Smile Politely

Those Darlins: One week anniversary review

Due to a series of unfortunate events (including a sick sister and confused music editors) this piece didn’t make it into our various festival wrap-ups. But it’s a nice review and many people around town are still talking about this show, so we figured it was definitely worth posting. 
–music editors

When people ask me about southern music, I don’t point them to Johnny Cash. I don’t think of Alabama or Shania Twain. I think of the gritty, dirty, rockin sounds of Those Darlins.

The Independent Media Center underwent a complete transformation Thursday, from the melodic folk songs of The Mean Lids to the foot-stomping drawl of Those Darlins. As the crowd sat politely and clapped demurely for the Lids’ set, we were all worried, very worried. Even the momentous big band explosion of The Duke of Uke and His Novelty Orchestra failed to get more than a few off their feet, although through no fault of the band. After hearing their name around town for months, I was hitting myself for not catching them sooner. Their bouncy, fun ukulele pop combines with funk and reggae to create a nostalgic, antique quality while staying fresh and all their own. With flawless harmonies and a cuteness that never bordered on kitsch, The Duke of Uke made for the perfect energetic kick into the evening.

But still, aside from a handful of dancing patrons, everyone was sitting! How would this bode for a band that at one show picked apart a roast chicken onstage before swinging it around by one drumstick, covering the stage and crowd in gristle and grease? Sitting during a Darlins show is like sleeping during a KISS concert; sure, you can do it, but why the hell are you there in the first place?

Well, not to worry. As soon as The Duke said goodnight, the crowd became believers. Those Darlins were every bit the rowdy rockers I expected, with just enough southern charm to keep ‘em sweet. Their hillbilly stories and punk rock energy meld into a kickin’, stompin’, rockin’ throwdown of southern sweat and feminine grit.

Kelley, Jessi, and Nikki make the perfect trio, while drummer Linwood Regensburg and bassist Shane Spresser seemed content to stay out of the spotlight. With Kelley’s rowdy kicks, Nikki’s unrestrained thrashing, and Jessi’s crazy-eyed rocking, it’s plenty easy to throw yourself into the show as is. The girls burned their way through a pile of fast-paced songs, giving country themes the punk rock treatment. 

Near the end of the set the stage just couldn’t contain them, and the girls spilled out into the crowd, dancing and stomping around, instruments in tow. Their raw energy had the crowd dancing along, and I felt right at home. No need for an acoustic break!  No need to take a breather for a sweet, sensitive ballad! They plunged forward, sweaty, loose-limbed, never exhausted. Their adrenaline fed ours, and I could have rocked along all night.

I got the chance to talk to Jessi and Kelley before and after the show, and they were warm, genuine, enthusiastic about the set and about our small towns. Jessi told the story of Nikki swinging around the roast chicken with wonder and no sense of sensationalism: “She kept swinging this thing around, and her side of the stage was just covered in grease, and we’re all thinking, when is this thing going to break?”

I could only think that these girls are doing what they’re supposed to do. They belong onstage, in all their leopard-printed, braless, unshaven, cowboy-booted, southern girl glory.

(all photos by the author)

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