Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Kills at the Theater of Living Arts

The subtle art of droning was in full bloom at the Theater of Living Arts, courtesy of The Kills, The Horrors and Magic Wand. While the TLA has never exactly had the best sound, that weakness turned to be a plus, enhancing the swirling fits of garage rock noise emanating from the bands. The bands drew an interesting mix, with The Kills pulling in hipsters a-plenty – Big shiny garish clothes! Pseudo-ironic mustaches! Sweatbands? – and The Horrors attracting more of a punk/metal crowd. How else can you explain the kids in Misfits and System of a Down tees? And while I missed Magic Wand’s set (I had vegan BBQ chicken pizza to eat, clam flammit), I still gotta say, overall, this was a tasty show.

The Horrors put on a damn fine show. Bedecked in black and synths, the band tore away at their instruments while frontman Faris Badwan mostly kept his back to the audience. There’s a definite shoegaze element to the band’s new Primary Colours that elevates their previous garage band sound, and they’re all the better for it.

Though there was a mini-exodus following The Horrors’ set, a decent amount of people stuck around for The Kills’ 11 p.m. set. Though they ended up playing for only 50 minutes (plus a three song encore), it’s worth giving the band some slack over the short set, if only because lead singer Allison Mosshart was hospitalized like a week ago for breathing problems and still found the energy to give Philadelphia folks a whirlwind of a show. Mosshart constantly paced the stage, hungry and anxious, while guitarist/vocalist Jamie Hince tore at his instrument and called on the crowd to dance.

The set leaned heavily on material from last year’s career highlight Midnight Boom, and songs like “U.R.A. Fever,” “Alphabet Pony” and “Black Balloon” got a huge reaction. Mosshart was noticeably rougher live, again probably thanks to her cold, but the newfound grit gave the songs a dirtier new perspective. Her vocals became more bluesy, which in turn played well off of Hince’s guitar work. The band was also droned more live. Midnight Boom was packed with dance beats; its live interpretation bears more in common with The Jesus & Mary Chain than PJ Harvey. Again, though, this generally worked to the band’s advantage.

Still, the murkier, hazier live sound didn’t suit The Kills’ older songs quite as well. Granted, “Fried My Little Brains” and “Pull a U” sounded good, but “No Wow” felt flat. The song started off slowly building itself into a fervor, just like its studio counterpart, but it led to a climax that never came.

Not that it mattered. Bluesy, hypnotic, salty, sweaty, sexy, writhing, alive. These are the words to use for describing a Kills show. The band clearly gave its all for the crowd and was rewarded with wave after wave of applause.

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