TAMPA — As soon as Alison Mosshart stalked onstage at the Ritz Ybor, that throbbing leopard-print backdrop behind her made total animalistic sense. The Kills femme-fatale front woman, her thick untamed hair tussled like a howl, is a restless, unhinged performer, one of the most dynamic, and sensuously dangerous, singers in rockdom.
In what was billed as their first-ever Tampa show, Jamie "Hotel" Hince (aka model Kate Moss' husband) and "VV" Mosshart, their nicknames as elusive as their true selves, deftly assaulted a thrashing crowd Monday night for 85 minutes of noise-rock that blended his British post-punk and her American garage grit.
Save for maybe Akron's Black Keys, there aren't many duos stomping the boards these days who conjure so much sheer volume from so little. He plays effects-laden guitar; she sings, and moans, and howwwls. They had two masked percussionists behind them, and a keyboard and kettle drum here and there. But for the most part, the Kills do it alone — and they do it well.
Opening with the murderous breakup blast of No Wow ("You're gonna have to step over my dead body / Before you walk out that door"), the Kills aimed to shock, to unsettle, which was just fine for the wanton crowd, which relished the assault. Mosshart, a Vero Beach native who started in Florida punk band Discount, is perhaps better known for fronting Jack White's side project the Dead Weather. That makes sense: She is White's gender-tweaked mirror image, hiding behind bravado and bluster and only letting a human side slip out in brief peeks.
Their influences are myriad but always edgy: For Heart Is a Beating Drum, Hince, a Londoner with a cocky removed air, uncorked a fuzzed-out Keith Richards riff — think Jumpin' Jack Slash — that was girded by angular beats and distorted noise, a mood they routinely borrow from Scottish noise-pop outfit the Jesus and Mary Chain. Satellite was a neo-reggae sway that allowed Mosshart, dressed in size-nothing black jeans and a blousy purple shirt from the Jim Morrison collection, to shake her serpentine hips and snarl.
The Kills ultimate strength, however, is in shifting sonic gears, and just as unnerving as their full-frontal scrum was a jarring, and downright gorgeous, cover of Patsy Cline's Crazy, which the tall, lanky Mosshart, her silhouette but an underfed wisp, delivered with a torchy head-spinning beauty that lilted and broke in all the right places.
Equally serene was the Kills' new single The Last Goodbye, a pained uncluttered ballad from 2011 album Blood Pressures, that Mosshart delivered with her wild mane of red-tinted hair parted to reveal, lo and behold, her face. She's a striking woman, but it was unwise to be lulled. She soon followed that cut with the Kills' very first song, 2003's F--- the People, which Mosshart delivered with a carefully selected finger aimed at the audience. The crowd returned the salute and that made Mosshart smile, for just a split second of course.
Sean Daly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow Sean on Twitter (@seandalypoplife) and Facebook (facebook.com/seandaly.tampabay).