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Gossip at the Commodore Ballroom

Gossip band Vancouver

Beth Ditto with Gossip at the Commodore, Oct 22, 2009. Melissa Skoda photo

Review and photos – The Gossip at the Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver Oct 22 209

– review by Rachel Fox/photos by Melissa Skoda

The first thing lead singer JD Samson (Le Tigre) proclaimed from the stage was, “We are Men, and we are from New York.” This was obvious–they oozed Lower East Side cool from the moment they stepped onstage.

In a baggy-shorts-and-T-shirt ensemble, Samson was looking like a mid-1980s Keith Haring Pop Shop holdover in red shoes (which the author thinks everyone should make a point of owning). She was flanked by MEN Michael O’Neill and Ginger Brooks Takahashi, who from a distance resembled Life of Brian-meets-Clockwork Orange castoffs in tight grey bodysuits, chainmail hoods, and exaggerated eyeliner. This ménage a trois, outnumbered onstage by their instruments, proceeded to rock harder, faster, and tighter than any trio I’ve heard recently.

Gossip band Vancouver

Men at the Commodore Ballroom Oct 22, 2009. Melissa Skoda photo

At one point Samson inexplicably donned some sort of house-shaped hat contraption, giving the impression that MEN moonlight as the house band at the coolest underground joint in Emerald City. Takahashi would later inform me that rather than being a product of Manhattan’s LES (à la Lady Gaga) as I had previously thought, they actually hail from an L Train subway ride away–the magical land of all things übercool, Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Ah, well, that explains it.

Samson has a great voice; fiercely feminine with a crisp sharpness and attitude reminiscent of Pat Benatar or Debbie Harry at their best. There’s no room for error here–the sharp drum tracks, rhythmically perfect ’80s synth club beats combined with a hard, New Wave-heavy guitar overlap was technically, sonically precise. This is music one needs to be on the dance floor to hear and, more importantly, feel. And damn it if it didn’t feel good. Real good.

Ginger Brooks Takahashi with Men at the Commodore, Oct 22, 2009. Jessica Bardosh photo

Ginger Brooks Takahashi with Men at the Commodore, Oct 22, 2009. Melissa Skoda photo

Throughout the course of their set various members of Gossip appeared onstage; during “Boom Boom”, two of them toted 6′ signs reading “Boom!” I had to wonder whether this was a serious attempt at performance art or if MEN was poking fun in a self-reflexive way. I couldn’t tell, but it was odd and amusing and managed to make me smile. The pseudo-armour, the androgyny, the odd inclusion of gigantic signs – is that a whiff of Eau de Gaga I am detecting? Maybe… except with better everything.

When deliciously plump legs appeared beneath a large horizontal sign reading “Silence = Death”, the crowd erupted, as there was no doubt about who the owner of said legs was.

JD Samson with Men at the Commodore, Oct 22, 2009. Jessica Bardosh photo

JD Samson with Men at the Commodore, Oct 22, 2009. Melissa Skoda photo

MEN’s last song included a whistle and a tambourine and they utterly nailed it, instantly transforming the Commodore into the weirdest, most fun Club Med crowd ever. The trio was totally on point; they came to perform and were not to be fucked with, and embodied the difference between those bands who just come out to play and those that come out to kick some ass. Is this what Oz sounds like, Dorothy? If it is, I’m never clicking my heels together because I never want to leave.

Beth Ditto, the enigmatic front woman of Gossip–known as much for her Rubenesque physique as for her outspoken opinions on mainstream, cute-as-pie rock starlets–is probably bigger than her band. And by bigger, I mean famous.

An interview with the British magazine Attitude coinciding  with the June, 2009 release of Gossip’s third album Music for Men was the catalyst behind the last round of Ditto’s “controversy.” In it, she criticized singer Katy Perry when she stated that, as an openly gay woman, she found both Perry and her hit single “I Kissed a Girl” to be “offensive to gay culture.”

Much of the media storm that followed in response to Ditto’s observation centered upon how her opinion must have sprung, surely, from some wellspring of jealousy and resentment having to do with Perry’s physical appearance, mainstream success, and her comparative lack (or not) thereof. The Katy Perry comment came from an honest place, and Ditto was clearly speaking from her own experience as a member of a minority that is, in 2009, still subjugated in society.

It doesn’t really matter, because her fans get it. These people–her people–wouldn’t be caught dead listening to Perry for the same reason there were fewer straight boys in the audience at the Commodore for Gossip than one would expect to find at a Perry show. To her fans, Ditto is more than just the lead singer of her band; she’s a hero. Just remember who rocks harder, boys.

Tonight, Ditto apologized repeatedly for her voice, admitting she was getting over a cold. But she clearly pushed herself anyway, and sounded incredible regardless. The set leaned heavily towards the latest album but was nicely seasoned with songs new and familiar, ranging from Gossip’s own to such classics as the Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer”, Labelle’s “Lady Marmalade” and Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got to Do With It” (now imbued with an ironically bittersweet political twist).

By the time of the appropriately empowering finale, Queen’s “We Are the Champions”, the entire floor crowd was dancing, clapping, and worshipping in time to the rhythm of their appointed goddess.

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