Deception, obsession: so much damage

Times Staff Writer

Every now and then a female rock singer will scrap the old double-entendre and address sexual matters with the blunt instrument of explicit phraseology. Artists as diverse as Marianne Faithfull, Alanis Morissette and Liz Phair have discovered that this approach not only serves as an artistic device but also gets plenty of attention.

None of them, though, has come up with anything quite like Annie Hardy's signature shock-song for Giant Drag. It's rendered as an acronym on the Los Angeles duo's debut album, "Hearts and Unicorns," and the title phrase never actually appears in the lyric, but if there was any doubt, Hardy enunciated the full title when she introduced it at the Troubadour on Sunday, to big cheers from the sellout crowd.

The song essentially compares someone's, um, romantic approach to that of her father. It's a conceit that fires the imagination while Giant Drag's sludgy riffing keeps you on your heels, and Hardy's detached singing makes it sound like both a compliment and a complaint.

That combination of ambiguity and emotional danger has helped make Giant Drag a noisy new presence on the local music scene, and the Troubadour show was something of a culmination, a sold-out, top-billing engagement.

Between songs, Hardy kept remarking on that new headlining status. "There sure are a lot of you," she said, looking out into the audience. "There aren't a lot of us."

The singer-guitarist's comments were an integral part of the performance, a sort of offbeat breathing space between musical psychodramas. Here the young singer came off as a post-punk Rita Rudner, wide-eyed and girlie-sounding. "If you don't like music, there are tote bags and T-shirts," she offered, giving the sentence a spacey spin.

But despite that impression, her repartee was always sharp and on-target, and her persona merged with the music to form a textured whole.

Hardy and drummer Micah Calabrese, who also plays some synthesizer, create dense, droning settings whose melodic content ranges from barely there to hook-filled, recalling at different points such touchstones as Mazzy Star, early Courtney Love and the Jesus and Mary Chain.

It all took a while to find its feet Sunday, despite the bracing presence of the "dad" song early in the hourlong set, as Hardy didn't seem fully engaged and had trouble getting her guitar playing to the level of authority it needed as the sole lead instrument.

But when they finally kicked into gear about midway through, it became obvious why Hardy and Calabrese have drawn a crowd. With the rhythms tighter and the sound concentrated, Hardy started unfurling a startlingly potent voice -- thin, but supple and unyielding as a ribbon of wire.

The ditzy dingbat was now a true diva of the dark side, and when they created a controlled din born of damage, deception and obsession, she and Calabrese mounted a fair challenge to prime PJ Harvey.

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