The most incongruous thing about Pip Brown, better known as Ladyhawke, is her look — the grunge aesthetics of flannel and t-shirts all the way — despite her sound — a catalog comprised of very accessible and danceable new wave rock gems.
The rest of it all comes together rather well! Sonically, Ladyhawke dwells in that space in the late 1970s when female rock musicians began to be backed by an increasing amount of technology, notably synthesizers. With many of those women, like Pat Benatar, the electronic edge remained just that — an edge. With others, like Kim Wilde, the synthesizer permeated the songs, tripping the wire that fuses guitar to keyboard and thus producing new wave.
Ladyhawke, as her adopted name from the 1985 movie suggests, is very much aware of how to produce that sound but she does it so easily and so naturally you are left with the impression that the music just happens that way. How could it sound any differently?
Well, with selections like her most popular song, “Paris Is Burning,” which she played to enthusiastic, thumping cheers toward the end of Monday night’s show, it could not possibly sound any better. Ladyhawke took the stage roughly half an hour late (par for the course at the Rock and Roll Hotel) and the audience instantly swelled from about 70 polite bystanders for her opening acts to nearly 200 enthusiastic dancers.
Ladyhawke then rocked through 17 selections from her two albums, hitting her latest album Anxiety with as much enthusiasm as the well-regarded songs from her first self-titled album. She opened with the pleasing but slow “Back of the Van,” her first single and then largely strayed into the second album with catchy selections like “Girl Like You” and “Anxiety” — both sounding quite like they could have come from the first album except with more fuzz in the guitars.
To her own songs, she added an intriguing cover of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” near the end of her performance, surprisingly staying largely true to the psychedelic rock staple rather than caving into the temptation to spin it into a modern neo-psychedelia wailer. After that song, she closed with “My Delirium,” another easy new wave dance rock number from her first album.
Ladyhawke was much more confident in this appearance than when I saw her the first time, at the 9:30 Club in a showcase sponsored by blogger Perez Hilton as part of an effort more to promote Hilton as an energetically chatty host more than anything else. In that performance, Ladyhawke was content to play with her hair in her face, hunched over almost like a little old man. This time out, she stood comfortably, her fresh and attractive face uncovered and guitar in hand, as she was backed by a four-piece male band with a guitarist, bassist, keyboardist and drummer.
The new material sounds absolutely more confident lyrically than the older material. While it’s all about love and relationships largely, Ladyhawke has moved into making demands of her significant others, as in the very catchy “Sunday Drive,” which with a remarkable new wave hook reflects on the remembering the pleasant times together. She breezes through those songs with a cool and confident demeanor that is very quite becoming — despite the flannel and the jeans.
Once upon a time, I thought of New Zealand as the place the Thompson Twins retired to raise sheep, but with the talent coming from the small island nation these days, I’m convinced the Thompson Twins also bequeathed all of their synthesizers and gave music lessons to the local population as well. The hard-working Ladyhawke and her friends in glam concept band Empire of the Sun are evidence enough of that, even if we didn’t have the lovely Kimbra selling out the 9:30 Club on Oct. 23 from nowhere on the strength of her contribution to Gotye’s go-to song of the summer.
Ladyhawke hits the Boston metro area tonight and then a few stops in Canada before returning to the United States in the next week or so. Catch our lady for some refreshing female-fronted dance rock and definitely check out the new album, which came out some five months ago already.