“I look crap with my top off”
A night out with Girl Band in Dublin
It’s all the fault of Weezer, Mogwai and The Last Shadow Puppets. Those three acts had new albums out last week which myself and Lauren Murphy were reviewing on RTE Radio One’s Arena last Friday night.
It quickly became apparent that neither of us had found any gold in them there hills. Instead, we found ourselves dealing with albums which were, well, grand. Albums which were difficult to loath, but also difficult to love. Albums which are just going through the motions. Albums which won’t be remembered in a few months’ time. I could damn with faint fainter praise by saying “meh”, but grand does the job just as well. Not stinkers, but far from great all the same.
That’s the state of a lot of alternative music in 2016: it’s grand. We’re at a time when a lot of alt and indie music just doesn’t cut the mustard and turns out to be a little on the contrived, predictable and hackneyed side. It’s safe, conservative and bland, music which really sounds as if the players have found a formula and are holding onto it for dear life. There is no spirit, no energy, nothing to remind you that we’re dealing with artists who have the ability to do amazing things and are hell-bent on doing said amazing things.
But, you know, #notallmusicians and that’s where Girl Band come in. Last Friday night was their first show of any stripe in a while. It also happened to be their biggest headlining date in Dublin to date, the band pulling a massive crowd to Vicar Street. Health and illness concerns have scuppered a few tours the band had intended to do since the headspinning debut album “Holding Hands With Jamie” came out so there was a bit of pent-up demand to see the band and gauge the fuss.
What we get is a band who thrill the chattering gigging classes of a Friday night into abandon and euphoria. This was powerful, an act who’ve found a new way of operating the same levers not once, not twice, but seemingly every time they go onto the pitch.
Mere deconstruction alone is of little help in parsing this one. It’s how as opposed to what the four of them have decided to do with that guitar, bass, drums and voice which makes this one so worthy of attention. Tracks thud and thump and shriek and scream yet never repeat their lines or turn the momentum into predictabilty, the biggest curse of all.
The lines which Alan Duggan and Daniel Fox produce may come from guitar and bass but they’re using and treating those instruments in a winningly instinctive and experimental way. Much of the power at Girl Band’s disposal at present comes from Adam Faulkner’s masterful buzz at the drumkit, while Dara Kiely’s vocal screamage at the microphone is never less than enthralling and compelling.
Their version of Blawan’s “Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage” sets down a marker for the night, a sublime take on the original’s techno ferocity which never thankfully becomes “indie rock band does techno”. Instead, they replicate its dark, pacey energy with their own spirited, jagged, refreshing playing.
Every other track on the night is equally coated in a similar kind of idiosyncratic joi-de-vivre, a series of striking and distinctive transmissions from a land where rock music is still capable of taking the lead and pushing things on. From “Pears For Lunch” to “Lawman”, Girl Band have the means at their disposal to bring colour from the chaos and they’re doing this again and again.
It’s always great to see a band come good on what they’ve promised. Girl Band demonstrated the potential to do this when they first stepped out as a band at that early show at Dublin’s Bernard Shaw a few years ago, but then again, every band exudes that same possibility at that early stage of their career. That Girl Band have topped this and continue to do so – and that there is a growing audience for them as they make those adjustments and experiments in public – is something worth cheering. Right now, there really is no-one else in the game to touch them. In terms of what’s to come, well, strap yourself in.