Four consistently entertaining LP’s and several years of international touring in, it occurs to me that The Kills have evolved, well, consistently. The first time I watched them perform, my brain was on the incline of a rollercoastered interest in two-piece indie (duh) bands. Jamie Hince and Allison Mosshart, adorably codenamed Hotel and VV, respectively, proved to me that the idea could go from conception to stage show without losing momentum or energy (gaining some, au contraire). So get those ‘white stripe concepts’ out of your head [not knocking, just saying!] and wrap it around something that is sonically challenging in a real life setting – The Kills – as I recount to you my personal experience of their show in Atlanta this past Saturday night.
Because The Kills are touring in support of this very month’s full-length release, Blood Pressures, I went into the show expecting to hear a lot of it. I didn’t mind. While the record isn’t my favorite of the four (I simply LIVED with Midnight Boom for a while, is all), I knew that it would be a treat to see + hear those songs live for the first time. I predicted that “Future Starts Slow,” the new record’s opening track and first single, would open the show, but it came secondly. “No Wow” was the opener, and I believe the only track from the LP of the same name that was on the set list. Hotel’s driving single guitar sound rang sort of lonely and droned through the entrance of the madness for a few minutes before the second song kick started things.
You have to understand the gravity of this show for The Kills, on an Atlanta scale. They went from playing The EARL, a 250 capacity venue in East Atlanta, to playing the now defunct Lenny’s (barely larger) the next time through, to selling out the Masquerade’s 1000 capacity Heaven room. This is great for them and a little shitty for gear snobs like me who sometimes need to see in order to fully understand.
I spent most of my time near the stage left house monitors as Tim (photographer) dodged wedge monitors on his journeys back and forth across the front of the stage. The warmth of The Kills’ guitar tones didn’t harm my ears the way other indie bands’ have. Hotel’s thumb and index finger strums soothed the bassy edges of programming that is so very analog. VV was on my side, and emerged to the forefront of the stage every handful of seconds, boot on monitor, hair in face and mic stand slanted at a 45. This continued until halfway through the bridge of “Heart is a Beating Drum.” That’s when she snatched up that beautiful, black Rickenbacker and proceeded to make bluesy noise in unison with Hotel.
“Satellite” was a great song for me, live. It contains all those crucial Kills elements – quirkiness, slow-ish, thumping back tracks that are kind of muffled, low-mids that spring from loose, low strings and ride on distortion that’s the baby byproduct of Vox vintage and aluminum housed switchboxes that have been tampered with in an unduly manner. But on this song, particularly, I also noted the preciseness of the vocal harmonies, beginning with the ‘whoa whoa’ lines and moving into a carefully orchestrated dichotomy area, where VV goes high and Motel goes low. It’s something that dynamically evolves right in front of you, without cookie cut parts or cues for changes. It just flows and just is.
Really, The Kills are no frills. They wear skinny jeans and black and simple, tasteful accessories. They are suave, comfortable, cooler than you, but approachable. They drink whiskey; they write hooks that hold you and, I believe, put set lists together that make them happy. They look like they have fun impressing us by doing nothing strange or stupid onstage, but by presenting an art as it is. I get kid-like when they play “Last Day of Magic.” It’s fun to sing Hotel’s guitar parts out loud – they’re super reverbed, which shines through on the cleanliness of the bridge, and not as cut and dry in the Masquerade as they might be elsewhere. The chorus gets larger on that one, but not louder. VV leans into the vocal melodies of every line, which are overdubbed by her guitar melodies that are higher in regiment than other songs.’
The fun winds down into “Baby Says,” which might be my favorite track on Blood Pressures. That record brings a new type of seriousness to The Kills’ collection of sound. I like that track like I liked “Black Balloon.” The six string melody is distorted and loud, peaking almost, which is wonderful for the sincerity of the song – a feeling that the two have never had a problem conveying, considering the wrap-up of their cyclically fueled energy onstage anyway.
VV takes a couple of breaks to the drums at this point in the set, which is different. The placement of those interludes is well. The acoustics of her on those toms is a nice change, but it doesn’t provide a thickness that other two-piece bands might need because their backing tracks sound electronic instead of analog and real, as The Kills’ do. One of her drumming interjections leads into “You Don’t Love Me,” a Dawn Penn cover that keeps some seriousness floating. I walk to the back, behind the sound booth, for this one. It’s then that I notice how much vocal reverb is happening. The sound starts at the stage and spreads to fill the room that way, but the wooden nature of the space delays the relay. VV’s vocals are still loud enough and clear at the back of the room, but Hotel’s could come up a bit.
Another track from the new record is presented and then the main part of the set is concluded with “Sour Cherry,” a fan favorite. Honestly, when Hotel comes in on the bridge, it’s the loudest I’ve heard him all night. The lights go crazy on this one, a weird experience for The Kills show. From the back of the room, it appears that VV’s hair is blowing backwards, so I wonder if fans are being used onstage, but never really resolve it. The place is air conditioned, but hot from the sheer number of bodies.
The darlings leave the stage for a brief and respectful period of time before returning for a three song encore. “The Last Goodbye” is a calm breather, teeming with VV’s clear vocals and a rich, purple backdrop that is sprinkled with star lights. VV gets on the toms again afterwards, and the two swerve into “Pots and Pans.” They gradually slow it down at the end, a much exaggerated halt that fills the place with tension not contained in the extended fade-out exit of the song on the record.
The encore is concluded with “Fried My Little Brains,” which is an oldie for the band. The song, off the first LP, Keep on Your Mean Side, was the title track of a three-song UK import EP released that same year (2003). Some consider the tune one of The Kills’ most broken down, on record and off. The simple, scratchy, four-on-the-floor beat drives beneath open note hammer-ons, string noise and vocal repetitions. It was a nice indulgence for established fans, and almost a way for VV and Hotel to say, “It’s still us!” Buuuuut, we already knew that it would be.
Future Starts Slow
Heart is a Beating Drum
Last Day of Magic
You Don’t Love Me (No, No, No)
You Don’t Own the Road
The Last Goodbye
Pots and Pans
Fried My Little Brains
photos by Tim Lampe