As Mark Twain might say, rumors of the death of the Pipettes have been greatly exaggerated. Although the chemistry of the British pop group changed dramatically when Riot Becki and, especially, Rose Elinor Dougall left the band following the release of their first album, the current version of the Pipettes was nonetheless surprisingly charming during their set at the Satellite.
The band is still fronted by Gwenno Saunders, who is now joined by her sister Ani Saunders, who made a captivating impression in her L.A. debut. Ani may not have the same arty charisma as Dougall, but the lanky, shyly goofy singer was an endearing presence onstage, and she even revealed a little bit of Motown soul when she occasionally took over on lead vocals. Both sisters chimed in with impressively tight, seamlessly sweet harmonies, proving that the proudly “self-manufactured” Pipettes are far more than just a studio creation.
In fact, songs from the group's second album, Earth vs. the Pipettes, were much punchier and more organic sounding in concert than they are on the disc. Even though the album was produced by the great pop wizard Martin Rushent (Buzzcocks, the Human League, Altered Images, the Go-Go's), the synth-heavy musical backing sometimes felt generic and anonymous. Onstage, the Pipettes sounded like a real band, thanks in large part to their all-male backup quartet the Cassettes. Dressed in matching blue long-sleeve shirts with white polka dots, the Cassettes had a modish style, pumping out their frothy pop tunes with sure-handed power and casual precision instead of the tepid, light-hitting meekness of most garage-rock revivalists.
For all of the restrained appeal of the Cassettes, the Saunders sisters were the main focus onstage, twirling in their matching short floral skirts and stepping lively with synchronized dance steps and arm gestures. The young, mostly gay crowd shimmied to the Pipettes' funky grooves, which were a catchy mix of disco rhythms and 1960s girl-group pure pop. New songs like “Ain't No Talkin'” and “Call Me” were just as inviting as the best tracks by Bananarama, and the current Pipettes are certainly less of a guilty pleasure than the literally manufactured Spice Girls.
Gwenno sounded just as relaxed and confident on the fizzy songs from the first album, including “Dirty Mind,” which she cheekily referred to as “Dirty Bitch” (perhaps a catty reference to a former band member?). Overall, the mood onstage was as fun and lighthearted as the songs themselves, and Gwenno and Ani appeared more interested in making people dance than lamenting the band's past lineup changes. Perhaps there's still a bright future awaiting these new, late-blooming Pipettes.