It seemed like the Raveonettes were finished with surprises. On each successive CD, they’ve subtracted more and more of the noisy bits of futurama they brought to their Buddy Holly-doo-wop-girl group revision. Their latest, Pretty in Black, is lovely, no question, but still can’t match the zap of their first EP.
Well, the horses are officially held, because the Raveonettes burned through a set that proved the revision is still in progress. The show was so raucous, the sound so big, that they managed to reverse the age-old truism that rock ‘n’ roll is always better in a small, sweaty club. Their set at Southpaw a couple months back was fine, but from the get-go, this go-round cut right through the overzealous laser lights-smoke machine dopiness of cavernous Webster Hall, as the band played with more heated purpose than their Danish suave usually musters.
Maybe it’s just the fact they’ve soldered into shape from the current two-month tour, but by the third tune, “Let’s Rave On,” it was clear even to those who might’ve been disappointed with Black‘s lullaby tone that the Raveonettes haven’t gone beddy-bye. And even during those lullabies (“Uncertain Times,” “Little Animal”) the unwavering three-guitar reverb swirl whirled around the joint and lulled indeed, but wasn’t about to put anyone to sleep. Groovy fuzzbombs like “Do You Believe Her” and “Love in a Trashcan” snarled, but it’s obvious the Raveonettes aren’t out to rock ass as such. The obvious canned handclaps, tambourines, and other sampled sundries keep things clenched. And the too reverential tone—frequent “thank you”s and glowing praise to their automated special guests (“Mo Tucker couldn’t be here tonight, but you’ll hear her drumming on tape in this song”)—gets a bit cheesy and threatens to chip the icy block of cool this band’s intrigue stands on. Covering “My Boyfriend’s Back” is obvious and cheesy too, but damned if they haven’t added some new harmonies and spit-shined that old chestnut. If anything, the Raveonettes’ romantic gorgeousness is sadly absent in most modern retro rock. And when they can merge the beauty and the beast, as on the show-stopper “Great Love Sound,” they come closest to giddying-up that zombie horse of ’50s psycho teen drama r’n’r into this millennium.