The band that headlined at the Rock & Roll Hotel on Saturday night calls itself Warpaint and plays music rooted in late-'70s post-punk. Like most other contemporary post-punk revivalists, however, this all-female Los Angeles quartet has divested the style's fury. The group's 70-minute set was occasionally raucous and frequently sultry, but far from warlike.
What Warpaint derives from such precursors as the Slits, Television and Talking Heads is its aural spaciousness and iced-down approach to reggae, soul and Afropop. The prominent bass and scratchy guitar of songs such as "Undertow'' offered funk's timbres without its swagger; the encore, a semi-original titled "Billie Holiday,'' took some lyrics from "My Guy,'' Mary Wells's 1964 hit, but none of its drive. Rather than the immediacy of classic Motown, Warpaint specializes in the distant and the dreamy - but with a potent rhythm section to keep the wispy riffs from floating away.
Democratically, the group spread across the stage, with all four musicians clearly visible. Singer-guitarists Theresa Wayman and Emily Kokal flanked drummer Stella Mozgawa (who sounded more assured than on the band's debut album, "The Fool'') and bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg. Although sometimes two or more members sang together, often only one musical element was highlighted. Pieces of the sound would drop out, and Wayman and Kokal rarely played guitar at the same time.
Assisted by generous servings of reverb, this skeletal style didn't sound thin. And the sprawling, unpredictable structures endowed even the lesser material with an intriguing tension. But Warpaint's skill at dismantling songs wasn't matched by its ability to put them back together. The climactic "Set Your Arms Down'' worked best, building in a rollicking crescendo before gradually receding to vapor. A few more such payoffs would have enhanced a show where the emphasis on supple rhythms and shifting forms just might have been mistaken for a lack of memorable tunes.