Zac Pennington, leader of Parenthetical Girls, is as skinny, pouty-lipped, and androgynous as a young Mick Jagger. His stage moves are so fey and effeminate that, in comparison, Morrissey looks like Johnny Cash. And his vocal mannerisms are so over the top that he makes Colin Meloy of the Decemberists sound like Lou Reed. Pennington is the kind of front man that you either love or hate but cannot ignore. That’s the idea.
Parenthetical Girls were originally called Swastika Girls, so you know that Pennington likes to provoke. You also know he’s familiar with the conceptual-artist approach to music typified by Brian Eno, who once released a song called “Swastika Girls.” What’s more remarkable is that Pennington knows how to write beautifully baroque chamber pop music steeped in indie rock, the experimental underground, and AM radio cheese. His lyrics are spiked with allusions to Morrissey and Burt Bacharach. You simply need to hear the Parenthetical Girls’ weird but essentially faithful cover of “Windmills of Your Mind.” (Pennington also, apparently, has a thing for Christmas music — he’s released almost as many Christmas EPs as Sufjan Stevens.)
There are about 15 semiregular members of the Parenthetical Girls, including such notables as Jamie Stewart of Xiu Xiu and Owen Ashworth of Casiotone for the Painfully Alone. Onstage, Pennington is joined only by multi-instrumentalists Matthew Carlson, Eddy Crichton, and Rachael Jensen. But the attention is always squarely on Pennington — he makes sure of that. He’s a bit much, to be honest, but there’s something brave about a guy who goes onstage to act in all the ways that would get him beat up in school.
PARENTHETICAL GIRLS: Bar Pink, Tuesday, March 24, 10 p.m. 619-564-7194.