When it comes to metal, there are a few things that are a given. Black leather, for instance. References to hell, blood and the general theme of death. There are certain things we’ve come to expect from the genre and it’s all a part of why we love it. So when Taylor Momsen of The Pretty Reckless stalks on to the House of Blues Anaheim stage on October 10 with a fist in the air, looking two parts Joan Jett and one part Jack Skellington, I get it. And I remain hopeful through their first song, “Follow Me Down.” But halfway through the show I start to realize that The Pretty Reckless is pretty predictable.
The band is backed by Ben Phillips (guitar), Mark Damon (bass) and Jamie Perkins (drums) and fronted by Momsen, most recognized for her role as Jenny Humphrey in the television version of the novel series Gossip Girl. Making the transition from small screen to stage is always difficult. And Momsen has some competition, considering she is one of three Gossip Girl cast members to attempt to transition into the music industry. But the New York-based hard rocking throwback to metal generated enough buzz with their debut LP Light Me Up in 2010 to garner a substantial fan base in the UK and tour with big names and personal influences like Marilyn Manson and Evanescence.
“Follow Me Down,” is easily the most distinctive of all the songs I hear that night, only because it veers slightly away from the tired metal framework the rest of their music clings to. Momsen’s voice is throaty and while not quite melodious, its girth suggests real potential. And with impossibly long limbs and even longer bleach-blonde hair, it’s clear where the “pretty” in Pretty Reckless comes from. But when she dons the guitar, it’s more prop than anything, as she barely strums along to the chorus.
“Hit Me Like a Man” comes next, demonstrating the degree of glam rocking we can expect for the rest of the night. Songs are reverb heavy and with hard riffs a plenty, but there is no complexity here. Each songs drones on into the next and for all of Momsen’s artful hair-flipping, I’m bored. It is the exact kind of metal that’s hard to play with a straight face. It’s a tad too over-the-top and played without a shred of irony. Which is not to say that they don’t play it well, the problem here is that it’s not played relevantly.
The Straight to Hell tour, which continues through November, supports their forthcoming album Going To Hell, due out in 2014. Momsen told Rolling Stone Magazine back in September that the album's title track was inspired by the tragedy of Hurricane Sandy, which directly affected the band by destroying their gear and demos along with the New Jersey studio where they were recording Going to Hell. I applauded their attempt to dig deeper, but the song lacks the depth such inspiration promises. Depth or not, each new song they offer up is received like an old classic by a head-banging crowd.
Momsen twirls like a goth ballerina through “Zombie.” “Kill Me,” which was featured on the final episode of Gossip Girl, follows along with “My Medicine” and “You Make Me Want to Die” before playing the long-awaited “Going to Hell.” They encore with “Just Tonight” and “F***ed,” but not before dropping a beautifully executed cover of Audioslave’s “Like a Stone.” It’s the perfect example of what they’re reaching for and demonstrates what they’re capable of.
“Thank you so f***in’ much,” Momsen growls into the microphone at one point. Which is exactly what you’d expect her to say.