"It's nice to sell out for once!" Beth Ditto said to a packed (and yes, sold out) house at Showbox at the Market on Friday night. "I don't mind selling out," she added. "It's a state of mind." She picked the right time to bring up the elephant in the room: after ripping through "Dime Store Diamond," a thumping rock anthem from the band's latest release (and first on Columbia Records), Music for Men. If you've only heard "Heavy Cross," the first single from Music for Men, but not the rest of the album, it'd be easy to jump to conclusions and assume that after signing to Columbia, Gossip will continue to edge ever further from the punk sensibility they started with and make more pop songs like "Heavy Cross" (though I don't share Hannah Levin's distaste for the track, I do think it's one of the weaker songs on the record). But songs like "Dime Store Diamond" are more indicative of what the album actually contains: more of the same Gossip we grew up with.
Gossip played at Showbox at the Market on Friday, October 24.
While I've seen this band a few times before, I will continue to see Gossip as many times as possible just to experience the sheer power of Beth Ditto's voice, which no recording -- not even Music for Men, with its slick production -- has ever captured at its full capacity. And what's really sweet about it is that she's got this cute little baby doll speaking voice that doesn't even hint at the power lurking in her diaphragm.
Though I really love the new record, I really love it when Beth DItto sings cover songs, because no matter what she sings, she always manages to make it sound great and make it her own. If I could choose one celebrity to sing karaoke with, I'd choose Beth Ditto without hesitation. While my favorite cover of the night was "Rebel Girl," (an homage, perhaps, to awesome openers MEN, a fairly new synth pop band that contains members of Le Tigre'sproduction team, JD Samson and Johanna Fateman). But the crowd definitely preferred "What's Love (Got To Do With It?" which Ditto belted out as well as Tina Turner ever did, and I know that because I could still hear her over the voices of every single other person in the room.
And of course, Ditto included a Nirvana cover, "Smells Like Teen Spirit," though I am embarrassed to admit that it took me almost until the end of the song to figure out what song it was, which I think is a testament to Beth Ditto attempting to preserve the integrity of Kurt Cobain's indecipherable vocals. I am also embarrassed to admit that I got there too late to see Beth Ditto taking coats from people, which would have made my night. Anyone get to talk to her at coat check with awesome anecdotes to share? Post 'em. I want to live vicariously through your experience.
Finally -- and I had debated about whether or not to even dignify the image-obsessed sad sacks who feel that the size of the lead singer for an amazing band is a relevant or appropriate topic for discussion -- I want to officially declare a moratorium on that particular subject. Beth Ditto is a fucking queen whose vocal talents are on par with Aretha Franklin's, I personally thought she looked fabulous in her striped, skin-tight dress, and her looks should have absolutely zero impact on how you or anyone else feels about her music. It is a non-issue, and if she were a male person, we would not be talking about this. At least, not as much. Did Ruben Studdard get this much shit about his weight? I can't remember, because American Idol offends me as a music lover and a feminist and I avoid the show as much as I possibly can, but I doubt it. And unlike so many of the emaciated hack princesses that monopolize pop music, Gossip -- and Beth Ditto -- have achieved success for the right reasons: because they are a talented group of people who make amazing music.