Acts: Girls / Spectrals
Venue: Talking Heads
Date: 25 February 2010
It’s always interesting to come into a gig with little expectations or assumptions about what you are going to witness and hear. This can often lead to a fresh perspective, without all the interference of all of the background chatter from the bloggeratti and the hype generated by the music media. It also takes the pressure off the event with no worries of being disappointed by an act that you had high hopes for. So it was a pleasure to catch highly lauded/hyped band Girls who have been on my radar since all the column inches they generated last year on the back of their debut release ‘Album’. Playing on this drizzly February evening in Southampton was probably not what they had in mind when they embarked on their journey into the music biz from their sun drenched base in San Francisco, but it gave me an opportunity to access what all the fuss was about in the flesh.
First up at one of my favourite drinking haunts was some support in the shape of Spectrals. This is the cloak under which the Leeds/Yorkshire based Louis Jones creates some seriously lolloping retro fuzz rock. Shades of Joe Meek, Phil Spector, Buddy Holly and classic surf pop are washed through with hazy shoegazy vocals to paint a spooky sound. Spectrals has been a solo project but for this tour Louis has fleshed out the live band, enlisting his brother Will on drums, James Levitt on guitar and Matt Benn is on bass duties. First impressions were curiously uplifting and their sound conjured up a dream scene in a David Lynch movie from the Twin Peaks era. It was a spirited performance and time will tell whether they can develop their distinctive sound and deliver a modern twist on this genre. Spectrals have a big year ahead of them with a split 7 inch single (with Fair Ohs) coming out on 22nd March 2010 via toughloverecords followed by a full album is promised for 2010 called ‘Bad Penny’.
Verdict: ‘have twangy guitar, will travel!’
Girls have caught the eye of many when they sauntered onto the catwalk of the indie music scene last year with their take on Sixties stoner pop rinsed through with a lo-fi grunge vibe. They were paraded by pitchfork.com who serenaded them with a stellar rating when they unleashed the band’s debut album, simply called ‘Album’ back in 2009. Christopher Owens is the vocalist and the main writer of the band; he has a lackadaisical singing manner verging on the whiny and it’s often compared of early Elvis Costello, yet the manner of his delivery is entirely appropriate for projecting that little boy lost generation Y conceit.
Bloggers love a good back story, mainly because it makes knocking out five hundred words on the back of one or two songs a whole lot easier when a juicy tale with a fresh angle is presented to us on a plate. So it came as no surprise that that a collective typing frenzy of fawning went into overdrive when the remarkable Curriculum Vitae of Owens' life dropped into all those jaded inboxes.
The details of his nomadic childhood growing up within the confines of the controversial Californian Children of God religious group (whose notable members include former Fleetwood Mac guitarist Jeremy Spencer as well as the actor siblings Joaquin and the late River Phoenix) At sixteen, Owens got together enough money from busking to escape to his sister in Texas. The next few years were spent in minimum wage jobs and reconnecting with the mainstream culture of America. His interest in music led to spells in various punk bands and was taken under the wing of a wealthy benefactor, who encouraged his musical talent. During time in San Francisco he hooked up with kindred spirit Chet ‘JR’ White and together they embarked on making music to reflect their drugged out lifestyle, which led to a recording deal with matadorrecords.com.
As I said before, all of this biography is quite frankly a gift for those seeking to promote a band with a slacker punk ethos. When the debut single ‘Hellhole Ratrace’ came out in 2008, this epic anthem of melancholy set against lyrics that speak for the burnt out generation Y, led to exultations of praise. However, in the true tradition of build’em up then knock’em down, this initial flurry of fervor was followed by some doubting Thomases questioning the depth and quality of the debut album, which was unleashed in September 2009.
Now the dust has settled it’s a good time for a reappraisal of the relative merits of this group, with the added benefit of some distance from the initial blogging hype and frenzy. A sizable crowd were anticipating seeing how the 60’s Spector tinged drone drenched songs would hold up in a live setting. They opened with the perky Beach Boys gone grunge single ‘Laura’ and soon their brand of mellow classic rock played well with the audience and by the time they launched into the celebrated Hellhole Ratrace a chilled nod of approval Mexican waved through the onlooking throng. At this point of the set, they suddenly changed, transforming into feedback hungry Sonic Youth/ Jesus and the Mary Chain influenced frenzy for ten minutes which then drifted into the newgaze soaked recent single ‘Morning Light’. Girls wrapped up the evening with a bubbly rendition of their perkiest song ‘Lust For Life’ leaving the majority of the audience appreciative of this evening’s performance.
My gut reaction to Girls is that they still are enthralled with all the nuances of those classic albums that are familiar in many a hip older brother’s record collection. This has perhaps overshadowed the songs on the first album and led to accusations of pastiche from their detractors. Yet it’s clear from the quality of the singles that have come out, that this duo can nail the ability to write a memorable song and once they unburden themselves from the shackles of catching up with the heavy history of forty years of rebellious rock and concentrate on their unique qualities, these guys will produce a top quality album, worthy of addding to the pantheon of rock’s illustrious history. That second album's going to be eagerly anticipated, no pressure then!
Verdict “Girls you’ll be a woman soon”