Girls are a pretty fascinating story, to say the least. Singer/songwriter Christopher Owens has paid his life dues, having been raised in the Children of God cult, bouncing around the world, spending his adolescence around some of the seedier elements of the world (his mother was forced to work as a prostitute, his brother died as a result of lack of medical attention) before shunning the cult, being reborn as a punk and, years later, finding himself in San Francisco.
Girls played Neumos on Tuesday, November 17.
For such a maladjusted background, Owens and Girls are unexpectedly normal sounding. Steeped in the charismatic crooning of icons like Roy Orbison, Buddy Holly, Ricky Nelson, and the Elvis' (Presley and Costello), tweaked with a pinch of The Smiths and My Bloody Valentine, and simmered for a long time in a Phil Spector reverb-tank stew (with some downers thrown in for flavor), Girls sound familiar off the bat. Melodically, a good portion of Owens songs are playful and carefree, with some of the slower songs bordering on this lovely, sparse, epic quality found in Spaghetti Western soundtracks.Lyrically, Owens songs are filled with simple statements of heartbreak and needing to be loved, and part of the refreshing quality of Girls' music comes from that simplicity; there often is no need to wax poetic and prophetic about to be loved, about wanting a pizza and a bottle of wine. Emotion conveyed, and it's one most all of us can relate to.
The unfortunate part of the Girls equation is the live show. While Girls' album (Album) is all warmth, confidence, and inviting candor, the live band is a bit more standoffish. At times, it felt like there was a force field between the front of the stage and the crowd, keeping the band in some sort of terrarium so we could observe but not touch. Owens barely acknowledged the crowd, and the dour expressions on guitarist Ryan Lynch and bassist JR White's faces absolutely killed some of the playful bop that Girls songs have.
There were some rare moments of transcendental bliss in the set; after a set full of downers, the MBV fuzz of "Morning Light" made everyone in the crowd snap to attention, and "Lust for Life" got heads bobbing and bodies swaying (as well it should, it's one movie or commercial placement away from being one of the most memorable singles of 2009). Those electric moments were redeeming, but overall, the set was a bit too sleepy eyed; Owens spends most of his time singing about wanting a real emotional connection with someone, and I spent most of Girls set wanting any sort of real connection with this band past the time spent in my living room with their record.