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The Lowdown:

Those Darlins

Jessi Darlin (guitar/vocals), Kelley Darlin (guitar/vocals), Nikki Darlin (bass/vocals), Linwood Regensburg (drums/vocals)

Based In:
Nashville, TN


Americana,, cowpunk, indie rock


The Grog Shop, Cleveland Heights, OH

Concert Date:
October 12, 2011

Opening Acts:


Related Articles:

Those Darlins perform live at the Grog Shop

Rating: 10 out of 10



October 19, 2011


Those Darlins: The Grog Shop, 10/12/11

by Jason D. 'Diesel' Hamad


Those Darlins perform live at the Grog Shop. (l-r) Nikki Darlin, Jessi Darlin, Linwood Regensburg, Kelley Darlin. Photo by Jason D. 'Diesel' Hamad, No Surf Music.


According to the 2010 Census, Greater Cleveland has a population of 2,077,240. By my estimation, approximately 2,077,160 of you completely shit the bed Wednesday, October 12th. That’s because Those Darlins were in town at the Grog Shop, and if you missed it, you missed one of the best rock shows of the year. Was smoking a bowl and watching Ghost Hunters really all that interesting? Seriously, what the fuck were you thinking?

The Grog Shop, located in the Coventry neighborhood of Cleveland Heights, is one of the premiere musical venues in the area, especially if your tastes gravitate towards indie rock. In business since 1992, it moved to its current location in 2003, and with shows virtually every night of the year they’ve got a constant stream of up-and-coming and mid-tier bands gracing their stage. The venue is very basic, a bar with most of what you might be looking for (including the ever-important PBR tallboys, which have unfortunately recently increased in price to $4 apiece), an area for the crowd to stand, and an only slightly raised stage. The floors are concrete and the décor is minimalist, mostly consisting of a locally infamous dirty mural. One slight quirk is that the layout of the building leaves a substantial space off to stage right. This is usually where the bands set up their merch tables, but it also affords a good alternative vantage point for those who don’t want to wrestle with the crowds up front.

Clevelanders Filmstrip opened the night's entertainment with an energetic set mixing classic alternative style with newer influences. (l-r) Dave Taha, Nick Riley, Matt Taha. Photo by Jason D. 'Diesel' Hamad, No Surf Music.

The show opened with local band Filmstrip. The power trio describes themselves as futurepunk, but really they’re a throwback, featuring 90’s grunge and alternative sounds with a few added influences to try to keep things interesting. Think of them as Nirvana meets… something poppier. I dunno, maybe Collective Soul or Sponge or someone like that. Their set was full of big bass lines, ringing guitar, and harmonized ohhhing. The band was energetic, running back and forth on the stage and falling to their knees as they pounded out power chords. With the audience partying down like it was 1991, most of the set felt like a headbangers’ ball with none of the bite. If the band’s originals didn’t seal the deal on the throwback feeling, the penultimate song, a cover of the Gin Blossoms’ “Hey Jealousy,” certainly did. Frankly, I lived through the 90’s once and they weren’t that great. But still the music was relatively enjoyable and well executed.

Next up is perhaps the greatest enigma man has ever known: Peelander-Z. They describe themselves as Japanese action comic punk and that description is dead on. Imagine if Southern Culture on the Skids were Asian (Peelander-Yellow even kinda looks like Rick Miller). No, wait… try this: imagine if “Lost in Translation” took a shit ton of acid. Bill Murray would be a guitar-shredding, loud-shouting, yellow-clad psychopath. Scarlett Johansson would be a bass-pounding, wall-climbing, red-died maniac. The jazz singer chick would be a drum-crashing, sign-holding, green-colored lunatic. And just for good measure, that annoying blond actress bitch would show up to play a diminutive, pink version of the Bosstone. Then, take the entire cultural isolation and confusion motif and flip it on its head, making all the main characters Japanese and trapping them in the incomprehensible, hyperactive culture of New York City. Yes. That’s Peelander-Z exactly. I think.

Peelander-Z plays an insane version of speed punk flavored with Japanese eccentricity. Describing them is impossible except to say they are an unmatched band of crazy motherfuckers. But in a fun way. (l-r) Peelander-Yellow (a.k.a. Kengoswee), Peelander-Pink, Peelander-Red (a.k.a. K.O.). And no, before you ask, Michael Stanley Band keyboardist Bob “The Commander” Pelander is NOT a member. Photo by Jason D. ‘Diesel’ Hamad, No Surf Music.

Their music is loud, throbbing rock, frenetic to an extreme. The lyrics mostly consist of one almost random English phrase shouted over and over again in a thick, almost unintelligible accent. For those in the audience who can’t make the words out, the band helpfully supplied subtitles in the form of giant placards held up by the drummer. Examples of their Shakespearean compositions include “Mad Tiger!” “Tacos, tacos, tacos! Yea!” “Ninja High Schoool!” “Mike, Mike, so many Mike!”  and a demented version of “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” with an oink oink here and an oink oink there.

