Girls: Live last night

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.

By David Malitz |  November 4, 2009; 1:57 PM ET Live Last Night
Previous: The Very Best: Live last night | Next: Six Things I Miss About Home With ... Le Loup

Comments

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I agree--I was there and it was a complete snore. We left around the 45 minute mark--knowing it was almost over, but not really caring to stay. The opener, Real Estate, was actually pretty decent--so the $12 ticket wasn't a waste, in my opinion. :)

Posted by: deziginer | November 4, 2009 7:45 PM

David Malitz cannot be reviewing the same concert that I was at last night.
Girls brought it in every way possible. Their near-perfect "Album" translated even better into a live setting. A highlight of the night was when "Hellhole Ratrace" segued into "Morning Light," but the night was loaded with other outstanding moments. The reviewer has subjectively written off and mistaken Christopher Owens' "attempt to convey an impossibly innocent honesty" for SOUL. Owens is one of the rare songwriters with the ability to pen down such honest and simple lyrics without seeming cliche or corny. In my opinion, other songwriters who have shared this trait are John Lennon, Daniel Johnston, and Elliott Smith (to name a few).
Last night the rest band was flawless in recreating the sound of their debut, and seemed glad to be playing in front of a large group of DCists.
lipp.jordan@gmail.com

Posted by: jordanlipp | November 4, 2009 9:14 PM

@Lipp.Jordan
I saw them a few months ago in NYC (mostly to see the band opening for them) and left about 3 songs into the set. I found them insufferably boring, so i guess i'm with Mr. Malitz on this one.

Posted by: bweisholtz1 | November 5, 2009 9:49 AM

I read the hype, I went, I listened, I almost fell asleep. I like to stay until the bitter end, but I considered leaving at some point, because there was nothing the least bit interesting occurring onstage.

Real Estate, while not my cup of tea, probably has a future.

Posted by: MyPostID27 | November 5, 2009 9:59 AM

Malitz, you goddamn ninny. What do we care about what Owens wore? Or what's in the 'Lust for Life' video? And when was the last time we've heard Dando's name dropped? 1997?

I understand if you're bitter about the apparent Pitchfork bump that Girls got with their debut album, especially if you're not a fan already. So why not argue the relevance of their sound instead of dissecting them like a pair of Jimmy Choos?

Their concert sounded almost identical to their album, with a few flourishes. So if you knew that before you entered the Black Cat, quit beating around the bush about your intentions. You had no plans on giving the concert a good review from song one.

Posted by: saasphil | November 5, 2009 1:54 PM

This album is probably my favorite of the year, so I was really looking forward to the show. I have to agree with the reviewer, it's like every song was slowed down to half speed and played with even less enthusiasm. I read earlier in the day that their guitarist had recently quit and the new member had only been with them for a couple days and it showed. I left half way through. Very disappointing. Still, I would encourage people to check out the album, highly recommended.

Posted by: sjoswick1 | November 6, 2009 10:17 AM

This pretty much touched on every reason that I didn't go to this show. They were so forgettable when I saw them (not in DC) in March that I'd forgotten that I'd seen them when I caught their opening slot with Los Campesinos! Never before or since has the food line at 9:30 Club been so compelling. I certainly don't agree with Malitz on everything, but based on earlier times I caught Girls, I don't doubt that he's right on the money with this review. I'm half surprised that we didn't see a Please Explain to Me before the show.

Posted by: universaltravaler | November 6, 2009 7:34 PM

I agree with saasphil. If you're so butthurt about the fact that their image is getting to be more important than their music (which is honestly pretty good -- one of the few non-reissues that I've actually bought this year), why make fun of the way they look? That just seems immature. I saw them live a few times before I left the U.S.; it was fun. I think the real problem is that bands that would've traditionally been playing small venues -- to a crowd who actually appreciate punk/lo-fi offshoots and know what they're getting in to -- are now being booked for larger venues to an audience of looky-loos and critics.

Posted by: foldedhands | November 8, 2009 4:38 AM

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