NME Live: Girls at Bowery Ballroom

October 17, 2011 § Leave a comment

Published in the Oct. 8 issue of NME Magazine.

There were moments when it seemed San Francisco’s Girls might not make it. So much ink has been spilled over frontman Christopher Owens’ extraordinary life story – he grew up in a religious cult and is open about his ongoing opiate abuse – that it is easy to come to their live shows with preconceptions about his tortured genius or excuses for sometimes rambling, shambolic performances.

Not any more. Over two packed nights at New York’s Bowery Ballroom, Girls played from a stage strewn with flowers, crammed with wires and the addition of three lively gospel singers.

The speedy Beach Boys guitars of new track ‘Honey Bunny’ had the audience singing the refrain, “They don’t like my bony body, they don’t like my dirty hair,” right from the start of the show. Owens was playful, hooking his leg over the fret of his guitar in ‘Laura’ and dancing to ‘Heartbreaker’.

‘Love Like A River’, showed off some of the more experimental sides of new album Father, Son, Holy Ghost, which expands on the band’s retro-obsessions with big 70s breakdowns and lots of instrumental detours around deceptively simply tunes. The song could have been written for a diva, but with Owens’s wounded, slightly strained vocal in the midst of huge gospel textures it came off bruised and beautiful.

More blissful, frazzled guitars returned for the night’s highlight, ‘Vomit’, which turned between prog-guitar solos, jangly Hammond organ and the powerful lungs of backing singer Makeda Francisco.

Even ‘Die’, which sounds more like something Jack White might write, was casually executed, guitar solos echoing between Owens and guitarist Evan Weiss while his brother Darren Weiss tore up splash cymbals from behind. A circle pit opened up at the front and Owens and Evan Weiss seemed surprised at the reaction as they watched the mayhem unfold with barely a smile between them.

The smile came later, at the end of a 90-minute set, when Owens left the stage after the first of two encores. It wasn’t a big elated grin, but the irrepressible smirk of a man who knows that things are definitely looking up.

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