The Virgins @ Great American Music Hall, SF, 5/20/09

The Virgins  played San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall  on 5/20 with fantastically dark opener Anya Marina  (my favorite song of hers was “Move You” ). I really like The Virgins, but somehow nothing felt especially noteworthy about their performance. They’re a pretty interesting NYC indie band, one of the many prospective “next-big-things” to ferment in the Big Apple. It’s an expectation easy enough to justify with the group’s uniquely sardonic lyrics and surprisingly versatile brand of garage punk. They seem as much at home with their punky roots, as in tracks like “Louisa,” as with a more commercial sound, such as in their single “Rich Girls.”  The tone and energy level varies greatly by each song. Where “She’s Expensive,” one of my favorites at the GAMH show, features a gnarly, staccato guitar and bass keeping pace with fast-paced, driving drums, “Love Is Colder Than Death”  is slower and more thoughtful, and came across weaker live, and was especially ill suited to be the show-ender. It didn’t feel like the finale, and it didn’t seem like anybody in the crowd was fooled: the band hadn’t even played “Week of Danger,” one of their number one singles from ’08; thusly the applause required to solicit the band’s obviously pre-planned return to stage felt more forced than spontaneous, and made the band and their frontman Donald Cummings seem a little presumptuous.

What really sets The Virgins apart are their lyrics, solely the work of Cummings who is also the band’s founder. He started writing the songs by himself in his apartment in New York before enlisting the help of his friends, guitarist Nick Oates and bassist Nick Ackerman, to record The Virgins ’07, a five-track EP. They started passing the record out at clubs and parties around town and it began to circulate hand to hand on its own before an agent for Atlanta Records heard it, tracked the group down and signed them even before they were fully formed.

While Oates and Ackerman on guitar and bass are indispensable and ideally suited, Donald Cummings is the soul of the band. He doesn’t play any instruments regularly, just struts around the stage acting punk rock and peeling off the dry, thoroughly unsentimental lyrics. And great lyrics they are, the kind that make you feel hip and envious at the same time, like in “Week of Danger,”  a song that’s essentially about a girl who likes him more than he likes her: “So is there something that you like about her/ Yes/ I like the way her body bends in half/ And is there something that you love about her/ No/ Man if she’s playing hard to get I’m out the door.” The track “She’s Expensive” turns the dynamic around: “It takes a lot to change her mind/ she’s expensive, she’s expensive/ I can’t stop myself from chasing.” There’s something refreshing in the honest bluntness of both of them, and Cummings’ multi-faceted writing certainly bodes well for the bands’ prospects. Their single “Rich Girls” made it to #68 on Rolling Stone’s “100 Best Songs of 2008,” they performed on David Letterman, and their songs have been featured on such pop-culture incubators as Gossip Girls and MTV’s The City. It’s probably fair to say that we haven’t heard the last of them.

[This piece originally appeared on MyCrazyMusicBlog, and cannot be reproduced without permission. Thank you]

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