Given the fuss around The Pretty Reckless and their international TV superstar front woman Taylor Momsen their debut UK tour was never going to fail to draw a crowd. At surface value it’s tricky to know exactly what to make of TPR. Are they serious heavy rockers or one of rock’ biggest one person vanity projects since Angels &Airwaves or 30STM, with a line-up completed by the most interchangeable backing band not performing behind Hayley Williams? To find out Already Heard caught the band’s recent headline show at Leeds’ O2 Academy.
Thanks to a sterling effort by the venue staff to make getting inside as awkward and time consuming as possible, the night’s openers, California’s Nothing More, were pretty much finished in their efforts to start proceedings with a bang by the time much of the crowd had managed to anywhere near the stage. However the brief impression gained from what little Already Heard actually got to hear, suggested an oddly compelling heavy rock take on a billy talent-esque sound layered liberally with electronic effects, a shit ton of drums and bolstered by some strong if not terribly original riff work.
For an opening band, Nothing More weren’t lacking in presence or theatrics. And during their closing number the band commenced beating the holy hell out of drum kit sections scattered randomly about the stage, all over an incandescent electronic breakdown that at least made what AH saw quite memorable.
If at least making an effort try something new and experimental was something Nothing More could be commended for, quite the reverse could be said for main support Heaven’s Basement. The British old school rockers have been building a decent following over the last few years, and seemed to be largely responsible for one of the oddest and most awkward crowd splits AH has seen in quite some time. As what can only be described as clusters of sweaty gone to seed dad rockers in attendance solely to see Heaven’s Basement, caused the predominantly teenage Momsen devotees to jostle uncomfortably around them as they ‘rock out’ like pissed blokes out a disco throughout the set.
Having not seen the band before there’s a bemused five minutes spent trying to work out whether this is a low rent Steel Panther style parody, or whether they are taking themselves completely seriously. It soon emerged it was the latter and any enjoyment factor of hearing and seeing every classic rock cliché broken out every few seconds quickly evaporated. To give the band their due they obviously have some pretty heavy duty musical chops, and frontman Aaron Buchannan has quite the set of pipes on him. But it’s the contrived stances and repeated “oi oi oi”’s and fist pumping add infinitum that soon became majorly tedious. Sure it’s understandable why the out of breath, painfully snug leather jacket around the beer gut brigade loved it, but there’s bands offering this kind of shenanigans in pubs across the land every night of the week. At least ‘Fire Fire’ and ‘Nothing Left To Loose’ got the crowd suitably warmed up for the main event of the evening, with both track’s throwback eighties pomp getting some heads nodding. (2.5/5)
Unsurprisingly The Pretty Reckless weren’t afraid to crank up the atmosphere by keeping the crowd waiting for their entrance, which was only just the right side of fashionably late. And the tone for the set was immediately marked with a little help from the borderline pornographic, excessively drawn out intro to ‘Follow Me Down’, the staged throaty moans being drowned out by an ear splitingly high pitched shriek of delight as Ms Momsen swept majestically to the centre of the stage.
From that point on not an eye in the room was focused anywhere but firmly on the TV star turned rock goddess. As a live entertainer Momsen has it all, unbelievable vocal ability, an arresting attention demanding presence, and sheer star quality in spades. And, ok, she was pretty easy on the eye too. But even as Momsen and her sunglasses wearing, non-crowd interacting band mates smashed effortlessly through killer tracks like ‘Sweet Things’ and ‘Miss Nothing’, sounding top notch and every bit as tight as a record; the paradox at the heart of The Pretty Reckless that makes it near impossible to genuinely like them became glaringly obvious.
View full set here. Photos by Carrie-Anne Pollard.
The one thing that makes them seem like a great band, is their remarkable spotlight stealing front woman. But Momsen is the star of the show to such an extent that she is the only real show. From watching them live it’s impossible to call them a genuine band with a straight face. What AH see’s over the course of the piss-takingly short set demonstrated that TPR are just a hard rock Miley Cyrus in all but name. Sure there was entertainment, but in exactly the same painfully hyper-sexualised, forced, over rehearsed and visibly management produced way. There were times when any rational person present must have been close to shouting “seriously love, unclamp the oh so visible camel toe from around the mic stand for thirty seconds and just sing…” Now that’s not to sound prudish. Sex, excess and pushing the limits are what rock and roll is all about. But there came a point where it was basically a very young woman displaying her lady garden to a few thousand people, mostly women and girls even younger than her. And that’s pretty weird. It would have made for a far more rounded and commendable show if instead of the dry humping, some effort had instead been made to show the chemistry and camaraderie with her band mates that you would expect from the singer of a genuine rock band. Although that simply wasn’t to be.
After just a handful of songs Momsen completely vanished for no obvious reason, leaving the rest of her band standing aimlessly around while sci-fi’s most famous monologue, the intro from War Of The Worlds, played over a weird synth underscore. This lasted the better part of five minutes, with nothing happening on the stage, during a set which was less than an hour long. The presumed implication being “you paid top dollar to see us, but bothered about giving a value for money show we are not”. Upon breezing back on to the stage like she hadn’t been gone forever, Momsen gave no explanation for her absence but did introduce current single ‘House On A Hill’. Which ended up rivalling ‘Why’d Bring A Shotgun To The Party’ and first single ‘Make Me Die’ as the stand out and easily the most fun moments of the entire evening.
Disappointingly this high didn’t last, the entire band departed the stage just a few songs later to cue yet more waiting with nothing to watch for too long. Only for drummer Jamie Perkins to reappear alone to perform a drum solo which was tedious, unimaginative and painfully drawn out in equal measure. And long, very, very long. So long in fact that it conveniently left only enough time for the full band to play one more song, ‘Fucked Up World’, before departing for good to not entirely deserved or earned rapturous applause.
As much as it would be fantastic to rave about how brilliantly delivered The Pretty Reckless’ highly listenable cookie-cutter heavy rock is, or the incredible vocals and levels of charisma and sex appeal Taylor Momsen brings to the stage; the whole headline set just left a bad taste in the mouth. The main reason being it was far far too short. Yes the band only have two albums and an EP, but if you’re going to headline venues of this size and charge top whack to get in, you either play every song you have including a B-side or two, or you throw in some covers. What you don’t do is shamelessly and blatantly spin things out as much as possible, leaving nothing happening for periods of time. The lone lasting plus point to take from the show was how excellent every aspect of The Pretty Reckless’ sound is pulled off live. That said the entire set could be easily replicated by putting on TPR’s album, muting the TV and flicking repeatedly between Scuzz and Babestation for an hour. Quite possibly with a happier ending. (2.5/5)