Most actors who venture into music tend to do so with catastrophic results. For every Juliette Lewis or Milla Jovovich there are dozens of Keanu Reeveses (Dogstar!) and Jared Letos (30 Seconds to Mars!) churning out wretched tunes that could only be described as aural Gitmos. But the debut last night of Pretty Reckless, a band fronted by Gossip Girl star Taylor Momsen, did not suck at all. On the contrary, that girl can actually rock.
Playing at the Annex, a club in NYC’s Lower East Side, before a small army of girls at who probably should’ve been home much earlier on a school night — much like Momsen’s character, Jenny Humphrey, did in an episode last season — Momsen delivered a set more befitting a rock star who dabbles in acting, not the other way around. Looking like Debbie Harry and singing like Kim Carnes doing Karen O., Momsen showcased the potential to build a following among those who’d feel more comfortable listening to L7 or Sleater-Kinney than relating to any character on Gossip Girl.
Pretty Reckless took the stage around 9:30 P.M., and no one seemed to know what to expect. Was she going to go the cheesy pop route of early Alanis Morissette? Or was she going to do something to guarantee her next tour would be with the Jonas Brothers?
The band kicked in with no-holds-barred punk riffage, and Momsen led the way with a raspy roar, delivering semi-banal lines with ferocity: “I la-la-la-la-like you / I la-la-la-la-love you / I used to ha-ha-ha-ha-hate you / NOW I REALLY F-CKIN’ LOVE YOU!”
Is she totally there? Not just yet, but she’s only 16. That means in half a decade — after years of touring, recording, fighting with other band members, picking up a few vices, having a relationship fall apart in public, recording some more, fighting with a record label, making bad tattoo choices, making bad management choices, behaving bizarrely in public, dealing with creepy stalker issues, suffering private heartbreak, enduring embarrassing legal troubles, and getting bilked by “advisors” — Momsen will still be only 21 and might be able to fully realize all the angst and bitterness her voice sometimes suggests.
Backstage, after the show, Momsen — accompanied by her mom — talked about her band’s upcoming tour with the Veronicas, said she co-wrote all of her songs with a collaborator, and that she wants to be known as a singer who used acting to help her music career and not vice versa. And it feels authentic, like she’d be fronting a rock band whether she was on a hit TV series or not.
Of course, no story about Momsen can be written without mentioning her character on the uber-popular CW drama. This issue probably plagues Filthy Youth — the band featuring Ed Westwick, Momsen’s costar — who must cringe constantly when they hear themselves referred to as “The Chuck Bass Band,” after Westwick’s GG character. But millions of tween girls — who closely identify with Jenny Humphrey, the ambitious underclassman outwitting schoolyard bitches and fashion designers — might just have a new rock’n’roll heroine to admire.