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In The Clubs
Naked Beggars 
St Louis -9/23/04

By Marie Braden

While most of their publicity has focused on the fact that Naked Beggars contains two members of glam Godzillas Cinderella, Inga Brittingham, vocalist and bassist Eric Brittingham's wife, is a pop powerhouse, bringing to mind Debbie Harry divorced from her ironic cool; Courtney Love if she had fashion sense and electroshock therapy; Alanis Morrissette on Ecstasy; or, most tellingly, Elvis Presley if he had grown up female in New Jersey. Naked Beggars' songs are brutal, feminist  rhetoric that never sacrifice melody for politics or a good time for propaganda. With wider distribution, they could easily and effectively mine the vein of post-collegiate female dissatisfaction.

The Beggars hit the stage with an Elvis Presley medley, playing homage to the man who Inga has referred to as "where it really all beings and ends for those of us who love rock music. He made the mold, then broke it. Over and over again." Clad in a very New Jersey outfit of white denim miniskirt, sleeveless black t-shirt and bitch boots with fishnet stockings, Inga worked the stage as if it were her lifeline. First single "Bitch" followed the Presley medley with a much more Joplinesque vibe than the recorded version. The powerful and eerie "Fallen" and the catchy "No More" rounded out the first part of the set with capable backing by guitarist and chief lyrical collaborator Kris Casamento and the Midwestern beauty Kristine Brasuell, who is a double threat/double treat on the keyboards and violin (about which she charmingly insists, "I'm from Kansas; I'm calling it a fiddle!).

Naked Beggars took the opportunity to play many of the songs from their  upcoming second CD during this show, and since the majority of the audience was no less familiar with those than with the tracks on their debut, the crowd was really able to get a groove on with the rollicking bluesy stomp of "Spit it Out". This edgy track was a brilliant showcase for youthful drummer Dustin Carpenter, who launched a full assault on his kit as the Beggars gave nod to the patron saint of angry rock chicks with their cover of Alanis Morrissette's "You Oughta Know", which takes on an entirely different feel when you realise that it's a married couple performing the song! This was fallowed by their original tune "Crazy" and a new tune of Brasuell's, "What Is the Question"--hard to describe, but imagine a power ballad where the emphasis is on POWER and on obliterating the saccharine squeal of our old school tunes and you'll come pretty close. Jeff LaBar rocked out like a demented caveman during this song, hitting levels of energy so high as to make Zakk Wylde seem like a folkie.

"Wastin' Time" took on a decidedly Motown flair as the five-piece harmonized and LaBar's guitar madly spun. Unfortunately, as in any club show, the Spinal Tap moment had to come, and did, as his guitar aerobatics took out a row of cords on Brasuell's keyboard. The light-hearted banter among band members, combined with Inga's aggressively sexual performance (and more than a few rounds of Jager forced on the band by the crowd) to bring the audience to a feverish pitch as Inga tore into Billy Idol's anthem, "White Wedding", making it sound fresh and new in the way that only a female voice could.

Knowing that people who were there were more likely to be there as fans of Eric and LaBar's better-known band, Inga rendered an entirely credible version of monster ballad "Nobody's Fool", during which Eric got in on the bass-spinning action and caused cold chills down the spines of all of us who were 14-year-old fangirls back when his hair resembled nothing so much as "a beautiful blonde pineapple". Inga proceeded to take the name "Naked Beggars" (coined when Casamento was working in a strip club) a bit more literally, and stripped down to a second outfit of black panties, net skirt, and a pink and black satin bra with the obligatory punk tie. Exhorting her cohorts and potential consorts to do the same, the Beggars plowed into a version of "Coming Home" that had a much stronger Joplin feel than Tom Keifer ever mustered, and then the Beggars demonstrated an acetylene sparkle as they crashed into what Inga referred to as her own favorite Cinderella tune--"Somebody Save Me".

As the crowd and band caught their breath, LaBar showed off his vastly-underrated slide technique with a little bit of the instrumental "Bad Seamsstress Blues" and a quick run or two from "Once around the Ride" at the incessant urging of one particularly insistent member of the audience. In short order, Inga again took command of the stage with the domestic saga of "I Ain't Your Mama" and turned "Kind of Girl" into a performance piece somewhat reminscent of Skid Row's "Slave to the Grind". My favourite Beggars track, "Discombobulated", was followed by the back-end delight of "Playin' the Fool", which served as a reminder that "drum & bass" isn't an appellation just for dance music. The set closed with "Nothin' But Trouble", but, somehow, it seems more correct to say that the crowd felt the show ended with "Nothin' But Fun".

Naked Beggars are laboring under a heavy shadow. But if A&R reps would take a clear look, with "Eyes Wide Open", they just might find a tight, hard rocking band that offers a balance between mature lyrics and sheer performance glee with more than just a touch of hinted carnality. This is no nostalgia act--this is four on the floor, seat-wetting rock and roll.

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