Live Music + Gig Reviews

Girls @ Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen, London

20 October 2009

It’s apt that a band as unstarry as Girls have to amble through the crowd to get to the stage for their own gig.

Once there, they then have to perform a quick sound check, under the full glare of the lights. It’s an odd way to start a gig, especially given the critical maelstrom the duo (expanded here to a quartet) have caused with the release of their debut album.

The atmosphere is that of a house band getting ready to start playing – complete with the band having to wait for the chatter to die down before starting – rather than the audience quietening down in anticipation.

Once the jaunty Laura starts up though, the excess noise dies down and the focus is solely on the band. And what an odd bunch they make. Frontman Christopher Owens and guitarist John resemble a grunge incarnation of Hanson; all tumbling blonde locks and dirty denim, whilst bassist JR looks like an estate agent whose just finished work. Together they create a unique blend of West Coast surf-pop and old-fashioned indie jangle, with tightly strung guitar riffs, slacker harmonies and a broken heart at the core of the lyrics.

So, whilst Laura attempts a reconciliation (“I know I’ve made mistakes, but I’m asking you to give me a break”), crowd favourite Lust For Life is brilliantly skewed, Owens wishing he had a new boyfriend just like his ex. It’s Owens that holds attention as the band amble through nearly all of their debut, the singer’s Elvis Costello-esque croon creaking and croaking its way through each song’s emotional terrain.

He’s also got a neat line in dance moves, albeit the majority of them based around balancing on one leg, folding the other up under himself and doing a little twist. At one stage he even breaks out into an Angus Young style hop, playing his guitar at his side and smirking like a teenager.

The band rattle through the songs in a hurry, sometimes letting tracks bleed into one another. The almost lazily dramatic Ghost Mouth – complete with ’60s Motown drums – is played early on, Owens’ voice trembling on the line “nothing compares to you”, as if doing his best Sinead O’Connor impression. The seven-minute haze of guitar feedback that is Hellhole Ratrace is another highlight, with the discordant guitars swirling around Owens pleas of “I don’t wanna cry the whole night through/ I wanna do some dancing too”, as a glitter ball spins above them.

Unfortunately, there are times when the songs get swamped by a layer of dirge that’s hard to shift and, as the crowd gets restless, it feels like the band might be losing them. For all Owens’ unique magnetism, there’s little in the way of engagement aside from the odd mumble. Much of the time between songs is taken up with Owens trying to get his fringe off his face (at a gig in Brighton the night before, the band employed a large fan to keep Owens face hair free). Luckily, the closing run of songs wakes the crowd from its stupor, the brilliant Big Bad Mean Motherfucker bringing things to a noisy but satisfying conclusion.

Having thanked everyone for coming, the band then try to exit the stage without venturing back into the crowd. Owens tries and fails to find the door, tugging at a large curtain that covers the walls. As he struggles, the rest of the band stand around looking aimless. In the end, they clamber down from the stage and make their way through the first couple of rows. Back amongst the throng, they disappear.

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More on Girls
Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost
Girls @ Scala, London
Girls @ Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen, London
Girls – Album