Foo Fighters, Amps, That Dog

Riviera Theatre, March 29

By Sarah Vowell

Even if That Dog knew how to spell rock ‘n’ roll, they’d write it down in tangerine-flavored lip gloss. Cute Puppy might be a more appropriate name for the Los Angeles group, given the pastel fluffiness of their violin-enhanced timbre. Lead singer Anne Waronker’s sissy voice could make that wuss Juliana Hatfield sound like Janis Joplin by comparison.

At their Riviera show, the gag meter peaks during a ditty called “Minneapolis,” a syrupy love story for the indie set–one of those their-eyes-met-across-a-smoky-bar ruminations. Waronker whimpers, “I was at the Jabberjaw / The cutest boy I ever saw.” The mob of energetic teenagers crammed in front of the stage at the sold-out show couldn’t care less if she gets the boy or not. They continually surge forward, but probably to get a closer spot to see the headlining Foo Fighters later on.

The only time the band even come close to some kind of verve is the Nirvana-esque vamping in “Grunge Couple”; their parodies of musicians with guts come across as more real than their own plastic smiles. They close the set singing “We sell ourselves across the land” and it’s the only time I believe them all night.

After such surface sap, merely watching Kim Deal’s new band the Amps set up their equipment is downright riveting. Checking her mike, Deal squawks and slides on top of the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” playing in the background, commanding the stage with her tomboy swagger.

The Amps play with a low-key, hangout sound. Deal’s singular raspy voice lets her get away with a lot, grabbing your slight interest during nothing-special songs when nine singers out of ten would send you to the bar. At first, playing cuts from their debut album Pacer (on guitars borrowed from the Foo Fighters since they forgot theirs back home in Dayton), they plod.

Deal gestures for a smoke from the kids up front, gets pelted with cigarettes, and soon doles out a nicotine-fueled dose of the old get up and go. With “Empty Glasses” everything clicks. Deal’s unladylike war whoop prefaces unruly garage noise punctuated by her scruffy, repeated cries of “Empteeee!”

“Now I’m gonna play snare,” she remarks as a puny drum is trotted out, and she bashes into “Hoverin’.” Deal whacks the thing, mostly with her right hand, her hair swinging, her body turning into a picture of childlike spaciness–Peppermint Patty sleepwalking through a Charlie Watts dream. When she finally adds her left hand to the rotation, it’s some kind of epiphany.

In his former life as Nirvana’s drummer, Dave Grohl slammed the skins so hard and loud you wondered if he had four arms, maybe five. So I was skeptical that Foo Fighters drummer William Goldsmith would measure up now that Grohl’s on guitar. But no worries there: Goldsmith plays with a Wagnerian Sturm und Drang that’s ferocious enough to annoy the deaf.

The smiling, gum-chewing Grohl asks the audience to “be nice to each other out there!” But once he opens his mouth to sing, it’s no more Mr. Nice Guy. The great pop polish that makes “This Is a Call” one of the most pleasurable songs on the current Q101 rotation (which isn’t saying much) gives way live to the hotheaded passion of real rock noise. Even the grimiest thrash on the band’s record gets roughed up here to thrilling effect. Breaking out of the metalesque groove of “Wattershed” to shout “Just another rock band!” Grohl casts a knowing glance at his classicism. But what he lacks in innovation, he makes up for in gall. After delivering a four-minute shriek, he cracks, “I have no voice. I don’t know why that is.”

While caterwauls predominate, some of the songs are almost as warm as guitarist Pat Smear’s girlie pink sweater–especially a lovely new song about longing, in which Grohl, bathed in violet light, asks, “Do you miss me like I miss you?” Still, the evening climaxes with the souped-up radio hit “I’ll Stick Around,” in which he screams, over and over, “I don’t owe you anything!” And he sounds like he means it, but the crowd hurls those words back, so the phrase turns into a battle cry, momentarily breaking down the barrier between audience and stage with a collective we’re-not-gonna-take-it that’s so infectious my polite friend will mutter the words under her breath all the way home.

Then, as if the Snuggles bear were dispatched to squelch the revolution, Petra Hayden of That Dog is invited onstage to sing “Floaty” in her ludicrous whine. From “I don’t owe you anything” to snugly softness in one minute flat. What a letdown.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Steven Arazmus.