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Giant Drag's quirks pull in listeners

CAMBRIDGE -- As Giant Drag's Annie Hardy took the stage at the Middle East Downstairs, the mousy singer-guitarist addressed the crowd with the trepidation of a third-grader in the school play.

''We are Giant Drag and here is going to be a song," she squeaked.

Yet, when she started playing, guitar slung low around her hips, she channeled the visceral energy of gritty rock chicks like Liz Phair (before the pop crossover) and Courtney Love (before the rehab). Hardy and Micah Calabrese, who worked the drums and synth, slithered through tracks such as ''Blunt Picket Fence," ''Yflmd," and ''Kevin Is Gay" from the band's only full-length album, ''Hearts and Unicorns."

Like Phair and Love, Hardy doesn't have the strongest voice. And she doesn't have the haunting quality of Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Karen O or the power of Rainer Maria's Caithlin De Marrais. Instead, her thin voice floats above the fuzzy guitar in wisps of sensuality until it dissipates like smoke. Calabrese knows it's Hardy's show and, though he seems to be more technically skilled, he barely even glances up from his kit.

''This Isn't It," which Hardy jokingly introduced as the band's ''No. 1 hit single on a small island off the coast of someplace I've never heard of," really does have the potential to break out. This is partially attributable to a catchy chorus and sweet melody, and also because it's one of the track titles suitable for print and airwaves

For now, until the band's distortion-driven tunes and endearing onstage quirks lead it to headlining status, the top spot was filled Thursday by Seattle indie punks Pretty Girls Make Graves.

The five-piece band delighted the hipster audience with a zealous but fairly generic set. Frontwoman Andrea Zollo kept fans on their feet with each shimmy and shake; her command of the stage warranted constant attention -- even if her voice sounded like a cheap substitute for Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill and Le Tigre.

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