- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 30, 2003

“We put a lot of energy into our live stage show,” says Donnas drummer Torry Castellano, aka Donna C. Feel the energy tomorrow at the Lollapalooza fest at Nissan Pavilion.

Though their name suggests the Ramones, their sound screams arena rock, as if the Go-Gos had grown up listening to Kiss and AC/DC instead of surf and punk. Despite their bad-girl image, the San Francisco Bay Area foursome are at heart more playful than their metal-mistress idols L7, who played Lollapalooza in 1994.

On the phone from her Florida hotel room, Donna C’s giggly laugh and bubbly voice belie her prodigious pounding on “Spend the Night” (Atlantic), the band’s 2002 major-label debut. Together 10 years (since eighth grade), the Donnas recently left Lookout Records but retained Lookout co-owner (and Bratmobile drummer) Molly Neuman as manager.

True to its cover art, “Spend the Night” is a rock fan’s slumber-party soundtrack, filled with gossip and tales of life on tour. Singer Donna A (Brett Anderson) keeps a tongue-in-cheek attitude toward her men, whether she likes them (“Take Me to the Backseat”) or not (“Who Invited You”).

It’s melodic, hook-heavy, road-cruising rock, with amusing lyrics and solid playing to keep it interesting. The Kiss-styled vocals on “Dirty Denim” slam trendy grungy guys: “How can they break my heart/If I can’t tell them apart?” “It’s on the Rocks” has tasty bass riffs from Donna F (Maya Ford) and a hard guitar crash like the Pistols’ “Pretty Vacant” in addition to the line “I’m calling all my ladies/We’re gonna key your Mercedes.”

Donna C says “Spend” “really captures our energy from playing live,” though in truth, its best song, “Pass It Around,” sounds better on CD. The song has the girls grabbing “some whiskey and some dynamite” and chanting, “Pass that glass, pass it around.” Chances are the killer interplay between Donna C’s high-hat drums and the Southern-fried guitar of Donna R (Allison Robertson) won’t be heard back among the lawn seats — and that’s a shame.

“We do exaggerate a bit to make it funny,” but all the songs are based on fact. “I Don’t Care (So There)” is “about when Maya had a crush on this guy, and it didn’t really quite work out,” Donna C says with a giggle.

Now enjoying some overdue success (the Donnas also provide the soundtrack to MTV’s “Surf Girls”), they enjoy watching cheesy movies such as “Nightmare on Elm Street” on the tour bus (also, naturally, “Rock and Roll High School”).

So do blondes have more fun on tour? “I think all four of us have the most fun on tour,” Donna C says.

• • •

PBS viewers may think there’s a plethora of tenor trios out there these days, particularly during pledge time, when their specials go into heavy rotation. Three Mo’ Tenors, who return to Wolf Trap on Monday, aren’t just about bringing opera to the masses, however.

Broadway writer-director Marion J. Caffey conceived the Mo’ Tenors idea after seeing the original Three Tenors perform and saw the need to spotlight some lesser-known black American tenor talent.

Roderick Dixon already was known on Broadway for “Ragtime,” and Victor Trent Cook had a 1995 Tony nomination for “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” in addition to being the 1998 male vocalist winner on “Star Search.” Both already knew each other from the Brooklyn Boys Chorus and the “Fame” school, the LaGuardia High School of Music and Art in New York.

Thomas Young was already a worldwide opera-house veteran and appeared in the world premiere of “Amistad” at Chicago’s Lyric Opera as the Trickster God, a role written specifically for him.

As a crossover act, the Tenors aren’t a carefully constructed bridge between opera and contemporary pop music like England’s Opera Babes. Their program is more like Americana with opera stylings, with an emphasis on black American contributions to the musical culture.

At their last Wolf Trap show, for example, the trio started out with some traditional opera, such as Verdi’s “Rigoletto,” but then spent the rest of the night performing Broadway chestnuts, jazz, blues and gospel.

Mr. Young can do a fairly poignant “Send in the Clowns,” while Mr. Cook gets his chance on the traditional spiritual “Were You There.” The trio’s Duke Ellington medley won’t satisfy jazz purists but is pleasing nevertheless. Almost everyone seems to like their medley of “Love Train” and “Midnight Train to Georgia,” probably because they do it so lightheartedly.

That lighthearted touch showed up in their popular TV ad last Christmas for Marshall Field’s. The department store chain received numerous inquiries about the three men who doo-wopped their way through some seasonal carols.

Speaking of seasons, one shouldn’t overlook these tenors’ ability to do a show outdoors in this neck of the woods, in August, in tuxes.


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