Kentish Town Forum, London
Monday, May 28 2012
San Franciscan band Girls sound fresh, because they are something of a contradiction - original yes, but religiously-undertoned and yet casually flippant. The religiousness stems from the fact that founding member and frontman Christopher Owens is a former member of the Children of God evangelical cult who escaped his sheltered upbringing aged 16 (Girls' latest record Father, Son, Holy Ghost is so-called due to the spiritual connections that founded its sound). And yet their songs on the surface appear supremely shallow, contravening this spiritual richness.
Emotively simple titles such as 'Summertime', 'Honey Bunny', 'Lust for Life', 'Vomit' and 'Die' evoke cinematic memories of Tom Hanks' adult-self in Big - experiencing all of adulthood's possibilities all at once. In the deep end of being a man in the modern world. Even their name arouses an adolescent erection. And it is this combination which forms the youthful joie de vivre that gives the Ariel Pink-like poppers the power to enchant listeners that many bands lack.
Now that Girls are two longplayers in, following up their latest effort on the back of Elvis Costello-tinged pop debut Album, they have developed depth and a certain pop substance (nothing class A, of course) to complement their fresh thinking. This is all too self-evident in tonight's performance at the Forum, as the boys and girls from Cali hit their stride fast and play with gusto. And the event is all the more special, being as it is the only London date on first night of a European tour which sees them fly off to the continental mainland the following morning.
Sweaty bodies and a muggy air adds a deep south gospel feel to proceedings, coming full circle on the heavy '50s-diner-root-beer float-with-Peggy Sue influences which Owens clearly draws from, via '60s/'70s west-coast surf-pop and progressive rock, via a dabble of punk. The main hall gradually catchup with Owens' bullet train-like speed of musical thought by the time the epic 'Vomit' gushes from the retro amps halfway through. A trio of all-girl soul vocalists - who have offered mere backing thus far - now step into the light. As Owens whispers "# Come into my heart/My love #", the church organ signals an extended vocal from head gospel-girl which rouses his followers better than the average preacher. This sound could fill a stadium (or cathedral), and maybe even make a dent in mainstream radio and charts were its song title not so off-putting.
Head banging ensues and thrusting arms are raised aloft on new wave's 'Morning Light', followed by pop's 'Lust for Life' - opposite ends of the musical spectrum they may be, but the energy remains consistent. Further crowd-bouncing ensues. Flowers on stage add a funereal quality to the evening's église-esque experience. Sombre and sadness in 'Love Like a River' builds like a coiled spring in powering shared emotion in the gatherers, while the intense and overtly proggy 'Carolina' seems a slightly odd choice to finish on, but the intention in its selection is self-evidently clear: Girls are here to cleanse, and everyone is now blessed to enjoy all of life's lustful vomit-inducing pleasures.