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Kitty, Daisy & Lewis -- a modern vintage

The trio favors classic country and R&B and '50s looks. Oh, and they're young and British.

August 25, 2009|August Brown

When the young London trio Kitty, Daisy & Lewis took the stage at the Home Depot Center in Carson last month opening for Coldplay, the band seemed a little out of place. Surrounded by the headliner's vast lighting apparatus on the converted soccer stadium's stage, the slight siblings, who range in age from 16 to 21, played spry vintage country and R&B more befitting a '50s sock hop than an oversized Southland venue.

As they swapped between drums, ukulele, guitars and lead vocals, they looked every bit the part of pre-Beatles rockers. Lewis sported a slick pompadour to rival Ritchie Valens, while his sisters wore vintage dresses that could make an Echo Park hipstress faint with Cocoanut Grove envy.

But the most surprising thing about their set wasn't the novelty of three British kids playing American music of their grandparents' generation. It was that their ideas on old music were so contemporary. The band guilelessly cribs from Patsy Cline, Chet Atkins and Elvis movie soundtracks -- and looks great doing it.

In today's pop world, where Motown and disco revivals yield huge chart hits, their philosophy might fit in perfectly.

"There's a rawness and an energy to this old music. Everything today is so cleaned up," Kitty Durham said in the back of the band's tour bus before the Home Depot Center set. "Old music sounds real."

Authenticity is a tricky thing to pin down in music, especially for a band as meticulous in its appearance and music as Kitty, Daisy & Lewis. But the Durhams seem to have come by it honestly. The trio's parents -- father Graeme Durham is a noted guitarist and producer in London, mother Ingrid Weiss played in the post-punk band the Raincoats -- raised them on rockabilly, R&B and classic country.

In a house full of instruments, family jams and recording sessions came easily. The trio never made a conscious decision to form a throwback act.

"Bookers just asked us to play shows, so we played the songs that we knew," Daisy said. "We never even really thought about it."

The trio's sets are, true to early rock history, heavy on covers that should thrill any 78 rpm record nerd. The band's take on rockabilly singer Johnny Horton's "Mean Mean Son of a Gun" is a fiery but sweet-tempered rocker driven by fleet guitar and drumming, and the group's take on Moon Mullican's "Honolulu Rock-a-Rolla" is a winsome bit of vintage Polynesian novelty pop.

Lewis Durham's fascination with antiquated recording technology is the band's secret. Its self-titled debut, which was released digitally Aug. 11 and hits retail stores in the U.S. today, glows and crackles with the fussy love required to maintain tape machines and salvaged BBC microphones.

"We did the record in our house, and there are no shops around where you can find equipment like this," Lewis said. "We had one guy on Long Island we'd order from. Digital equipment just doesn't sound like this, though we ended up releasing our album a year late because stuff kept breaking."

"Even when we worked at Abbey Road, we realized they just had the same stuff as every other studio," Daisy added.

That attention to period detail should seem like an affectation, but technology is as crucial to their sound as 808s and perpetual heartbreak are to Kanye West. The band's respect for traditions -- all sorts of them -- almost makes it radical.

There's a long history of British artists taking old American blues and roots music and shipping it back to us with a bit more sex appeal and swagger. But Kitty, Daisy & Lewis do it with the polyglot sensibilities of the file-sharing generation. Few other bands could make sweaty two-tone ska and rambling, whiskey-fueled country make sense next to each other in one show.

"All our best gigs are at dingy clubs, but this tour has been a really good experience," Daisy said. "The people here are obviously here for Coldplay, but by the end of the set they're dancing."

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august.brown@latimes.com

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