The show itself is just as over-the-top. The band members dress up in elaborate colored costumes, scream, dance, and literally climb the walls (and the ceiling), all in a quest to provide a little respite from prosaic reality. Their fans are just as into it as the band. Most weren’t born when mosh pits were invented, but they’re trying to make up for lost time. There’s a constant stream of them jumping onto and off of the stage, grabbing the microphones away and singing, and even trying (and sometimes succeeding) to wrest control of the instruments and take over the show themselves. The funny part is that when the band gave away the tools of their trade right in the middle of “Ninja High Schoool” and started running around the crowd, the music sounded exactly the same. I’m not sure how that’s physically possible.

The old axiom states that the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” No, THIS is the definition of insanity right here. Photo by Jason D. ‘Diesel’ Hamad, No Surf Music.

After much pondering on the subject, I believe there are two ways to view the band. The first is that they are a brilliant bit of social satire, the view from a Japanese perspective at the excesses and ridiculousness of American culture, shown through a prism colored with the excesses and ridiculousness of their own. The second is that they’re just fucking crazy. Either perspective is valid.

The only complaint is that there was almost no overlap in the fans of Peelander-Z and Those Darlins. The Peelander crowd mostly left as soon as their costumed comic heroes exited the stage (after tearing up the merch table and leaving a bundle of daddy’s greenbacks in their wake), and there was a large contingent of flabbergasted Those Darlins fans huddled around the bar in fear throughout the Peelander set. For that reason, I’m not sure they’re the best match for a tour (although I totally get why the Darlins like 'em… they’re like Funstix taken to an extreme… more on that later). Still, I found myself enjoying the whole damn thing quite a bit, and I have to say the band had a lot of showmanship and talent. In an extremely fucked up kind of way.

After that insanity—somewhere just short of my head actually exploding—it was a relief when Those Darlins took the stage. Not that they’re sane by any means. They’re just insane on my level. That’s one of the reasons I love ‘em. More than just about any other band out there, they’re not afraid to let their freak flag fly. All their flaws, their foibles, their hang-ups and their excesses come screaming out through their lyrics, which makes their music far more interesting than your average run-of-the-mill set of love songs and assorted shit.

After Peelander-Z, the high-energy performance of Those Darlins almost felt like a calm respite. But it was for from that... These girls (and boy) kick ass. Picture by Jason D. Hamad, No Surf Music

The set started with a rendition of “Be Your Bro” from their latest album, Screws Get Loose. I strongly maintain that it’s the best song they’ve done to date, and the live version didn’t disappoint. Powerfully rocking, the song describes Jessi’s frustration that so many men she would like simply to be friends with really only want to get into her pants. The best part of it is that she can perform the song wearing no pants—just a sequined leotard and stockings that virtually beg you to dive straight into her ass and not come up for air ‘til next Tuesday—and it still comes off totally sincere. A twisted, self-parodying kind of sincere, but sincere nonetheless. It’s the encapsulated story of the duality of her nature, the contrast between Jessi the Darlin and Jessi the real life bleeding person. In that respect, it’s totally fucking brilliant. And did I mention it rocks hard? This version included a somewhat odd flowery ending, but it totally worked. Overall, a great opening that set the tone for the night.

The next song was “Boy,” which featured Kelley kicking it with some very surf-guitar-feeling action. This is ironic to me because in my review of the album my summation of the song was “sort of a gender-reversed version of the Beach Boys’ ‘California Girls.’ With a sailor in every port, Kelley seems to be enjoying the attention much less than would Mike Love.” Somehow I doubt the Jan & Dean factor was upped on the live version just for my sake, but regardless, it’s a great little song and it was done well.

This was followed up by the femme fatale variant of “$.” More energetic than the studio version, Jessi sang it in a high, scrunchy voice with big arm movements on every chord. Next was the haunting and melancholy “Waste Away,” and then a slinky adaptation of the psychedelic “Mystic Mind,” featuring Jessi strutting around the stage like a tigress with a crazy-eyed stare. “BUMD” was dialed up to 11, a full-sounding, hard-rocking, orgiastic, screeching, frantic powerfest.

Kelley Darlin cranks out a little guitar magic. Photo by Jason D. 'Diesel' Hamad, No Surf Music.

The next string featured several new songs. The first was “Burn Me Up,” followed by “Why Can’t I?” and then “Prank Call,” the b-side to the band’s latest seven-inch single. These songs are all very much in the mold of their Screws Get Loose sound, proving that the band has definitively moved from the country camp to the rock side of the milieu. The performance of all the songs was polished and energetic, with “Prank Call” featuring Nikki shouting into the mic and bouncing with the beat. Mixed in was a cover of Garland Jeffreys’ “Wild in the Streets.” The Darlins’ version was a little less funky than the 1973 original, but executed with enthusiasm and alacrity.

The hilariously caustic “Fatty Needs a Fix” followed, with wild fist pumping to go along with Jessi’s declaration that she’s “(baby baby baby) too hungry to hump.” It was rollicking and awesome, but shit, I’d just bought the girl a damn burrito. What more does she want? Long story.

