The Tall Boys exude feminist appeal, but with boyish swagger and a taste for malt liquor. “Sorry, kids. My head’s smaller than a cat’s ass,” apologized Tall Boys bassist Ashley after her Hannibal Lecter muzzle slipped off her face. At Williamsburg’s Above the Right Bank, a venue more cramped than an off-campus kegger, a gal from the crowd shouted, “Show us your tits!” in response. Rather than obliging, the female foursome launched into a raunchy set that let the aerosol hair spray out of every faux-hawk in the room. Lead singer Sheila spit into the mic with evangelical fury, singing in a Mark E. Smith stutter (when a guy spews like that, he’s another Fall cookie-cutter, but Sheila rocked the affected accent) while jerking around in an unrestrained, Stooges-like frenzy.
The Tall Boys have the rascally demeanors of ’70s Meatballs camp counselors who would probably share joints with the oldest and coolest campers. Ferociously lo-fi, they eschew electronics for amphetamine-loaded, skronky guitar riffs, slinky basslines, and relentless, in-your-face drums. With their post-punk posture and caterwauling fem-rock anthems (“Ladies! Drop your heels and run!”), the Tall Boys are like atavistic descendants of Liliput and Au Pairs or a self-designed version of the Runaways. A more contemporary and maybe lamer comparison would be the Donnas, but let me qualify that and say the Tall Boys are much dirrtier (I’m sure the TBs can kick the collective asses of all four Ds).
Guitarist Vanessa is the calmest of all four, preferring to stand stoically to the side, all the while scratching the shit out of her guitar or working her frets overtime in Sabbath licks. Betty Page-haired and thickly eyelined Aviva pounds her skins with insouciant cool. Both Vanessa and Aviva lived in Las Vegas, which adds to the band’s cred, although the Tall Boys’ sound has not an iota of Vegas lounge in all their East Coast acid. Besides playing bass and tag-teaming raspy, bratty vocals with Sheila, Ashley—wearing white pants that cutely rode up her butt—acts as the misfit mouthpiece of the band. Throughout the set, she requested beer (“Um, OK, I’m really thirsty. I’d like a beer now,” and then after another song, “Hello, my beer?”) from the rowdy crowd, who were too cheap to hand over their half-drunk cups of Piss Blue Ribbon.
But Sheila definitely carries the band with her shrieks, pants, and wails: “Monday is just Monday, Tuesday is Tuesday, but Wednesday is my Wedding Day!” she howled with corrosive glee. Although she possesses freckled pixie looks that would win her a part in a Kix cereal commercial, Sheila radiates demonic charm in front of the mic. When she shouted, “We will face the danger/Sex, sex with a stranger,” there was something raw and beseeching about her tone, à la Pat Benatar’s “Heartache to heartache/We stand.” The last time I was this mesmerized by a singer’s moxie was when I saw the Gossip’s Beth Ditto rip out her Southern blues pipes in a dank Iowa City club. Spilling out into the set and the hallways, the audience was obviously soused on Tall Boys.