Girlpool by Harper Lee / Sick Snaps
On February 23, Los Angeles folk-punk duo-turned-ensemble Girlpool stopped by Portland, OR on their West Coast tour with Massachusetts emo-revival favorites The Hotelier, and up-and-coming indie rockers Special Explosion.
The show began with Special Explosion jumping into “Perfect Song” from their stunning 2017 Topshelf Records release, To Infinity. While this was happening, I was just outside of the Wonder Ballroom going through security checkpoints, and making my way into the venue while they worked their way through the song which left me with a sense of awe and pride. Seeing this group of PNW road warriors go from playing DIY all-ages spots like Laughing Horse or Anarres Infoshop a few years before, to now playing one of the most prestigious venues in Portland was nothing short of magical. The band played through some of the album’s strongest tracks like “Your Bed” and “Cats.” They did a fantastic job at translating the ambience found on their record to a live setting, save for a few moments where adrenaline must have taken over the drummer like during the single, “Fire,” as the song felt a little rushed. When making my way through the different sections of the crowd, it was hard to hide a smile as the audience lay stunned at what they were witnessing; Special Explosion often left the crowd in a shocked silence at the end of their songs, a reaction that I had personally experienced when sitting down with To Infinity for the first time.
The second band to take the stage for the evening was The Hotelier. The turnover from one band to the other was a quicker affair than usual as I was still waiting in line for a beer when they launched into their first song. Now, I’m not sure exactly what happened during this set, but I think the lack of a thorough soundcheck affected their performance. The mix was all over the place with one guitar being hardly audible, vocalist/bassist Christian Holden being entirely too loud with a very sensitive microphone that did not react well to the dynamics they used which affected the timing/placement of fills/transitions from drummer Sam Frederick which was a disappointment as with the right preparation, The Hotelier deliver fantastic, tight performances like when they opened for The Get Up Kids at the Hawthorne Theater or headlined their own tour at the Analog. Technical issues aside, the crowd responded positively overall, at one point helping the vocalist deliver the lines to “An Introduction” as they didn’t have the vocal presence necessary to nail the song due to catching a cold recently. I look forward to seeing them again soon as I was left a little underwhelmed by their performance that night, a real missed opportunity to maximize the potential of the venue.
The last band to take the stage was headliner Girlpool who have had a fantastic past couple of years. Coming onto the scene with a formidable release as a duo in 2014 with Before The World Was Big, they have toured with some of the industry’s most important acts like Joyce Manor, before linking up with some friends to put together a touring/recording band for their sophomore release, Powerplant, via ANTI- records.
They began their set with “123,” a slower number that reminded me of the churning, entrancing pace put forth by the likes of Pedro The Lion or Red House Painters, but with the twee vocal presence found in beer soaked basements around 90’s Olympia. Girlpool made the most of the space afforded to them. Being no strangers to performing in larger venues, their composure and presence was light years away from the assumptions one may make due to their age, a moment most prevalent during “Powerplant.” Girlpool has been able to take the anxieties and vulnerability of youth and channel them into a resounding statement of fearless resolution to march at the beat of their own drum, an intent that has spoken to fans as the packed venue bubbled with excitement, animated interaction between performers/audience and singalongs.