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The Pretty Reckless Present a Series of Taylor-Made Moments

 12/05/2016 12:14 pm ET

Michael Bialas 
Entertainment and sports journalist

She may have started out as a precocious kid actress but Taylor Momsen landed the role of a lifetime as front woman for the Pretty Reckless.

An alluring entertainer with a pliable voice that will send thrills and chills down your spine, Momsen is the charming star of this hard rock show that includes three daring dudes who bring the heavy metal essentials — guitarist Ben Phillips, bassist Mark Damon and drummer Jamie Perkins.

The New York-based quartet is wrapping up a fall tour throughout the United States behind Who You Selling For, the Oct. 21 release via Razor & Tie that is destined to be their most successful to date in a career that began in 2009.


The Pretty Reckless Taylor Momsen lightThe full-length album, their third in the studio with longtime producer Kato Khandwala, begins with Momsen (left) snidely snapping, “Get your shit together,” making one wonder if she’s addressing herself or someone else.

The hep pep talk obviously worked because Who You Selling For is a fire-breathing monster of a record that offers adrenaline-rush stompers (“Oh My God”), revolutionary rockers (“Living in the Storm,” “Take Me Down”), breathtaking ballads (“Who You Selling For,” “Bedroom Window”) and pretty-gritty R&B (“Wild City” is like taking a step back into 1970s Motown).

With a hefty playing time of 51 minutes, 46 seconds, there’s no reason to consider the lightweight EPs jamming the market. Conveying less Catholic guilt while taking a more secular approach to the lyrics than on previous work, the Pretty Reckless deliver a roundhouse knockout punch.

They showcased most of those numbers during a power-packed 15-song performance Nov. 28 at the Ogden Theatre in Denver, where the line snaked down and around Colfax Avenue before the doors opened first to VIP customers at 7 p.m.

The Indian summer experienced in the Mile High City was finally giving way to another hard, cold winter but I can’t remember a Monday night crowd ever being this psyched about an indoors Denver show.

After workmanlike sets by Orange County power trio Them Evils and Iowa alternative rockers Holy White Hounds, Momsen and her merry men hit the stage to prerecorded sounds of chiming bells and orgasmic cries. And the audience sounded just as aroused when the Pretty Reckless exploded with “Follow Me Down,” one of five hard-hitting tracks they played from their second album Going to Hell. Who knew a trip to the Burning Gates could be such a joy ride?

In a matter of minutes, the loyal legions were clapping along, ready to follow Momsen anywhere she wanted to go following the first of four No. 1 mainstream rock singles they played that night.

Amid cries of “We love you, Taylor!” from the crowd, she initially appeared to hide from the adoration, her face covered by blonde curls. Whether it was a misguided disguise or simply a tease to please, it didn’t tale long for the woman behind the mask, clad in back leather and storm trooper boots, to shed any inhibitions, real or imagined.

Taylor Momsen (right) leans on bassist Mark Damon during a performance by the Pretty Reckless on Nov. 28 at the Ogden Theatre in Denver.

Momsen glides across the stage resembling a satanic Stevie Nicks, twirling and swirling with microphone in hand, flipping the cord like a dominatrix cracking the whip. She cozies up to Phillips and Damon on opposite sides of the stage, resting her head on their backs for a brief bit of solitude before tearing away and staring down the audience.

Though he handed off the slide guitar duties to Warren Haynes on the recorded version of “Back to the River,” Phillips is also a masterful musician, his wicked live solos on “Hangman” and “Living in the Storm” providing evidence that he deserves a place among the pantheon of Guitar Gods. On “Sweet Things,” he also takes vocal turns with his singing partner, making “Hey there, little girl,” sound almost touching, even if it seems a little Meat Loaf/Kara DeVito creepy.

Regardless, there’s no doubt who rules the Reckless.

Presenting dark songs such as “Make Me Wanna Die” (from TPR’s debut release Light Me Up, written and recorded when she was 15), “Going to Hell” and “Oh My God” to a 16-and-older audience, Momsen takes a gang of horny headbangers willingly down the road to ruin. While doing so, her cool, confident, controlled demeanor is utterly impressive.

