What a difference a tour makes. When Juliana Hatfield’s first solo road trip came through L.A. in support of her “Hey Babe” debut, she seemed to have lost the live edge of her old band, Boston faves the Blake Babies.
Catchy, fans probably thought, but dull.
Now, Hatfield redeems herself with an album, a band and a concert that all live up to expectations.
Having established a core band — bassist/pal Dean Fisher and ex-Bullet Lavolta psycho drummer Todd Phillips — Hatfield quickly recorded “Become What You Are” (Atlantic/Mammoth), an aggressive yet airy album where she stretches her songwriting ambition and her guitar-playing confidence. (She’s still learning those skills but shows impressive improvement in both areas.)
On stage at the nearly full Palace Saturday, the trio hit hard early. Starting with non-album track “Put It Away” and running through some of the new record’s best songs, including audience fave “Spin the Bottle” (featured in Ben Stiller’s “Reality Bites”), the tender and sweet “For the Birds” and “Addicted,” Hatfield showed off her tight and assured band to a crowd of KROQers seemingly surprised at the combo’s muscle.
At times reminiscent of collaborator Evan Dando’s Lemonheads, Hatfield mixes a striking blend of raw punk frustration, melodic power pop and folk looseness (formerly known as the Boston sound) into a hearty brew that’s both satisfying and challenging.
Other highlights included the sarcastic “Supermodel,” quirky “This Is the Sound” and “Here Comes the Pain,” an acknowledged Eurythmics rip-off.
The show did have its down time — some songs midset lacked much effort — but ultimately the 70-minute concert revealed a band, and a leader, with the fortitude to improve and the potential to move toward a larger, more challenging audience.