A mixture of soft yellow and red light illuminates women in flapper dresses and feather boas as they lean over the bar tipping back drinks and squeezing the biceps of Zoot-suited men waiting in line for the blackjack table. Some magician stops me with a deck of cards, a small crowd gathers around, and he performs his sleight of hand with unsettling precision.
Through the entryway and past the stairs, the club’s stage is framed by red velvet drapes stretching from floor to ceiling. Circa-1920s Camel cigarette posters line the walls, a fitting aesthetic for this corporate-sponsored show. Screen projections of Dashiell Hammett dames smoking long cigarettes flicker across the plaster-edged walls. The crowd whoops and howls as The Raveonettes pick up their instruments and the three girls onstage finish a burlesque routine. I can’t tell which event is inspiring the poshly dressed crowd’s hearty cheers.
Amidst a cloud of fuzzed-out distortion and pounding toms emerge the voices of guitarist Sune Rose Wagner and bassist Sharin Foo. Their vocals, clamped firmly together, penetrate the treble-heavy guitar fog, forming an androgynous partnership of harmony and melody. The band works through its set of mostly three-minute songs with ease and fluidity and, gradually, people start dancing, only stopping when the burlesque girls return to the stage—a ploy no doubt instigated by the tour’s creative director. Foo holds back laughter while a J-Lo lookalike “shakes it” violently in front of her. But The Raveonettes don’t need gimmickry to entertain; the show improves each time the dancers come and go.
The Raveonettes inspire belief through their winning, understated stage presence. They banter little between songs, their bodies convulsing slightly during breakdowns. The band honeys the crowd with its driving rhythms and guitar sounds, reminiscent of California garages and the bands that rocked them in the ’60s. But this is no rip-off routine. It’s still authentic and fresh; drummer Jakob Hoyer sporting a PowerBook at his side, playing loops of clapping hands, retro synths and electronic textures.
I look around at the usual street-beaten Chuck Taylors and vintage T-shirts and there aren’t many; for whatever reason, the usual crowd of indie-rock kids stayed home or checked out some other show. Midtown darlings in dressing-room-fresh club wear wave Heinekens
and cigarettes like pom-poms as the girls once again pick up their stockings and run offstage. It’s debatable how many people know the band’s music, and how many are simply regulars of the club’s swanky parties. In the end it doesn’t really matter.
The band appears to feel out-of-place but still manages to get the crowd into it, making several new fans, including the two men on the dance floor busting out moves from the latest Usher video. The Raveonettes are not the main event here and I leave when they finish their set—-my way of saying, “They jolly well should’ve been.”