Cheap Girls at DC9

Michigan indie rockers Cheap Girls perform at DC9 in Washington DC. Photo: Cheap Girls

WASHINGTON, July 29, 2013 — Despite their name, Cheap Girls aren’t a particularly showy — or trashy — band when they perform live. Their name implies a band that would revel in some variety of semi-ludicrous display of excess along the line of a 1980s hair metal band. But reality is quite different.

This three-piece band from Lansing, Mich. turns its partially cheesy name on its ear, proving the point in a recent appearance here at DC9, highlighted by its wholly workmanlike, guitar driven indie rock performance.

Wisps of the 80s tradition aren’t entirely out of their realm though. It’s just that Cheap Girls has a unique approach to this era. Even if a member of the audience was unfamiliar with the band’s regional roots, it wouldn’t have been difficult to pick up on this after the first few songs they played. Cheap Girls is Northern Midwest through and through, clearly drawing on the likes of the Replacements, the Smoking Popes and generally any rock band Bob Mould has been associated with.

This isn’t to say that Cheap Girls is aping any band’s specific sound. Instead, it’s more a matter of positioning themselves in a long line of bands that have become custodians of a specific 80s sound. In the case of some bands whose home region is positioned in the middle of the country, there’s a feeling at times that they’re cut off from either coast of the country. Bands like Cheap Girls, though, aren’t unaware of coastal fads occurring in the world of music. But they end up nonetheless simply going about their business because, well, what else are they going to do?

There’s nothing in the way of a gimmick or a noticeable trick that easily identifies Cheap Girls’ sound, live or otherwise. Aside from Ian Graham’s vocals — which are a deeper version of the back-of-throat quiver patented by Josh Caterer of the Smoking Popes — it’s not the easiest thing in the world to find something outright distinctive or unique about their sound. They are, in reality, the very definition of a working class band. They get the job done.

Basically that’s the point of seeing Cheap Girls live. These guys write and perform a solid and workmanlike set of songs. The audience that showed up for their show here essentially bought into the Midwestern ideal of rock and the reasons why that ideal is enjoyable, especially when they kick back and play a bar like DC9.

Cheap Girls’ sound isn’t dependent on what’s popular at the time. In fact, they’re completely out of step with a lot of what’s going on in the indie rock scene proper and they will be a year from now, ten years from now and for how many years they decide to keep going. Like so many other Midwestern rock bands, they exist in their own little bubble, away from all the major influences that might force them to be something they’re not comfortable with.

Their live show does suggest that this is a band completely comfortable in their own skin. Despite the general nervous energy that comes with being on stage, this is a bad that seems relaxed just going about their business. And Cheap Girls do have a way of treating the way perform their set like a job.But the kind of job someone’s happy to clock in at for 20 straight years.

There’s absolutely no fear that if someone sees Cheap Girls ten years from now, they won’t be playing a similar strain of straight ahead rock and roll. It’ll probably be in a bar just like DC9 and no one in the crowd or in the band will be disappointed with the way that show will work out.

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Stephen Bradley

Stephen Bradley is an avid music listener and an occasional writer.  He grew up in the Washington DC area and has been embedded in the local music scene for years.  Currently he lives in Vienna, VA.   He enjoys bands that have been broken up for at least a decade.

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