The Pierces at the Hotel Cafe
“You may know this next one if you’re a fan of teenage murder dramas,” Allison Pierce said Tuesday night at the Hotel Cafe. The darker-haired half of the Pierces was introducing her and her sister’s song “Secret,” and though she was likely alluding to its use as the theme music for ABC Family’s “Pretty Little Liars,” Pierce’s comment reminded you that “Secret” has been featured too in “Gossip Girl.” That’s the teen-TV series the Pierces most conjured Tuesday, as this comely New York City twosome took the stage like a real-life incarnation of Serena van der Woodsen and Blair Waldorf: One blond and one brunet skewering (if also embodying) the social mores of the young and the restless. Their smart outfits hardly diminished the impression.
Beyond the obvious parallels, the Pierces had a practical reason to invoke the small screen, as television is where their music has found the safest hold of late. (“Dexter” fans might remember “Secret” from an especially bloody commercial for the Showtime series’ third season.) In 2007, the band’s third album, “Thirteen Tales of Love and Revenge,” drew enthusiastic reviews but did lukewarm commercial business. And last year, its follow-up, “You & I,” earned release only in England.
That’s set to change in late March, when Mercury Records plans to issue “You & I” in the United States; Tuesday’s sold-out show concluded a brief tour designed to put the group in front of media-capital tastemakers ahead of the new album’s street date. Produced in part by Guy Berryman of Coldplay, “You & I” dramatically expands the Pierces’ sound from its cozy folk-pop origins to something shinier and more sensual, with twinkling keyboard lines and glazed, Lindsey Buckingham-style guitars. It’s a canny reinvention that the sisters (and their four-piece backing band) seemed determined to emphasize straightaway at the Hotel Cafe, where they opened their 45-minute set with the foreboding bass riff of “Love You More.”
Indeed, the Pierces stuck largely to fresh material Tuesday, reaching back to “Thirteen Tales” for only a handful of cuts, including “Secret” and the rowdy “Sticks and Stones,” which Catherine Pierce said reflected the sisters’ upbringing in Alabama. Those Southern roots were evident as well in “Drag You Down,” a low-slung “You & I” cut Catherine Pierce described as a cautionary tale about the dangers of moving to New York and going out every night for “nine or 10 years.” (Ms. Van der Woodsen can relate.)
In other new songs, these gifted stylists made use of backgrounds they’ve absorbed through earlier pop tunes, as in the cascading ’60s-pop pastiche “Glorious” and the aptly titled “It Will Not Be Forgotten,” with a luscious soft-funk groove out of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams.” “Kissing You Goodbye” was more explicit — its spooky-wistful chorus openly cribbed the descending chord progression from “California Dreamin’” by the Mamas & the Papas.
Toward the end of the show, the Pierces trimmed away some of that retro-pop detailing for a pair of stripped-down ballads built around the sisters’ precise vocal harmonies. Even here, though, they had music on their minds, singing in “I Put Your Records On” about scouring an ex’s latest songs for signs of leftover love. Catherine Pierce, who was once engaged to Albert Hammond Jr. of the Strokes, framed the tune as another wry warning, this one regarding the inadvisability of long-term pop-star unions. But it seemed also like a kind of positive declaration. We’re real musicians, the song said. We don’t just play them on TV.
— Mikael Wood
Photo: The Pierces (Catherine, left, and Allison) perform at the Hotel Cafe in Hollywood on Jan. 17, 2012. Credit: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times