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Review: Girl In A Coma @ The Ottobar

On Tuesday, Girl In A Coma from San Antonio came through Baltimore with their touring partners Brooklyn’s Black Gold to play The Ottobar with three local bands. The crowd was small but those who came out saw an amazing show. Girl In A Coma are destined for big things. I arrived too late for Caustic Casanova’s set and only caught parts of the sets by Mason Summers, Odd Girl Out, and Black Gold. They all struck me as groups with legitimate rock chops who can put on a fun show but rely too much upon gimmicks to make that happen. However, I was blown away by Girl In A Coma. Find out why after the jump. Girl In A Coma combine many influences, (including obviously The Smiths, Nirvana, and Jeff Buckley) into a beautiful pastiche. Hard, soft, driving, brooding — these ladies take the audience all over the place, sometimes within the scope of a single song. They call themselves a punk band and I’ve been describing them as a punk band as I’ve raved about their show to people, but they are not punk in any typical way beyond playing hard, fast rock. They even weave in latin elements, mainly through Nina’s guitar.

Nina Diaz is perhaps the most compelling front I’ve ever seen. She is effortlessly sensual. Flirting with and teasing the audience between songs is beneath her. She lets her singing and playing take care of that, and bassist Jenn takes care of most of the between-song banter. Others have already compared Nina’s voice to Morrissey’s, and they do so validly, but one hears elements of many singers in her style, including Nina’s boss, Joan Jett — Girl In A Coma are the flagship band of Blackheart Records.

Praising Nina’s singing too much obscures the fact hat she is a damn good guitarist. Unlike the frontmen of many “punk” bands (I’m looking at you, Billy Joe Armstrong) who only play rhythm, Nina probably leads with her guitar more than her voice. Nina’s deftness on her instrument is part of why I feel that calling this band a punk act sells them short, and I love punk.

Anyone who has read a few of my reviews knows that I am a sucker for a good cover. Excellent musicians playing a faithful cover is always nice, but I prefer a creative cover that provides a band to demonstrate its unique set of skills with familiar material. As such, Girl In A Coma’s cover of The Velvet Underground’s “Femme Fatale” was a revelation. One one level it was almost too obvious: a dangerously alluring young woman singing about a dangerously alluring young woman. But “Femme Fatale” is a sweeping, lyrical piece and VU was a proto-punk outfit. The song is kind of a contradiction, since no punk band following the Velvets could ever really cover it. So how do you make it a punk song: of course, you just play “Waiting For the Man” but sing “Femme Fatale.” I don’t have an ear for purcussion to say what Phanie was doing back there on her kit, but Nina and Jenn were playing “Waiting For the Man” while Nina also authoritatively belted out “Femme Fatale.” May they please lay down a recording soon, because I need to hear it over and over again.