Walking into Irving Plaza, a
mediocre, mid-sized urban venue if ever there was one, the first thing I
realized was that I was going to be able to see the stage from anywhere in the
audience. Now, if you're a guy in excess of six feet tall — as it seems like
80% of the audience for most shows is — that sort of epiphany doesn't mean
much to you. Fair enough. But for me, at five foot four and a half, it's
pretty damn exciting. So, beyond making it possible for me to see the
performance without standing on my tiptoes or injuring my neck, what was this
shorter-than-usual audience all about? In a word: ladies. I love guys and all,
but let me sell you on the advantages of majority-female audiences. For one
thing, there is less pushing. There's less shouting of stupid shit like "Freebird."
There's less cheap beer spilled on shoes and in hair. And, best of all,
there's more dancing.
I was a little late and only caught the last few songs of Mika Miko's set, but
they were adorable. The music was loud, thoroughly danceable rock ‘n' roll.
With lead vocal duties shared amongst the band members, almost everyone on the
stage took a turn singing into the bright red telephone receiver that had been
rigged with a microphone.
Next up was Erase Errata, a band that's been called everything from "no wave"
to "experimental" by frustrated reviewers (with whom I truly feel a kinship)
desperate to put a label on their spontaneous, frenetic, sprawling, weirdo
music. I'd seen them a few times before, following the release of their first
album, Other Animals. At the time, the music was colder, but the shows
were more theatrical. I recall matching, multicolored sweater outfits and
choreography. This time, things were more casual and highlighted the way the
band has embraced a poppier, still eclectic but more melodic, sound. Though
the increased accessibility of their music was a welcome change for me, I did
miss the pageantry of earlier performances. Lead singer Jenny Hoyston warned
us that she was sick — "running a fever," even — so it was impressive that she
even made it onstage, let alone managed to put on a solid set during which her
energy never seemed to flag.
I'm tempted to say that there were no words for The Gossip's performance, but
that would be the end of the review, and you probably wouldn't like me much
anymore. So I'll do my best to describe their set without gushing all over the
place. This, however, must be said: Beth Ditto is a force of nature. She is a
star. A superhero. Diana Ross by way of Tracy Turnblad. Give this bitch her
own goddamn Broadway show already! She moved around the stage like James
Brown, unembarrassed to mop away the sweat that comes from wholehearted
dancing. Charismatic to the extreme, she interacted with the audience between
every song, even stopping to pick up a love letter-via-paper airplane that
landed at her feet and graciously thank its sender.
The minimal, two-piece instrumental contingent of the band, Brace Paine on
guitar and bass and Hannah Blilie on drums, competently pounded out new
wave-influenced melodies without interfering with Ms. Ditto's position at
center stage. The juxtaposition of the singer's soulful voice and the upbeat,
danceable instrumentals create a fresh, unique sound that puts a whole new
spin on the past 50 years of pop music. Songs like "Swing Low," "Fire with
Fire" (dedicated "to the fat people"), and "Standing in the Way of Control"
were far more intense than they are on record, with Beth hitting and savoring
At the end of the set, Jenny Hoyston returned to the stage to share the
microphone on — ready for this? — Aaliyah's "Are U That Somebody?" Now, given
this newfangled penchant for the ironic, most indie rock covers of popular R&B
songs are nothing but elitist send-ups. It's an easy path to take, but Hoyston
and Ditto completely avoided it, belting out each phrase without a hint of
derision. Call me all the names you want, but I've always genuinely thought it
was a good song and was happy to see them do it justice.
After a generous encore, chicks upon chicks descended from Irving Plaza into
the street, energized and grinning. Perhaps they were only excited because
they were able to view the stage for the entire time, but something tells me
it had more to do with the exuberant fun of the night's performances and the
endorphin rush of three hours of dancing.