Live Review: Swanton Bombs and Girls, Sneaky Pete's 14/10/09

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Jonathan Hamilton checks out the bands making waves on the scene to see if they could live up to the hype in a live setting.

On Wednesday I headed to Sneaky Pete’s to catch a glimpse at Girls, the widely acclaimed San Francisco band on their first headline tour of Europe, but it was the support band, Swanton Bombs, who deserved the hype .

Taking to the stage to a sold out crowd, Swanton Bombs played a short set, consisting of a few songs off the bands demo album “Smoke over Swanton”, but mostly new material from the upcoming debut album, which is out in January. Opening with a solo piece from guitarist/vocalist Dominic McGuiness, the set quickly erupts into a blisteringly tight performance of the bands unique blend of foot-tapping indie, blues, and punk.

Three weeks into the tour and 5 days without smoking or drinking have clearly taken their toll on Brendan Heaney of Swanton Bombs. “My drumming style is like that of a gorilla on cocaine” he tells me before the gig, but tonight without cigarettes, all this stress spills over into his drumming, which is both aggressive and impeccable. The Swanton Bombs live experience is one worth watching out for; full of confidence and energy, yet almost mechanically precise. The only downside is the lack of new single, ‘Doom’ from the set, but this is but a minor flaw in an otherwise superb performance.

Getting from point A to B has never been easy in Sneaky Pete’s, especially when like tonight the gig is sold out. This is made apparent when Girls make their long way through the crowd to the back of the room, instruments in hand, to set up, while the crowd watches with anticipation. Eventually, the band is ready and begins to work their way through songs from their debut album, the ‘creatively’ titled ‘Album’.

The album has been getting favourable reviews from all areas of the music press, Pitchfork Media, and The Guardian alike. Having listened to the album a few times before the gig, I was reluctant to give into the hype, but hoped that bands live show would dispel my notion that the band was anything more than over-rated. Sadly, the band was unable to shake my apprehensions. The stage presence of Girls was not one of a band who has been tipped for modern classic status, front man Christopher Owens, buried in his coat and scarf, seems uncomfortable, and hardly acknowledges the crowd. I can’t disagree with the fact that the band are aurally pleasing, the crowd are captivated, but I can’t help but feel that the music is out of place in this environment, more suited to a beach party than an the dark, cavernous environment of Sneaky Pete’s. The band is most interesting during their noisier, shoe gaze influenced moments, but unfortunately these don’t come often enough. Songs such as ‘Laura’, ‘Lust for Life’ and ‘Hellhole Rat Race’ live up to the anticipation created by the crowd, and for a moment I was almost a believer of the hype, but the moment didn’t last long, as I was subjected to a set’s worth of sub-par Beach Boys nostalgia. The awkward layout of the venue does not lend itself to an encore, but the band, inexplicably pick up their instruments once again and finish with a cover of Daniel Johnston’s ‘True Love Will Find You In The End’ to round off the night.

The underwhelming performance of Girls was more than made up for by that of the discovery of the extremely talented Swanton Bombs, making them one to watch out for in 2010.

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