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Vivian Girls and These Are Powers at the Whitney July 31st, 2009: Hail the drummer

We come to praise Ali Koehle. Last night, the final of four Friday evening concerts this July presented as part of pop conceptual artist Dan Graham’s retrospective “Beyond” at the Whitney Museum Of American Art, Ms. Koehler was not the anchor of, ahem, alternative all girl rock band Vivian Girls, she was the sail and man did she whale on her drums. Everything bled into her rhythm, the trancy guitar, the three part harmonies, it was like she was a black hole of sound.
The Vivian Girls themselves are talented musicians with a unique sound: imagine the Roches meets the raincoats covering “Running Away” meets the Ramones. And they write good songs which when they work on a song like “I Can’t Stay” where the repetitive guitar holds a strong hook, they are real good.

Vivian Girls are pleasant enough on stage, Cassie is pretty like an “X” song and bassist Kickball Katy (you gotta be her real name, right?) has cool tats and Ali kicks off her sneakers and smashes her drums with a raw, galvanizing power and they definitely are not stiffs.

But the sound let them down, too often everything got buried in the mix. The first two songs were completely botched because guitarist Cassie Ramone (you gotta believe that’s her real name, right?) guitar was way too low and even when they turned it up with the third song -a new one and a good one, she disappeared.The band is a little drums heavy on their recorded work but not to this extent.

Openers, were drum heavy too but These Are Powers are a dance band, or, to be more specific, an electronic art indie techno dance band and dance bands are meant to be drums heavy and they are also meant to be danced to which is why the lead singer reprimanded us. Hey, we deserved it. TAP are a propulsive unit and though looking at their Myspace it seems as though they spend their lives playing behind 16mm movies and other performance space stuff they are so good as a pure band they shouldn’t.

It isn’t a secret why.

Lead singer and electronic manipulator Anna Barrie is a born front man. I saw six sets at the Whitney and only Patrick Stickles had the slightest idea how to work an audience until Anna rocked the house. Screaming into her mike, dancing like it’s an insane rain dance (Last night TAP had a nine person dance troop with them -dressed in gold lame they had apparently just met that morning but were still fun to watch. Anna was better), bumping into her bassist, shouting “Songs of war, songs of sons” or introducing a new song, “New Era” as a love song about kissing in the second floor restroom with lyrics about sugar men and salty girls (hence “once if by land, twice if by sea” takes on a new meaning!)

Oddly These Are Powers (of the spirit I guess) don’t record well yet. Once they do I’d love to see some enterprising DJ -a biggie like Oakenfeld as well- give them the plays they deserve.

As mentioned, this was the last night of new music at the Whitney. Ridiculously inexpensive (free to college kids), excellently programmed by Graham, with a 7p start time and short sets, the bands carrying their own equipment and no stage so the fans and are on the same level, it was a fab experience. MOMA should do something like this.

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