Show Review: The Gossip with Passion Pit & Hey Champ at The Mezzanine, 12/10/09

by Marie Carney on December 12, 2009

Beth Ditto loved the wreath

Beth Ditto loved the wreath

When it’s a dual-headlining show I never know what to expect.  Despite the great line-up, this one had two strikes against it to start: being at the Mezzanine and being sponsored by Live105.  Not that I hate either of those things in and of themselves, but both tend to bring out people I am not so fond of.  That was definitely true again, as a member of the Spinning Platters senior staff was accosted by a drunk concert-goer, making the evening seem unsuccessful and awful.   But everything that went wrong in the Passion Pit portion of the evening (drunk bitches included), all became better in The Gossip portion.  Passion Pit should take notes.

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Hey Champ were a surprisingly interesting way to start the show. They seemed to have very little in common with typical Live 105 fare, even the kind that they play in 2009. Their music was extremely heavy on the analog synth, and most of the time almost felt like Chromeo spent a year only listening to Bis, and then were asked re-record Disneyland’s Main Street Electrical Parade theme. A song that was introduced as their single, “Cold Dust Girl,” brought in all of these elements, and added some of the best U2-inspired riffage I’ve heard since Achtung Baby. It was a very brief set, but the crowd was very receptive, and I will return next time they come our way.

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When Passion Pit started playing my overall feeling was “really, that’s it?”  I had recently put their album Manners into heavy rotation after discovering it via the album of the year nomination project.  It has the right blend of oddness and catchy melodies and quickly became one of my favourites.  But live the sound is a thin watered down version of the real thing.  I attribute most of this to lead singer Michael Angelakos’ thin falsetto.  On the record it is fun and strong, but in person it sounds like a man forcing himself to sing ridiculously high for no apparent reason.  By the end of the set it was sounding better to me, but I think this may have to do with slowly lowering my expectations throughout the show than his voice actually getting better.  If you already liked Passion Pit, the show was decent, but if you had never heard them before it wasn’t going to inspire you to pick up the record.

Despite my lackluster feelings about their performance, the Passion Pit fans remained maniacal throughout.  In case you are wondering a typical Passion Pit fan is a skinny girl with long hair between the ages of 21-25, holding 2 drinks.  The objective seems to be to consume enough drinks to feel comfortable screaming “I love him!” or “I love you” or “He’s my boyfriend!” in the general direction of the stage while flipping your hair into the person behind you’s face.  Not exactly the typical crowd at a show I go to.  Maybe it was the Live 105 factor, but if a band’s future can be judged on female enthusiasm, Passion Pit is going places.

And the setlist:

passion pit setlist

When their set ended the girls disappeared, leaving behind me and the other dedicated Gossip fans crowded around up front with nothing but space and empty cups behind us.  I was worried that The Gossip would be playing to a half empty club, but by the time they took the stage the crowd had filled back in nicely with the type of concert goers I am more accustomed to.  They opened with “Dimestore Diamond,” just like at the Regency Ballroom show, starting off with Hannah Blilie pounding out the rhythm on drums.  Next guitarist Brace Paine (Nathan Howdeshell) joins in with touring member Chris on bass.  Shortly after you hear Beth Ditto’s powerful voice, but no Beth.  She appears from behind the band’s equipment radiating power and beauty in a skintight black dress, red flats, and new short bright red hair.

The show continued to progress much like their show earlier this year at the Regency, but with Beth’s voice in full form this time (though she said she has bronchitis).  The Gossip is a great band.  They write great songs, good guitar parts and pulsating beats, but there is no one in music today who can sing like Beth Ditto.  She is part Aretha Franklin and part Kathleen Hanna and all the better for it.   She dances around the stage, giving it everything she has through the whole show and the spectacle and wonder of it all is what really makes The Gossip great.  In between songs, and sometimes during, she interjects funny comments and stories to keep the evening light and fun.  After the first song Beth tells us “Let’s pretend we’re at an office party and not at a show.”  And it does feel like that, only better, because she makes you feel so welcome and appreciated.  Beth’s ease on stage kept the crowd happier than earlier in the evening.  She expressed concern several times for the well being of the audience.  At one point she wanted to make sure a man was a girl’s boyfriend cause “He’s standing awful close, and I hope he’s not your brother.”  Then later on in the evening “Are you fighting?  Do I have to break you up?  Be careful because 99% of the time I’m going to side with the vagina.”  Her attention to the audience really adds to the performance,  there is a lot of eye-contact and mic sharing along with the fun conversations.

Unlike Passion Pit, I am confident that this show could have created fans.  The Gossip is at its best live (even though *spoiler alert* their new album did make the Spinning Platter’s album of the year list) and I can’t imagine someone walking away from this show without knowing they saw something special.  There is really no weak point in the performance.  The band is tight, the stage banter fun and constant, the songs are catchy and danceable, and Beth Ditto is the best singer on the planet.  My only complaint would be that this set was much too short, especially since the encore didn’t even include a song by The Gossip.  They also somehow got away with not playing the excellent “Standing in the Way of Control” from their last album.  Maybe because it was one am and they were expected to be DJ-ing at another club?

Really what is the most amazing about The Gossip to me is they are like your really cool friends you want to hang out with all the time.  They are nice, down to earth, intelligent, have good taste and are amazingly musically talented.  Their easy onstage banter keeps you entertained the whole time.  At one point Beth walks over to Nathan and says, “Nathan, tell them your joke and don’t mess it up!”   Who wouldn’t want to hang out with someone after that?

The Gossip’s setlist:

Dimestore Diamond
Pop Goes the World
2012
Your Mangled Heart
Men in Love
Love Long Distance
8th Wonder
Listen Up!
Four Letter Word
Heavy Cross

Encore

What’s Love Got to Do With It?
We Are the Champions/At Last (sing-a-long)

And thanks go to David Price for the pictures!

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