Bad Bad Hats (photo: Patric Carver)
“Hello, I usually do not speak until after the second song, so let’s pretend this did not happen.”
That’s how lead vocalist and guitarist Kerry Alexander kicked off Bad Bad Hats’ set at The New Parish, pretty much locking in the awkward charm that knit together the evening.
Alexander’s needling guitar dances along, producing a kind of sweet, homespun version of shredding. If someone like J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. is slicing his audience in half with his guitar, Alexander is creating intricate paper dolls representing the togetherness of the crowd with hers. Her playing matches well her salve of a voice that coats the audience in bedtime-story-like comfort.
On songs like the floating dreamscape which is “Joseph” the beautifully anemic backing vocals provided by the rest of the band elevate Alexander’s voice to an angelic state. “Joseph” has the earnestness and enthusiasm of 80s pop, ala Debbie Gibson, without all the terribleness and mediocrity of 80s pop, a la Debbie Gibson. It’s a hope-filled kind of a song, one part bubblegum, one part folk. It’s chorus is the auditory equivalent of the blowing of a kiss – not too steamy but terribly romantic.
Other highlights of the night included “Super America,” a love ballad to a convenience store and “Wide Right,” a football metaphor for the nearlies in life. Again, both had the ghost of 80s popstar’s dust upon them, with “America” having an oddly passionate vibe – think if Whitney Houston had wanted to go to 7-11 instead of dance with somebody, and “Wide Right,” punctured by the over-the-top percussiveness of pieces like Huey Lewis and the News’ “I Want a New Drug.” The haunting reverb of the vocals punches the sound on both songs squarely out of the analog range, though, marking it as definitely millennial despite its influences.
They ended the night with very catchy “It Hurts,” the first song of theirs I’d ever heard. “Hurts” sums up Hats pretty well – it’s easy to digest, feels oddly familiar but strangely distinct. As if someone had fabricated a memory from your childhood and told it to you with enough detail that you couldn’t spot it as fiction immediately. Hats warms you from the inside out, speaking to the softer parts of us. It is Easy Listening for those of us who like our music a little more difficult and intriguing: gentle on the ears but not the least bit boring.
This was Hats’ first show in Oakland, and I hope to see them coming back again.