Tuesday, 29 May 2012

847 GIRLS, Weird Dreams, London Kentish Town The Forum, Monday 28 May 2012

Having previously declared my choosiness for London gigs these days – especially on a school night – its’ odd that I’m now in the midst of 3 gigs in the Big Smoke in a row, and all in 8 days! This one was the only UK date for US alt rock newbies Girls, another recommendation from Tim, and whose “Father, Son, Holy Ghost” album was a late grower in 2011, pitching between the textural, monotone yet absorbing style of Boston’s Wheat, a bit of seemingly de rigueur Buddy Holly style 50’s soda bar doo-wop balladry, and some clean, understated vocal harmonies which for me recalled Gigolo Aunts. High praise indeed, so off we go!

Tim and Trace picked me up early and unprepared at 5.30, and we scooted off to old stamping grounds Kentish Town, getting lost twice north of Camden (!) but still parking up the road from the Forum just after 8. The old place had clearly had some TLC since my last trip here, looking re-floored, opened out and spruced up somewhat. We took more notice of support Weird Dreams this time, but after a good opening number, with some harmonic jangle recalling Attic Lights, they tailed off into pleasant but unremarkable wallpaper pop. Again.

The place was packed and uncomfortably warm (no air-con on; bah!), with an unusual high proportion of, erm, girls, amongst this very young crowd. Is Girls mainman Christopher Owens this generation’s opiate-fuelled slacker sex symbol, I wondered; an Evan Dando for the new millennium? Anyway, the lights dimmed at 20 to 10 and the 8 piece band, led on by Owens, a diminutive floppy haired blond, dapper in white blazer and spotty tie, took the flower-bouquet festooned stage to a frenzied welcome, and eased into plaintive, slow burn opener “My Ma”.

The set initially passed in a haze of blissful sun-kissed Californian psych-pop, warm and redolent of both 50s and 60s; all very lovely, but I couldn’t help feeling it needed a kick-start. A strident middle eight to the comparatively rockier “Ghost Mouth”, half a dozen numbers in, nearly provided it, but then the impressively larynxed main female backing vocalist exhorted the crowd to, “make some noise!” and handclap the intro to “Alex”. This, easily their best number anyway, was magnificent, a slice of tempo-changing and absorbing lushness reminiscent of The Drop Nineteen’s classic “Winona”. “Vomit” followed, the moody, claustrophobic “Creep”-like first part descending into Husker Du wig-out guitar noise (unsurprising, given Owens’ hardcore roots) then clearing into almost Motown-like soul confessional, with a thunderous climax greeted by an equally thunderous – and lengthy – ovation. “Hellhole Ratrace” took a similar route, with a stark refrain, “I don’t wanna cry, my whole life through…” looping over and over, as the musical backdrop changed from plaintive balladry to a stormy Seafood-like feedback squall. A wonderful mid-set triad!

As if needing to clear the air, Owens steered the set into calmer, more Summery waters again, with a stripped back “Forgiveness”, before “Lust For Life” closed it out with a moshpit receiving this upbeat and surprisingly conventional pop number. A 3 song encore, the best number of which was the opener, the galloping, chuntering “Honey Bunny”, preceded the otherwise taciturn Owens thanking the enthusiastic crowd profusely for coming, and the band hurling the flowers into the audience. A fitting and inclusive end to a very fine set.

I grabbed a set-list, thanks to a friendly bouncer, before a few diversions and an unscheduled trip along the A40M to pick up the M25, thus avoiding M4 junction closures, saw us arrive home about ¼ to 1. A heavy going journey home, but Girls made it worth the effort!

Friday, 25 May 2012

846 THE POPGUNS, Joanna Gruesome, London Islington Buffalo Bar, Thursday 24 May 2012

A 2 month gig hiatus is finally over, and as feast follows famine, this gig heralds a hectic run of 5 in 16 days. It also heralded the return of 90’s female-fronted Indie popsters The Popguns; although I confess I preferred the streetwise suss of the later period Heart Throbs and the sheer class of “my darlings” The Parachute Men, The Popguns nevertheless carved a niche in my memory with some effervescent brain-hugging tunes, particularly the stupendous “Waiting For The Winter”. Also hosts of a couple of early 90’s Link Centre gigs (one good, one less so), this was another unexpected yet welcome reunion. So let’s see how it works out…

Tim was particularly keen on this one, so I decided to join him and Tracey for a Thursday jaunt oop The Smoke, to the Buffalo Bar, scene of one of The Sheila Divine’s triumphant London gigs a decade (!!) ago. A smooth drive up on the hottest day of the year, passing Harry Ramp the tramp and his latest proclamation (“Vile Repressive 100% Intolerant Brutal Country”; the man has a way with words…) at the Chiswick Flyover, saw us park around the corner from the venue at 8.30. We met Tim’s siblings in “The Old Cock Tavern”(scene of a Gigolo Aunts drink-in many moons ago), missing first support act Owl And Mouse but hitting this scuzzy downstairs rat-hole in time for second support, the punnishly named Joanna Gruesome. Their set seemed intent on reviving the mid-80’s anorak flexi fanzine movement, with fey whimsy and seriously understated vocals backed with ramshackle noisy guitar, and passed by innocuously, apart from a couplet from Galaxie 500’s classic “Tugboat” and their last, best, number, which was a driving laze-fest recalling very early Teenage Fanclub.

The venue looked like it hadn’t had a lick of paint since that Sheila Divine show (!), and was seriously stuffed; this was a sell-out, and disappointed punters had been milling around outside as we entered! We found a place by the bar stage left, unfortunately partly obscured by a pillar, for the Popguns’ arrival at 9.45. Determined to make an impression on their first London crowd,“for 16 years!” as vocalist Wendy indicated, they kicked off with an impressive double salvo of the spunky, lovelorn “Where Do You Go” and a bouncy, driving “Because He Wanted To”, Wendy’s strident vocals already the key feature. It’s been awhile, but the girl still knows how to belt out a number. Fair play! “Someone You Love”, despite an understandable lyric slip-up, kept the momentum going, and “Star” featured a surprisingly powerful mid-section, before the pace inevitably slackened with a nevertheless haunting, Heart Throbs-like “Gone”.

“I’m a proper Indie Girl now,” declared Wendy as she grabbed a tambourine for “Over Your Head”, nearly being sideswiped by a guitar neck in the process – it was a tight squeeze onstage for this 5-piece plus extra backing vocalist! The jangly, Smiths-influenced wide eyed innocent pop continued, drifting a little for me mid-set, although the guys – hey, we’re all 20 years older, there's no point denying it - nevertheless put in a solid shift, before roaring back with a final double-punch of the excellent, set highlight “Bye Bye Baby”, and “Going Under”, by which time I was down the front, stage right, bopping away.

An acoustic encore of “Put Me Through It” preceded the night’s closer, the supreme – and inevitable – “Waiting For The Winter”, as feisty, fresh, forceful and fun as 20 years previously, capping a fine return, which was overall much better than I’d even hoped. A few words, shared memories (that 90’s Swindon set-list!) pix and signed set-lists backstage afterwards was the icing on a sweet, effervescent and entirely delicious cake. Despite the very late homecoming (1.30 a.m. – yikes!), this was well worth the effort. Welcome back, The Popguns!