Someone screwed the Dance Hall Crashers. Someone wronged them. Dicked them over. Or maybe the Berkeley band's singers, Elyse Rogers and Karina Denike, are just fed up with those assholes who repeatedly get away with rampant assholery.
How else to explain the vitriolic lyrics on their latest album, Purr, such as "I know what you have not done/And you're gonna burn in hell" (from "Setting Sun") and "I smile at you at the show/Bullshit along with your niceties/Then I sit back and watch you go suck up to people you want to be" (from "The Real You")?
And the best part is that these biting bon mots are delivered not in the angry snarl employed by far too many female front women, but rather in Rogers and Denike's beautiful, honey-drenched harmonies, which makes their icy jabs all the icier and jabbier. And if that weren't enough, the icy, jabby, yet sweetly syrupy harmonies are served atop a bed of bercatchy, up-tempo, kinda-grindy, guitar-driven ska-pop.
Of course, the music of the Dance Hall Crashers is far more than just sugarcoated poison, and the insightful lyrics cover a far wider range of topics than just anger and assholes. On "Beverly Kills," Rogers (who lives in LA and manages a handful of bands, including her own) and Denike explore Hollywood's power to eviscerate young hopefuls. "It feeds on every dream you had/ And lures you in only to feel bad/ That dull thud you've gotten used to/Is just her way of welcoming you," they sing.
And they're not afraid to forge their own feminist aesthetic: "Don't you know that the mirror is not your friend unless you're beautiful/And then it could be the answer to your problems. . . . Wouldn't you rather be smart than worry about what it means to get by if you don't look right?" (from "Do You Think You're Beautiful"). And on "Cat Fight," they even offer up a strategy: "Let's stage the biggest cat fight ever seen in history/And then, when they get excited/Turn around and be united."
The band—rounded out by guitarist Jason Hammon, bassist Mikey Weiss and drummer Gavin Hammon—was originally formed in 1989 as a side project by seminal ska-punk band Operation Ivy's Tim Armstrong and Matt Freeman, but before any shows were played or albums were recorded, Armstrong and Freeman left to form Rancid. The lineup has changed over the years, with the exception of Rogers and Denike.
Like so many other bands in these unstable music-industry times, the Dance Hall Crashers were on a major label (MCA, where they released 1995's Lockjaw and 1997's Honey, I'm Homely) but left for the sanctuary of a big independent—in this case, Pink & Black Records, a division of punk stalwart Fat Wreck Chords, set up especially to release albums by female-fronted or all-female bands.
Somehow, after all this time, Dance Hall Crashers, who've played dates on both the gauzy Lilith Fair and the testosteroney Warped Tour, have found a way to maintain freedom in an industry that is most comfortable pigeonholing female artists. Maybe it's the well-placed vitriol.
Dance Hall Crashers play with the Muffs and Buck at the Glass House, 200 W. Second St., Pomona, (909) 469-5800. Thurs., April 6, 7:30 p.m. $13.50. All ages.
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