Tuning In to TV Girl
By Brittany MenjivarNovember 30, 2023
Every winter, I add to a playlist called “Christmas songs that aren’t Christmas songs”—a series of tracks that conjure up visions of twinkling lights, frostbitten cheeks, and swirling snow without any explicit discussion of making the Yuletide gay. TV Girl figures heavily in this mix. Something about the band’s soft string sections, hypnotic horns, and ability to spin the most mundane anecdotes into musings on love, loss, and limerence feels perfectly suited for the chillier months. How fitting, then, that these angelic Angelenos should come home to the Hollywood Palladium just in time for the holidays.
The stage decor set the tone with several “stained glass windows” depicting the bobbed ingénue that serves as the band’s mascot—presumably the “TV Girl” of myth. As soon as the opening notes of “I’ll Be Faithful” rang out, worshippers flocked to the altar from the merch booth and the concessions stand. The song—from the band’s new album, Grapes upon the Vine—owed as much to George Michael as it did to gospel music. Backup vocalists clapped over a sample of a spiritual. Concertgoers—some of them ’90s babies, many of them excitable teens—raised their hands in the air, feeling the spirit.
Part of TV Girl’s timeless appeal lies in the fact that they venerate sonic saints from a variety of eras, incorporating sound bites from decades-old radio shows, films, and pop ballads. When they broke out in the early 2010s, their brand of nostalgia reeled in legions of wistful hipsters. More recently, they’ve reached new heights due to a renaissance on TikTok. (I know this firsthand: my 12-year-old sister won’t shut up about them.) At 24, I was one of the older audience members. TV Girl acknowledged the shifting demographics of their fan base with a smile and a wink. “We’re gonna have all our viral TikTok smash hits ready to go,” lead singer Brad Petering quipped. Careful to cater to all tastes, he assured the crowd that he would also play deep cuts, as well as “songs people don’t like very much at all.”
Sure enough, the setlist included standouts from all four of the band’s albums, plus selections from other projects. Songs from French Exit, the band’s 2014 debut LP (and its most popular on streaming platforms), had fans swaying and waving their cell phones while lamenting the woes of lovelorn soldiers (“Pantyhose”) and teary-eyed brunettes (“The Blonde”). Sophomore album Who Really Cares (2016) had the room jumping with some faster-paced classics. The clanging percussion of “Cigarettes out the Window” was especially powerful given the venue’s acoustics, while the live rendition of “Not Allowed” featured an extended version of the sample from “Ovary Action” by Yeastie Girlz, which got the crowd worked up. The melancholic “bum-bums” of “Blue Hair” (from 2018’s Death of a Party Girl) provided the perfect sing-along fodder. And even though Petering joked about “punishing” us by playing three songs from Grapes upon the Vine in a row, their jangling rhythms were well received. (As were Petering’s antics as MC—he kept up a recurring bit about a Mountain Dew sponsorship, good-naturedly dubbed his fans “socially inept and morally depraved,” and even bellowed, “Who wants 28 dollars?” before reaching into his pocket and distributing a few bills amongst the front row.)
At one point, Petering dropped his signature sarcasm and acknowledged that many of the kids in the audience were experiencing their first-ever concert. As they sang along to the chorus of “Lovers Rock”—“But if you’re too drunk to drive / and the music is right”—despite being too young to imbibe or hold driver’s licenses, I couldn’t help but grin on their behalf. They had picked a good one.
Photo of TV Girl onstage by contributor.
LARB Short Take live event reviews are published in partnership with the nonprofit Online Journalism Project and the Independent Review Crew.
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