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Give Girls A Chance

By Veronica Murtagh in Arts & Entertainment on Nov 18, 2009 8:40PM

photo by Veronica Murtagh/Chicagoist
The year's end is quickly approaching and as we reflect on the past ten months in music in an attempt to define 2009, there are certain trends that, for better or worse, stick out. Across genres, music blogs have become powerful influencers, launching the careers of young bands, but often buzz can backfire. The newest amazing act often turns out to be little more than inexperienced amateurs live. Or, in the case of the recent two-day, sold out stint from San Francsico band Girls at the Empty Bottle, a solid performance falls on an audience of deaf ears all gathered to hear that one song.

The evening kicked off with a modest-sized crowd gathered around the stage for fellow San Franciscans and Girls' tourmates, Dominant Legs. Sharing the DIY, lo-fi aesthetic of Girls, the duo, fronted by Ryan William Lynch set the mood with melodies obviously influenced by the late, great Arthur Russell. The band was painfully awkward on stage, but it worked to their advantage, matching their distant, disaffected tunes.

Dominant Legs were followed by an unbridled explosion of teenage energy performing under the name Smith Westerns. Big underage X's marked the hands of the four unassuming Chicago kids with one of the best local debut releases of the year. Live, the Smith Westerns were everything we had been hoping for and anticipating. Confetti filled the air and everyone in early attendance knew all the words to the quartet's noisy garage-pop anthems. Gathered with fellow fans, watching the Smith Westerns was like being a member of a clandestine club. We were in on Chicago's best-kept musical secret and everyone who arrived after the close of their set was dead to us.

The evening flowed quickly from one act to the next, the venue was now packed to its sold out capacity and it was finally time for Girls. Girls' debut album, titled Album, has been heralded as one of 2009's top releases. Consisting of half rough demo and live material, we were skeptical the band was prepared for a massive tour. We feared that the evening's show would reveal Girls to be one-hit wonders, products of the internet hype surrounding "Lust For Life", the single upbeat track in their catalog of somber material.

Lead singer Christopher Owens opened his mouth for the first note of the set and our skepticism turned to nods of approval. Owens' voice sounded tenfold better live than recorded, a bluesy drawl that mingled with waves of drawn out, distortion-filtered surf rock nostalgia. The inconsistencies of Album were nonexistent as we lost ourselves in layers of electric and acoustic guitar, sunny yet somber vocal melodies and harmonica.

Unfortunately, our take on the show didn't seem to be shared across the audience. A restlessness was in the air and looks of boredom painted the faces surrounding our smiles. This audience had clearly paid the price of admission to hear "Lust For Life" and anticipated a set filled with similar enthusiastic abandon. Girls did finally perform the long-awaited track, and for three minutes, the band finally received the attention they deserved. Following "Lust For Life", much of the audience immediately flooded out of the venue, predictably missing Owens' intimate, solo acoustic encore.

Girls earned their stars Friday night at the Empty Bottle, performing a solid, unexpected and enjoyable show that could have been so much more, if only music fans would invest a little more time listening to albums, and a little less time scouring blogs in search of the day's newest hit.