The MS of the duo, MS MR, Lizzy Plapinger, (the MR is Max Hershenow), tried very hard to look brooding and stoic while singing emotionally wrought songs from their debut album, Secondhand Rapture, but she didn’t succeed most of the time. The band, playing their first headlining gig in Toronto at Wrongbar, could not suppress the joy of being enthusiastically embraced by the sold-out (loudly adoring) crowd. After singing, “Dark Doo Wop,” Plapinger confessed that, “I’m trying to be sullen and moody up here but I just can’t when you’re all singing along with our songs. It’s just too good.” The growing attention is new, even surreal, and despite herself, accidental sweet smiles continued creeping up throughout the set.
The New York electropop duo jumped on stage at 9:30 sharp, as scheduled. It was a rare occurrence considering many bands often wait backstage filing their fingernails for a minimum of 20 minutes in order to make an entrance. Accompanied by a drummer and second keyboardist, they blasted into “Bones,” before pounding and bouncing their way through an hour of great music.
We all have concert litmus tests that determine whether we enjoy a show or not, two of mine were tested here. I knew of the band but was not familiar with much of their music, and my view was completely blocked by a surprisingly tall crowd. However, despite both I found myself dancing along while staring at the back of some guy’s plaid shirt.
Plapinger has been compared to Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine, and there is a similarity to their powerful crystal voices, but while it is easy to accept Welch’s sombre and intense Gothic persona, there is something fun and playful, about Plapinger that can’t help but bubble to the surface in spite of her best efforts. With fuchsia teal purple hair (like a yummy Astro pop sucker), retro leather jacket and silver glittery back drop Plapinger has a Molly Ringwald, with edge, appeal to her soft warm face. Imagery wise, MS MR are similar to Lana Del Rey’s retro style, albeit aligned with the 80’s pop art/paint splashed end of the spectrum. There is also the pop power of Beth Ditto there. And buried deep within Plapinger’s tone there is a wafer-thin hint of Duffy.
“Two years ago Lizzie and I didn’t know each other at all,” said Hershenow. “I basically just invited her to my house to try and make some music together. Now, two years later we’ve just released our first album. It’s all over the world and it was recorded in my bedroom. Well, closet/studio.”
“This is New York real estate,” chimed in Plapinger, “at its worst,” making joke of the notoriously miniature space New Yorkers call apartments.
From Usher becoming a fan after their 2012 SXSW show, and Tom Elmhirst, who has worked with Amy Winehouse and Adele, agreeing to work on their album, they have garnered attention from heavy hitters drawn to their 80’s laced modern pop. (They also made a recent David Letterman appearance.) And its attention well deserved.
Plapinger has a haunting and even hypnotic voice and even after 10 songs, her voice remained strong and fluid. Towards the end one song did begin to feel less distinct from another, leaving me enjoying the entire show but having few stand out moments aside from her dark and sensuous singing of “Dark Doo Wop,” and “Head Is Not My Home.” Their hit “Hurricane,” performed at the end of the show, had the audience cheering. “This is why we came,” exclaimed the plaid shirt guy.
Just as the pair promptly dived into their show – without gimmicks or fanfare – they made their exit in a similar fashion. Though a group of fans attempted to start an encore chant, after thanking everyone for coming out, both the band and the crowd parted ways without one. It was an abrupt (and odd) ending for such an engaging show that felt like it could have gone on for another hour. But it was revealing of the fresh faced approached the pair have taken to their music and brand promotion thus far. “I hope this doesn’t ever get old,” shared Plapinger earlier in the show. How long will that wonderful unpretentious enthusiasm last? Possibly a nanosecond. Hopefully longer. But for now it’s a breath of fresh air, as is the duo.
Music Tribe: Florence and the Machine, Beth Ditto, Lana Del Rey.
TWM Favorites: “No Trace,” “Dark Doo Wop,” and “Head Is Not My Home.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Chaka V. is a writer, journalist and the creator of The Winehouse Mag.