Looking like a tomboy elf with dyed blonde hair, skinny pants, white shirt and black waistcoat, DJ Samantha Ronson is at home on stage during the early set, Thursday, July 8th. Her Mom, sister and brother are in the audience, a support system are dotted about the Blue Note, and somewhere round the midway point, she must have come to the conclusion it wasn't going that badly. She has a friend tell of his suggestion: pay off the fans in pizza. And she laughs along with the audience as he screws it up.
Then she launches her band, the Undertakers, a very good bunch of boho New York boys in new wavey suits and smart haircuts, into "Summer of Sam" -a proto cool nycentric pop-rock gem and an immediate local hit AT LEAST once it is released locally. "Singing pop songs in a taxi" goes the chorus before she throws up on 26th Street in the verses.
So who is Samantha Ronson. She is a bit of a hyphenated -Lindsay Lohan's ex, -Mark Ronson's sister, -L.A. DJ to the stars. And now a singer-songwriter fronting a pop-rock band. Which means she should be easy to dislike. It is all very inside baseball-y? But she handles herself with a calm assurance and while stumped a little by the small stage, Samantha underplays her set well.
But it takes quite awhile to get going. "Don't Want You", the first song, is a minimalist bluesy number doesn't gel, and the lyric is a bit weak, the next song, "Love Story" is OK and the band is really great, but I am worried: there is question if Sam would be there if she wasn't who she is. There is no question about her back up band, The Undertakers are good and they do something difficult, they give a little less than they seem capable of, they play back up with restraint and they sound built for more.
Still, questions as to the songs strengths or nor,Samantha is very good on stage. It is really a gift to be able to be real on stage, particularly when you're more a DJ and particularly when you are more famous for kissing a girl and liking it then being a serious musician.
And after awhile the set settles in nicely and it becomes clear she is playing for keeps. For all her ease, she closes in on her set and she gets better and better as she goes along, the voice is strong enough and the songs gain strength. A stylistic chameleon within strict parameters. the last 5 songs in an 11 song set are all goodies; one is based on a Busta Rhymes beat, the very next one a Bo Diddley beat, yet another sounds like Melissa Etheridge ("If you weren't sitting you'd be dancing to this" she quips). A song for a former member of the band is a mess of a construction that keeps straightening itself and the last song of the set, also the title of their Autumn release first album, "Chasing Reds" is a smart little rocker.
None of this is dance band as you might expect but it is informed by a DJ's persuassion.It is more rhythm based then is at first apparent. A good set. I am looking forward to hearing more.
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