Vivian Girls with Black Lips Vintage Vinyl/The Firebird Thursday, April 21
Live music patrons of St. Louis, you had a choice last night: You could have gone to see Arcade Fire and The National play Scottrade Center (and if my Twitter feed is any indication, most people I know did just that). Or you could have seen NYC's Vivian Girls play their local debut at the Firebird opening for Black Lips. Fortunately, enough of you chose the second option to fill the Firebird comfortably.
Vivian Girls has been kicking around for a few years now. It's tempting to think of it as having jump started the fuzzy C86-inspired pop of Best Coast, Dum Dum Girls, Crocodiles and Brilliant Colors, except the three Vivian Girls' members would be the first to tell you that they prefer to emulate the Wipers instead of Talulah Gosh. Still, when their self-titled debut arrived in 2008, there simply weren't that many bands outside of the twee/indiepop scene who played that kind of fast, catchy music. They've slowly broadened their palette ever since, and Share The Joy, their third and most recent album, is the payoff. Singer/songwriter Cassie Ramone has said that the songs are inspired by the likes of Burt Bacharach and Neil Young. Both influences are evident: the title track, "The Other Girls," is a six-minute song complete with extended guitar break, while "I Heard You Say," "Sixteen Ways," and even the blithe "Dance (If You Wanna)" are complex without losing the plot. This is clearly a band in it for the long haul.
For its first-ever St. Louis appearance -- in fact, apparently their first in the state of Missouri -- Vivian Girls played an in-store at Vintage Vinyl. By their very nature, in-stores are usually stripped down; what band is going to load its entire backline in and out of a record store, only to do it again an hour later at a club? For this appearance, Cassie and bassist Katy Goodman played sitting on stools while drummer Fiona Goodman played a floor tom and tambourine, with cups of the free Schlafly beer sitting to their sides. From the opener "Never See Me Again," they admitted having to "get used to" this semi-Unplugged format, but it was wonderfully intimate and hushed, highlighting a side of the band's songwriting not always apparent on record. "Wild Eyes" and "Lake House" took on an extra air of poignancy, guitar and bass lines playing against one another. Cassie seemed to draw into herself at times, literally shaking as she sang "I Heard You Say" and "I Have No Fun." Even the one-chord drone of "Tell The World" benefitted from this low-key approach.
A few hours later, they went onstage at the Firebird and once again started with "Never See Me Again." This time, however, it was the full rock experience. With a minimum of audience chatter, they plowed through 15 songs in 45 minutes. This is no mean feat when one of them was the epic "The Other Girls." Vivian Girls' live show has been portrayed as sloppy at times, but this version of the band could not have been more confident or in control. Campbell, the latest of their Spinal Tap-esque procession of drummers, seems to be the missing puzzle piece. Like Janet Weiss of Sleater-Kinney and Wild Flag, she thinks like an instrumentalist rather than a metronome. Headliners Black Lips, whose drunken, swampy shoutalongs resulted in much dancing, stage-diving and beer-spitting, had to work hard to match Vivian Girls' sheer emotion and energy. A satisfying pair of performances, to say the least.
Vintage Vinyl set list: Never See Me Again I Heard You Say Wild Eyes Lake House I Have No Fun Sixteen Ways Before I Start to Cry Dance (If You Wanna) Tell The World
Firebird set list: Never See Me Again Can't Get Over You I Heard You Say The Other Girls Wild Eyes Take It As It Comes Lake House I Have No Fun When I'm Gone Death Sixteen Ways Survival Before I Start to Cry Dance (If You Wanna) Tell The World