Photos by John Burlage
Music Hall of Williamsburg
Saturday, January 17
Jemina Pearl is one of the few world-class rock ‘n rollers right now, especially if you factor in her age or breed–that is, riot grrrls, or riot anyone, who want the world and have the confidence, wit and sound to execute all three. Comparable visionaries all took longer to emerge than Jemina’s 21 years: there’s Gogol Bordello’s Eugene Hutz, Jack White, and the lady-men of Sleater-Kinney, who quit rocking for the most loathsome reason of all–maturity. You could factor in the Hives’ excellent Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist, who’s really a robot and someone only half-charged his battery last time out. Or Beth Ditto, who has the style, cred and outlandish goals to defrock American Idol-obsessed America if she only had even a single damn song to match.
Pearl’s band made Get Awkward, a record I don’t shut up about, and the equally slicing, if less focused, Be Your Own Pet. People were just starting to catch on as the teenaged murder send-up “Becky” garnered notoriety. And then the band broke up. Unless you consider Big Audio Dynamite a success, punk careerists never quite solved the longevity dilemma without resorting to Social Security a/k/a Warped Tour. So she’s understandably got the butterflies.
Which leads us to Saturday, when she took the stage with her new Joan Jett-style coif, leather pants and denim vest with a huge Lou Reed pin. Hiding behind these icons is perfectly acceptable considering how naked she is; she didn’t mean to lose her band, she’s flown the coop to Brooklyn with her drummer-turned-guitarist (and probable love interest–oh kids) and seems a bit nauseous about the idea of a “solo album” (to Pitchfork last week: “I’m not going to be sitting on a stool with an acoustic guitar singing about my troubles”). Throughout the show, her stage moves were less spontaneous and showier, her banter the opposite–nervous, even a little defensive. “We don’t know any more, we’re a new band!” she joked worriedly at the end.
So I feel bad even writing this. It was a warm-up show for a great talent who doesn’t know her next move and sounded like it. And as great a performer she still was and BYOP-similar the new tunes were, Pearl needs synergy and she’s lost it for the time being. John Eatherly smilingly turns out sloppier sludge on his axe than Jonas Stein, who’s probably writing prog epics now. And the new songs are still indistinct, particularly at Cuisinart speed. The boppy “Nashville Shores” broke from the slew “Becky”-style and “No Good” made infectious use of Eatherly’s top three strings, but any promising choruses or instances of her full singing range in the eight-song set were buried in the rough drafts. “I Hate People,” purportedly her first love song, has nothing on her hate songs. Her debut solo show was not an event and probably should’ve gone unpublicized (though nearly-forgotten headliners the Fluid had a surprising turnout of people who knew the words). On her messiest days, Pearl can top any combed professional, but this was the most I’ve ever seen her, well, get awkward. —Dan Weiss