When: Sun., June 18, 7:30 p.m. 2017
The first facts you are likely to hear about the ascendant Los Angeles-based garage punks The Regrettes is that they are remarkably good and barely of age. Most of the members are narrowly past high school, and captivating frontwoman and principal songwriter Lydia Night is but sixteen. This development is extraordinary but not without precedent: Buddy Holly, Alex Chilton, and Tommy Stinson all achieved iconic status before the age of twenty, and rock music history is littered with the too-much-too-soon causalities of an industry that eats its young.
The latter fate seems unlikely to befall a band this gifted and self-aware, but renown may well prove to be in the cards. Armed with a bounty of melodic gifts and a precociously articulate feminist sensibility, the four-piece band delivers charged anthems that alternately lampoon and co-opt commercial culture's deeply exploitative impulses and unstable relationship to personal vanity. Tracks like the no-bullshit "A Living Human Girl" and the lusty "Hey Now" signal Night's emergence as a burgeoning songwriter of considerable dimension. Like Chrissie Hynde, Night seems disinterested in being typecast as a vixen but unwilling to cede her agency or sublimate her desires.
The Regrettes set their forward-looking politics against a decidedly throwback musical aesthetic, one that references seventies pub rock, sixties garage, and fifties doo-wop with devotion and irreverence. The band's deep fascination with mid-century sonics and trash culture contributes to its offbeat charm. In last year's video for "Hey Now," the Regrettes brutally parody the chauvinistic teen-themed bandstand shows of yore, though it seems entirely plausible that the band would fit in just fine in that setting. In lesser hands, the retro vibe could rapidly devolve into kitsch, but the Regrettes have proven adept at integrating both seminal and silly Kennedy-era touchstones into a fresh and vibrant aesthetic.
With a recent record deal with Warner Brothers, the Regrettes stand on the brink of legitimate stardom. The attendant rewards and pressures would be a lot to handle for even the most seasoned of music veterans, so it's fair to wonder how this young band will cope. For Night, who has continuously emphasized a commitment to authenticity and an unwillingness to be packaged and disposable fodder, the pitfalls seem particularly precarious. But so far, The Regrettes seem to be far better equipped than most to understand the inherent contradictions of their position. Fingers crossed, greatness awaits. —Elizabeth Bracy