The Kills, El Rey, 5/21
The El Rey, May 21, 2008
By Jeff Weiss
Photos by Timothy Norris
There’s something primal about the Kills. Not some sort of cheap $2 voodoo either. They offer no gimmicks, or eye-popping flash or smoke machines to dazzle you. This is sound as dirt. Raw, blistering, fuck-you noise built off a devil’s deal between the blues and punk. The triumph of brute simplicity over needless complexity. The Kills. Two people. A man, Hotel, pork-pie hat, cragged face, leather jacket zipped up to his neck, reeling back and forth, letting loose wiry, attenuated strands of sharp noise from his guitar. A woman, VV, cloaked in leopard print, raven hair snapping with every whip of her head and every peacock thrust.
There’s no talking either. VV speaks exactly once, putting on a Robin Head hat with a feather and cryptically declaring, “sometimes, I like to wear this hat, sometimes I don’t.” And that’s all you need to know. Behind them, a drum machine throbs, hisses and stutters. They don’t need a drummer. He’d just fuck it all up.
Thing is, The Kills don’t make music, they weave spells like Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. Which sounds cheesy if you aren’t there, but not if you are and get helplessly sucked into the tractor-beam tension that swallows the room whole. At times, VV and Hotel tip-toe to about an inch of the other’s face, with the sort of “will they or won’t they” drama that could sustain a bad television sitcom for at least two years. As far as front-women go, no one is even comes close to the girl born Allison Mosshart. She performs in an almost possessed trance, spitting, strutting, spinning, climbing up on the speaker and staring at the crowd like a beautiful, wicked queen scornfully surveying her subjects. At other times, she picks up a guitar and unleashes an alluvial delta howl, with a snarling viciousness that’s almost frightening, yet seems appropriate to the alienated love-lashed tone of her lyrics.
Song titles include “I Hate the Way That You Love,” “Love is a Deserter,” and “Sour Cherry,” where she bellows about being “the only sour cherry on the fruit stand.” It’s impossible to leave a Kills show without sweating. I saw at least four ashen-faced young men practically shaking last night, as though they needed to rush home and take a cold shower. Anyone dimly wondering where all the riot grrls went, would do well to look here. Just don’t look directly in her eyes.
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