Note: The following was written by Bill Mercurio. He headed over to Baltimore to check out The Pretty Reckless at Rams Head Live on Friday. And he did so via his car, a car that he has named Larry. If you’d like to tell him how much you love him – or how much you think The Pretty Reckless sucks – feel free to shoot him an email at email@example.com.
Wow. Who knew? Certainly not this humble (and occasional) reviewer. The Pretty Reckless flat out Bring. It. Live. This is an one impressive hard rock act. And I’m not referring to Miss Gossip Girl’s, umm, many charms.
Thanks to a recent car purchase – love me some Larry! – and a maddening commute, your correspondent enjoys scores of hours of commercial-free satellite radio every week (must listen: Jason Schwarzman’s Sirius show – love this dude. Thank me later). Throw in a Napster subscription and a plethora of music channels on FIOS and you’d think I’d know plenty of The Pretty Reckless songs. Because they play them all the time, right? Actually, no. They do not. In fact, it’s literally never, so I really don’t get to hear any TPR. How does this group find fans? There’s some serious secret squirrel stuff going on. Even my better half – always on the lookout for new material – asked me, “Wait, who are you going to see?”
So, until Friday night, I was a casual fan at best, mostly because of the estimable visual appeal of Taylor Momsen (sorry, not sorry). I really just only knew “F&*ked Up World” and a smattering of others. But … thanks to the promise of a free ticket and a dispiriting lack of – what shall we call them? – conflicts on my calendar, I decided to slog it all the way to Charm City, endure a mediocre Mexican meal, miss some of the baby band, barely dodge a street fight (one of the Charms I hear!), stand in a long line for lame merch (umm, some of us don’t wear black, ever), and lose my reporter’s notebook; yet I still absolutely enjoyed one of the tightest, head-bangingest rock shows I’ve seen in many years.
This extremely dynamic four-piece – free of lame backing tracks – has clearly spent plenty o’ time in the woodshed. Way light on the effects, lights, gimmicks etc. No floating pigs or visual aids, and that was wonderful because Momsen can sing. How can she look that great and sing that well?
But anyway. Back to the action.
Starting around 10 p.m. after openers Them Evils (meh) and Holy White Hounds (meh +), and in support of “Who You Selling For,” Momsen kicked off the 12-song set with “Follow Me Down.” Yup. Nailed It. Plenty of peeps singing along. Good hook. Perfectly executed. Energetic, hearty pipes that can fill a capacity show at Ram’s Head Live. Then, roughly (I did lose my notebook after all, and this is from memory gentle readers), it went like this: “Oh My God,” “Hangman,” “Medicine Man,” and “Prisoner.” Great stuff from their first few releases even though the set did seem a little brief. Two openers and you cats could only play 12 songs? Throw in two or three more songs. Kill the drum solo.
Also worth pointing out: The crowd was far more diverse that I expected. I assumed to see far more of those annoying splenetic millennials you’ve read about, plus the de rigeur crowd of local hard-rock aficionados. Not the case. We had moms and older folks, head bangers, Libertarians, pagans, stenographers, and so many of the other persuasions that cause the new administration concern.
As is my wont, the required blow-by-blow for guitar nerds: Ex-Famous axeman Ben Philips coaxed a fairly clean tone out of his ES-355 copy, an axe he used on almost every song (a Les Paul showed up late in the gig although I could barely tell a sonic difference). The semi-hollow body surprised said humble correspondent! Who, this side of Alex Lifeson, attempts this for 11 songs, feedback-free? It was surprising how well this instrument accommodated the room and the band’s angular driving ethos.
A technically proficient player, Phillips seems bound to garden-variety rock riffs (“Going to Hell”) for the A sections, although he does allow himself to go “outside” at times and, in general, he brings tasteful chops, tones and dynamics to the clambake. I don’t get the sense that his playing really challenges or inspires the band or surprises the audience with context or ideas – the best players do this. And he’s not overly concerned with melody, though I love that he holds back. Still, he’s a very solid player and rare is the hard rock player not given to overplaying. Kudos.
OK, enough of the wonky crap.
This was a very good show. Tight and focused. Watch Ms. Momsen shed a leather duster after a few songs. Sing along to her blue yet often clichéd lyrics. Endure the drum solo. It’s totes ma-gotes worth it. I give it five Schwartzmans.