live show summary
Review by Jess McConnell (The Boston Phoenix, 7/14/06)
When Kay Hanley posts on her website that she's “been jonesin' to get home," it turns out all she means is "you better find some motherfucking high-impact footwear because I'm putting on a pop show so sweet it will stick to your shoes and grow pubic hair on your skull, a gig so intensely hot that it will melt that complacent, trendy little smirk off your face, and contort your pelvis into a dance move you will later regret." The pride of Dorchester, fresh off a silver bird from LA, and primed by the previous night’s rain-delayed “Hot Stove, Cool Music” benefit, and supported by her husband, USA Mike (aka Michael Eisenstein) on guitar, and with Joe Klompus on bass and with Pete Caldes on the drums . . . uh, where was I? Oh, right: Hanley did not wait on the fringes of the crowd to rock out with her cock out at T.T. the Bear’s Place on Thursday night. In fact, she managed to burst onstage well before the previous band had a chance to leave it -- more on which in a second.
Not like you need the bio shit, but to recap: Hanley originally became known as front woman for alt-rock band Letters to Cleo, then flirted with Hollywood billpayer projects, providing voice parts for the cult TV show Generation O, sang onscreen in 10 Things I Hate About You, and held down soundtracks for Josie and the Pussycats and Just Like Heaven. Meanwhile, in the time since Letters to Cleo called it quits in 2000, she's put out a solo album (Cherry Marmalade), a follow-up EP (Babydoll), and writes songs for/with adorable teenage girls who aspire to be huge rock stars, and is readying an album with her LA-girl supergroup the Dilettantes. In her spare time she can be found helping Jill Sobule save the internet, and, of course, interviewing fellow rock stars for her favorite alt-weekly. (Also coming: another solo album, and music for a “Frank Gehry-esque Sesame Street” show called The Musiquarium.) Judging by the T.T.’s turnout and Kay’s perennial role in “Hot Stove, Cool Music,” the girl has not abandoned the Boston rock scene; she’s simply helped open the West Coast franchise.
On this night is a constellation of bespectacled middle-aged men and younger multi-sexed purse toters, bags slung on shoulders, necks craned high. After a boot-licking session of rootsy alt country and classic rock and roll by Chaz & the Legendary Motorbikes, there are tunes from the mighty power-pop foursome Scamper. They are Hanley's well-dressed collaborators on a recent split-CD-single; they are fresh-faced, mop-topped, and look like a relic of ’60s pop captured by aliens and preserved for 40 years. I wonder briefly whether they'll be able to move in those suits, but they have a sweet time cradling guitars and stumbling around, jacked up on vitamin water, power chords, and three-part harmonies.
Then eventually they do the smart thing by bringing Kay Hanley up on stage . . . ostensibly as the winner of a (totally rigged!) pre-show hat-drawing. "Kat Handey?" asks bassist Brendan Boogie. A fiery blonde/brown-haired woman crosses the stage, pumps both fists in the air. And that is how the party is officially brought by a smallish, 30-something-year-old mother of two.
The energy that Hanley brings to the stage reverbrates through most of the crowd and out the back end of Scamper's set like a herd of stampeding cow statues, boomeranging back to her as she steps up to the stage for the rest of the night, promising a lot of new stuff. "I am too short." she says, adjusting the mic downward. "YOU ARE NOT TOO SHORT!!!" yells someone from the crowd. So that's it.
Onstage, Hanley is a flurry of earnest motion, loose and welcoming. She cuts swimming circles with her arms, bopping from her knees here and scrunching up her shoulders there. Smiling at the crowd during a rendition of the classic "Fall" from Cherry Marmalade, she eeks on a high note and apologizes, drinks some whiskey, and offers philosophically, "Well, Boston, we ought to know each other well enough by now…" But do we? Who are these people? A drunk guy next to me pounds his hand on the bar in time to the drums. A white-tank-topped girl presses in front of me, pushy but trying to be polite. "Is this OK? Do you think it's OK?," she asks as she slides forward, and after a lot of assurances, she gets in there and throws her hands in the air like all good worshippers at the service of the year. A semi-mulleted metal kid, rocked back, observes through the backs of stoned eyelids. Just ahead of him is a man with wire-rimmed glasses, hands folded into his armpits, doing some version of the twist and banging his head side to side.
Kay catches this energy and runs with it, literally jogging in place, then burns through a set of blissfully chorded songs and darkly cheerful declarations: “I like your video, but your music's shit"; "I'm not your mom, I'm a fucking a-bomb." Nice surprise: Letters to Cleo guitarist Greg McKenna jumping briefly onstage for "Awake," off of Cleo’s 1995 Wholesale Meats and Fish, and the inevitable closer, "Cellars by Starlight," a feel-good shout-out from that split single album with Scamper. "Plastic cup of cheap red wine/pencil, paper, requisite TT's night," belts Hanley, and you can see people acknowledge it with little beer cups hoisted into the air. "I'm such a townie, he'll never talk to me/Whatever. Our set's coming up at nine," she sings. Almost like she never left.