It was a steamy game of human sardines Monday night as a crowd speckled with faces seen in fashion magazines piled into New York City's downtown club of debauchery, the Paris-imported Le Baron, to hear the Virgins play some new material.
It's been almost four years since the Virgins released their debut album The Virgins on Atlantic Records – the label that signed lead singer Donald Cumming before the actual band was even fully formed. They made a name for themselves playing their 1980s synth pop sweet-tarts in small clubs and at parties for the quasi-famous friends they could count as fans. Their we-don't-give-a-fuck attitude was underwhelming and they were criticized for sounding unoriginal, regardless of the fact that their songs were insanely catchy and danceable.
The band took the small makeshift stage around 10:30 p.m. at the private event, which was being taped for the venue's own use. The band had played a similar show at Le Baron before, around the time their debut album came out in 2008, at the club's original Paris location. Most noticeably missing from the group was Wade Oates, the original lead guitarist perhaps more notorious for making out with Lily Allen one time. Original members of the Virgins, Donald Cumming and Nick Ackerman, were joined by two new members, guitarist Xan Aird (who played the entire set with his eyes gently closed like a meditating Buddha) and drummer John Eatherly. The band seemed super comfortable together and thanked the crowd for coming out to see them, then launched into a set of six new songs and two old favorites.
The young, restless and bored theme of their debut has lingered, but it was clear they've been exploring new emotional depths lyrically, their songs taking on a more classic-rock influenced epic structure. "Slave to You" came in with a road-grinding, Clash-like garage sound with an impressive guitar solo and motown backbeat, while "Venus in Chains" had Donald singing about Aeros' mother Aphrodite and her suffragette sisters. "Island Girl," which is currently available for download on their bandcamp website, features Donald tickling the ivories and has psychedelic layers reminiscent of the Beatles circa 1967. The ballad "Blue Rose Tattoo" never falls flat thanks to a mid-section change of tempo and key that plays on a marching band beat. "Prima Materia" was perhaps the only new track that sounded like it would fit in nicely with the disco pop sound of their debut, but with a tinge of their newfound gritty intonation. Towards the end of "Prima Materia" they got a little lost in the song's shifting and complex arrangement, reminding us all that they were playing brand new songs for the first time, but they got back on track with a few easy glances between them. The last new track they played before running behind Asian-inspired screens and into the kitchen for a quick break, had a rollicking "One Big Holiday"-esque intro and a "Roxanne"-like tango break beat.
The house speakers came back on over cries from the crowd for "One more!" and soon enough the band reemerged to play the crowd favorite "One Week of Danger," a song from their debut so fresh it made it onto the Gossip Girl series soundtrack. After the show, front man Donald Cumming told Rolling Stone that they were working on a 7-inch with the folks over at OHWOW gallery, but that they were currently without a label or manager. "We've been having a lot of fun playing these songs live because most of them aren't even recorded yet, we know we definitely want to make the record soon and in New York, it's just a question of when, where and how. In the meantime we'll be playing parties and shows around the city."
The congestion of smoke and sweat ultimately added to the excitement of the performance, and while it's no question the Virgins' sound has evolved over the past few years, they're still making reliably honest, memorable music. Whether released independently or with the help of streaming site Bandcamp, their next album is definitely something to look forward to.
"Slave to You"
"Venus in Chains"
"Blue Rose Tattoo"
"One Week of Danger"