Even if it’s not entirely intentional, Device’s Holly Knight may be too magnanimous for her own good.
Knight earned her rock stripes writing or co-writing successful songs for the likes of Tina Turner, the Divinyls, Pat Benatar and Heart. Obviously, she should have kept some of the “good” stuff because when she went to compose material for her band, she had left nothing to her own Device: “22B3,” the trio’s debut LP, is a soggy, dispassionate, artistically undernourished record.
Knight demonstrated this kind of backwards generosity during Device’s concert Wednesday at the Coach House--with similarly detrimental effects. She steadfastly avoided the spotlight, preferring to operate as a backing singer-musician while letting vocalist Paul Engemann (and, to a lesser extent, guitarist Gene Black) lead the band, do the talking and handle most of the singing.
Big mistake. Having Engemann--who projects a detached iciness--front the group just exaggerated the emotional void of Device’s faceless, flimsy electro-pop. But it appears that if Knight herself were to step front and center, she could at least neutralize the emptiness of the band’s glitzy Muzak.
With her dark, vaguely exotic look and swaying sensuality, she seemed capable of injecting some warmth, some personality, some tension, some something into the proceedings. No one’s asking her to become a rock bimbo. All she has to do is assert her personality more. Even if you didn’t know Knight was the major creative force behind Device (expanded to a quintet Wednesday), she commands your attention anyway.
Memo to Holly: Your band doesn’t have much going for it, so this is no time to underplay your abilities. Don’t be too nice or too shy. To paraphrase a hit you penned for someone else, rock is a battlefield--and right now, Device is losing.