Live performance can be something of a juggling act. Rarely is it possible to fully reproduce the intricacies of a studio recording live on stage – there’re often simply too many nuances and overdubs for a small group of people to do justice to during live performance. In such cases, then, a band is faced with a conundrum: attempt to create a facsimile of the studio source material and the run the risk of missing the mark, or simply strip back the sound and embrace the potential for propulsive energy that comes with a live show. If their appearance at Brighton’s Green Door Store is anything to go by, it would seem that Girl Ray have struck something of a happy middle ground.
Released earlier on in the year, the off-beat charm of their excellent debut album ‘Earl Grey’ (reviewed here) comes down, in large measure, to the intuitive yet deceptively deep arrangements and adornments on the album’s songs. For a debut record it’s a remarkably adventurous one – see the 10 minute title track for evidence of that. Whilst the group’s sense of daring is a big positive for their album, it does raise the question of how a three-piece band could hope to fill out such a sound in the context of a live show. The addition of a fourth band member is certainly a wise one – his keyboard and guitar parts make a vital addition to the group’s live sound and help the band attain a fuller sound than likely otherwise possible. Rather than attempt to fully reproduce the layered instrumentation of their debut album, however, the band has wisely opted to present their songs in galvanisingly energetic form. Raw would perhaps be the wrong word – their songs remain as tightly woven and whip-smart as ever – but live they certainly take on a new vitality.
Although a relatively new name – one still fresh enough to be playing a club as small as the The Green Door Store (a room that is, to put it mildly, cosy) – Girl Ray have seemingly already carved out an eager niche for themselves. Rather unusually for a band so fresh out of the gates, a handful of tonight’s numbers are met with hearty whoops of appreciation before the first verse even kicks in. The sold-out crowd are particularly receptive to ‘Trouble’ – perhaps not a surprise as, although it didn’t find its way onto the group’s debut record, it was their first single and remains their most viewed song on YouTube. The song’s eagerly bouncing bass line and taut rhythm guitar set it out as one of their most satisfying and immediate songs; it’s a definite standout in tonight’s set – but far from the only moment to see the band firing on all cylinders.
Indeed, the highlights of tonight’s show run much the same as the standout moments on their debut; ‘Preacher’ is excellent, only confirming the band as accomplished tunesmiths; ‘Don’t Go Back At Ten’s brightly twanging guitar likewise standing out in the midst of an already sonically vivid set. The group’s live sound offers an intriguing alternative to that found on their recorded output; vocal harmonies are present live but they’re less thickly layered than on record. Some of the general polish found on the album is absent tonight but the compulsive, succinct beauty of the band’s songs remain very much intact and the songs do gain a greater sense of momentum. Girl Ray are arguably the best band of the last few years to trade in the kind of airtight power pop that they’ve taken as their sound and their debut is an album packed to bursting point with instinctive melody and sharp hooks. All the characteristics that make their recorded work compelling remain intact during live performance, but the tone and shape undergo a kind of transformation.
Whilst arrangements remain ostensibly faithful to the recorded source material, in live performance the band gain a sense of traction and energy that’s by no means absent from the studio versions but that’s significantly magnified when live. When the band rip into a new cut towards the end of the show, fuzz pedals are stamped on for the first and only time; the song rocks harder than anything else they’ve yet done and perhaps signposts their future direction – it’s a compelling song with a tight groove and one that sits well amongst the somewhat neater material from their first album. When Girl Ray leave the stage after some 55 minutes reception is deservedly enthusiastic and judging by tonight’s response, the band is unlikely to be playing such small spaces for much longer. Tonight’s performance is a gutsy one that sees Girl Ray confirm their status as one of the most interesting new bands of the past couple of years, and a live act well worth making the effort for.