Sue Denim and Dee Plume, ably assisted on drums by an anonymous but distinctly unrobotic drummer, struggled with reluctant technology but soon managed to have the crowd, who were clearly in a mood to party, in the palm of their hands.
With sixties beehives given a new-wave makeover, matching white satin jeans, eighties keyboard belts and patches of triangular ziggy eye makeup – a look they describe as “discopunk mod”, Robots In Disguise took to the stage at Columbia Club in support of The Gossip.
Despite various malfunctions and the sense that the venue was a little larger than they felt comfortable with, the third song of their set, DJ’s Got A Gun, found them indulging in plastic horn and whistle duets, barely choreographed dance routines and finally amongst the audience, in a mock cat fight with Dorf’s photographer.
As might be anticipated from the band’s appearance and demeanour the sound owed much to Mignon and Chicks on Speed. Processed vocals, vocordertastic synth beats and a Xylophone, dominated proceedings but their refusal to take themselves seriously and the fact they were clearly determined to have fun, come what may, made their lack of originality seem irrelevant.
Turn it Up dropped references left, right and centre to Peaches teaches, the Smiths hatful of hollow and uncle tom cobbley and all; an old trick but one that never seems to fail. When the DVD player that was providing their backing tracks finally glitched its way to abrupt halt Dee launched into an impromptu version of I Love Rock and Roll with enough sass and humour that naked emperor syndrome was (narrowly) avoided. The Sex Has Made Me Stupid, followed and then GIRL, which saw Sue shouting “hands up if you want to be like us,” to an eagerly responsive crowd.
A thoroughly warmed up and packed Columbia Club gave it up for The Gossip. Beth Ditto, lesbian icon, Brace Paine and drummer, Hannah Blilie, have come a long way from Arkansas, described by the formidable Miss D as “Dirt Jail”. These kids were the town misfits. Maladjusted fat and skinny queers from a place of down-home values, squirrel eating and misogyny. Rock & Roll is their underground railroad and Brace Paine’s guitar playing has all the fuck and vigour of Jack White, all the anger of Katherine Hannah. Miss Ditto howls like Janis while Blilie keeps a taut rhythm.
Ditto’s voice is like a force of nature, a rock & roll diva in the making. She loves being on stage and even tonight, suffering from the tail end of a cold, the stage is hers. If the delivery occasionally seems stronger than her voice can carry it’s wholly forgivable in the circumstances.
Swapping his guitar for a bass Paine demonstrates that the band are no mere one-trick garage pony. They have the funk. The abrasive New-York no-wave funk of the kind raided by the Rapture. Dirty funk, the kind that makes you want to dance. Miss D stalked the stage with a borrowed geisha fan, heavy curves bursting from a floral frock that looked a size or six to small.
Miss D is fat and very “Fuck you” about it. Attitude, broken guitars and the strong motivation to put as much distance between themselves and cousin Cleetus as possible, have taken her, as frontwoman of The Gossip, from small town punk to 2006’s Coolest Woman in Rock award – hell she even writes an advice column, What would Beth Ditto do? for the Guardian.
Despite the suspicion the Indie megastar status may be only just around the corner, the band hold back nothing. They are neither jaded nor bored. Still, evidently as thrilled by the music as the audience.
A cover of Justin Timberlake’s “What goes around” stripped back to bass, and drum with a couple of obligatory nu-rave cowbells� thrown in proves an unlikely crowd pleaser and we were urged to sing along.
The punk and the funk seem perfectly balanced, as Beth attempted to channel Ari Up while Brace shredded some Dead Moon and some Gang of Four into the recipe. The result was a much rougher sound than they have achieved on record of late and all the better for it. There’s no doubt that this is music that is intended to be danced to and the crowd, sensing a physical obligation to the bass, obeyed. Their dancing was relentless but without the aggression that sometimes characterises the mosh pit.
Perhaps the Oestrogen / Testosterone balance was different in the room but like their elder sisters, Le Tigre and many of their kindred sprits in the new-new-wave, nu-rave and post-post-fem scenes, The Gossip seem to have perfected an aggressive and cathartic rock & roll that also feels right on the dancefloor. The old dichotomies of dance and rock, gay and straight, if not resolved are blurred into new shapes – postsexual, nu-riottt and polymorphously perverse.
A section of the crowd urged a sweating Ditto to strip but she demurred.
Ditto has posed nude for playboy and toured with the Scissor Sisters, a band she adores but about whose fans she made the scathing remarks, to the effect that they were all Moms and had never even heard of the Ramones.
There seems no danger of The Gossip becoming a lounge act anytime soon.