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Thursday, January 28, 2010

CAUGHT LIVE: GIRLS AND SMITH WESTERNS

Everyone keeps saying it, but it’s official, the 90’s are back in all their lo-fi glory. No band is more of a figurehead for this resurgence, than San Francisco’s GIRLS who took the stage Monday night at Orange County’s Detroit Bar. Christopher Owens and JR White took the packed crowd back about 15 years for an evening of jangly grunge pop; heavy on the melancholy, but beautiful nonetheless.

Children of God (Owen was raised in the cult) references abound, GIRLS have that whole emotional vulnerability thing down to a genuine science and craft universally emotional songs that transition from easy listening to blessed-out garage rock. Playing nearly every song off their 2009 release Album (True Panter/Matador Records), GIRLS played a set befitting of their status as indie darlings.

Owens’s took a page from the Conor Oberst playbook with searing, gravely vocals tempered with vulnerability in accordance with the often sad sentiment of most of the songs. “Hellhole Rat Race” personified just what bloggers and music fans love about this band, a simple tenderness undercut with an epic guitar swoosh that translates well in live setting. This nearly seven-minute ode to loneliness says it best, with “I’ve got a sad song in my sweet heart.”

Crowd favorite, “Lust for Life” was just that; earnest and pleading; begetting the crowd to clap along to this catchy pop gem. “Morning Light” was sonically intense and loud, with the frenzied swirl of sound culminating into a shoegazey crescendo. “Laura” was all jangly guitars with hints of their Buddy Holly infused sound. The sheer size of the crowd packed in the confines of Detroit Bar’s small performance area reinforced the notion that having your album rank a 9.1 on Pitchfork is clearly a good thing for ticket sales.

Much buzzed about openers, The Smith Westerns showcased just why hype-makers (Gorilla vs. Bear) and super producers (Mark Ronson) alike are fawning all over them. Despite some technical difficulties, this group of 18 and 19-year-old Chicago natives relied on the haze of a makeshift fog machine to lure the crowd into their teen angst grasps and, let me tell you- it works. Their perfectly crafted grunge pop jams like “Girl in Love” with its thumping bass and the hard to ignore melody. “Be My Girl” is a seemingly perfect morsel of garage pop, with a washed-out pop hook begging for a crowd sing-a-long. Playing one of their very first west coast shows, this barely legal gang of four are most definitely on the precipice of something huge.

From the Jordan Catalano haircuts, the sea of plaid, combat boots and grunge tinges, the night felt like a scene out of 1995’s My So-Called Life; sweetly melancholic and sincere and oh so worth the travel back in time.

The boys of The Smith Westerns over coffee and donuts after their Detroit Bar set.

Words by Veronica Pulcini, photos by Matt Draper

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