Sunday, 15 March 2009

Women Live

As the murky dream affections of Black Rice, Women’s most anticipated song, pulse through the crowd who are barely containing their excitement, the band seems unaffected. Nonchalant but not in that hipper than thou shoe-gaze manner, Women are simply well aware that they don’t need to prance and preen to gain anyone’s attention.

To back track a little, tonight’s support act is San Diego’s The Soft Pack. Whilst bands currently treading similar waters, such as The Black Lips, were out touring and fighting their way across America, these boys probably stayed in college, listened to The Knack, and practised a little too much. After an initially engaging few songs their set petered out into what added up to no more than power pop posing. If they’d studied their favourite bands actual records as well as their LP covers and their moves, then maybe they’d have a better shot at nailing the tightly wound sound of teenage frustration. A friend swears he saw them watching Women wistfully from the balcony, open mouthed, and with a look skyward, thanking the lord that they didn’t drop out no doubt.

Headliners Women tend to get thrown in with the loose bag of change that is the current crop of ‘Lo-Fi’ groups; it’s understandable but not very relevant. Most seem to depend on the tape hiss and budget values of their records to elicit excitement from bloggers and fans alike, and you get the feeling they know themselves that without the din, no one would actually care. Whereas Women’s debut is awash with experimentation and (even though its running time is shorter than the average Trail of Dead song) bulging with ideas, some of them half-realised, but all of them great.

Their set tonight is a mixture of unreleased material and that record, played faithfully but with just enough improvisation to make sure everyone, including the band, is totally into it. They coast through favourites such as the aforementioned Black Rice and they conjure the spirit and duelling guitars of At The Drive In’s Omar Rodriguez and Jim Ward on the treble-heavy guitar work out Shaking Hands. It is inspiring stuff, but I’m stuck with a niggling reminder that they’re playing these songs almost every night over the first half of 2009 and it only goes away when they smash into a series of new numbers.

Unannounced, untitled but clearly in keeping with the aesthetic they developed on record, the new songs will only further the Velvet Underground comparisons running through their recent press. They move from sugary pop, so sweet it’s sinister, to raging experimental suites with jarring medleys and conflicting vocal chants reminiscent of VU’s incredible ‘The Murder Mystery’. The sound builds constantly until at its peak front man Pat Flegel breaks the static to spazz out, beating feedback out of his amp and leaving it bleeding drone as the rest of the band leave their instruments behind and flee the stage.

They’ve testified themselves that the sound they got on record was the result of a painstaking process and numerous takes, but rather than a vain search for something that would have critics salivating, it’s typical of the sonic ambitions they betray tonight. 

Their album is one of the best and certainly the most promising records released last year, but even on the strength of tonight alone, I can’t recommend them enough. They know exactly how they want their music to be heard and here’s hoping they won’t ever compromise.

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