The first thing that I noticed about Annabella Lwin was how phenomenal her voice was. As soon as the former Bow Wow Wow frontwoman took the stage and sang the first note of "Love, Peach, & Harmony," that beautiful, sparkly voice lit up the room with all the panache and hidden edge suggested by the studio recordings. The second thing that I noticed was how fiery she was. (I also noticed that she's basically like, five feet tall). Across her 17 song set, she kept speeding around the stage nonstop, acting as sort of a firestarter for the whole audience. On December 6, 2013 at Long Branch's Brighton Bar, she ripped through a set including tunes from across her career and showed how dynamite this music was and still is.
Annabella herself was in top form. In her third decade of performing, you might expect her unique, angel-with-an-attitude voice to have dropped, but not only was it still fully intact, but it was surprisingly powerful. On "C30, C60, c90, Go!," she spit out the refrain like a drill sergeant. On "See Jungle," she called out those high notes like the urban warfare was actually going down. For the most part, she and her backing band adhered to Bow Wow Wow's iconic style, slamming out three-minute bangers driven by stomping drums that were equal parts West African and Topper Headon. Meanwhile, in her perfectly innocent sounding voice (which would easily warp into a nastier hiss with the slightest change in intonation), Annabella would call out like it was a revival meeting before fading into a whisper and back again.
She also made a number of interesting stylistic choices. Newer songs, like "L.O.V.E." used a heavier, hard rock based sound, which worked well. "Tell it like it Is" had mild references to girl group harmony. Rarely played songs like "Gold," one of the earliest Bow Wow Wow songs, were brought out and sounded like they had been in the repertoire all along. A special treat occurred when during one of the songs, the band unexpectedly segued into the Beatles' "Baby, You're a Rich Man." Probably, though, the most powerful aspect of the show was how much energy Annabella brought. Perhaps because Bow Wow Wow were birthed in the high energy English punk scene, the band were focused, raw, and rugged throughout the night, kicking out hard beats.
For the most part, the crowd was receptive. Annabella vaguely addressed something that happened in the city a few months earlier where a promoter or someone had advertised that Annabella would be playing a show without her consent or knowledge. Strangely though, the guy standing right next to me heckled her about it and made some nasty comments. Annabella seemed genuinely hurt, but likely because she was forged in the furnace of late '70s London, she struck right back at him, telling him off from the stage. Then, the band broke into "Baby, Oh No!" and during each refrain, Annabella flipped the intonation into an attack and focused directly on the heckler, making him shrink down to about one-fifth his size. Damn! Music needs more powerful, self-assertive women like this.
Annabella's backing band approached these tunes a just the right angle. When a band has few hits that were prominent on the radio, the temptation is to focus on those tunes and draw them out, which really, tends to make them boring. Smartly, the band kept the percussive songs short and tight, ripping through the "big" songs and lesser known ones with equal energy. It kept the set exciting and momentum building through the night. A lot of Bow Wow Wow's music is influenced by tribal rhythms, and the drummer did particularly well, smashing out hard-hitting, raw, fast versions of these beats while keeping them snappy and just generally really fun.
A lot of people don't realize the tenacity of Bow Wow Wow and Annabella's solo music. These tunes are savage, fierce, and pretty darn punk rock. Her live set made it clear how these songs just kick like a mule and her voice made a damn good argument that she should get more recognition than she does. It's been a number of years since Annabella has played the east coast and after seeing her set, I hope she comes back real soon.
-Dear Annabella- please put out a live album of this.
-RE: the heckler- why would you go to a show just to heckle the band. I mean, that's weird, right?
-If you are unaware of how deep Bow Wow Wow's catalogue is, and are unaware of their importance (that's cool baby, I didn't know too much about them until like 12 months ago) pick up a greatest hits album and go from there. You can't go wrong.
1. Love, Peace, & Harmony
2. C.30, c.60, c.90, Go!
6. Tell It Like It Is
7. Baby, Oh No!
8. Sacred Ground
9. Change to Kalmer
11. Man Mountain
12. You Don't Even Know Me
13. Jungle Boy
14. Stone Jumping
15. Golly! Golly! Go Buddy!!
16. Do you wanna hold me?
17. I want Candy