Each week, Lizzy Goodman guides you through the dirty streets of rock and roll.
A month or two ago, I had lunch with Jamie Hince and Alison Mosshart of the Kills. It was cold and wet outside, and we were nestled into the red leather chairs at El Quijote — the majestic old Spanish restaurant next to the Chelsea Hotel, where the band stays when they are in New York. I was there to get the story behind the duo’s new album Blood Pressures, their first release since both members became involved with new partners, musical (Mosshart with the Dead Weather) and otherwise (days after our interview, Hince proposed to his longtime girlfriend Kate Moss.) But really I was there to study these two for signs of tension or affection, and report back every last detail to several of my closest friends who are Kills freaks. This band’s fans don’t do casual. “This morning I saw a girl on the street that started to cry when she saw me,” Mosshart said, the leather bound menu spread out like a prayer book in her narrow lap. “It was so dramatic and unexpected. That doesn’t happen to me that often. I just wanted to hang out with her and make sure she was okay.” Hince smiled, took a sip of wine and said, “I make a lot of girls cry.”
The Kills are my kind of band: Rough, dirty, dangerous, inaccessible, and I love their records. But their famously deranged live show – during which they display the insular chemistry that’s inspired their extreme cult of personality – always seemed contrived. The sexy older British dude, scarved and skinny trousered, generating a ruckus in one corner of the stage while his goth princess, long-limbed and shaggy-haired, paced like a caged animal – spitting, and chain smoking – in the other. Wasn’t it James Dean who said the secret to acting is not to act? But after I saw Mosshart perform with the Dead Weather, I understood. Jack White is some kind of girl-singer whisperer. He did it with Meg, he did it with Loretta Lynn, he did it with his own wife (Karen Elson’s solo album is really good) and he did it with Alison Mosshart. Under his guidance, she transformed from a self-conscious, pouty little girl into to a fully grown rock goddess. I remember that first night with the Dead Weather on that tiny Bowery Ballroom stage, flinging her mane of black hair and staring slit-eyed in White’s direction while he pounded on the drums and gazed admiringly at his work. It was hot. It was what everyone else who loves the Kills had been seeing between Mosshart and Hince for years. And a lot of Kills fans saw it as a defection, which of course makes their return to the limelight that much more exciting. What would they be like after all this time?
I finally found out this week as the band arrived for the east coast leg of the Blood Pressures tour. I saw them twice – once at the splashy big city show in New York at Terminal 5, and once a few nights before at the smaller Theater of the Living Arts on South Street in Philadelphia. There was no comparison. Even Beyoncé’s presence at the NYC gig – headbanging with her sister, Solange, B’s newly blonde hair glinting in the disco ball light – couldn’t save the band from the oppressiveness of that venue. The Kills worked it but compared to the visceral up-close glamour of the Philly gig it was disappointing. Anyone worried about the health of the Hince/Mosshart myth need only to have seen Hince, booted feet planted as he co-sang the chorus to new song, “Satellite”: “Operator, operator dial her back/I loved her too long, don’t take her too/Don’t love her too.” When they finished, Mosshart walked eyes down over to him, bowed her head and gave him a kiss on his shoulder. And all was right again in the nicotine stained, snarling retro-chic universe. Alison and Jaime are still in love.
Watch the Kills perform “Satellite” in this exclusive Hive performance.