Better Than: Reading a magazine.
Much of the early hype -- and there's been a lot -- about both the Virgins and Lissy Trullie has focused on the "scene" from which they come. Music media addicts know all about the publications they've appeared in, their downtown hangouts, and their attractive, artistic famous friends. But putting these musicians on the road takes them pretty far out of their glam New York context. And that leaves only their songs -- especially in a place like South Florida, where most people can't properly pronounce the name of Jalouse magazine, and couldn't care less about the DJ roster of the Beatrice Inn. So luckily, both Trullie's and the Virgins' songs are pretty good.
Opener Anya Marina is sort of her tourmates' L.A. counterpart, and as such is blonder and perkier. She's cute, cute cute -- she veritably trades in cute. Her speaking voice is somewhere between Rene Zellweger and Jennifer Tilly, and her singing voice echoes the breathy, almost staccato delivery of Metric's Emily Haines. So your reaction to her music depends largely on your personal tolerance for cute -- especially because Marina plays a guitar solo, accompanied only by a drum machine.
Her songs are catchy enough, but with such a stripped-down arrangement, they have to stay ... cute. Especially when she performed, on Tuesday night, a cover of T.I.'s "Whatever You Like." It was an exercise that actually well displayed Marina's voice, but was an unnecessary trip into wink-wink irony. The raw material is there, but perhaps Marina will sound better when she fleshes out her sound.
Lissy Trullie, up next, has that down so far, with a full backing band and a robust guitar sound of her own. (Aside: I was disappointed to note the absence of Eben D'Amico, who usually plays with her and was a longtime member of Saves the Day!) Trullie was a model and blah blah blah, but her looks are more of the androgynous, alien variety, which makes her a striking rock frontwoman.
Both her speaking and live singing voice are also unexpectedly deep, which adds an interesting texture to her jagged rock and roll. Her songs seem to largely be based on about four chords, but they're a good four chords, chosen and strummed economically. And Trullie herself remains somewhat inscrutable, never pandering or begging for adoration. Those are refreshing qualities in a rising female star.
Finally came headliners the Virgins. They've played Miami proper, during informal Art Basel Miami Beach parties this past December. That's a better environment for this messy good-times band than a club in Fort Lauderdale -- the band's set at Revolution last summer was pretty stiffly received. Culture Room is smaller, though, and the band rallied the adoring, mostly female crowd.
The Virgins' self-titled debut album, released last year, featured slick production; the lead single, "Rich Girls," was featured on Gossip Girl. But live, the band is, happily, much more raw-sounding and, well, weird. Frontman Donald Cumming performed his first few songs from under a parka, only to reveal a kind of pirate/waiter vest and neckerchief combo. Their sound, too, is infinitely funkier live, recalling, lately, another great New York band -- the Talking Heads. (It may be hyperbole, but compare, perhaps, the choppy parts of the Virgins' "Teenage Lovers" with the chorus of the Talking Heads' "Once in a Lifetime.")
The Virgins are danceable and fun to look at, pretty much the two main requirements for a reliable live band. The band doesn't have a new album out yet, but the summer's coming, and it's a perfect time to revisit that breezy first record.
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Personal Bias: The Virgins make me pine for a good old Lower East Side bar crawl (circa four to seven years ago.)
Random Detail: This was one of hte most attractive, well-dressed crowds I've seen at Culture Room in a while.
By the Way: Lissy Trullie's got only an EP out so far, Self-Taught Learner, which is out now on American Myth.