Ooh la la!
The Pretty Girls aren’t faking their affection for big, glamorous, out-of-control rock ’n’ roll
Local rock aficionados have known about ’em for years. But, with the recent release of their self-titled, full-length debut on the local Trapdoor label (trapdoorrecords.com), the Pretty Girls stand poised to reach outside the insular Downtown scene. Chalk that up to a clutch of nifty tunes delivered by a band steeped in the work of such vintage-rock icons as the Faces and the Who.
Bassist Jason Patrone marked the band’s genesis as a period of communal musical rediscovery back in 1998. “I guess the main thing was we were all really sick of indie rock and punk music,” he said. “And we’d just hang out together and listen to the Small Faces and Slade and the Pretty Things. We just realized that was the best shit there was. We all kinda lived in the same house, and our singer [former vocalist Mike Thiemann] would walk around and put up pictures of Leslie West to inspire us. It was this new, fun thing.”
In a sub-genre that’s been mined and re-mined for the last 30 years, such enthusiasm can take a band only so far. But, thanks to some well-written material, part British-invasion boogie and part catchy power pop, The Pretty Girls not only stands up to repeated listens, but also encourages them. Most fingers point to guitarist Tristan Tozer as the songwriting impetus.
Tozer may seem shy and unassuming much of the time. “We’re not the kind of guys who go home and practice our instruments or anything,” he said. “It’s just kind of like, ‘Oh, let’s get together.’ ” Nevertheless, he isn’t afraid to drop the odd, unprovoked bomb: “Sometimes, I think I’m one of the only people in town who knows how to write a good song,” he said.
The Pretty Girls’ other focal point—particularly onstage—is Mike Diaz, a self-proclaimed animal mystic whose interest in man’s relationship with nature manifests in such lines as: “Who killed the gypsy-child inside of you?” from his compellingly desperate song “Marianne.”
“He’ll disappear for a couple weeks off on some retreat, y’know,” said Tozer. “And not talk very much about it.”
Halfway into a recent gig at Old Ironsides, Diaz was a tangle of nervous tension, jerking with coiled energy and giving wiry form to the band’s raucous, sonic drive. Then, the band launched into a jam-out finale. Suddenly, Diaz let loose like an escaped animal, flinging his arms and hurling into the crowd with Stooge-worthy abandon. It was a moment that might have rung hollow if Diaz hadn’t tempered his swagger with a raggedly fragile falsetto and a solid, melodic sensibility. And the Anglophile lilt he lent to his in-song annunciation often made things sound downright sweet.
It’s all part of a performance ethic that includes dressing the part, something that’s caused a bit of dissention in the band—which also includes guitarist Huy Ngo and drummer Ed Carroll. “Yeah, that gets irritating,” said Tozer, laughing. “He’s all into showmanship and stuff, and that’s kind of a sticking point.”
A few sentences later, Tozer confessed, “I can’t just turn it on, like stupid, James Brown junk.”
Both Tozer and Patrone conceded that the singer’s presence onstage attracted them in the first place. “He used to do these really crazy, soul-dance moves, like spins and splits—he can really do that shit!” said Patrone. “And so, me and Tristan were like, ‘Man, we have to get him because he’s just like a wild man, and he has this great voice.’ Which is something you’re not supposed to have ’cause it’s not punk.”
Though the Pretty Girls can’t all decide on exactly which rules to break, a remarkable CD under their belt makes things like Diaz’s fashion sense seem relatively unimportant. “We’ve thrown stuff at each other, punched each other,” said Tozer. “But I think we all stick it out ’cause we know it’s good.” Or, as Patrone put it, opting for the feel-good position on the issue: “[Diaz] is just like us; he just has better pants.”