Girls: Live last night
By David Malitz
San Francisco indie group Girls (consisting of four guys, of course) came to the Black Cat Tuesday as one of the most hyped bands of the year -- and some of it even has to do with their music! The backstory has simply proven too irresistible. Frontman Christopher Owens grew up in a cult and spent the first 16 years of his life continent-jumping and proselytizing on behalf of Children of God. Eventually he landed in San Francisco and developed a close relationship with every type of pill the FDA tells parents to keep away from children. And he's more than happy to talk about both of these subjects in interviews.
The band's latest single, "Lust for Life" -- yes, the same title as the Iggy Pop hit; no, those words don't appear at all in the lyrics -- is accompanied by a designed-to-shock video that crams so much graphic nudity into its two-and-a-half minutes it would make Larry Flynt blush. Oh, there's also that self-titled album of warm and jangly indie-pop, in case anyone cares.
(Don't believe the hype? The advice that keeps on giving, after the jump.)
And that's where live performance becomes so crucial. It's the great equalizer, particularly for buzz bands, who can take it upon themselves to prove that it's quality of songs, not narrative or being camera-friendly, that is the reason for any success. Girls failed this test in miserable fashion Tuesday night at the Black Cat.
Girls played an hour-long set that was amateur in quality and execution and not even engaging enough to qualify as boring. Usually talking at shows is an annoyance; last night you just wanted the conversations -- and they became more prominent as the night went on -- to be louder so there might be something interesting to listen to in the club.
Songs that are sturdy on record were flimsy, empty shells of '50s slow-dance-inspired numbers that George McFly would have been embarrassed to hear at the Enchantment Under the Sea dance. Owens's lyrics indulge cliche after cliche -- "I really wanna be your friend forever," "I've got a sad song in my sweet heart/And all I really ever need is some love and attention" -- in an attempt to convey an impossibly innocent honesty but instead came off as cloying, thanks to his affected nasal delivery.
The ghosts of '90s alt-rock past were ever-present in the Black Cat Tuesday night. Spindly frontman Owens took the stage wearing a striped sweater from the Cobain line, sporting natty, Dave Pirner-esque almost-dreads and wore a sideways cap at the perfect angle to give the whole thing that too-perfectly-disheveled look we somehow let Evan Dando get away with for so long. He lazily strummed an acoustic guitar for most of the set and, like the other members of the band (bassist JR White is the only other permanent member), stood motionless and expressionless.
"This is the first song I ever wrote," Owens offered before one of the many numbers trudged nowhere. And therein lies the major problem. A songwriter's first song ever written should almost never be played in front of a near-capacity crowd; it should be played in a bedroom, for an audience of nobody, and quickly discarded. Owens has some talent -- "Lust for Life" is a catchy, hip-swiveling nugget, although by the time the band played it at the end of its set, few people had the energy to bounce along. But Tuesday's show proved that Girls are simply that latest -- and most egregious -- example of a band catapulted to semi-fame while being nowhere near ready for prime time. Unless it's on TV for a reality show.
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