Everyone talks about “summer” music, but why are bands so rarely associated with any other season? Girls Names, with their gloomy post-punk and haunting riffs, have an autumnal sound if anything, so when and where better than a cold, dark October night in the North of England to kick off their European tour on the back of newly released album Arms Around a Vision?
The basement of Liverpool’s Shipping Forecast is an intimate venue, and a staple in a network of quality small music haunts in the city. Anyone over six foot who jumps about excitedly here will hit their head on the ceiling, but the boxed-in feel of the place lends itself well to loud, layered music. In the last year or so, I’ve seen bands like Slaves and TRAAMS really excel here, with their sheer volume almost blowing the walls off the place.
Before Girls Names take to the stage, Esa Shields entertains the early arrivals (who barely number double figures) with his unique performance. Shields’ peculiar sound juxtaposes his androgynous vocals with what sometimes seems like the sort of random din you’d get if you put a small child in front of a keyboard that had a wide range of effects. It sounds like I’m being very mean, but his songs are interesting and well crafted and, while they don’t always hit the spot, it’s hard to have anything but respect for someone prepared to get on a stage alone and project something this eclectic while relying on just their own voice and a backing track. Shields’ chatty and mild-mannered nature does him no harm either.
Next up are SeaWitches, a band who always stand out to me as being a cut above your average regional support act, with their haunting, murky dark pop that has an unmistakably Scouse sea shanty undercurrent similar to that heard from Merseyside bands like The Coral and The La’s. They have a great front-woman in Jo Herring as well, who veers from being booming and imposing during songs, to charmingly shy and giggly between them. A short but solid performance as ever from these guys.
The evening is now in full swing, but punters are still only trickling down into the Shipping Forecast basement, and the eventual turnout of 35-40 individuals loitering near the back of the room is really less than Girls Names deserve. After opening with new single ‘The Hunger Artist’ and ‘Desire Oscillations’, front-man Cathal Cully wisely encourages the audience to come closer to the stage. It’s surprising how often that works at sparsely attended gigs – it’s better for both the band and the viewers, but nobody wants to be the first to do it and would prefer to wait for an invitation from the band to move forward en masse.
It’s hard to fault Girls’ Names set, although it might’ve been good to hear a bit more from the first two albums. ‘Hypnotic Regression’ is one of the few songs not on Arms Around a Vision that we hear tonight, and it goes down well. ‘Chrome Rose’ is arguably the highlight of the evening, with Cully’s vocals as strong live as on record, and the rising volume and fuzziness of the song sticking in my mind.
The set closes with the three tracks that conclude the new album so well, with the band almost struggling to contain the intensity of ‘Exploit Me’ within the confines of the venue, but that’s no bad thing, and the krautrocky ‘I Was You’ wraps things up nicely.
Girls Names are hard to rave about – they’re not so much a post-punk Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, as a James Milner. Professional, consistent, perhaps underappreciated – they certainly didn’t let anyone down tonight.
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