Sunday, September 30, 2012

'Girls Girls Girls' & 'The Feminists' at The Wilmington Arms, 30th September 2012

Arriving at the Wilmington Arms on Friday night was pretty dramatic stuff.  Prior to the gig I'd been watching two oiled up men beat the crap out of each other in a car park in Bethnal Green, and had to jet up to Clerkenwell double quick so I didn't miss the bands.  Everything felt vaguely apocalyptic as I cycled up Farringdon Road. The first inkling something was up was the large terrified crowd running in the opposite direction to me.  This is usually a bad sign.  A billowing cloud of smoke was headed my way too, and within it I could see flashing blue lights and police cars swerving to block the street.  Had the bands started already?  Was there a fire?  (there was a fire) I headed up a side street, avoided the wailing sirens and ran inside to catch the beginning of the set.  

'Girls Girls Girls'
It's hard for me to write an objective review of 'Girls Girls Girls', I've seen them maybe twenty times or so over the last few years and have lived with their drummer.  Having a friend in a gigging band can be a minefield; if they're godawful then you've signed yourself up to some fantastically depressing nights in dive bars watching them struggle through the same five or six songs over and over again.  Fortunately, 'Girls Girls Girls' are pretty damn great and even though I've heard their setlist an innumerable number of times, it is still a thrill to see them play.   While their songs are now all familiar me, they're always good fun to watch and an excellent match for 'The Feminists', who were on afterwards.

Jeremy Williams
'Girls Girls Girls' consists of Jeremy Williams, Adrian and Chris Wilcox on guitar, bass and drums respectively.  Tonight they're dressed in torn black vests, with a crude smear of black facepaint across their eyes.  It's a nice unifying look, defining the band as a cohesive unit.  Jeremy and Adrian in particular seem like two halves of the same coin, often literally bouncing off each other on stage, or winding their bodies together to create a kind of bass/guitar conjoined twin. 

Their music is a kind of circus-punk, all rolling rhythms coupled with some heavy riffs.  It's difficult to describe (so why not just listen to some of it), but I've always thought of it as the soundtrack to a really fucked up burlesque show, or maybe what the Weimar Republic would have been like if punk rock had come along 60 years too early.  The vocals are sung in a strange accent that's hard to place, alternating between plucked, glottal, over-enunciated consonants in the verses and screamed, distorted (occasionally yelped) choruses.  

I've always enjoyed the motion and rhythm that 'Girls Girls Girls' have on stage.  With minimal stagecraft they totally dominate the space they're in, moving around the stage, and striking angular poses.  Adrian on bass is particularly great at this, thrashing his guitar around and throwing himself into the music with an infectious vigour that energises the crowd watching.  There always seems to be some frenetic dancing at the front of these gigs, people hurling themselves against each other and violently spinning into the crowd.  They have an unshakable confidence in their own excellence, one which helps them at times say, when a string breaks.  It sounds ridiculous, but sitting around waiting for someone to restring a guitar can kill momentum at a gig, but the band's charisma and professionalism easily pulls them through.  At this particular gig there were flowers scattered around and occasionally a shower of petals would be thrown up from the crowd at the band or vice versa.  By the end of the set the stage was strewn with trampled botany, which made for a odd fragrance of sweat, spilled beer and flowers.

Chris Wilcox
This is apparently the last gig that 'Girls Girls Girls' are going to do in London, as their lead guitarist is heading off to Germany.  It's a damn shame.  This is a city with thousands of bands gigging in it, but few of them can come close to the sheer energy and joy in anarchism of 'Girls Girls Girls'.  You just don't see too many bands that can create an atmosphere where anything can happen while simultaneously being so tight and musically adept.

The Feminists
Next on the bill are 'The Feminists', who are undoubtedly the finest transvestite glam rock band to have emerged from the seedy gutters of Berlin. Everything from their names on downwards is utterly fantastic.  On lead vocals is Samantha Fuchs, on guitar Judith the Tongue and Dr Tranny, with Holli Bastard on drums and MisGyver on bass.   Joining them on electric violin is Monique-Sabine von und zu Pößneck.  They're all dressed up for the occasion in various feminine attire; everyone on stage looks utterly fabulous in their trashed out, clapped out, sexed out slutwear.

Musically they feel like a throwback to a purer strain of rock and roll.  It's the kind of music you can imagine playing as you speed through the desert in a convertible, wind whipping through your hair.  They sound like the psychotic cousin of Deep Purple, with 70s style riffs complimenting the trashy aesthetic of the band.  It could all be the soundtrack to some washed-out drive-in Roger Corman B-Movie, refreshingly straightforward in its desire to shake hips and get bodies thumping up and down against the front of the stage.

Samantha Fuchs waving his/her weasel about
On stage they're absolutely mesmerising, with lead singer Samantha Fuchs climbing his way around the stage, perching on shelves and waving what I think is a taxidermied weasel at the audience.   Samantha seems to be some kind of embodiment of the ideal lead singer for a band.  S/he's got the strut, the pout, and hip wiggle down pat.  It's like s/he has memorised every possible rock star pose, and throws his/her body into them like every song is the soundtrack to the end of the world.  He regularly makes trips into the crowd, you get a sense that s/he's asserting dominance over us, when Fuchs gets off stage he is not raising us to his level, he is deigning to descend to ours.  The band demonstrates a confident and total control over the audience, and when Fuchs stands on top of the amps and orders us onto our knees we all get down on the beer-soaked filthy floor.  All of this adds up to something electrically delicious, degenerate and dangerous on stage.

'The Feminists' never stray towards becoming a novelty act.  Being this distinctive live seems like a dangerous tightrope to walk, and while I've got no idea how the band gauge their own success, it must be a little risky to be primarily known for your stagecraft and physical performance rather than the music.  It's a bit annoying that listening to 'The Feminists' recordings is nowhere near as fun as watching them live.  But then if this just makes me head to more of their gigs how can that be a bad thing?  They're weapons grade fun. 

It was an excellent gig, and a great farewell to 'Girls Girls Girls' from the London gig scene.  The place was packed out, with people dancing their little guts out throughout.  A wonderful evening.  I hope I get to see both bands again in future.

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