Von Iva: Live July 29, 2004

Von Iva is hot. Hot bands get to do stuff like headline the opening night closing party for Ladyfest Bay Area 2004 at CELLspace in San Francisco's Mission District July 29th. From the moment they hit the stage with a powerful, sweaty barnburning set, the audience is eating out of their hand and rocking it out on the dance floor. The hooting and hollering crowd is grooving harder than if some famous out of town DJ was on the decks and someone was handing out awesome drugs, and this is in an alcohol-free venue on a weeknight to a sober crowd.

A sexy girl group quartet, they have a very direct and powerful lineup. Drummer Kelly Harris pounds out rock steady 4 on the floor kick drums- house and disco style even- with rattlesnake hi hats over the top, hair and arms flying. Bassist Elizabeth Davis-Simpson rocks hard with a commanding and thunderous groove, benefitting from the fact the band has no guitarist, allowing her to fill more space in the sound. Keyboardist Becky Kupersmith has one hand on a vintage Yamaha electric organ- the kind with long, flat horizontal slider controls for the sounds- and another hand on a saw-wave happy Nord Lead. Kupersmith and Davis-Simpson have amp stacks bigger than they are and even needed help moving their speakers around; Harris has to play as hard as possible to keep up, and she thrives on it. Stylistically, they're a lean hard-rocking blues band with early synth pop instrumentation, heavy on grooves and dance-oriented retro riffing; disco rock at it's finest. Kupersmith's campy kitsch playing- reminding one of the Munsters or early B-52s with her hand on the organ, and early electro as she plays octaves on the Nord with the other hand- gives the band a hipster uniqueness. These three take the stage, begin pounding up some fanfare, and start calling for their Diva.

Jillian Iva is a diva. All eyes are on her the moment she appears, and she's always on, loving the attention and rewarding the audience with an inspired performance. Iva has a very powerful blues rock voice, cathartic, clear, loud, shaking your soul. She's in a sleeveless mini-dress- highlighting long legs and buxom cleavage- in impossibly tall shoes, all over the stage. Hair flying, Iva leaps, grabs one speaker, climbs another, gets on her knees, poses, vamps, vogues, shakes her ass, flashes you her red panties, dances up a storm, jumps into the crowd, grabs and gropes the audience, writhes around on the stage floor, and does it all again. Her wild eyes seek out every head in the place and bore to the very back of everyone's skulls, electrified, finger-in-a-light-socket intense. She howls through the PA, you feel it. She's beckoning you to dance, singing songs about sex and love, wailing: "Perpetual motion/Love Potion Number 9!" in their latest Princehouse Records single "Not Hot to Trot." Inevitably, the mind seeks comparisons to help contextualize a vocalist- who are they like? For some reason, with Jillian Iva, Elvis keeps coming to my mind: she's a loud white singer with a soulful black voice, playing the trendy music of the masses with sexy gyrating hips and a smirking, leering smile. Tina Turner would be a close second. There were two microphone stands when Von Iva started their set. Iva is all over the first defenseless mic stand right away. Soon, it's over her head, behind her back, between her legs, or being smashed into the floor. Not much later, it looks like an umbrella after a hurricane, limply akimbo before she chucks it off the side of the stage, clanging to the concrete. The other mic stand ends the night ground into the stage, lifeless, trampled, flattened. Honestly, I'd be scared if I was a mic stand anywhere on the continent, Von Iva might be coming to town. Mic stand terror alert is red for high.

One of the best things about bands is when you get a greater than the sum of it's parts magic, a psychic and telepathic comaraderie. This band has got it. In an era of disaffected musicians who look pained and bothered to perform on stage, watching a band smiling uncontrollably as they play and going with that ecstatic and contagious party vibe is a welcome sight. These ladies have the grins, they are thrilled to be playing with each other, and thrilled to be playing for a crowd. I'm reminded of those 'trust building' camp experiences where you have a partner or buddy and are expected to fall backwards and trust them to catch you, not letting you fall to the ground. This band has a deep unwavering trust for each other, it's obvious as they interact under the lights. Their magic is undeniable. Get out your dancing shoes and hide your mic stands.

Terbo Ted

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