Two teenagers with Brooklyn accents and vintage baseball jackets are trying to blag their way into the MS MR show. One has braces. “Umm, I think he’s called… Peter?” tries one of them, when the girl on the door asks them for a contact. It’s -2ºC out, there’s no one around and the gig’s about to start. She lets them in.
This is where MS MR are at the moment. Released in autumn, the duo’s gorgeous four-track EP ‘Candy Bar Creep Show’ was met with a warm reception but failed to explode, and hype is taking time to translate from the internet (they have a cult-ish Tumblr following) to the real world. Currently on the UK stretch of their world tour, tonight they’re playing to an audience of one hundred in a venue located down a back alley, with no sign and paint up the walls.
Still, that’s the point, isn’t it? For bands like MS MR, faded glamour is all part of the dark charm, and Angel’s Electrowerkz fits the bill. Visible damp is hidden messily with fairy lights and girls with bobs and velvet dresses drink cans of Red Stripe through a straw - this goes with spooky electro-pop, it seems.
Theirs was always going to be a short set, and a wobbly start courtesy of the sound man means MS (Lizzy Plapinger of Brooklyn NYC)’s vocals are too soft and reverb-y, and MR (Max Hershenow, also of Brooklyn NYC)’s backing vocals too loud. But, it’s a mere hiccup, and a hiccup entirely eclipsed by Plapinger’s stage presence and her dramatic, ethereal voice. There’s no getting away from the Florence Welch likeness, but it’s no bad thing. Her tone is melty and husky, and paired with her wash-out blue hair and elegant party dress that looks like a 1920s relic, she is a captivating, sexy performer. Her MR, camp and playful, plays keyboard.
MS MR market themselves as a duet but there are two other men in the picture, at least for tonight: a drummer, and a Jack-of-all-trades who switches instruments and pumps up those all-important harmonies. Apart from the occasional dance in "Jack's" direction from MS, these two may as well be in blackout gear, and it’s clear where the audience is meant to look.
Mid-set comes ‘Dark Doo Wop’, a dreamy, nostalgic ballad that tugs gently at the heart strings and is by far their strongest song. You get the impression the band don’t know this yet (they thank the crowd for letting them play a slow number), but this is the track that makes them stand out. Some songs, ‘Bones’ in particular, are more commercially palatable but can be hysteric and are occasionally slightly hipster-hackneyed. While still veiled in the customary pink-tinged gloom, ‘Dark Doo Wop’ is more tranquil with its simple, chilling lyrics. It just works.
A cover of Patrick Wolf’s ‘Time Of My Life’ towards the end goes down well. (It is, hush our mouths, superior to the original. MS MR lose the cheery strings and replace them with a different, more sinister kind of enthusiasm.)
It’s a very decent show, helped along by the fact that the band seem genuinely blown away by the audience response as they round off their encore. “We heard London was a cold crowd,” says MS, “but this has been fucking awesome.”
With their Beyond Retro getup, minimal lyrics and echoes of Lana Del Rey, you’d be forgiven for thinking MS MR are just bandwagon-jumping cool kids with a MacBook and a good image. But unlike so many others, they make it work. Their edge lies partly in the boy-girl lineup but mainly, in Plapinger’s stage and vocal power.
So who knows? Give it a year and MS MR’s intimate one-hundred-fold audience could be ten thousand; they certainly have the raw materials needed to be huge. Kids will have a hard time talking themselves into Wembley Arena, though.
Words by Mia Bleach