For one who never watched Gossip Girl long enough to see Jenny Humphrey and also missed Jim Carrey’s over-the-top antics in Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas, the 2000 film that featured a bright-eyed youngster playing Cindy Lou Who, I had no preconceived notions regarding what Momsen would bring to the stage as a performer. But this is the arena where she belongs.

Much has been made of Momsen’s hesitancy to talk about her past on-screen life, most recently in a People online interview in which addressed those early defining roles. “It’s less frustrating if someone recognizes me for it; it’s more frustrating that I still get asked about it,” she said. “It feels like someone asking you about junior high. It literally was my junior high, so that’s what it feels like to me.”

Blessed with the talent to jump from one high-profile career to another, Momsen not only has become a dynamic rock singer succeeding in a very challenging profession but also a versatile and prolific songwriter who has the ability to make her fans leap or weep. The fact that this Beatlemaniac is only 23 years old bodes well for her future as she and the material mature.

Most of us can hardly relate to that degree of success, but no matter how mundane our normal, everyday existence might be, there are cringeworthy moments we refuse to share. Facebook be damned, there’s no way it’s worth reliving the embarrassment of flubbing a line in the leading role of your fourth-grade Christmas play titled What, No Santa Claus? or looking back at your high school newspaper editorial that attacked the lack of spirit shown by your fellow classmates.

Understanding that, it’s easy to appreciate that this is Momsen’s moment.

She and Phillips, the band’s right-hand man who has played Page to her Plant for 10 years, wrote all 12 songs on Who You Selling For, including the introspective title track.

“So Denver, we’ve got a treat for you tonight,” Momsen said casually about halfway through a set that lasted nearly 90 minutes. “This is the very first time we’ve ever played this song live.”

In the middle of a dream / On the darkest night
Or so it seems / But I think I’m right

Hearing those final words from “Who You Selling For” delivered in such an ethereal way proves it’s possible to escape the stereotypical borders placed around other bands that believe more is more, as in more volume, more profanity and more devil-may-care attitude.

A gentler approach can heal the soul, setting up the impact of a stunning anthem such as “Heaven Knows” while the Pretty Reckless “kick it up a notch” — as Momsen likes to say — down the stretch.

The crowd-pleaser beginning in typical singalong, hand-clapping fashion much like Queen’s “We Will Rock You” develops into something far greater, one that Billboard dubbed its mainstream rock song of the year in 2014. A Children of the Damned-worthy chorus line — “We belong way down below” — segues into the goosebump-producing bridge that starts with “I’ve had better days man.”

The Pretty Reckless Taylor Momsen yellow tambourineAnyone who has worked for a living certainly can identify with that, no matter their age or career status.

That verse continued to rattle in my head long after Perkins’ requisite drum solo was just a faded memory from the encore performance of “Fucked Up World,” another everyman (and everywoman) theme that brings the haves and have-nots one step closer together, if only for a Momsen moment.

Somehow, we all have to live in that world. But seeing the Young and Pretty Reckless, who near the end of one tour then start a European trek shortly after the New Year arrives, might help make it a better place.

Concert photos by Michael Bialas. Publicity photo by Andrew Lipovsky. See more of the Pretty Reckless from the 2016 show at the Ogden Theatre in Denver.

SET LIST: THE PRETTY RECKLESS
AT THE ODGEN THEATRE, NOV. 28, 2016

1. “Follow Me Down” 
2. “Since You’re Gone”
3. “Oh My God”
4. “Hangman”
5. “Make Me Wanna Die”
6. “My Medicine” 
7. “Prisoner”
8. “Sweet Things” 
9. “Light Me Up”
10. “Who You Selling For” 
11. “Living in the Storm”
12. “Heaven Knows” 
13. “Going to Hell” 
14. “Take Me Down”

ENCORE
“Fucked Up World”