The Kirby Grips saved my life. It happened one evening a few months back while I was caught in gridlock on the way to San Francisco Airport. While attempting to suppress an episode of escalating road rage, I flipped furiously through the low end of the FM dial and came across a gutsy group of girls playing live and giving good interview on one of the local college stations. Stripped down to the barest rock 'n' roll essentials — guitar (China Faye Tamblyn), bass (Elizabeth Eve Byrne), and drums (Michele Grace Kappel) — the band reminded me at once of Sleater-Kinney's dynamic energy, rough-edged performances, and straightforward tunes. Despite the drag of sucking down exhaust at 5 mph on the freeway, I was suddenly, blissfully, in indie rock heaven.
Sadly, as the cliché goes, first impressions can be deceiving. The trio's two releases — the self-produced 1998 EP The Celery Stalks at Night, and The Cherry Stem Concertos, a recently issued full-length on Sympathy for the Record Industry — sound little like the sing-your-heart-out jams from the radio show. Especially on the new album, there's a preciousness in the band's production that patently echoes the saccharine affability of the Go-Go's, rather than the raw grrl-power of Sleater-Kinney. Granted, the numbers' catchy melodies and multivoice harmonies are attractive, but the excessive smoothness fails to invoke a visceral connection. We can only hope the Kirby Grips will toughen up these tunes in concert and bring their airwave attitude to center stage.