Behind the bands tonight, against the wall played Bill Morrison’s 2002 film Decasia. If you’ve never seen or heard of it, it’s a montage of old decaying silent films from past decades. At times the footage is simple and seemingly bland such as waves crashing on rocks by a shore. Other times the film itself is so perished there’s nothing more than spoiled film flickering before your eyes. But occasionally beneath this distortion an image appears – a woman kneeling, for example. Within the most aged and warped facades there is always another side to see.
And tonight’s bands had a similar quality to them. Opening act Saint Jude’s Infirmary possess a certain kind of homely charm. “Taxi to the Ocean” twinkles with glockenspiel but soon keyboards and bass drown out all the initial wonder and turn it into something captivating. Picking cuts from their new album, This Has Been the Death of Us, the band sound more cohesive and appealing than when I saw them years back. They sound confident with the music they are now creating even when they go out on a whim and the bass player takes up vocals for the final track, stumbling about in a near erratic manner and singing like some possessed version of John Cooper Clause. It’s now perhaps I’d feel bad for letting them slip away from my consciousness for so many years.
Swanton Bombs are quite simply two of the most talented youngsters I’ve seen on stage in some time. But then again, it feels like it been some time since I’ve actually been to a gig where I would come across bands like this – snappy, ambitious, loud and, to some extent, devastatingly good. The guitars shift from style without much notice, going from garage rock riffs to blues all while the drums are pounded at a ferocious speed. It recalls Jay Reatard at his heavier moments but delivered with a kind of flair and enthusiasm that’s hard not to raise an eyebrow of impression towards.
Because of the size of the venue here, there was no dramatic entrance for Girls, all the way from San Francisco. They wandered on stage, setting up their own instruments and tuning up, all in perfect view of the crowd. But really this just makes it more enticing, as the crowd seeps forward. Despite donning a woollen jumper and scarf, lead singer Christopher Owen has an intimidating posture. Yet he seems at ease, despite the crooked angle and the tiny stage he is confined to. But even when “Lust For Life” or “Ghost Mouth” appear, he sounds like he’s as free as he needs to be – surrounded by about ninety people.
There’s an earnestness about the way he sings that makes the music appealing to me. Sure, it doesn’t hit any vastly new areas and his lyrics are clichéd at times, but that seems the point – the band did name their debut album Album, after all. Sometimes you don’t care that you’re doing something the same, you just want to do it because it’s soothing to the soul and it helps make things clearer. For Owen, life seems to revolve around love –he even covers Daniel Johnston’s “True Love Will Find You In The End” for the encore – and this does make for tale after tale of misplaced feelings. But the majority of commercial music has been about love, so really who’s to complain all of a sudden at Girls for carrying on the trend? Contrived it might be to a good amount of people – “Big Bad Mean Mother Fucker” pretty much is “Grease Lightening” with fuzzy guitars and three chord trick thrown in – but it’s also so easy to just enjoy.
Then, of course, there’s “Hellhole Ratrace”, the number most of the crowd tonight were here for. As the chorus came in the crowd harmonized with Owen which did bring a corny anthemic feel to it but hell, I was singing along too. It’s a desperate chorus he sings and we can all relate to either wanting to not “cry our whole lives through” or just wanting to “shake a leg or two”. Life fucks us over but the best part is getting up after the fall and song soundtracks this as well as you could hope.
As Girls played I found myself getting distractingly fixed on Decasia in the background. I thought of the broken and detuned original soundtrack the film has and how it compares to the music playing over the film now. It fits perfectly. Bill Morrison shows that images of life fade through time and we can’t remember something perfectly forever. Memories are fleeting, passing images and experiences in our heads. Owens sings from a tragic background at points but at least he seems to see the light at the end of the tunnel. That way, at least the memories won’t be so hard to encounter if they ever get restored in his mind.