“They were fucking awesome! Write that down!” barked a dude with potato-chip breath half an inch from my face when he saw me scribbling away during the Donnas’ set at the Highline Ballroom. Normally, his fragrant remark would’ve been poorly received. But I was in complete agreement: The Donnas were all that and a bag of chips.
The Bay Area quartet recently gave the finger to major labels, started their own record company (Purple Feather), and released the aptly titled Bitchin’ —14 tracks of big-hair, arena-worthy, horns-in-the-air rock ’n’ roll. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s perhaps the album they always wanted to make, but their own musical limitations and/or oppressive label heads prevented. Watching them fling their sweaty manes onstage, it became abundantly clear that Bitchin’ isn’t merely a rock album—it’s a gospel album. These four women positively worship rock ’n’ roll. They’re followers of a doctrine founded by Cinderella, Guns N’ Roses, Poison, et al. This is the bread and butter they were raised on—there’s nothing ironic to gawk at, so all you blaspheming dicksticks sporting Warrant T-shirts for shits and giggles can take a hike. Today’s hard-rock landscape is parched (Velvet Revolver blow, okay?), and Bitchin’ detonates a dam.
As refreshing as the Donnas are, there is definitely something methodical about their approach to celebrating rock ’n’ roll. For better or for worse, they unwaveringly honor tradition—from Donna A’s hand-on-hip stance to the almost stoic thunder of their new single “Don’t Wait Up for Me.” Every note of “Wasted,” “Like an Animal,” and “What Do I Have to Do” rang out with aplomb. The stiffness was evident, if unintentional. But there was an unabashed love and fervent desire to share their enthusiasm that mattered more. All you had to do was join the myriad fans pumping their fists in the air in time to the beat while bellowing all the lyrics. And when the Donnas covered Ratt’s “Round and Round,” no one that I could see looked anything less than freakin’ psyched.
A respected rock writer recently opined that Bitchin’ was so much in the vein of Def Leppard and Van Halen, he felt the Donnas were unfortunately straddling parody status. I don’t know if he’s right, but after tonight’s show, I can confidently say that I couldn’t give less of a shit. The Donnas could sit on parody’s face for all I care. Their love of and devotion to rock ’n’ roll is real; their love for and devotion to each other is real. Screw semantics. Come on, feel the noise.