Show Review: VV Brown with Ebony Bones! at 330 Ritch (Popscene), 2/4/10

by Jason LeRoy on February 5, 2010

VV Brown welcomes us with open arms.

I generally avoid Popscene when possible. There are myriad reasons for this, which needn’t be explained to anyone who’s been there. For one, it’s notoriously 18+, which: no thanks! Any club that needs to see my special grown-up wristband before letting me have a beer is a place I’m happy to avoid. Secondly, there’s the inherent wrongness of any establishment that bills itself as “San Francisco’s premier indie nightclub.” So. Much. Wrong. Third, it’s scene-y in a superficially obvious way that still makes me feel I’m Susan Boyle standing around at Danceteria or something (cue the glittery 18-year-olds: “Who at the what?”).

And finally, I resent their unassailable skill at booking the hottest, coolest young acts and forcing the rest of us to go all the way to 330 Ritch in Mission Bay to see them (plus, I’m still mad I couldn’t get tickets when they hosted Amy Winehouse for her only Bay Area show to date). But sometimes these various negatives can come together for a really amazing positive. Last night’s show was one such exception.

When I first heard VV Brown and Ebony Bones! were on the same roster, I thought it sounded like a cool lineup: they’re both exciting, buzzy British bands featuring dynamic black female vocalists, and neither have had much stateside exposure yet, so this show provided the opportunity to attain the much-coveted “early adopter” status. This was the first time either act had performed in San Francisco, and hopefully not the last.

Ostensibly, the show was VV Brown headlining with Ebony Bones! providing support. However, for reasons that would become clear as the night went on, Brown went on first. This was puzzling at first, as Brown has considerably bigger name recognition, a couple of hit singles under her belt (“Crying Blood,” “Shark in the Water”), a rapidly growing stateside pre-order demand for her debut album, Traveling Like the Light, and a deal with Capitol Records.

Despite the album’s physical unavailability in the U.S., there were already pockets of devoted fans singing every word throughout the high-energy 40-minute set. The stunningly beautiful Brown is an affable and engaging presence, and her unique blend of retro doo-wop, punky blues and raw soul emotion translates fantastically in concert. As Brown said last night due to the repeated failings of Popscene’s rinky-dink microphone, “This is live music!”

She performed the majority of her debut album, and also thrilled the audience with a sexy cover of Drake’s “Best I Ever Had.” Although at first it appeared that Brown had underestimated the musical snobbery of the average American indie kid:

VV: I’m a really huge hip-hop fan! Do you guys love Drake?

Crowd: (dismayed silence)

VV: (slightly puzzled) Do you know who Drake is?

Crowd: (reluctant golf claps)

Still, the crowd soon learned they did love Drake – as long as VV Brown is the one singing him.

After Brown’s set had concluded, a handful of people started heading for the doors. I certainly wished I could join them. It was late and I was eager to take my Susan Boyle-looking ass home. But oh, I’m so glad I didn’t. Because nothing could have prepared me for the visceral assault of Ebony Bones!

From the moment the sprawling seven-piece band (including two astounding backup singers) took the stage, clad in super-loud tribal-print costumes and insane makeup that made them look like early-’90s hip-hop favorites Arrested Development if they were murdered and resurrected as zombies, the crowd was electrified by a united sense of “Whaaa???” Lead singer Ebony Thomas waited in the wings while the band played intro music and a burly security guard made sure there was a clear path for her to take the stage. Clearly a star was about to enter.

Then, just as the excitement was hitting a fever pitch and flashlights were illuminating the path for Ms. Thomas to storm to the stage, some poor white guy holding two shots of J├Ąger wandered obliviously into her path. Oops! He was promptly checked forcibly into a wall to make room for Ms. Thomas and her astoundingly Gaga-esque costume: a sculpted skirt with exaggerated hips, a towering Afro, and a roughly six-foot-long ridge spanning all the way across her shoulders and beyond, meeting in the middle for an absurdly high collar. Also: all in leopard print. In short, queens’ heads were exploding everywhere you looked. (And that wasn’t the end: we actually got a costume change halfway through the set!)

How to even describe the audio-visual experience of seeing Ebony Bones! in concert? Imagine George Clinton’s Parliament Funkadelic being fronted by LaBelle on acid. Ms. Thomas and Co. absolutely roared through their set. I can’t speculate how long they played, because time ceased to exist. They pulled their material mainly from their debut album, Bone of My Bones. They also did two amazing covers, Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)”, and their violently seductive closing number, The Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog.” They also did one instrumental wherein Ms. Thomas and her backup singers busted out an absolutely jaw-dropping Tina Turner & the Ikettes-style choreographed dance number that left the crowd breathless.

So yeah, VV Brown was smart to go on first. If you ever get the opportunity to see Ebony Bones! live, do not hesitate. It was an unforgettable performance.

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