LOS ANGELES — In search of a little momentum to kick off their co-headlining tour Saturday night, the Donnas and OK Go instead found only a typically laid-back L.A. audience.
Chicago power-pop outfit OK Go had first stab at getting the sold-out El Rey Theatre crowd’s arms uncrossed and feet unglued, opening with “You’re So Damn Hot,” off their 2002 self-titled debut.
Though frontman Damian Kulash was by no means asleep at the mic, bassist Tim Nordwind quickly stole the spotlight. Short, bald except for sideburns and sporting black-rimmed glasses strapped ’round his swiveling dome, Nordwind was a perpetual motion machine throughout the band’s 45-minute set. When his lower half wasn’t pogoing, leaping or doing jumping jacks (made all the more eye-catching by his bright white sneakers), his upper half was doing windmills, pointing or hoisting his blue bass.
After blasting through six more songs, including the breezy funk jam “There’s a Fire” and the Weezer-y “What to Do,” Kulash put down his guitar and took the mic off its stand for a cover of the Specials’ “Nite Club.” Relishing his newfound freedom, the singer promptly soared aloft, slamming into keyboard player Andy Duncan, who’d switched to tambourine, nearly knocking over his bandmate’s microphone stand and snaring Duncan’s leg with his mic cord.
The atmosphere of unpredictability continued with the unreleased “Unrequited Orchestra of Locomotion,” which found Nordwind switching to keys and Duncan assisting on drums. “Locomotion” chugged along like a busier version of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” with “Fool in the Rain”-like drum flourishes, and during the train’s occasional stops Nordwind tossed up devil horns with both hands and Kulash pulled an audience member onstage to sing, “This is not the sound of the train,” over and over.
A few songs later the band ended with “Get Over It,” attempting to coax the crowd into joining in with the single’s canned claps and stomps, but only a few dozen fans front and center could muster the energy.
Once OK Go’s black-and-white logo banner was replaced by a similar-looking one bearing the Donnas’ name, legendary KROQ-FM DJ Rodney Bingenheimer introduced the ladies and they tore into “It’s on the Rocks,” from their major-label debut, Spend the Night.
Lead singer Donna A., wearing a low-neck, sleeveless black T-shirt and blue jeans, strutted and tossed her hair, alternating between adorable and tough. But balancing contradictions is something she’s become skilled at over the band’s nearly decade-long career — to the point where she has no problem singing, “Stop starin’ at my D cup,” and then spending half the show bent over toward the crowd.
Still, there were no hoots or hollers when the Donnas stopped after “All Messed Up” and the singer asked, “Are you a little hot? We’re a little hot.”
The all-ages crowd — decidedly more “120 Minutes” than “TRL,” with dudes in mesh trucker hats outnumbering girls in Britney newsboy caps by a margin of four to one — couldn’t even be bothered to reply to one of bassist Donna F.’s notoriously bad jokes.
“Knock, knock,” she squealed after the band finished “Too Bad About Your Girl.” When nobody offered a “Who’s there?” Donna F. snapped, “F— it,” and the group launched into “You’ve Got a Crush on Me,” from 2001′s The Donnas Turn 21.
Four songs later, Donna F. tried again, this time asking, “How many bass players does it take to screw in a light bulb? Zero. You make the guitar player do it.” Needless to say, nobody laughed, but it probably had more to do with the joke than the crowd.
Fortunately, the jokes were the only part of the performance that stumbled. Guitarist Donna R., looking fashionable in a frilly red sleeveless blouse and denim miniskirt, handled her Les Paul with every bit the flair and skill of her idol Ace Frehley. Donna C., one of the few modern drummers to recognize the awesome power of the cowbell, was a constant tempest of flying hair and drumsticks.
But nothing could move the jaded audience. As the set wound down, Donna A. announced, “We’ve only got a few more songs tonight, so you can stop trying to save your energy and trying to look cool.” The few more songs included the current single, “Take It Off” (dedicated to “all the girls”), and “5 O’Clock in the Morning,” both from Spend the Night.
An obligatory “spontaneous” encore, normally a giveaway when the house lights don’t come on after a band says goodnight, was made all the more predictable when Donnas crew members started tuning guitars and checking drum mics before the band had even left the stage.
When the Donnas returned, Donna C. ran up front, soliciting a response from the crowd with “give it up for the band” miming. The audience’s continued stonewalling prompted Donna A. to ask, “What’s the big idea, people? Don’t you want to hear another song?”
That said, the band then delivered the appropriate “Who Invited You” — “We don’t care if you think our party’s cool/ ‘Cause we do/ And we don’t care if you had more fun in Sunday school/ ‘Cause who invited you?”
For more sights and stories from concerts around the country, check out MTV News Tour Reports.