Talking Heads Southampton is about as far as i'll travel to go to a gig, the journey takes about an hour and half, and the train fare i can rarely afford. But if there's a band on that i've been so desperately wanting to see for such a long time, then i'll make the effort. The first example (out of the two times that i've been) is Mumford & Sons, who i'd been wanting to see for close to a year before last October. It was still before they really hit it big-time, especially considering their album has only just gone on sale in the US. The second time was Thursday night, for San Francisco surf band Girls, who with their album 'Album', made number five on my best of 2009 list. It was there that i quoted at length from my original review, calling it a "masterpiece of personality" which "reveals more of itself to you with every listen." Support band Spectrals i've also introduced before on the blog. They play reverb soaked psych-pop with 60s progressions and inaudible vocals - kind of like dreamwave minus the electronics and beats, and they pulled it off well. Ignoring a minor slip in the first song which they quickly moved on from (with their back-up tambourine), Spectrals played a pretty nice set, calm considering their later disclosure that they didn't have a floor to sleep on that night. The sound was generally quite out (especially during Girls' set) but this didn't really sway a lo-fi band who record their singles on what sounds like a four-track, and create psychedelic 60s pop with sound as blurred as their photos.
Girls however felt the pain of bad sound a lot more, especially considering just how much they needed to alter it from song to song throughout. Starting off with a squeaky clean rendition of Laura, the intensity of the show rose in keeping with the bearing of the overdrive knobs. However with huge sound comes huge feedback unless you're careful, and the enemy of live music production plagued a couple of the later songs, turning what was intended to be a 6 minute melancholy masterpiece of a track 'Hellhole Ratrace' into a rendition somewhat held back from its grand intentions. Girls couldn't have been more professional about it; in fact they used it to their advantage. What had started out as a relaxed and at times loungy guitar show, with Owen's hunched guitar stance, heartfelt delivery and leg-centred time-keeping, took half a turn in to chaos. Following the demise of 'Hellhole Ratrace', Owens and band proceeded to kneel by their Orange amps and create a minute of Lou Reed style amplified noise - which after another tense minute, burst, as if from nowhere, into the new single 'Morning Light.' The song is enough of a surprise on the album, let alone after hearing it sprung like that, and hearing that it forms half of the uncharacteristic new Morning Light 7", which came out on Turnstile last week.
Perhaps the most curious absence of the show, and only absence out of all of Girls' Album material, was Summertime - and I still can't quite understand why it was left off. Its one of the only songs where the bass line doesn't go for too much of a wander (listen to it on Laura), and instead stays constantly thundering behind the anthemic vocals and booming noise section which emerges about two and a half minutes in. This, coupled with the hazy downbeat section which follows, makes the song surely perfect for a live show. When post-encore break shouts questioned it - a nervous look around to band mates was widely misinterpreted positively by the crowd - who quickly lost all resentment when the euphoric tones of Lust For Life proceeded to fill the room. In the wrong context, songs as simple and as tonally dependent as Lust For Life can go down extremely badly, and just how well it was executed, as was the whole show, pays the perfect tribute to Girls as a band.
Girls - End Of The World (Skeeter Davis Cover) (MP3) (from Morning Light 7")
Girls - Morning Light (MP3)
Spectrals - Leave Me Be (MP3)
Morning Light 7" Single via Amazon.com MP3 store.