GOSSIP @ 9:30 Club 10/7/09

You never know what kind of audience will show up at a late show at the 9:30 Club, especially on a weeknight. But to kick-off Gossip’s first US tour in three years, last Wednesday’s crowd brought their A-game: their dancing, singing, and overall loss of control turned the 9:30 into a queer revival meeting. And it rocked.

Apache Beat, a five-piece band from Brooklyn, began the night with their brand off spaced-out indie rock, but suffered from a muddy mix and the usual early-night ambivalence that plagues openers (especially in DC). I’ll reserve judgment, but they could stand to tighten their sound, as the instruments seemed to be competing with each other behind lead singer Ilirjana Alushaj’s vocals (I’ll admit, I couldn’t resist working such an exotic name into this review).

MEN fared a bit better, with a pop-disco sound more in-tune with what the crowd was ready for. The Le Tigre side project features JD Samson on vocals and samplers, with the dual-guitar riffage of Michael O’Neill and Ginger Brooks Takahashi. Samson has abandoned the political electro-clash of Le Tigre for this jaunt into electro-pop revivalism, but the lyrics (and possibly the entire project) are very tongue-in-cheek. Lead single “Off Our Backs” is appropriately catchy and a good sing-a-long, although the band would be better served if Samson sang directly into the mic, with the vocals higher in the mix.

At just after 12:30, Gossip (formerly The Gossip) took the stage, where Hannah Billie’s pounding, insistent drumming and a swaggering bass line from tour bassist Chris Sutton on “Dime Store Diamond” kicked off the set. The angular, bluesy riffs of guitarist Brace Paine joined the mix, and from somewhere offstage came the soulful voice of Beth Ditto. The crowd erupted with excitement, even without seeing the singer, so the energy is that much more frenetic when see saunters onto stage in a tight, bright dress and a neon pink dye job.

For all intents and purposes, Gossip is Beth Ditto. The front-woman is a singular force on-stage and off, and a genuine superstar in the UK, where the band’s following far surpasses its stateside one. No point in beating around the bush: much has been made about Ditto’s weight, and we don’t live in the perfect world where it wouldn’t be an issue. Suffice to say, she carries it well and doesn’t let it affect her performance: Ditto struts across the stage, reaches out to adoring fans, and oscillates between belting and shrieking out tunes like a disco-punk Janis Joplin.

The night’s set list is heavily loaded with tunes from the new album “Music for Men,” with enough old favorites to please long-time fans. Older songs that fit the new album’s dance-orientated style are included, but the set eschews the garage blues of songs like “Sweet Chariot.” The result is a set list that does one thing, but does it well: this is a show to dance at.

In between songs, Ditto seems genuinely grateful for the turn out (about 800-1000, short of a sellout) and the support, revealing an understated personality behind the confidence she wields while performing. Still, she’s not afraid to let out a burp or have Brace adjust her spandex. It’s evident why this crowd of outsiders feels a connection with this charismatic for honest singer.

As the night continues, Brace stabs a few synth lines, and the bass continues grooving to the four-on-the-floor beats. For Gossip, it may be their first US tour in three years, but this is just another party. The songs melt into one high-tempo jam; while this would be repetitive on a record, it works perfectly in a live setting. Highlights of the show include Ditto’s interactions with fans, including a stroll through the audience and a particularly impressive crowd surfing jag.

From “Love Long Distance,” with verses that could be part of Rihanna’s “Don’t Stop the Music,” to anthems like single “Heavy Cross” and an encore cover of “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” Gossip do dance-punk right. With a renewed interest in the type of music they’ve perfected on their latest album, here’s hoping their European success finally crosses the pond.

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