Sensory Overload: The Regrettes

  • Photo by Chris DeVille
From the April 12, 2012 edition

Nostalgia has been our dominant cultural currency for a while now, but how you spend it makes all the difference. The fine line between rapture and revulsion is mostly a matter of personal taste; my appreciation for your throwback usually hinges on how deeply you take the imitation.

Are you merely recreating the facade of a particular era, or have you studied and appropriated what makes the classics tick? Is it a gimmick (not necessarily a bad thing), or was it spawned from deep reverence for the good old days (not necessarily a good thing)? And if it’s some blurry composite of irony and ecstasy, does it add up to more than mere kitsch?

When you’re as decidedly retro as The Regrettes, such questions loom large. When you navigate the land mines as well as they did Saturday at LC Pavilion, the question becomes, “Is everybody ready to dance?”

Born from the ashes of alternate-universe retro lounge rockers Burglar, The Regrettes practice a more strictly defined breed of retro: ’60s girl-group pop. But they tweak the formula slightly in two ways, both of which contribute to a subtle sense of democracy that extrudes even more joy than normal from this sort of music.

First, they employ not one but two dolled-up leading ladies who toss lead vocal duties back and forth as casually as they swing their tambourines. (Apparently you can exude the confidence of a diva without the usual territorial pissing.) Also, they have a woman playing keyboards, a refreshing break from Motown’s typical “girls sing, dudes play” dynamic.

That’s all fine and dandy, but are they any good?

It’s easy to imagine a band winning a popularity contest like the one that landed The Regrettes on CD101 Day Side B through pure charisma. Thankfully, style is only one of their strengths. They’re tapping into the essence of Motown with a deadly combination of blissful reverence and studious expertise.

Staccato blasts of bad romance; minimalist guitar solos; swooning, spoken-word interludes that include the word “baby.” The Regrettes did it all Saturday. Everyone around me was grinning.

Contrary to the dude who kept yelling “YOLO!,” this sound will keep resurrecting as long as bands like The Regrettes keep nailing it.