WASHINGTON, October 17, 2012 —Gossip may have been the headliners at the 9:30 Club on a recent Monday night, but early in their set, it became clear the audience was there to see front woman Beth Ditto. Sure enough, when Gossip took the stage, all eyes were on Ditto as she pranced around the stage. Despite the band’s prominence since the mid ‘00s, it’s Ditto who’s gotten a majority of the attention over the years while guitarist Brace Paine and drummer Hannah Billie remained in the background, almost as a matter of principle.
Even if it were in their frame of mind to be more up front and center, it would never work with a showstopper like Beth Ditto on stage. She’s such a dominating personality, especially during a live performance, that it would be hard for anyone to overshadow her. Her voice packs a considerable punch. But her nimble moves and overall abundance of energy simply attracts the bulk of audience attention.
Beth Ditto personifies the term “diva” in the traditional sense of the word. She’s glamorous and commands the audience, virtually forcing them to take notice during every moment of the show. Under some circumstances, this might detract from the collective persona of the band or even the show itself. After all, for at least some people in the crowd, Beth Ditto is Gossip. But in reality, her bigger-than-life presence works quite synergistically within the larger context of the band. Surprisingly, she actually ends up being another cog in the band’s collective appearance and performance, albeit likely the most important one.
Gossip has always been easily classified as a Dance-punk band—whatever that actually means. Basically their style is danceable straight-ahead rock music. They espouse the abrasiveness of punk while joining it to the rhythm of basic dance/club music. In more recent years they’ve recalibrated their sound more closely to something akin to ‘70s era disco. Yet they’ve accomplished this shift while still keeping a tinge of their earlier rock sound intact.
Gossip’s output seems like an odd blend at first, although on closer listening, it’s not that different from what you might expect. Most people are going to think punk is the antithesis of disco, mainly because the origins of both sounds started out from two ideologically different poles. Punk in particular happened, to an extent, as a reaction to the excesses of disco.
When both genres get to their core musically, they both tend to be recognizable as simple, straightforward pop genres where that simplicity gets played to its maximum effect. This is where Brace Paine and Hannah Billie display their importance to Gossip as they flex their musical muscles. While everyone understandably focuses on Ditto, the sonic soundscape this duo creates to back up her unique craft transforms Gossip’s sound into infectious, danceable pop. This, in turn, allows her dynamic presence to come across more forcefully because the music supporting her movements picks up on her innate rhythmic while maximizing the effect of her voice.
If the effect of Gossip’s 9:30 Club appearance proved anything though, it’s that there’s definitely a demographic for Gossip’s specific brand of music. This isn’t surprising, as there are plenty of people around who love quick, up-tempo dance numbers, which is what they get with this band. But in addition, Beth Ditto’s outsized musical personality also draws in an audience with ease. Her almost exotic persona hits the right chord with anyone who gathers to listen to her and Gossip weave their upbeat spell.
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