Sequins on the outside, punk inside

Times Staff Writer

Ann Magnuson wears irony well. She makes it sparkle and shimmer -- seductively, seditiously.

Introducing the music from her new "Pretty Songs & Ugly Stories" album, the singer-songwriter-actress arrived on the REDCAT stage Saturday evening in an elaborately sequined and feathered gown, with her hair artfully piled atop her head and her face painted just so. She was the very picture of cosmopolitan elegance, yet her songs, written mostly with underground tunesmith Kristian Hoffman, turned that image on its head.

"Disassociate with me," Magnuson chirped in a song that sounded like syrupy '60s pop as filtered through punk rock. In other words: Don't buy into this world where nothing is as advertised.

Yet one more twist was in store, because for all the detachment she preached, Magnuson couldn't help but engage.

"You're just a guy," she sang in another song, trying to talk herself out of the bill of goods known as love.

Once she had exhausted her list of protestations, however, she had to concede, "I am just a girl," thereby admitting the possibility of connection and, perhaps, even happiness.

Though blessed with an amber voice, Magnuson displayed a punk rocker's disregard for pitch in her anarchic performance of the first of two shows that evening. The five-member band, led by Hoffman on keyboards, kept the arty aggression sounding like a night at CBGB.

The baker's dozen of tunes and spoken-word pieces from the album, with a handful of additional numbers, worked as a loosely connected song cycle that led Magnuson, in the end, to admit: "I used to be a cynical girl."

Note the use of past tense.

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