You could accuse She-Bop and the Riff Raff of being just another cover band, or a mere Sixties-style girl group throwback, but the group is considerably savvier and more stylistically adept than that. With vocalists Robin Peterson, Laurie Lounsbury, and Jennifer Carr harmonizing and occasionally doing synchronized dance moves, the band’s retro vibe seems obvious. At first blush the song selection seems retro too, with old-school covers like “I’ve Just Seen a Face” and “What a Wonderful World.” But then you may start to notice tunes where the vintage rock ‘n’ roll arrangements fit the vibe perfectly, but the lyrics don’t seem right. That’s because they’ve been transported out of their familiar musical context: alongside the classic tunes, She-Bop and the Riff Raff’s catalog includes just as many, if not more, pop songs of the current decade.
On paper, some of the segues in a She-Bop set seem almost ridiculous. This is a band that will trot out a cover of Elle King’s pop hit of the moment, “Ex’s and Oh’s,” follow it up with Soft Cell’s ’80s New Wave classic “Tainted Love,” and transition straight into “Twist and Shout,” without stopping for breath. But somehow it all works. The band puts a little dusty Western stomp behind “Ex’s and Oh’s,” and their energetic take on “Tainted Love” is closer to Gloria Jones’ soulful ’60s original than Soft Cell’s synth-pop version. If you’re on the dance floor—and audiences at a She-Bop show can’t seem to stay away from it—it’s all one seamless, hip-shaking blast through to the time-honored rave-up of “Twist and Shout.”
She-Bop’s performers appreciate a broad variety of music and know how to put their own twist on it in an entertaining stage show. Peterson, Lounsbury, and Carr work well as a trio, but each contributes to She-Bop in a unique way. Peterson provides strong, often soulful lead vocals. Carr presents great physical energy, twisting along to the tunes. Lounsbury provides strong harmony vocals and directs the backing musicians behind her with a series of hand signals.
Although the Riff Raff are content to stand in the shadows of the three front women, they’re a fine outfit on their own. Bassist Cy Klone (one of those musicians who seems to mouth imaginary words as he rocks out) and drummer Jim Weyman make a tight, energetic rhythm section. Erik Herzog is a fine guitarist, rising nicely to the occasion whenever he’s called on to toss in a reverb-heavy solo, and even better when he’s trading licks with occasional Riff Raff player Rick Humesky (best known for his work in Lady Sunshine’s X Band). It’s an ensemble that seems comfortable together even when plowing through a mammoth two-and-a-half-hour set. The girl-group gimmick elevates them above the greater pack of standard-issue cover bands, and their swinging take on a diverse range of tunes is more than enough to engage the ears—and the feet—of audiences young and old.
She-Bop and the Riff Raff perform the happy hour show at Live on May 13 and at the Necto on May 20.