There's been plenty of buzz around Girlpool’s decision to add drums on their new album, Powerplant, and expand beyond their spare bass-and-guitar arrangements and striking vocal harmonies.
But when the full force of the drum kit crashed in behind singers Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tivdad last night, no one in the sold-out 7th Street Entry seemed to regret Girlpool’s amped up sound. In fact, when Cleo and Harmony had the stage to themselves for a couple songs from Girlpool's first album, I found myself missing the percussion that provided a surprising foil to their sound.
Cleo and Harmony sang in unison, situating themselves initially side-by-side at the front of the stage, Cleo on electric guitar and Harmony on bass, and from the first notes of opener “123,” their synchronicity was uncanny -- as they sang “Sorry about the load, sorry about the load,” their eyes squeezed shut at the exact same moment. But soon Cleo was bouncing around, visibly appreciating each member of the band (there's a second guitarist as well as a drummer now), while Harmony held fast to the microphone.
Girlpool's breakout song, “Before the World Was Big,” came early, but the setlist favored their new album. Stand-out Powerplant tracks “Corner Store” and “Dust” began as soft as lullabies, until a swell of drums and dissonant guitar cut the emotional intensity. Though the audience’s best efforts to sing along were no match for Girlpool’s bracing vocals, which stayed consistently heavy in the mix, the music's intimacy and vulnerability created a tight connection with the fans. At times Cleo seemed to shy away from them, spinning back from the microphone with some vigorous head-shaking after singing “in every picture a frame of you.” But by the time “Ideal World” came up, there was no avoiding the crowd’s enthusiasm, and the song's clamorous sing-along seemed to startle Cleo awake.
There were sweet moments of earnest banter between songs. At one point Harmony mused about a dystopian future in which computer-generated holograms would replace live musicians, a bleak prospect that elicited at least one boo from the crowd.
Girlpool’s songs tend to come in tight two-to-three- minutes packages, but the live show provided surprising opportunities for Cleo to shred. On “Kiss and Burn” and “Powerplant,” the guitarist rocked back and forth while plucking out twitchy guitar lines, and even the otherwise spacious “Ideal World” ended with a punchy solo.
By the second-to-last song, “Soup,” the audience was at a head-bobbing near-mosh, visibly leaning forward when the music dropped out and Cleo and Harmony belted, “You have lots of potential. Can you feel it?” Yes, we could.
Overheard in the crowd: “I’m a sucker for a long-sleeve t-shirt!” The people of Minneapolis are feeling this transitional spring weather.
The Crowd: Showed surprising restraint with their iPhones.
Critic’s Bias: I’m a sucker for the clanging guitars and sultry eyes. Opener Ian Sweet delivered an abundance of both -- and then they brandished a talismanic fidget widget for good measure. It was good to see this group get the audience it deserves.
Before the World Was Big
I Like That You Can See It
Kiss and Burn
It Gets More Blue
She Goes By