Girls came to Lincoln Hall in Chicago last week to headline a show. You’re seeing these words, so I can assume you’re interested in this band. I’m interested in them too; I even like them and have for a little while now. Their new album came out last month, and that’s why this show happened.
A four piece named PAPA opened the show. Their name is in all caps. First of all, I have to tell you that they have a singing drummer. If I were you, I would really want to know that before anything else.
Aside from the fascination I have with the sheer phenomenon of the singing drummer, Darren Weiss immediately snapped feeling into the room. With accents from organ and electric guitar, the rhythm section drove every number forward without coming close to sacrificing a song’s pace. Each tune carried a simultaneously pulsing, easy, and forceful tone. “Ain’t It So” hung with me throughout the set. I don’t want to be that guy that names other acts, but I was thinking Walkmen and the Band at various times throughout the set. What may be an unusual sentiment during an opening band, I never found myself waiting for PAPA to stop playing.
Nobunny came on stage next. You know he wears a rabbit mask and no pants, right? Anyway, there’s this place across the street that has a pretty decent Mexican hamburger with avocado. I opted for waffle fries on the side. It was really good.
You may have seen pictures or videos of Girls’ recent performances. No gospel choir showed up, but keeping with tradition for this tour, rainbowed bouquets of flowers lay across amps and hung from all mic stands. The two constant members, front man Christopher Owens and instrumentalist JR White, walked on stage backed by none other than good ol’ PAPA.
They tumbled right into the show leading off with “Laura” off their first record. Not my first guess or preference, but after ten seconds it sunk in and carried on as the perfect choice. A not-so-fast, jangly start felt just right and led into the rest of things. After a short lull, “Honey Bunny” and “Alex” came next. Probably two of the best songs on the new album, they sounded tighter and more energetic than
I would’ve imagined them being on stage. Not bad! But wait it gets a little better right here.
After another healthy dose of forced banter and tuning after the first lump of songs, Girls let loose with the acapella intro to the album’s yearning soul track, “Love Life.” The plaintive jam immediately pulled everyone together in attention. Smiles and nodding abounded. I do want to pause and tell you that Christopher was wearing blousy, caramel colored corduroys topped with a denim shirt. All white oversized Air Force Ones completed the ensemble. Song after song, he poured himself into each number while seeming genuinely somewhere just short of disinterested and careless. During instrumental breaks, Owens writhed and twisted away from the microphone doing a ‘luuded-out Bo Diddley type thing; I was feeling it.
Compared to what was sitting on Girls’ two albums, these performed versions seemed to care nothing about their recorded counterparts. The songs were unfurling, new things unto themselves, and they looked and sounded killer. “Die” is the guitary, soaring, rock track on Father, Son, Holy Ghost; I normally flip past it. As both guitars started into the live version, out rolled galloping, crunchy harmonies. It sounded completely right. It wasn’t quite what one would expect from the wistful, druggy, west coast rock dudes, but it leapt out and left everybody full and grinning. During the focused mess, Owens stood upright with unusually good posture strumming sometimes aimlessly, and occasionally earnestly and haphazardly. His face was about two feet right of the microphone, but his lips casually mouthed “Ba ba bas” while he pointed half-closed eyes in no specific direction. You could tell these songs were supposed to be like this.
From that point there were five or six more songs. The band seemed less and less keen to be playing for the people watching them. I can’t really blame them; there were a lot of girlfriends-rubbing-their-boyfriends-back-during-the-show type of folks. You know, the people who actually make it into the show that sells out early. Yeah, bummer. Some of the last songs got iffy. “Hellhole Ratrace,” the hazy, slow building (and best) track off the Girls’ first album, was played in its entirety. But it was also done in half the time. And with that, their forced encore, the band left the stage.
I don’t think I would’ve preferred a show that built to multiple crescendos brimming with smiling musicians that gave the crowd compliments in between applause. Girls aren’t a flawless band, and they don’t have a flawless sound. They stick with you by way of all their nicely bent corners and familiar frayed edges. Why would we want anything less when they stood right in front of you? Contributed by John Ennis. Photos by Joe Annoreno and John Ennis.
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