It was hard to square the Black Kids’ perf at the El Rey on Tuesday night with all the controversy the band has engendered online. The Jacksonville, Fla., quintet was the toast of the music blogs last year; more recently, even before their debut, “Partie Traumatic” (Almost Gold/Columbia), was released last week, the same bloggers were running away from their creation as if it were radioactive. But the band that clambered onstage was so unsubstantial that it was hard to believe they could inspire such strong responses, whether to praise or to bury.
Yes, last year’s “I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance with You”– the final song of their set (and a good thing, too, as around two-thirds of the aud streamed out when it was done, not waiting for the encore) — grafted the Cure (lead singer Reggie Youngblood’s thin, whiny vocals) onto the B-52’s (the boy/girl call-and-response chorus) with a bubbly, amateurish charm. But the rest of the mercifully brief (50 minutes, including encore) set was filled with songs that were equally amateurish but much less charming.
Black Kids are surprisingly flat-footed for an act that wants to be considered a party band. The rhythm section favors a stiff heavy plod, and there’s little melodic variety between songs. Youngblood’s Robert Smith-meets-the-Smiths approach wears quickly, and the songs — with their intimations of perversity and tossed away gender-bending — trade in the same kind of feckless naughtiness as their name. (For the record, only Youngblood and his sister, Ali, are black, although calling a band so relentlessly unfunky “Black Kids” might constitute a hate crime in certain precincts.)
Perhaps if Black Kids had been given time, they might have developed into something interesting. And the bands that bloggers champion have been an uneven lot — for every Arcade Fire, there’s been a Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. If nothing else, the Black Kids experience proves that Internet music scribes are a species who will eat their young.