fair). Pearlene seem to pride themselves on playing "rhythm and blues" without the aesthetic pretensions given to it by this latest round of art-rock cooptation, and their knowledgeable, gritty, straight-ahead approach lends them immediate credibility while simultaneously limiting how far their music can go. On stage, Pearlene look sadder, angrier, and more genuinely disheveled (in short, more like the blues) than any indie band you're likely to see, and Glaser's cigarette-ruined growl is a real asset. In the end, though, Pearlene is simply a good bar band, possibly on the verge of becoming more. Sandwiched between two neo-blues acts, the Sights seemed slightly out of place, unless you were to haphazardly declare all three bands part of the media-fabricated "Garage Rock Revival." The Sights, a fairly young band from Detroit, however, fit that label better than the other, more famous, new band from Detroit. Still, though, the Sights are a little too slick to be shoved into that "Garage Rock" label. When the band took the stage and started into their first song, they quickly realized that lead singer/guitarist Eddie Baranek's mic was not on. They kept playing (for a total of close to 10 minutes) without vocals while the soundman, head down, bobbed obliviously to the music as the crowd yelled at him and Baranek kept trying to start the song. So, maybe it was due to the sense of anticipation, but when Baranek's voice finally did come out, and the Sights tore into a surprisingly long set, the crowd at the half-full Abbey Pub rocked with an energy I haven't seen when the place is packed. The Kills owe them a debt of gratitude. During a rare lull in the Sights' set, an audience member, playing on their Detroit roots and loud, fun-rockin' ways, yelled out in a voice audible from upstairs, "You guys kick out the jams!" While the Sights certainly draw on their Detroit-rock ancestors, they have also obviously had a good, old-fashioned American classic rock radio upbringing, even taking cues from fairly unhip bands like Boston and even Golden Earring (the riff from "You Got What I Want", their show-stopping final number, bears an awfully close resemblance to "Radar Love") without irony. The Sights steer clear of simple '70s camp through clever songcraft and through the talents of Baranek, who has a booming voice and charismatic stage presence not usually seen in young frontmen. The Kills, the White Stripes, Jon Spencer, and countless others have made names for themselves by toying with blues conventions, but the Sights are one of the first bands I've seen that has succeeded doing the same with radio classic rock. The Kills (singer/pseudo-guitarist Alison "VV" Mosshart and guitarist/pseudo-singer Jamie "Hotel" Hince) are caught in the strange two-piece blues-rock trend. Cynics say that artists like the Kills are trying to cash in on the White Stripes' success, but it's more the case that labels are simply more willing to take chances on a kind of band that previously seemed too "out-there." Before the ascendancy of Jack and Meg, bands like the Kills would have likely languished at basement shows and open mic nights undeservedly. That said, the Kills are about as different from the White Stripes as two blues-rock combos could be. On stage, the Kills jettisoned Jack White's obsession with the vintage in favor of an obsession with the dirty, both musically and physically. Where the White Stripes use a highly stylized brand of sexual deviancy as a carefully plotted aesthetic maneuver, the Kills use, well, dry-humping, which, as it turns out is a pretty good trade-off. The Kills started off in the mode that they would take for most of the concert: Hotel playing low, crackling guitar and doing a pulsating robot dance that perhaps takes the whole "Black Rooster" thing a little too literally, while VV moaned into the mic and slinked up and down the stand. As a frontwoman, VV managed to be sexy, indifferent, and intimidating all at once. Her body language (as she sang her not-so-subtle "fuck and fight" lyrics) seemed to say "come hither," "are you still here?" and "what the fuck do you think you're looking at?" all at once. For all his phallic posturing, whenever Hotel came over to straddle her and breathe on her neck (as he frequently did), VV's cool half-interest only fueled things. All this blatant sexuality worked wonderfully for the Kills, who created a dirty, bluesy atmosphere by presence alone, and literalized the audience's position as voyeur, forcing them to feel more involved. What I've said very little about, however, is the actual music, and here is where the Kills' one weakness lies. The Kills are much better live than on record, simply because the sexed-up environment does much to give their basement-blues context. But this year's Keep on Your Mean Side is their debut, and while it features some incredibly strong work, it also has some filler, a fact that is even more glaring live. "Fried My Little Brains" and "Cat Claw" worked wonderfully live, whereas lesser material like "Kissy Kissy" and "Monkey 23" did much to break the Kills' momentum. As an encore, though, the Kills emerged with a cover of Jonathan Fire*Eater's "The Search for Cherry Red", which saw VV coyly twirling and biting on a little red straw, with the song doing much to emphasize the Kills' more immediate, and finally, more deviant, sexuality.

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