Licking my wounds after not getting to do an interview with Warpaint, the all-fem quartet hailing from Los Angeles, California, I latched onto one reviewer’s labeling them as “hype-darlings.” It’s not hard to see why. Their original drummer was actress Shannyn Sossaman, which put them into the search engine lexicon from the onset. Their first EP, Exquisite Corpse, was released under John Frusciante’s label. He and lead singer, Emily Kokal, dated. Then, filling in on drums after Sossaman left was Josh Klinghoffer, who was also of Red Hot Chili Peppers fame (it’s been recently reported that Frusciante has formally quit the Chili Peppers…again, and Klinghoffer is his permanent replacement), and dating bassist (and Sossaman’s sis) Jenny Lee Lindberg at the time.
Get all that?
With all this name dropping and musical incest going on, it’s easy to see how Warpaint has caught media attention without releasing very much. However, saying Warpaint are hype-darlings would imply that the hype isn’t true. And that just isn’t true. Warpaint live up to the attention that’s been paid to them.
They rolled through Philadelphia this past Friday night, playing at the TLA, and the hipster crowd was out in force. Not surprising, since the ladies hail from Silverlake, California, a hipster mecca near Los Angeles. The wave of plaid and skinny jeans extended almost stage to door, which was a little surprising since Philadelphia can be so finicky when it comes to making bands feel welcome in our fair, fickle city.
Although they’ve been put in the “psychedelic rock” classification, they cover a lot of ground on the sound spectrum. They can be ethereal and haunting, poetic and raw, but still sound playful and impish at the same time. Seeing them live, though, has proven that they can also be pretty badass rockers. Lindberg’s driving baseline coupled with Stella Mozgawa’s drumming gives them an edge not totally realized on their albums.
And new drummer, Mozgawa seems to be the missing piece of the puzzle. After years of stops and starts and mismatched drummers, Lindberg, Kokal and guitarist, Theresa Wayman found what they were looking for in Mozgawa. There’s a cohesiveness now and a feeling that they can move forward as a united front, as if to say for the first time since they formed as an all girl band in 2004, “Here we are – this is Warpaint.”
During ”Beetles,” and standing on opposite sides of the stage, Kokal and Wayman seemed a polarizing force, volleying vocal parts across the stage, an obvious bond likely the product of a friendship forged when they were kids. For an encore, “Elephants” was ridiculous. Wayman’s guitar hook at the beginning instantly had everyone on their feet.
I go back and forth about even uttering this next statement aloud, so to speak, but I’m gonna go do it - they sound like a female Radiohead. When my friend agreed, I felt a little less crazy at my somewhat bold comparison. Listening to Exquisite Corpse or The Fool, I don’t think the correlation is as easy to detect, but listening to them live really snaps it into place.
There were two opening bands, one memorable in its imitation, the other memorable for their talent. Family Band was first, and if I closed my eyes, I thought I was listening to Mazzy Star, and when I opened them, I thought I was looking at Sinead O’Connor. PVT came next and were the better of the two, by far. They were right on point with the resurgence of 80s music creeping across the airwaves. They were a musically frenetic mash-up of The Cure meets Flock of Seagulls meets Joy Division. Yea, I went there, too.
I was already a fan prior to the TLA show, but Warpaint totally exceeded my expectations by exponential proportions Friday night, and if you haven’t given them a listen, I really recommend that you do. I’d heard an interview with Wayman once in which she said, “We want to be big in our intention and just to have it be earnest and always getting better, and always pushing ourselves to do better, to play better, to write better than the ones that came before…” Well, their live show proves that the girls of Warpaint are more than capable of topping themselves.