Reunion opens a Pandoras' Box

When all-female garage rockers the 21st Century Pandoras get to work Friday night at Burbank's Pin Up Girl, they won't just be resurrecting one of Southern California's wildest rock acts, they will also be adding fuel to the fire of a bitter rivalry that's smoldered for a quarter of a century.

The original Pandoras roared into life in 1983, and their tough, muscular retro rock and the raunchy, sexually charged antics of band leader Paula Pierce immediately set them apart from decidedly more feminine contemporaries the Go-Gos and the Bangles.

Pierce's defiant, taunting persona was an electrifying new wrinkle in big beat ideation, one whose biting, aggressive "Faster Pussycat Kill Kill"-inspired sex kitten shtick made the Runaways Cherie Curry seem like a choir girl by comparison. The band was always beset by turbulence and drama; Pierce had abruptly fired all her co-founding members in the mid-'80s to adopt a new lineup and a quasi-metal hard rock sound.

After the singer suffered a fatal brain aneurysm in 1991, she essentially left behind two dueling versions of Pandoras, colloquially known by fans as "The Pauladoras" versus "The Gwynnedoras," the latter led by original keyboardist Gwynne Kahn. Today's 21st Century Pandoras are comprised of Kahn, along with original members Bambi Lee Conway (bass), Casey Gomez (drums), mid-'80s Gwynnedora Lisa Rae Black (guitar). The group is fronted by singer-guitarist Susan Hyatt, a "Pauladora" circa 1987-88

"Paula was amazing, I loved her," Hyatt said. "The Pandoras were similar to [the later] 'riot grrls' but with complete sexual liberation. There was no other band like it, and no one like Paula, who had that wild, caveman appeal. She was really influential to so many other women, in so many bands. I mean, Courtney Love used to come to our shows. But it always changed, and it kept changing."

Until recently, the band was just a memory, but after drummer Sheri Kaplan drafted Hyatt and Melanie Vammen (former Pauladoras all) for a one-off party gig last October, a Pandoras resurrection became inevitable.

"But after that, they didn't want to continue, didn't want to record any new material," Hyatt said. "But Gwynne did, and she contacted me. So, we got together, and that's when everyone started hating each other. Melanie and Sheri started rehearsing with [former Pauladora and current Muffs leader] Kim Shattuck on lead vocals, but all they're doing are old songs, while we are all about now — writing songs about what's happening, what's going on today."

The 21st Century Pandoras current single "Flashback Forever" has all the requisite brash, bright go-go bounce and authoritatively trashy musical drive of vintage Pandoras, but it's also expressly designed to stir the stink.

"The song is about the other Pandoras and how they are just stuck in the past," Hyatt said. "It's all incestuous and convoluted, and Kim and Sheri are so talented, but they aren't doing anything except the old stuff. But all these women, on both sides, can be super dramatic and emotional — it's like Real Housewives of the Pandoras!"

"There is definitely pressure on us, even on social media," she said. "The other girls have called Rodney [Bingenheimer] and told him how upset they all are about what we're doing. So, the rivalry still goes on. I've played with both camps, and here we are, decades later and it's the same as ever."

This supercharged stand-off, which one veteran insider described as "the third rail of Los Angeles rock 'n' roll history" is a singular phenomenon, one blazing with passion and artistry, albeit perhaps misguided and overheated.

And they have only very recently reopened this box of woes: "We've done one live show, at Pin Up Girl on Magnolia a few months ago and we have this one on Friday and another two events booked right now," Hyatt said. "It is very turbulent, but that is also motivating — if we didn't love doing it, we wouldn't have come back to it.

"We live for music."

Also, of course, who doesn't want to take over the world?

What: 21st Century Pandoras

Where: Pin Up Girl Boutique, 3606 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank

When: Friday, June 27, 6 to 9 p.m.

More info: (818) 559-9586,


JONNY WHITESIDE is a veteran music journalist based in Burbank and author of "Ramblin' Rose: the Life & Career of Rose Maddox" and "Cry: the Johnnie Ray Story."

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