Now a major-label act with U.K. chart hits whose bluesy garage-punk style has been streamlined by producer Rick Rubin, the Gossip are no longer underground scrappers. But somebody forgot to inform vocalist Beth Ditto, who was her old exuberant subcultural self when the band began its first U.S. tour in three years early Wednesday night at Washington, D.C.'s 9:30 Club. While the Portland, Oregon-based band was impressively tight, Ditto's looseness made the show.
Drummer Hannah Blilie, guitarist-keyboardist Brace Paine, and touring bassist Chris Sutton began the set-opening "Dimestore Diamond" without Ditto, whose voice entered before she strutted onstage. Packed into a tight cocktail dress with her short hair dyed Ziggy Stardust orange, the singer was every ounce the glam-punk diva.
Although the 1,200-capacity club was only about half full-not surprising for an after-midnight weekday show in workaholic D.C.-Ditto quickly unified the faithful. Fans bounced to her every step, sang along any time she pointed the mike outward, and immediately swarmed her the two times she headed into the audience-first on foot and later for a somewhat precarious round of crowd-surfing.
The 70-minute show drew largely from this year's Rubin-produced Music For Men, which concisely surveys classic disco and R&B, while retaining the Gossip's lean guitar sound and punky short attention span. Listen to a stream of the entire set below.
But aside from an occasional reference to same-sex romance, there's nothing especially distinctive about the band's current music. Except, that is, for the throaty Ditto, whose voice packs enough growls and trills for an entire gospel choir. Instrumentally, the set followed the mainstream ambitions expressed by such recent song titles as "Pop Goes the World," though the Gossip's update of soulful '70s club music never stretched the songs to the lengths that their dancefloor cadences demanded. Rockers like "2012" and groovers like "Heavy Cross" were handled with equal dispatch.
The only surprises came when Ditto referenced another artist's song in tribute-she slipped Talking Heads' "Psycho Killer" and Bikini Kill's "Rebel Girl" (an obvious inspiration) into Gossip standout "Standing in the Way of Control." The band even encored with a cover-"This is an experiment," Ditto cautioned-of Tina Turner's "What's Love Got to Do with It?" The choice was a crowdpleaser, although the version didn't make much of an original claim on the tune.
For all her brashness, Ditto seemed genuinely moved by the audience's enthusiastic affection. "I didn't think anyone was gonna come," she confessed early on.
Clearly, those who did attend weren't drawn by Blilie's precise beats or Paine's keen riffs. They came for Ditto. And they cheered with extra intensity when she returned to the stage solo-clad in a black bodysuit-after the band had finished. Shouting out dedications to all sorts of outsiders, she led the room in a chorus of "We Are The Champions." It was a world-beating moment for a performer who still seems happier challenging the mainstream than joining it.
LISTEN TO LAST NIGHT'S SHOW: