Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Live review: Ladyhawke at the Troubadour

if there’s any consolation for bitter music fans stuck in town while SXSW rages on in Austin, it would have to be the stream of bands that stop in L.A. on their way either to or from Texas. Case in point: Tuesday night’s show at the Troubadour by New Zealand blog sensation/’80s revivalist Ladyhawke.

It was a quick warm-up gig before facing the indie elite for three shows at this year’s SXSW, including Perez Hilton’s much-discussed "One Night in Austin" showcase Friday night, and one that singer Pip Brown and her bandmates definitely needed.

While there are countless new acts pillaging the '80s for inspiration, Ladyhawke’s ace is that she emulates songs and artists that most serious rock fans consider hopelessly uncool. From the booming drums that Phil Collins made famous to piles of analogue synthesizers, Brown’s music captures FM radio circa 1985 perfectly. Early singles such as "Back of the Van" and “Paris Is Burning” sparkle with the same teen dream drama of prime Bananarama and Kim Wilde’s “Kids in America.”

But Ladyhawke’s L.A. debut opened with a sputter, not a bang. Brown and her pinup-ready all-boy band took the stage and kicked into a moody instrumental opener amid a sea of fog, only to have a technical issue with her monitors force them to stop. They started again — and stopped. Brown unceremoniously took off her guitar and fled the stage.

After a few minutes of roadies frantically trying to remedy the situation, Brown returned and apologized to the sold-out and supportive crowd. Shielded by voluminous bangs and her guitar, she was finally able to charge through a couple of songs from her self-titled debut album, but it was obvious she wasn’t having much fun — yet.

As the band persevered, the show started to come together. The bouncy melody of “Manipulating Woman” prompted dancing down front, which only spread with the poppy march of “Dusk Till Dawn.” Brown has a knack for writing insidiously catchy melodies, deftly combined with a thick, dance-rock pulse not heard since Billy Idol’s “Rebel Yell” album.

Tossing out non-LP B-side “Danny and Jenny” for the hardcore fans, Ladyhawke wisely saved the best for last, closing with the killer one-two punch of “Back of the Van” and “Paris Is Burning.”

By the time she encored with her latest single, the uptempo Pat Benatar homage “My Delirium,” any earlier technical transgressions had long been forgotten. “Thanks for putting up with all of that,” Brown smiled at last. “It was worth it to finally play L.A.”

It was a touch of the SXSW “experience," in SoCal instead of Austin: Catching a new band still finding its legs, stumbling toward that first big dance, and somehow making it work.

(Originally published on L.A. Times)