Girlpool W/ Summer Flake @ The Reverence5 February 2016
According to my star sign and its position in the sky, I was set to have a night of adventures. As I was told this, a grim storm engulfed the city above, and at that very moment I decided that I would in fact go to the Girlpool show on that night. Soon after I found out that the astrological reading was actually meant for the previous day, but my night’s trajectory had already crystallised in front of me, the show at its centre.
Usually when I go to Footscray, I eat Vietnamese or Ethiopian because there are several notable restaurants, unparalleled down my way. It was trumped by a clear burger sentiment in the camp; perhaps appropriate given the American origin of the band we came to see. As much as possible I like to theme the food I eat with the experience that follows it. The fried mushroom burger from 8bit rocked hard. I could have eaten at least one more, maybe with a different condiment combination. I can picture Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad, the Girlpool duo, playing the arcade game machines and doing fairly well on a 20-cent coin. The machine out the back of the restaurant was unfortunately out of order.
It’s hard to exactly pinpoint why Girlpool are playing at the Reverence, considering the other acts that perform at the venue project such a different sound and aesthetic. It’s a corner pub on a wide industrial street and on entering I was quite worried that a dining room with an illuminated couch would be the cruel joke of a stage. Just before the real bandroom, I was approached by a gig-goer looking to get rid of a spare ticket from a friend who couldn’t make it. I know the stress of desperately trying to find a recipient for a neglected ticket at the eleventh hour. The relief at finding each other was reciprocal; I accepted the ticket with glee, before shouting my new friend a pint once inside the ultra-clean, empty space.
A remark to friends of the most deluded juvenile idealism, I thought at the time, contained the idiocy to derail the evening. Stephanie Crase of Summer Flake came on stage and cloaked the conversation abruptly, playing the first few songs solo. I sat on the couch knocking back my drink, bloated with regret and remorse. It would be unfair to say that Crase’s lyrics mirrored my sentiments, but the floating anguish in which they were conveyed struck an emotional chord. Summer Flake is another ace band from Adelaide that has relocated here, and their Time Rolls By EP (2015) is beautiful slack-pop, instilled with a bleak nostalgia that points to a time I know not when, yet can grasp in feeling. Crase’s casual jibes between songs highlighted her confidence on stage, matched by effortless fuzz shredding at the peak of heavier songs. Her bandmates walked off the stage as Crase finished the set, solo and calm.
Outside we talked to two cool people from opposite ends of the Northern Territory, by way of Adelaide. They had an easy-going charm that kept us comfortable in the courtyard, not realising until everybody had disappeared around us that Girlpool had already begun. I never got round to asking someone in the crowd what happened in that first minute of the show. My memory of the set will always have that cold opening.
Their deeply west coast American harmonies swept out to the crowd that had grown to an impressive size. Drums are entirely absent in Girlpool; the bass and guitar neatly interplay with each other, touching yet dodging an identical tune. After one song Tividad commented on her amazement at encountering the “big rock”, Uluru, then joked that this must be the reason Australians are so into rock and roll music.
There is a sincerity to the duo’s deadpan remarks that extends to the lyrics of their songs; vivid stories of the youthful experience that I find much more engaging than many other bands who are coaxed in indecipherable, angst poetry. I’m surprised that they are from Los Angeles, a mega-city that tends to breed city slick hyper confidence, rather than the humble, sentimental coolness of Girlpool, often reserved for smaller towns.
When in unison they shouted “Walked around my neighbourhood / one hundred, one million, billion, trillion times” on their debut LP’s title track ‘Before the World Was Big”, a surge of appreciation-shivers traveled through me, not for the only time in the set. The suburban imagery is palpable and I could see myself acting out these songs; hanging out with friends shooting the bull outside a church on a Thursday after 3:30pm.
The spirit that Girlpool sent out that night is what I so cherish in music; combining a seriousness in the song form creation, with a positively anarchic approach to performance. On occasion, Tividad and Tucker laughed at each other during a song, or broke into a sudden overdriven detour, demonstrating the punk attitude I’ve always wanted to exhibit. On set closer ‘Cherry Picking’, as their vocals again reached a shared emphatic yell, a woman near the front raised her arms in respect and I smiled to the final note.
The little box space that houses the merch table is the ugliest section of the venue. After the gig it was abandoned, until through the crowd came a massive pile of records concealing their carrier. Girlpool were selling their own records! We snapped one up quick and I made a dorky comment about them being the equal coolest band I’ve seen, and they kindly gave me the all clear to write a story about them hanging out with Moon Duo in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Above the heads of the two kids on Before the World Was Big (2015), Harmony and Cleo’s names are signed. My friend said that when they were 70 or so, they would show their grandchildren this record, and it would be a very pleasant moment.