Scala – September 15th
A year ago the Scala would have been no place for Girlpool. An obscure guitar-bass duo with a line in shrill indie, their debut album, Before The World Was Big, unlocked their DIY vibes from the confines of Californian bedroom jams and crowded coffee shops to let them run wild across Europe. This fact isn’t lost on Cleo, who thanks the crowd at every opportunity for giving Girlpool a chance to bring their bittersweet soundtrack overseas.
Stephen Steinbrink is no stranger to the bittersweet, either. His earnest acoustic is pretty but ineffective in its introspection; too self-indulgent to truly connect with, but with moments of poetry. Nai Harvest are the only band tonight in possession of a drum kit and they make good use of the extra heft, rattling through cuts from Hairball. The reverb that usually drenches their shows is toned down tonight, giving their performance a sharper edge and their closer (Hairball’s eponymous final track) a raucous energy.
Girlpool’s sound consists of a few simple components, executed so flawlessly that to add anything else would be to its detriment. It’s the Moldy Peaches with the heart of Frank Black, played with an economy that strips each track to its youthful core. The vocal clash of ‘Plants And Worms’ is an early highlight, with ‘Dear Nora’ and ‘Emily’ supplementing the sombre setlist. ‘Ideal World’ and ‘Before The World Was Big’ serve to lift the mood, mixing some light into the darker material. Unfortunately the still atmosphere is disturbed late in the day when a fan makes an inappropriate remark about the band from which they never quite recover. The heckle, while delivered good-naturedly, rightly got under the skin of Harmony and Cleo. The result is an uncomfortable encore return that can’t match the breezy melancholia of the main set.
This incident aside, it’s hard to argue the unlikely power of Girlpool’s ‘less is more’ material in a live environment.