Vivian Girls make a lot of noise, with an occasional vocal hook

Cassie Ramone (pictured in Indio, Calif., last month) performed with her trio Sunday at the Middle East Upstairs. Cassie Ramone (pictured in Indio, Calif., last month) performed with her trio Sunday at the Middle East Upstairs. (Michael Buckner/Getty Images)
By Sarah Rodman
Globe Staff / May 13, 2009
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CAMBRIDGE - The Vivian Girls are working two kinds of buzz right now. The first is the fast-becoming-standard "hot Brooklyn indie band" variety with all the accompanying blog love and hipster bona fides. The second emanates from the distaff trio's actual sound.

Sunday night at the Middle East Upstairs, magnified by actual buzz in the PA system, the ladies - Cassie Ramone, Kickball Katy, and Ali Koehler - plugged in and let loose with their marriage of garage-rock din and girl-group sugar.

In a 45-minute set, the affable trio managed to beguile and repel with a display of its two basic settings: fast, loud, and caterwauling, and fast, loud, and droning. That meant unless you already knew what the Vivian Girls were singing about - boys, love, etc. - you had no idea what they were singing about thanks to the Phil Spector-meets-Steve Albini wall of distortion.

The vocals, mainly from Ramone, drowned in the sea of fuzz with the occasional snatch of melody or harmony wafting to the top only to be pulled back into the grind like a berry in a blender. The appealing, multipart harmonies and zippy tunes from their recordings were lost to the shoegaze haze, which was deemed more important than any particular topic at hand.

The result was an intermittently entertaining sound that echoed everyone from the Shangri-Las to the Bangles to the Breeders to any number of alt-rock noise flirts.

The songs, both from the band's self-titled debut and forthcoming sophomore release, were short, sharp shocks - except when they weren't, like the final number, which found the women swapping instruments mid-song to no particular end other than to make a racket in a different configuration.

Openers Stupid Party were even more unappealingly cacophonous with not even a pretense to tune.

Sarah Rodman can be reached at


With Stupid Party

At: the Middle East Upstairs, Sunday