Live Report: The Donnas

The Troubadour, West Hollywood, Calif., July 18, 1998

"Are you ready to rock?" It may be the most overused rock & roll cliche inhistory, but for the Donnas, there's no more sincere way to let theirteenagerock & roll machine rip. And rip it did. In the great American punk rocktradition of the Runaways and the Ramones, the Donnas specialize in three-minute, no frills, in-your-face punk rock assaults about the usual forms ofteenage hooliganism (gettin' drunk, gettin' laid and gettin' in trouble),andthe sweat-soaked crowd at the sold-out Troubadour in West Hollywood ate ituplike S&M enthusiasts at a leather convention.

But what's so unique about the Donnas? Well, it's probably not the rockchickthing, which has been done countless times before. The teen rebellionbandwagon is as old as the hills as well. It could be the fact that all fourmembers of the band are under the age of twenty, but then again, Joan Jettwasonly fifteen when she joined the Runaways in 1975. I guess it's the factthatDonna R., Donna A., Donna F., and Donna C. can (in a not-so-common Americanpunk rock tradition) actually play. The songs from their Lookout! Recordsdebut (the same Berkeley, Calif.-based label that spawned Green Day) losethesugarcoating on stage, becoming full-fledged, rebellious punk anthems. Tightand cocky, the collective musical chemistry between the four Donnas andtheirinstruments is a force to be reckoned with.

Borrowing a tactic made famous by the Ramones, the Donnas don't bother withbetween-song banter and audience ass-kissing. It was a wham, bam, thank youma'am rock barrage without the thank yous as they tore through fifteen songsin forty-minutes. A beer-spewing mosh pit broke out in the 450-capacity clubduring "Rock & Roll Machine," as guitarist Donna R. and bassist Donna F.pulled off the classic backs-to-the-singer move made famous by Kiss in theSeventies. In another show of respect for their rock & roll lineage, theDonnas put a girl power spin on AC/DC's "Shot Down in Flames," a song thatneatly fits into the band's mold of teen mutiny and raising Hell.

Vocalist Donna A. doesn't look particularly street-tough, but herhippy-hippyshake, skin-tight leather pants and onstage manner exude defiance and toughlove (two virtues of any well-to-do punk rocker). In fact, none of theDonnasseem too terribly street-savvy, with the exception of Donna F., who lookslikeshe could whup your ass twice if need be. But lyrically, on tunes like"Looking For Blood," you'd think they grew up in the seedy Tenderloin ratherthan the reasonably affluent suburb of Palo Alto, Calif.

It's refreshing to see punk rock done so playfully well, even if the Donnas'music is a testament to the ever-evolving, ever-worsening phenomenon ofteenage recklessness. I mean, they aren't singing about putting dimes in thejukebox, baby. And while the streets of Palo Alto may not be the roughest inCalifornia, the Donnas still prove to be the kind you don't bring home tomother.