The singer/guitarist with drummer set up seems to have been driven into the ground as a band format (see: The White Stripes, The Black Keys, The Kills, even The Ting Tings). There is very little extra thrill that it can produce unless the songs are up to scratch. And by up to scratch, I mean really damn good. That’s why The Black Keys seem to be the only couplet worthy of holding the fort, and why Jack White has abandoned it for a fuller set up.
This year has seen the rise of many new bands and artists. The year has been littered with debuts that have outclassed and outmatched even some of the most established acts. A lot of these new artists consist of talented, intelligent and laudable women looking to, and being successful at, stealing the limelight from an industry that is male dominated from an artistry and corporate perspective. Moreover, they are doing it without compromising morals, integrity or simply relying on sexual explicitness to become popular. In fact, being popular isn’t really the aim – it’s being good at what they do and being recognised for it. Two of these new acts are Savages and Haim. Savages are the ultra serious, post punk modernists, while Haim are the super laid back, soul swept R’n’B rebels with Americana blood. Both are great and both transmit messages of female empowerment and independence.
Deap Vally are somewhere in between. They are also a singer/guitarist and drummer duo. Their songs contain similar themes, though in a much less complex manner. The focus is more on scorching, fuzzed out, distorted guitar squalls and catchy riffs. For example, their first single “Gonna Make My Own Money” contains the simple adage: “You say marry a rich man/Find a rich one if you can/Daddy, don’t you understand/I’m gonna make my own money/Gonna buy my own land”. It is blunt, to the point and yet thought provoking, but Lindsay Troy’s Robert Plant-esque screech of self-worth and self-dependence is buried beneath the feedback. The focus is more on the stunted rhythms and silence punctuated with steely sirens of guitar noise.
And so, in a live setting, it is the latter that earns more emphasis too. Playing in Òran Mór, a big venue with a big crowd, shouldn’t be too daunting for the Californian girls – they have toured with the likes of The Vaccines and Muse since they last appeared in Glasgow. They did seem more self-aware and confident since I saw them at the Reading Festival in 2012. However, the start of their set was a little plodding. Without many frills or stage banter or bells and whistles on the performance, it really was just the two women on stage playing their hearts out, but it really didn’t get going until the final trio of songs – namely “Lies”, “End of the World” and “Baby I Call Hell”. These are all singles and album highlights but I felt that the lack of excitement and punch in the live scenario now that they are a more established act perhaps shows up the lack of depth of quality on the record. They are flashy showwomen for sure – they are straight out of the self-educated school of Black Sabbath power chords and Jimmy Page’s stinging solos. However, nothing from their performance convinced me that they were ever going to be up to that standard. And, as stated above, the band format they are running with restricts them, especially when the majority of songs didn’t give much opportunity to really get down and rock to. While Deap Vally do have an underlying desire to spread a similar message to that which Savages do so successfully, even if it is in more easily digestible terms, unless they break away from their main appeal – namely hard rock drum rhythms and greasy guitar – it is hard to take their songs more seriously.
They do what they do solidly and well. The gig I attended cannot be faulted in terms of their playing, but nothing about it made me feel like it was special or tense or fraught or excitable; it was simply average and uneventful. Touring and playing live is so important to a band’s reputation and development, and as someone who is determined that artists and bands get the credit they deserve, it is disappointing to see Deap Vally fall flat in a live venue.
Photo: Hella Whittenberg