Stripped back
Girls - Live at Stereo, Glasgow

Many musicians have been influenced by the Swans’ seminal album, ‘Children of God’. Not many have actually been members of, and escaped from, the eponymous religious cult, but that’s Christopher Owens’ story, and it’s all true. Tonight he’s in Glasgow with his band, Girls, all three members neatly posed behind bouquets of plastic flowers, a nicely camp/ironic touch. Maybe they’re just something to hide behind form the sold out venue.

His immersion in cult life and isolation from real life have perhaps given Owens a unique approach, able to write classic pop songs such as 'Heartbreaker' and 'Laura' with a freshness and honesty as if love and loss were uncliched, new subjects, without a hint of hipster irony. Girls do seem a little uncertain at first however, while performing these songs, not interacting with the crowd in any way, and using those plastic flowers as camouflage. Owens, his face completely obscured beneath his mane of blonde hair, sings into his fringe, his voice as wispy as his hair. He looks like the young Kurt Cobain, and sounds a bit like Daniel Johnston. However, as the gig progresses, everything falls into place.

Now, as much as I like the first Girls album, the new material sounds just a bit too cluttered, too overproduced (I know I’m in the minority). So hearing the new songs done without a choir and the kitchen sink thrown in, just by the band with a guest guitarist doing walking bass lines, stripping them back to their core reminds you of why everybody loved Girls in the first place. And of course, some of the new songs, like ‘Vomit’, are great in their own right.

The interplay between the old and the new songs works well, building to some kind of crescendo with the epic riff-driven ‘Forgiveness’, where the band finally look relaxed, and really rock out.

Everything climaxes with a version of ‘Lust For Life’, by which point you feel the band really mean it, and the audience are more than endorsing the sentiment. Girls are a band who are still finding their way, and who not afraid to experiment (either musically or with chemicals), but they’ve already inspired something of a cult of their own.

Words by Brian Beadie

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