The Entrance Band
Wednesday, May 10, 2011
Better than: Clothes shopping on Melrose Ave.
The Kills are to actual rock 'n' roll what distressed designer jeans are to those tattered Levi's you've owned since you were 19: They fit almost as well, they look much better, and everyone thinks they're cool -- but there's no mistaking them for the real thing.
The Kills are a distillation of rock, a shrewd copy of the style and the smell of it: Last night, Alison Mosshart issued a slow explosion of charisma from on stage, shaking and convulsing to Jamie Hince's detonations of blues-riff guitar. She appeared like a reckless apparition in a white dress shirt, black cardigan, and tight-as-hell pants, moaning and howling and throwing her hair around madly. Hince, in a dark shirt and loose kerchief, slapped and stabbed his axes, making a sound that was at times quivering, throbbing, and transcendent -- see the haunting tremolo'd backslide lead of "Baby Says," among other highlights -- and at times trite bordering on banal (the predictable riffage of "Heart Is a Beating Drum"), with the lower registers of his heavily processed six-string sounding like juicy, unrepentant farts.
Little about the Kills seems sincere, least of all their darkness. The band's biggest black hole, the sexual tension between Hince and Mosshart, is at best playfully feigned, at worst totally calculated -- in any case, Hince is engaged to supermodel Kate Moss -- which makes all the Kills songs about obsessive/doomed/unrequited love seem overwrought. This wouldn't be such a big deal if the Kills' live show didn't place Hince and Mosshart at the center of their own blackened romantic catastrophe, but it does: Last night they appeared astride opposite ends of the stage, often with the mics arranged so they were singing face to face. Behind them sat two spotlights, each operated by a live human closely following the band members as they snaked close to each other and back apart. This arrangement effectively turned the audience into arbiters of the damaged relationship, or witnesses to a display of the musical and verbal violence therein. Obviously Hince and Mosshart have some deep vibes with each other, but they didn't make me feel like something was truly at stake with all this.
When the Kills were at their best -- which they were through about half of last night's show -- they fully inhabited their aesthetic without overdoing it. Hince and Mosshart sometimes managed to overlay their drummer-machine-backed blues stomps with a melodic fabric so aching and taut that it was almost totally intoxicating. There was a solid stretch of this in the middle of the set: " U.R.A. Fever," "DNA," new single "Satellite," "Tape Song," and "Baby Says," a highlight off new album Blood Pressures. For most these, Mosshart and Hince were focused on the audience, rather than on each other. (To be fair, songs off of debut album Keep on Your Mean Side, like the nasty snarl of "Cat Claw" and the ominous pound of "Pull a U," also worked well -- partly because Hince's guitars were less processed, and thus more audible, than on later songs.)
On "Baby Says," Mosshart finally sounded like she was singing about something actually genuine: "Baby says for all I've forsaken/Make something of all the noise/And the mess you're making/And all the time it's taken." Her lament settled wistfully at the time, went down like some glamorous heartache. That's the highest aim the Kills can honestly claim -- and at times, their stylish agony gets into your bones, makes you sway in character, like dancing on Halloween. Her prod in "Baby Says," though, could easily be a blow against her own band. If the Kills were jeans, they would be artistically damaged and impeccably fitted -- aesthetic victories too fragile to fully grasp. They would not be the pants you've struggled through your actual messy life in.
Thought experiment: What if the Kills had a live drummer?
Personal bias: I took the pre-show house music as a sign of what went into the Kills' cocktail: A mix of old-school blues, proto- and post-punk, and power pop. Also, "Paranoid," which had one fortysomething woman pogoing violently within the confines of her male date's arms.
The crowd: Diverse as a room full of mostly white people can be: Hipsters, goths, punks, bearded dads with underage hipster daughters, fashion people, frat people, young people. The sold-out ballroom thinned out quite a bit toward the end.