The Electric Ballroom has two temperatures set tonight.
In the stalls it’s sweating hot. The legion of people that didn’t leave a single ticket to the league of touts desperate outside to buy one, make it clear how the Girls concert in Camden is the hottest tonight, regardless the other 4, 5 big names playing in town.
In the pit is freezing cold. The air conditioned blows over my neck at an Icelandic temperature during the set of the support, provided by the inspired Spectrals. Shame the cute bass player had to cover her sexy red dress with an heavy coat.
Girls are from San Francisco, and the relaxed hippie Californian look of someone who’s used to live under the sun permeates their music since the debut album titled… Album.
The image they send is positive. Colourful. The smell of the real flowers taped on microphones on stage make me forget the air-con with memories of Frisco sunny streets.
Reading into the life of the band and in particular of Christopher Owens, the lead singer, mentor, writer; the ‘hippie’ influence takes a quite dramatic U turn from the flower power cliché we European are used to put on Californians.
As reported in this beautiful interview in the Guardian (and in Led Zep lyrics) all that glitters ain’t gold!
Owens past is a novel in itself, not always a nice one. He was raised in the sect of Children of God, one of those New Religions making up a cult mixing up alternative views of the Bible, some (in this case) hippie philosophy from the 60s and someone who believes to be a prophet enough to convince some others.
In Owens words: “Imagine being told everybody else in the world is bad, rejecting technology, rejecting medical research, being devoted to God and believing America was evil and the end of the world was coming: all the same principles.”
But also “I don’t like talking about the Children of God experience as entirely bad, because it wasn’t. I miss the sound of 300 people together singing in a room spanning from age two to 50. That’s something I’ll never have again.” There may be some gold in the glitters, as he will point out later.
From his biography to Girls music there’s enough material to make Freudian psychoanalysts at ease with a couple of essays on sublimation.
What started as peace, love and freedom to be emancipated from an evil world, to Owens and his cult became a prison where even music wasn’t allowed when not performed by Children of Gods’ members.
He had been trapped into this parallel reality until his teenage years when he someway managed to get out.
Expectedly he didn’t reject the principle of refusing the world he grew up with. Owens just used a different, alternative, antiparallel route to avoid society: Punk, sex and drugs.
He says: “(Heroin) never lets anyone go, that changes everybody’s life. The drug you can only relate to as the warmest hug you’ve ever received.”
Sublimation into music of such a difficult background could only produce great results.
Girls were born when Chris met with Chet “JR” White, the band bassist.
The turning point that saved his life much more the Children of God pretended.
“We’d fall asleep during takes, playing the guitar. Very dark. But that drug helped me a lot. I was in a lot of pain.”
The sense of freedom coming from not having any boundaries, either (pseudo)religious or chemical, the hippie communal cheerful background, the hardcore punk listening together ended up into the songs they recorded.
It’s no surprise Album, the debut LP came as a breathe of fresh air in 2009 music landscape. Those songs are immediately classic, they are classic rock. They are contemporary rock.
There’s the west coast of the sixties, there’s rock’n’roll, there’s soul but there is also noise, coarse guitars. There is everything that made rock great and all that everything springs out fresh also because of the segregation Christopher Owens was trapped. As when Roger Daltrey in Tommy runs wild singing I’m Free.
I don’t know the origin of band’s name. Judging from the advantageous position of the Electric Ballroom pit, I’d say it refers to the fans. Inverting the indie/alternative trend, the first row and most of the audience is a girls-only affair tonight. All screaming after their idol. I haven’t seen such devotion since I shot some post-teen indie-pop .
With his angel blonde look, Chris Owens instantly recalls the last of rock heroes: Kurt Cobain. The weird bio, the screaming fans and most of all, the songs, Girls have all the ingredients. A new rock myth is ready to start.
Who was lucky to be in tonight, witnessed it.
Girls are touring their second full length album: Father, Son, Holy Ghost.
If I hadn’t already bought the CD version I’d buy it on vinyl just because of the brilliant cover with all the lyrics printed on the front. It doesn’t happen that often anymore to see seminal record covers.
On the cover there’s also a “Record 3” in capital.
A statements highlighting how much the band considers the EP, Broken Dreams Club as a proper record despite it’s just 6 songs long.
It’s a sensible statement. Most bands would be desperate to write six songs as those in their career.
It’s not surprise that tonight’s set opens with one of those songs. Heartbreaker it’s like a punch in the stomach. It breaks all the broken hearts gathered in the front rows. Heads wave at the rhythm of an electric guitars ballad lullaby-ed by the sweet voice of Christopher Owens.
U turn and the waving become dancing at the upbeat rhythm of Laura. The cheerful mood from the song, taken from the debut LP, seems to get a smile in everyone’s face which projects onto the band members. They seem surprised to be so enthusiastically received. “This is a tour highlight” one of them whispers.
Girls are an emotional band. Emotional is Owens, emotional the songs, emotional the playing. Throughout the concert they scan a whole rainbow of emotions. The lyrics touch all aspects of ours life. Love, death, delusion and happiness. Touch all the hot-buttons were an indie fan likes to be touched.
Love Like a River is basically Beatles’ Oh! Darling revisited by Otis Redding. This justifies the three back vocalists adding so much soul into that tune to send shivers on everyone’s spine for the next 5 minutes.
In over 90 minutes there wasn’t a weak moment. I could carry on with a song by song review, I won’t. Some mention are obliged.
Honey Bunny’s sunny mood brings happyness. Lust 4 life brings that vintage west coast 60s sound so in fashion in the last five years to have started a surf-revival. None of the other bands in the league, Best Coast, Drums, Cults, Tennis… are any close to be half as good.
The epic new single, Vomit, beyond the unpleasant title is a touching ballad interlaced with one of the most cracking guitar sound I heard this year. If you wanted the proof Stephen O’Malley has been studied well beyond is experimental niche, you are served.
Despite all of this and more, my best moment of the night goes to Die. Without doubts among my favourite songs of the year. A riff for which Ritchie Blackmore would have killed for. A song that annihilate anything hard rock and psychedelia have tried to put into a trip song since Deep Purple’s Highway Star.
I was left awestruck in admiration, in front of 5 guys playing so naturally the best set of the year.
Girls is a band at his peak. It is touring its greatest hits 25 years before their reunion.
With three albums scoring a 9+ mark over Pitchfork database (I don’t think anyone else can claim such a record), there’s no need of more of my words to convince you to chase them.
Can’t remember if I said something about white balance in my 160+ tips on concert photography, but I want to say something related.
Actually, I’d like to know what fellow photographers do.
Concert lights are coloured. Everyone knows.
If the photographer doesn’t opt for a B&W set, there will be lot of colourful pictures in your flow.
There will also be a lot of colour dominants. Like all-red, all-blue, all-magenta. Now, this is what the camera records assuming what is white and what is not.
If you shoot raw (instead of jpeg which you should never use), it is possible to reverse that with a wide margin.
With any post-editing software you pick a “should be white” area (I find the eye of a performer is the best when available, but there’s always some white/grey/black in a frame) and you revert it deciding what should have been really a grey area despite the coloured spot.
Now, this is not a faithful representation of the reality.
That magenta light, was indeed magenta. A white guitar becomes magenta during that song.
Making it white (and changing every other tint accordingly) changes the mood of the image. It creates something that didn’t exist.
Extrapolating the concept, something the band didn’t want to be like that.
Point it that often it it looks more balanced, more real in a word: better.
So what’s your professional ethic? Do you change white balance cheating on the original light scheme to achieve a better composed colour spectrum?