The Darlins then turned to a pair from their self-titled debut, and probably the two songs from that more country-influenced collection that are closest to their new sound. First up was the speedster “Red Light Love” which came off well despite a faux pas when Kelley switched over to bass that left her roaming around the stage for most of the song trying to find a place to plug into a working amp. Still, I actually kinda liked it with just guitars and drums, and when she did finally get on track the contrast was pretty cool. Ok. Everyone gets a Mulligan. It’s a damn fun song, though, and couldn’t be screwed up even if the power went down and Jessi had to belt it out a cappella.

Then, with a call of “Cleveland, who’s ready to get wild?” the band broke into “Wild One,” perhaps the best cut from their first album and a perfect theme song for the Darlins themselves. Still played with a twang in both guitar and voice, it was the most countrified moment of the night and one of the most awesome. As compelling as Jessi is onstage, both Kelley and Nikki’s moments in the spotlight are always treats and the former grabbed hers with aplomb for this iconic song.

Those Darlins’ shows are an explosive mix of energetic music and enthusiastic showmanship. Here, Nikki belts one out while Jessi pops out between her legs like a Cowpunk Athena in gold sequined armor. Photo by Jason D. ‘Diesel’ Hamad, No Surf Music.

The twang abandoned, the band turned to hives “Hives,” dedicated to a rash they claim to have gotten from Peelander-Z. It was a particularly hard-rocking version, making it even more enjoyable than the album cut.

Drawing the show towards its endpoint, the Darlins broke into “Screws Get Loose,” their new single and another example of Jessi’s stepped-up writing. Telling the story of a particularly mind-bending trip to New York, it digs deep into her psyche and comes up with a motherload. For this rendition, she returned to the high voice, while the vocal harmonies favored Linwood, an interesting and welcome change. While perhaps not quite as purely cool as “Be Your Bro,” this song features particularly great instrumental parts and some damn compelling lyrics, perhaps Jessi’s best effort in this department to date.

Next up was “Shakin’ All Over,” a song with a bit of a psychedelic edge on which the girls were dancing like crazy all over the stage. It was pure energy and purely awesome. This seamlessly transitioned into the non-album single “Night Jogger,” in an extended Hendrix cut where Kelley grooved deep to bring it all home and close off the set.

After a brief respite in the embarrassingly public off-stage area (you can’t really look cool while skulking behind a p.a. speaker with a drunk asshole berating you to get back on stage), the Darlins rounded up the Peelander crew for an encore, “Funstix Party.” Now this isn’t technically a Those Darlins song. It’s by a band called Funstix. To test your SAT allegory skills, Those Darlins : Funstix as the Grateful Dead : New Riders of the Purple Sage. In other words, the second band is entirely made up of members from the first, specifically Jessi and Linwood (although obviously the other girls play along). “Funstix Party” itself was put out with “Night Jogger,” making the Darlins quite possibly the only band in history to issue a split 7’ with themselves. Still, it’s easy to see why it was done as a side project, as it has a totally different personality than their other work. I’ll not delve into analysis, but the lyrics basically consist of lines like “I’ll bring the fun, you bring the stix. /  Funstix party, funstix party!” Now I’m no English professor, but I’m pretty sure there’s a sexual metaphor in there somewhere. And it gets more explicit after that. Anyway, it’s the perfect blending of the Darlins and Peelander ethos and made for a good combination closing.

When Those Darlins come through town, don't even think about missing it. You'll thank me after you've seen 'em play. They put on one hell of a show. Photo by Jason D. 'Diesel' Hamad, No Surf Music.

So here’s the line on Those Darlins. They rock. They rock hard. They rock with energy. They rock with enthusiasm. They just rock. In fact, there’s little doubt in my mind that taken as a pure rock show, this is the best I’ve seen all year. And while their new record has moved the band more towards that side of the equation than their country roots, among acts they rank right up there with the most powerful performers like Ha Ha Tonka, Old 97’s and Drive-By Truckers (with whom, incidentally, they are about to start a tour). Their songs are well crafted and well played, and always delivered with just enough tongue-in-cheekiness to make them exceptionally entertaining. Not to knock Lin stuck back behind the drums, but the girls have a terrific stage presence with a perfect division of labor: Jessi as the totally out there frontwoman, Kelley as the mysterious guitar player, and Nikki as the aloof, sulking bassist. Jessi especially is a terrific performer, devoting every last drop to the show. She also has something I’ve seen in only a couple other singers, a strange ability to lock eyes with an audience member and look right into them, transmitting the music almost as much psychically as aurally. Ok, maybe that’s a bit much, but go see them play and you’ll see what I mean.

In short, this was a can’t-miss show, and whenever Those Darlins play near you it’s more than worth the price of admission. And for the 2 million-odd Clevelanders who missed them this time around, all I can say is: Fuck. Your. Luck. Don’t do it again.

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For a taste of Those Darlins, buy Those Darlins, Screws Get Loose or the new single on Amazon!
mp3 cd mp3 cd vinyl SGL extended single Prank Call single


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