DEAP VALLY / SKATERS / DOLOMITE MINOR, 30TH OCTOBER 2013, OXFORD ACADEMY
Who are Dolomite Minor? We don't know, and - I would venture - neither do they. The Southampton-based pair describe their sound as "fuzz blues", and so draw inevitable comparisons to The White Stripes and The Black Keys, but there are musical echoes of everyone from Queens Of The Stone Age to Black Sabbath (the rollicking riff to 'Girl Of Gold') and vocal allusions to Kurt Cobain and Jim Morrison ('Let Me Go'). If they could distil it all into something resembling a unique identity and improve their stage presence - drummer Max Palmier deliberately knocking over his cymbal stand at the end of the set is about as dramatic as it gets - then more ears might prick to attention.
Concealed beneath Halloween masks, wigs and bandages are Skaters, who only formed early last year and yet are already signed to a major label, Warner Bros. The precocious fivesome are undoubtedly slick, and very well served by the Academy's sound-desk, but, despite citing post-punk influences, are soon confirmed as New York's answer to The Killers, who (initially, at least) were themselves Las Vegas' answer to New York's Strokes. It's like a bad photocopy of a bad photocopy, or a once-appetising pint that's been watered down twice (though still more drinkable than the piss they serve up behind the bar here). 'I Wanna Dance (But I Don't Know How)' is the exception, though offering a clumsy parody of The Drums is even less commendable. Credit to whoever cues up 'Mr Brightside' to come on halfway through, the instant their set finishes.
First encounters between future bandmates are supposed to take place in dark and sweaty subterranean gig venues, in record shops, during drunken and heated exchanges about the merits of obscure albums in the early hours of the morning at house parties. Not at crochet classes. But then in truth Deap Vally aren't exactly your ordinary common or garden band. When was the last time you came across a duo who look partly like Motley Crue groupies fresh from Sunset Strip and partly like college cheerleaders from an 80s teen movie waylaid by the twin discoveries of booze and pot, and who whack out strident, bluntly feminist bluesy hard rock that pays as much homage to Joan Jett as it does to Led Zeppelin?
In the Sinead O'Connor v Miley Cyrus debate about the sexualisation of women in the music industry, Deap Vally have their feet firmly planted in the Amanda Palmer camp. Vocalist/guitarist Lindsey Troy has previously declared: "I feel like we kind of flaunt our femininity. It's not something we're trying to hide or downplay. For us it's empowering." Tonight Troy's accomplice Julie Edwards, drumming vigorously in a leopard-print bra, certainly couldn't be accused of hiding or downplaying much. However, while their record company Universal may not be pressuring them to dress in a certain way, you do wonder how quickly they would object if Troy and Edwards suddenly decided to swap the hotpants for sensible knee-length skirts and ill-fitting jumpers. Furthermore, the sporadic wolf-whistling between songs suggests that their message is sailing high over the heads of some male members of the audience.
Not that it's easy to ignore. Lyrically speaking, most songs on debut album Sistrionix, aired almost in its entirety tonight, are bold and unequivocal assertions of female control and power within a patriarchal society - over one's body (set opener 'Raw Materials'), over one's reputation and public image ('Bad For My Body', 'Walk Of Shame'), over one's personal finances and income (brilliant first single 'Gonna
Make My Own Money', with which they introduced themselves to the UK on Later... with Jools Holland). In this respect, their decision to cover Screamin' Jay Hawkins' creepy classic 'I Put A Spell On You' in the encore is perfect; not only does it allude to Halloween, it also articulates a desire to exert control over a lover.
But the songs aren't just designed to make a political point - they also rock, hard. Troy has the full-blooded voice of a monitor-straddling stadium rock superstar and a great, big, dirty guitar sound to match (and to compensate for the lack of bass), while Edwards furiously pounds the skins as though they're the face of the hairdresser who gave her that Brian May perm. 'End Of The World', which Troy dedicates to her dad on his birthday, finds her finally forgetting about intergender power divides and power struggles, and instead endorsing the perennial hippy ideals of peace, love and understanding "Cause life's too short". Indeed it is - but at least bands like Deap Vally exist so we can enjoy it while it lasts.