Girls - London Scala
Californian export, Girls are a daring band. The video for their single, ‘Lust for Life’, was a collage of smut (except that it wasn’t at all smutty and, if anything the plethora of boobs and willies and pansexual activities heightened rather than hindered the sweetness of the song). It ruffled feathers nonetheless. Follow-up single, ‘Morning Light’ is a drastic shift away from jangly indie-pop into the distortion heavy crashing guitar realms of actual rock music, albeit with their trademark dreamy Americana vocals still clinging on. So, why then does a band who demonstrate such arrogance in their professional decisions put on a rather mundane live show?
Support came from Sunderland’s Frankie and the Heartstrings; a band so wrought up in hype and “sound of 2010” fever that you naturally find yourself predisposed to hating everything about them and, frankly, they are a really strange band. Initial impressions aren’t great. They seem to have adopted a 1950s Motown boy band persona and they’ve done it with such commitment and meticulousness that it verges on parody. However, as the set gets underway and front man, Frankie (obviously), sheds his Greased Lightening leather jacket and allows the trauma of the lyrics to ruffle his impossibly hair-sprayed quiff, they reveal who they actually are as a band. No longer hiding behind costumes and personas, Frankie and the Heartstrings are a brilliantly tight, unique group who blur the lines between Frankie Valli, the Buzzcocks and Visage, with a front man who emanates pure sincerity and charisma. Definitely worth keeping an eye on.
In 2009 Girls released a brilliant album with the not so brilliant title, Album. We gave it a roaring 8/10 and hailed it as one of the great albums of the year. Tonight, however, was just a little bit stale. They opened the set with ‘Laura’, a gorgeous instant-classic that integrates standard song writing with a very modern rawness to create a brilliantly atmospheric ballad. Girls’ songs reference a long gone era so accurately that for much of the first half of the gig, you’d have been forgiven for confusing the Scala for the set of the slow dance scene at the end of the first Back to the Future movie.
Unfortunately, after half an hour of this, the lovely slow dance feel had eroded leaving a Top of the Pops-style failed artifice. The dry ice was lingering and the crowd was sobering up. Such a long spell of dream-pop ballads wasn’t quite cutting it for an audience who had fallen in love with an unpredictable, innovative album. In between songs people were yelling for ‘Big Bad Mean Mother Fucker’ and ‘Lust for Life’, but it soon became obvious that the crowd favourites had all been shoved towards the top of the set.
At one point it looked like there was no coming back. The band were complaining of “a conspiracy theory about the guitar levels” and their performance of 'Lauren Marie' hadn’t nearly done justice to Christopher Owen’s claim that it’s “the best song I’ve ever written”. Then out of nowhere came ‘Hellhole Retrace’ which slid perfectly into an incredibly indulgent (by which we mean brilliant) earth shattering noise-metal rendition of the upcoming single ‘Morning Light’. For seven sublime minutes, it felt like The Velvet Underground had taken over and were about to submit us to a 45 minute 'Sister Ray' marathon. Alas, the wall of sound concluded as abruptly as it started, but the disappointment was tempered with a finale of hits, sending the Scala crowd out into the night happy enough.
Photos by Steven Burnett from last year's Swn Festival