Although you couldn’t tell from the enthusiasm of the 9:30 Club’s sold out show last Thursday, I cannot escape the feeling that the Ting Tings have made a terrible misstep.
The show started off well enough. The vibrant MNDR (aka Amanda Warner) warmed up the gathering crowd with some nu disco selections from her upcoming full-length album Feed Me Diamonds. The lead single “#1 in Heaven” offered a good dance tune to get the audience started up. Although the video for said track features a full band, MNDR on tour is a solo act with only a light-up synth box accompanying her vocals as she does a kind of dancing strut across the stage. Her debut title track “Feed Me Diamonds” was pleasantly more of the same with a bit of a space rock atheistic to it. The audience was a bit restless at first but MNDR’s charm and earnestness won them over as they accepted her music as consistently pretty danceable.
Although perhaps still best known for her early collaboration with Mark Ronson on “Bang Bang Bang,” MNDR wisely didn’t make any musical allusions to that catchy number. And she has ditched the oversized hipster glasses in favor of an image that screams more gothy flowerchild. DC will undoubtedly being seeing her again soon.
Next up was the main act and mixed bag that were the Ting Tings. Don’t get me wrong — I have seen the Ting Tings four times altogether now, twice previously at the 9:30 Club and once at the Brixton Academy in London (where they presented a full-bang concert extravaganza with a horn section to roughly 4,000 people — a very different experience than seeing them stateside). I thought their first album, We Started Nothing, was simple brilliance. As epitomized by the breakout hit “That’s Not My Name,” the Ting Tings caught and crystallized an extraordinary nu rave moment with full of catchy hooks from Jules de Martino and pleasing girl pop vocals from Katie White.
After that album’s remarkable success, the duo reportedly went to Germany to record a great new wave album tentatively titled Kunst. (Holy David Bowie, Batman!) Unpleased with the result, they apparently junked it, although they played the supposed lead single “Hands” as a terrific layered electronic jam, and sought to reinvent themselves by embracing different modes and motifs in a revamped second album, Sounds from Nowheresville.
And Nowheresville seemed to be where the 9:30 Club audience was whenever one of the new songs broke out. Admittedly, the songs sound much better live than on the album because de Martino and White bring their smart and energetic performance skills to the stage with all of their songs. And even the weaker material on the second album strings together with the first well due to the nonstop frenetic musical tornado they create as they hop between instruments. That said, the audience seemed a bit lost whenever one of the new songs came up.
The Ting Tings started with “Silence,” one of the better tracks and the second single from Nowheresville. They quickly moved to the familiarity of “Great DJ,” a surefire crowd-pleaser that immediately made everyone in the room happy. They launched into the absolutely terrible “Hang It Up,” which proves that rap is not among White’s many talents. Riding the bombastic energy from the stage performance of that selection, however, the Ting Tings improved with the bluesy sound of “Give It Back” and rolled into “Guggenheim,” which wins much more points live as it paints a beat poet picture that really kind of suits the Ting Tings. MNDR jumped onto keyboards for “Hit Me Down Sonny,” which turned into a cool jam session highlighting White’s sexy voice in its best shout-along sing-song manner.
But the audience largely seemed to return a polite and restrained reaction to this new stuff and by contrast wildly applauded familiar material like the new wavey “We Walk” and the clever “Fruit Machine.” They drove the audience into a frenzy with a driving clapdown to “Shut Up and Let Me Go,” which was stunning for its intensity. The Ting Tings paid homage to that song’s clever video with an impressive freeze when the song was all charged up and took the audience back after a silence left them hanging for a long minute with de Martino’s kinetic drums and White’s cowbell.
“Hands,” performed as a surprisingly complex disco number, closed the main set before an encore that consisted of “Keep Your Head” and of course “That’s Not My Name.” Needless to say, after the strong closing of so many songs from the first album, the audience left the show pretty happy.
I don’t want to understate what good performers the Ting Tings are — even the worst songs on the inferior second album sound much better on stage than they do on the radio. They dazzle with their ability to jump from one instrument to the next and White slid into and out of so many guitars with the ease that others might throw on a jacket. Indeed, White’s versatility in concert augments her sex appeal, which actually was otherwise harmed by garish fashion selections that made both of the Ting Tings look like they had walked off a really bad porn film set in a high school gym class. White is so absolutely stunning that it mystifies me why they think it would be a good idea to tart her up in a trashy stockings meets sneakers getup that does little for the overall show.
See the Ting Tings on this tour if you have good memories of their first album and want to see them again because it’s been a while. Avoid the tour if you are hoping for something good from the new material or if you have an aversion to particularly bad hipster fashion.