Photo by Jason Williamson.
On something of a painfully congested night in terms of concerts happening all around the capital, with just a peak at a gig listings site revealing Niki & the Dove to be in town and Japandroids hosting an intensely intimate show at the Old Blue Last, it seems a critical case of plumping for the act you think will provide such a show that you’ll forget of all other bands’ existence. Girls, for the most part, are this kind of act.
And I don’t appear to be alone in this thought, as it seems that the San Fran band’s only UK show of 2012 reigns supreme, seemingly winning over everyone with a postcode beginning N or E to The Forum for the evening. As the gig-goers who made it to the almost sold-out show migrate from pre-tipples at the nearby Bull and Gate and proceed to shed every item of excess clothing socially acceptable to remove, Weird Dreams start the night off and continue their speedy ascent from pub back-room headliners to major venue support. Their recently-released debut LP, a sonic haze of bittersweet melodies that harks back to the Beach Boys and is not entirely unlike the band they are backing on this one-off leg, fare well critically but as the sound system greats everyone with dense, impenetrable levels they become secondary to chatting at the bar.
That’s not to say their set is without a moment or two of spark, there are instances such as on ‘Holding Nails’ or their eponymously-named track but these numbers hit home more convincingly to those already familiar, as you try to mentally distinguish the the melodies from the smothering fog. As they wrap things up we find ourselves wondering whether or not the sound guy can leg it to one of the many cash convertors along Kentish Town Road to find a decent mixer in the short interval between support band and headline act.
With no noted movement around the sound desk, Girls take to the stage along with their full live band including three R&B-style female backing singers that seem to have fallen into becoming full-time members since they were last around these parts. The band, led by the charmingly awkward frontman Christopher Owens begin with a mixed bag of songs to open; a newie, an oldie and a track from their middle EP. The choices themselves show the true strength of material the band have to offer, only two and a half albums in and the band have already managed to assemble a diverse but consistently impressive setlist with each pick probably someone’s favourite on any given night. Meandering between stylings impossible to pin down to a certain era or time period, they somehow manage to remain original and idiosyncratic. At the same time, they appear to be a band that are wholly accessible and possessing an outsider’s edge. Owens’ lyrics and song structure may follow a universally familiar road but always seem to take a strange turn in the end that never ceases to surprise; which, ultimately, is the mark of any great pop act in the making.
It’d be easy to flood any word count with gushing lines of unabashed praise on most occasions, and believe me, I thought that would be the case tonight too. But sadly the aforementioned technical woes mean the euphoria Girls have been known to create on an almost effortless basis are a little absent. While their show just down the road at the Electric Ballroom back in November left everyone in a mesmerising stupor in their wake, this time round something feels a bit off, and the moments of pious-like exhilaration that can normally be felt by the mere strike of an organ’s key or pluck of a peddle-steel guitar are sadly lost in the aural smog. Or, perhaps, Girls have merely knocked themselves down a rung or two by their own highly-set standards.
By the time ‘Vomit’ kicks in you know this is a make or break moment of the gig. A stripped-back and slow-burning, seven minute-strong epic that explodes into a guitar solo so huge that it even leads to Garbage’s Shirley Manson to share it on her Facebook page like a gushing fangirl. It stands tonight as an aural test and one that Girls just about manage to conquer, as the impact of the electronic organ springs to life and reaches new levels after previously being lost in the murky backwash of bass and overdrive guitar.
It feels like a pivotal moment; a flurry of late bloomers and sure-hitters that make the gig blossom belatedly right at the end follow. Any late-comers who spent a few too many hours languidly lapping up the last of the sun will surely go away with only positive emotions. The spinning and spiralling ‘Morning Light’ conjures a devastating frenzy that flows right into the delightfully bratty ‘Lust For Life’, their trademark hit and lonely-boy proclamation that’s probably always going to top many’s playcount chart. ‘Honey Bunny’, an anthem that bemoans girls (with a lower-case ‘g’ this time) not digging Chris’ boney body nor dirty hair, and ‘Carolina’, an ode to a downtrodden former Miss America contestant, provide for a late salvage that leaves all wanting to rush home and listen to the setlist the best they can remember it from start to finish.