Death Valley Girls asked for the ignition of the smoke machine and lower lights before they began their set at the Beat Kitchen Sunday night–but if you got there halfway through, it would have been easy to believe the atmosphere had been conjured.
Hailing from Los Angeles, Death Valley Girls play a dark blend of punked-up new wave, heavy on fuzzy and vaguely wicked imagery. Their third record, Darkness Rains, was released last month. While far from slick, it is less grating than their previous two records, which held pop sensibilities deep beneath layers of distortion. Those tendencies are less guarded on the latest effort, though the themes remained similar–death, mostly, and witchy shit.
The sparse crowd milled about before the setup was complete, then coalesced and drifted toward the front of the stage.
The rhythm section of bassist Nikki Pickle and Laura Kelsey provided a rumbling backbone. Guitarist Larry Schemel played the straight man of the group, unassuming in his look and demeanor. But his blistering riffs were consistently ripping, perfectly distorted without a note out of sync.
Even with the excellence of three-fourths of the band, it was hard to take attention away from frontwoman Bonnie Bloomgarden. She was an incredibly compelling figure, dark haired and tiny, craters of mascara and a babydoll dress, conflating sweetness and darkness until they were one and the same, making even her gratitude and amicable stage presence slightly haunting.
Most of the set centered around the latest record, including the singles “Street Justice” and “More Dead.” “Disco,” from the 2016 album Glow in the Dark, was another highlight, featuring Bloomgarden on keys instead of guitar.
It was a short set, but one that featured the band as they are best seen. As heavy as their records can be, this is a band best represented by the live show.