LOS ANGELES -- For Muffs lead singer Kim Shattuck, it's all in the way Ronnie Spector wears her bangs.
"She rules because she wears bangs," said Shattuck who, with her band of pop-punk rockers, opened for the legendary singer at L.A.'s Viper Room on Friday. Sharing her personal highlights after the show, Shattuck said, "I loved the [singing] 'oh, uh, ah' part of -- not the 'Be My Baby' song, the other one --
'Baby I Love You.' And her voice is amazing. She rules."
But bangs and all, there's a mystique about Spector that is hard to ignore in concert or anywhere for that matter. From today's most radical rockers to longtime, middle-aged fans of the sultry, soulful singer, Spector is mesmerizing in her presence and awesome in her talents. Just witness a moment from her show Friday night:
"This is my favorite part of the song," Spector confided during an instrumental break in "Be My Baby." Then as if in a private moment of reflection, she turned her back to the crowd, shook her booty to the rhythm of the drum beats and looked over her shoulder, rolling her dark, starry eyes.
She smiled flirtatiously, knowingly at the crowd.
"Be My Baby" was Spector's 1963 international hit with the Ronettes, the girl
group that she fronted from 1961-66. When she sang it to the crowd at the
Viper Room, it had every bit of the youthful luster and absorbing
zeal it did in those years -- much like the lady who was singing it. With her
sauce and style still reigning supreme, Spector -- looking every bit posh L.A. in a black velour jacket and purple gloves -- was charm itself.
She never stopped smiling as she delivered a performance that was, in a word, exquisite.
Her voice in great shape, Spector sang several Ronettes classics, a few
choice covers, as well as some new songs recently produced by none other than punk-rock pioneer Joey Ramone for Spector's upcoming album. Supported by two backup singers and a five-piece band, Spector rocked the Viper Room like a grrrl from Olympia, Wash. Timeless Ronettes tunes such as "Baby I Love You," "The Best Part of Breaking Up" and "Do I Love You" fit seamlessly among her new material. The latter included her cover of the Ramones' "She Talks to Rainbows," for which Spector instinctively embraced and beautifully exerted a modern, pop feel.
Spector provided the most dramatic moment of the show in her cover of the late Johnny Thunders' "You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory." In her characteristic style, each time she chanted the song's final line, "So don't try," she locked eyes with someone in the crowd and offered an expression that was a cross between pleading and ordering. Cabaret in her way, Spector clearly loves to entertain -- and it was apparent every second that she was onstage. Just before the final chorus of "Baby I Love You," she told the crowd, "I recorded this song in 1964, and I loved it then, and I still love it now."
A fruit of her ex-husband Phil Spector's hit mill, Ronnie Spector has recorded with such rock legends as the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Alice Cooper and Bruce Springsteen, to name a few. Friday, she encored with songs written for her by pianoman Billy Joel and the Beach Boys' mastermind, Brian Wilson. "You know, we just lost Carl Wilson," Spector said of the Beach Boy guitarist, Brian's late brother, as she introduced the Beach Boys' early hit "Don't Worry Baby" upon returning to the stage. "I was supposed to do this right after 'Be My Baby,' but I wasn't ready."
With her backup singers bracing her, Spector delivered the tune with a this-one's-for-you fervor. Joel's "Say Goodbye to Hollywood" was a perfect closer -- revved up and rocking to the very end.
The crowd (which included members of Redd Kross, among other notables) was mixed with longtime fans as well as younger admirers who more likely first heard Spector when "Be My Baby" opened the first scene in the hit film "Dirty Dancing," or when it served as the soundtrack for "Moonlighting" stars Dave and Maddy (otherwise known as Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis) finally getting into each other's knickers.
Proving that die-hards sometimes develop late, Patricia Sanchez, 23, and Victoria Tafoya, 29, stood front and center, each clutching vinyl copies of Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes, the then-teenage trio's first record. (Spector autographed both album covers after the show.) When asked what they loved about her, Tafoya said, "Her voice, her look,
her shoes"; and Sanchez said, "Her voice, her hair, her lashes."
The Muffs' brief set helped to redeem them as rising stars following a shabby set during the Poptopia Festival two weeks ago in L.A. Playing only two songs from their last album, Happy Birthday to Me, including "Honeymoon" and "That Awful Man," the Muffs reached back to their older material and then forward to two new songs (including the promising "Blow My Mind") and an outstanding cover of the Small Faces' "My Mind's Eye." With her big, red mop of hair flapping about (and banged, by the way), Shattuck wore her prototypical baby-doll dress, this time a black one with white ruffles, a get-up she completed with white socks and black, high-top Converse sneakers.
Ever the provocateur, she pointed to a guy standing in front with a press sticker on his shirt and said, "I smell pee -- is it you?" Later, bassist Ronnie Barnett asked the crowd, "Who is the bad girl of rock?" "Kim!" several shouted, to which Shattuck responded, "That's not what he's fishing for."
He was, of course, fishing for another singer who had recently been given the title.
The lettering on the Viper Room's Sunset Boulevard sign advertised the evening's headliner only as the "Bad Girl of Rock." But that was not all she was dubbed that night. As Rodney Bingenheimer of KROQ-FM said when he introduced her: "This is the woman who put women in rock 'n' roll. There wouldn't be any girl bands today if it weren't for Ronnie Spector. Get ready for the princess -- not the princess -- the queen of rock." [Tues., Feb. 17, 1998, 9 a.m. PST]