Saturday, March 17, 2012

Live Review, 3/15/12: The Pretty Reckless Vies For Rock Credibility at Bottom of the Hill

You never know what mixed bag of crazy awaits at an all-ages concert, and last night's Pretty Reckless show at Bottom of the Hill was of no exception. The concert was an awkward unraveling of those vile days in adolescence, when fumbling for a sense of place and identity was de rigueur. The show wanted so badly to be a rock concert that, like so many plotlines in family sitcoms, it lost sight of what truly mattered: acceptance.

Presiding over the Hill's gothic-clad kingdom was Taylor Momsen, former Gossip Girl turned lead singer of the night's headlining act.

The Pretty Reckless has certainly paid its dues, with rounds of tours in Europe and a stint opening for Evanescence this past fall. In the two years since the release of the band's debut album, Light Me Up, singer Momsen has toured herself into a poised and practiced speed rock maven.

Momsen took to the stage last night like a modern-day Debbie Harry. Replete with Harry's wickedness and fire, but replacing Harry's subtle sexuality with her own sticky poison, Momsen sighed through the opening lines of the controversy-raising, "Hit Me like a Man": "It's a version of perversion that is only for the lucky people. Take your time and do with me what you will."

Adorned in pleather hot pants, torn nylons, and smoky eye-shadow, her long hair serving as a useful prop, Momsen carried the weight of a high-energy, no-frills, straight-up rock concert. Or, rather, she tried.

Two years ago, Momsen had the stage presence of a disaffected, funereal rock goddess, channeling Poe, Shirley Manson, and Amy Lee. Last night, she played the part of rock chic; which, to her credit, she did quite well.

"I don't know what the fuck day it is on the Medicine Tour," Momsen said, instigating a chain of F-bombs that later peppered her performance. An ominous smile gleamed across her face like that of the Cheshire cat -- and in point of fact it was the tour's fourth day.

It's one thing to play rock chic and another to be rock chic. What the Pretty Reckless needed to be last night was more reckless. The band was too polished, too commercial; lulling otherwise hard-hitting tracks like "Cold Blooded" into stage copies of their recorded tracks. As the night wore on, Momsen's vocals buckled and she continued to rely on the audience to carry her songs -- great for saving the voice, but bad for that devil-may-care rock image.

Still, there's something captivating about Momsen. Say what you will about her career, her salacious attire, or her potential daddy issues, the flighty little thing is carrying that band. She's the draw. Rather than hiding behind the artifices of a plasticine rock performance, Momsen should work with her imperfections. Besides, the band is best when it's not overproduced.
In many ways it was the opening acts that made the night. Nashville-bred Almost Famous cast-offs the Hollywood Kills, gave a pulsating, at-times macabre, but self-sustained set.
The Parlor Mob proved to be the night's diamond in the rough. This charismatic group of underdogs was once touted as likely to jump-start a back-to-basics rock revolution. Last night, it peddled out its version of thrash and grunge rock in disappointing tracks that were made all the worse next to songs from the band's wheelhouse of Zeppelin-flected blues.

The Parlor Mob was responsible for the evening's best performance, though: a gritty revisitation of "Hard Times," a song off their first album, And You Were a Crow. The Parlor Mob's latest release, entitled Dogs, is laced with the Sisyphean efforts of musicians so talented they can't see that their new artistic direction is a poor fit. Still, it takes three albums to prove the merits of a band; and this one is certainly worth the wait.
What we take away from last night's concert, as with the starry-eyed ideals of youth itself, is the notion that you can rebuild yourself, with enough grit and determination, into anything you so desire. Last night's stop of the Medicine Tour may have been a sour-tasting spoonful of artistic slop, but it leaves us with the promise of better times to come.

Critic's Notebook

Pretty Reckless setlist:
Hit Me like A Man
Since You're Gone
Miss Nothing
Just Tonight
Goin' Down
Cold Blooded
Aerials (System of a Down cover)
My Medicine
Make Me Wanna Die
Factory Girl
Encore: Nothing Left to Lose

Favorite Quote: From Hollywood Kill's Twitter feed: "Brushing teeth in the venue parking lot. That's how you know we're broke and on tour."

Random notebook dump: Last night's audience, much like the show itself, was a mishmash of well-intentions. Packs of baby-faced fans and their hip-enough-to-chauffeur-but-not-hip-enough-to-chaperone parents rubbed elbows with lost metal heads, sad drunks, teenage Lolitas, and the sleazy men who hover over them.


Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.