Girl Band

Manchester Academy 2 - 2nd November 2019
It's over six years now since we first saw Girl Band playing live in a handful of sparsely attended gigs in London and Brighton. Since that time we have caught them on numerous occasions across the country and every time the excitement we have felt before the gig has been palpable. This, in itself, is a rarity. We have seen many bands on multiple occasions and we have always enjoyed the shows. Not many of them, though, have us feeling like excited children as the day approaches. Not many of them leave us breathless and astonished afterwards. Girl Band are not like any other band; they are so out of synch with normality that just to listen to them is a thrill, whether on record or live. Every show notches a place in our memory. They don't perform, they imprint.

This is the first date on the European section of the band's tour to promote their second album The Talkies. They have just flown back from a brief and successful visit to the USA and have sold out shows ahead of them in London, Brussels, Utrecht, Berlin and Paris before returning home to Dublin. Manchester Academy 2 has also sold out. We have never seen the band playing in such a large venue and it is great they have not only been able to fill it, but have done so after a prolonged break which would have finished many other bands. Instead, this appears only to have worked to their advantage with the demand for alternative music now seemingly strengthening and deepening every year. The audience is a good mixture of both age and gender, another sign of the rude health of the current off-stream environment.

It's certainly a changed band on stage. We hate to use the word professional, but that is exactly what this group have been since day one. They don't play around with random noise; they are controlled and precise almost to surgical standards. Now, though, they have added a large degree of calmness and maturity to the proceedings. This is not to say they aren't still exciting: they are riveting, but the hardcore thrashes have largely given way to slower numbers, explosive energy to controlled aggression. The set is a mixture of old and new, and it's good to hear all twenty-five seconds of 'The Cha Cha Cha' erupt mid-set which just serves to show if Girl Band want to go nuclear they are perfectly capable of doing so. Surely this is one of the great singles of the twenty-first century?

The change is most noticeable in singer Dara Kiely. He's far more relaxed at the start of the set and no longer needs to pace around nervously before taking to the stage. Despite the wall of sound behind him, his personality clearly shines through. He is genial and unassuming, but devastating when he performs. When he sings he really sings, when he shouts he really shouts. Hand in pocket, eyes closed, he is a formidable presence. And he needs to be because the three musicians behind him are at the top of their game. We are sure they must have off days but we've never witnessed one of them. Adam Faulkner is an astonishing drummer, running rings around the proceedings, while Alan Duggan and Dan Fox revel in producing the tortured sounds that are the band's standard fare. Duggan barely looks at the universe of effects pedals he switches between with apparent ease, while Fox wheedles huge sounds from his bass, looking totally removed from the cares of the world in general.

As a storm of noise whirls around the audience, everything on stage is calmness: there's no panic, no hurry, no stress ... it's almost scary how much possession these men have.  

Another oldie is played when the band launch into their ruthless cover of Blawan's 'Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage?' For this song they are joined on stage by former Public Image Ltd legend Keith Levene. It is beautifully unassuming. He's not announced before or after the song, he clearly enjoys himself, and his playing blends in fabulously with Duggan's. When the most innovative (and picky) guitarist of the age loves your band, you must be on the right path.

As the set concludes the whole building is buzzing and bouncing and we ask ourselves what limits there are on Girl Band? In truth, there are none. There's nothing like them; we have certainly never seen anything like them; everything is there for the taking. Why not just give them the world now? They'll make a better job of it than most.

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