She's a rebel

Jesus and Mary Chain meet Mary Wells through the sound of Vivian Girls. Plus: Power to the Peaceful and more
Vivian, buzzsaws?

SONIC REDUCER Shop girls and Shop Assistants, the Jesus and Mary Chain and Mary Wells, "Da Doo Ron Ron" and Ronettes up-dos. All twirl, as if at a punk-rock sock-hop, around the rugged, vulnerable Vivian Girls. Girl-group songwriter Ellie Greenwich — tragically felled by a heart attack at 68 on Aug. 26 — might have scratched her head upon first hearing the Brooklyn trio's new Everything Goes Wrong (In the Red), out just this week, but a few songs in, she would get it, fully.

Behind the buzzsaw guitars and lo-fi clatter lie those eternal heartaches, stress-outs, and boy (or girl) troubles that plague every girl, voiced in loose-knit choral togetherness in a way that the Crystals would recognize. The high-drama-mama beats of "Tension" — so reminiscent of "Be My Baby" — hammer the point home, while buttressed by a wall of distortion that Greenwich collaborator Phil Spector could claim as his own.

Onetime Spector client Joey Ramone would have also understood, though Vivian Girls are definitely fixed in a specific girly universe, one forged with the naïveté implied in the threesome's Henry Darger-derived name as well as the band's blunt force attack, fed by early punk's reclaiming of pop. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart and the Darlings — fellow New Yorkers and kindred spirits in twee and garage rock — have a more purposeful grasp of the hook. But Vivian Girls are more infatuated with a purely impure coupling of classic '60s-derived songcraft — a love that finds its name in "Can't Get Over You" amid blatantly Shangri-Las-style ooh-oohs — and the one-two-three-four overdrive of American hardcore. Musically they're trying on the Peter Pan-collar of the tender-hearted Tess on the sidelines of "He's a Rebel" and the black leather of the reckless tough referred to in the song's title.

Taking note of perverse souls who have tried on those retro costumes in the past, Vivian Girls use hardcore's louder-faster-harder heritage as a way to blitzkrieg the ballroom and navigate the storms of girlhood. So the band's "I Have No Fun" is both more wistful and brisker than the Stooges' "No Fun." Of course, any combo that has the audacity to pick up where Carole King-and-Gerry Goffin-penned "He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss)" left off has much to account for: no one will be pushing around these lasses, swathed in a protective, propulsive whirlwind of thrashed-at guitars and primal drums. And Vivian Girls never let up till the closing track, "Before I Start to Cry," when the tempo slows and the thunder clouds tumble into view. It's crying time. *


With the Beets and Grass Widow

Wed/9, 7:30 p.m., $12–$14

Rickshaw Stop

155 Fell, SF



Scott Blonde and Lisa Light of Oakland's Lovemakers could give a fun, breezy university course in pop — or so I gathered hanging out with the friendly exes at Amoeba Music not long ago, on assignment for the late mag Venus. Michael Jackson had just passed, and the pair praised the Bad boy's breed of pop — something the duo scrambled to bottle on its catchy new Let's Be Friends. "There's no guessing what it is and whether it works — that's what I'm really striving for," Blonde says of Jackson's chart-topping sound. "I think that's the ultimate goal. I can dance to it and sing to it, and it's stuck in my head.

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