Goat Girl – The Garage, London, UK (2nd May 2018)

It may be daunting to headline in front of 600 people at a sold-out Garage, but Goat Girl are good at hiding their emotions. Appearing detached and unassuming, they produce awesome power. Their evolution into a forceful live act is best shown by the way the set’s closing number, ‘Country Sleaze’, has developed from the sparse if chilling version recorded in 2016 into a beast roaring with feedback and distortion. Always the spark for a pogoing finale, it leaves the crowd at The Garage begging for more, but Goat Girl don’t do encores.

A lot of thought has gone into their debut album and into this set, which largely follows the record’s pacing and track order. They even start with the off-beat taped ‘Salty Sounds’ intro to the album and break the set into two parts either side of another of the LP’s oddities — the electronic chords and percussive clatter, enigmatic monologue and disjointed piano of ‘Swamp Dog’s Tale’. As this is played, a projection of a troubling face against a green background replaces the Goat Girl logo on a screen while the band duck out of the limelight.

Apart from moving this interlude from fifth on the album to the tenth item on tonight’s setlist, the band faithfully reproduce the order of their record straight through to ‘The Man with No Heart or Brain’. The second part of the set includes more than half of the rest of the album plus early singles.

Tapping into the south London music scene to broaden their live sound, Goat Girl have enlisted violinist Georgia Ellery from Jockstrap and synth player Calum Armstrong, aka Pet Grotesque. They join the core of Clottie Cream (aka Lottie Pendlebury) on guitar and lead vocals, guitarist LED (aka Ellie Davies), bassist Naima ‘Jelly’ Zeit and drummer Rosy ‘Bones’ Jones. With them are a variety of cartoonish goats and goats’ heads, adding wry humour to the staging, as does the drum kit’s ornamentation of them bones, them bones, them dry bones.

It’s Rosy’s Andalusian drum rolls that propel opener ‘Burn The Stake’, with Lottie, Ellie and Naima singing together over the attacking guitars. Georgia’s maudlin violin introduces ‘Creep’ to a big cheer from the eager crowd. Heavy bass and rolling drums in ‘Viper Fish’ send tangible vibrations through the front row’s trousers. Each time the song pauses, it shows the power of silence in music. Then, as Ellie riffs and Lottie strums, the group harmoniously repeat the phrase “Don’t shed a tear, we all feel shame, we all feel shame” in a way that is beautiful while at the same time alienating, dark and challenging.

The post-cowpunk pace picks up for ‘Cracker Drool’, but the slowdown towards the song’s end is its clincher. Goat Girl music is forever twisted and turning, rarely straight. The lyrics sometimes match this off-kilter sensibility — “Oh twisted face, in a room that hides all the shame and disgrace” (the reverberating ‘Slowly Reclines’) — or hit home with ruthless, candid brutality, as in ‘No Heart’, where Lottie sings of the man who “had a hole where the heart should be, making him hate most everybody” and the man with no brain who “thought that looks were all to see. Hated anyone’s personality”. 

As ‘No Heart’ careers and cavorts to its explosive drum break, violin floating like a Victorian melodrama over the Trumpton-esque riffing, the front of the crowd is in awe, watching and listening intently, while four to eight rows back, people bounce ever faster as the words “no brain” repeat to the manically accelerating breakdown. The tight, crisp ’Bone’ is cinematic, despite its gruff brevity: “Take me home, then you’ll end up alone”. 

Goat Girl’s eponymous debut album is remarkable — there are barely any breaks between tracks, making the cumulative flow potent and gripping, and they repeat this feel tonight. But by sticking quite closely to the LP’s running order, the band throw their most riotous song into the set prematurely — ‘The Man’ is a pushing, shoving, pulsing highlight. “Bite my lips and taste my hips, watching your eyes watching my thighs, you’re the man for me” — this bluesy slice of deviant post-punk would fit better near the end of the set, paired with the other firm fan favourite ‘Country Sleaze’ for a crazed conclusion, as it used to be.

Instead, it’s the climax of the first half tonight, leading to the quieter green eeriness of ‘Swamp Dog’s Tale’ and the relative calm of ‘Lay Down’, when Naima harmonises on vocals as her bass thunders and Georgia’s violin adds layers to gentle guitars. ‘I Don’t Care Part 1’ plays on the mechanical repetition of seven guitar notes to create glorious dichotomy with the second riffing guitar and clattering drums. ‘Part 2’ is a wild carousel ride, “I don’t care what the people say”, sings Lottie deadpan, a fairground riff starting and ending the song either side of a twisting, whirling ’60s-style psych out complete with Velvet Underground violin and a big beat. 

The night ends with both sides of the first single — the reverb and bop of ‘Scum’ and angrily joyful ‘Country Sleaze’ — bookending ‘Cracker Drool’ B-side ‘Scream’, the second single (‘Crow Cries’/‘Mighty Despair’) and the group’s inspired cover of ‘Tomorrow’. A stately slowdown when vocal “ah-ah’s” drop into the big bass and guitar interplay of ‘Scream’ sparks a mosh circle to open and close. As moshing intensifies during ‘Crow Cries’ and its “hey hey” singalong ending, Ellie looks on impassively. Violin and drum rolls have beefed up ‘Mighty Despair’ since it was first recorded and ‘Tomorrow’ rolls through the mosh pit in waves, lifting people onto each other’s shoulders. The dispassionate facade finally cracks, Lottie and Naima affording themselves a smile (Rosy’s been grinning throughout). When Ellie comes back on stage after ‘Country Sleaze’ to turn off the wailing feedback, the diverse audience is left wanting more; never a bad thing.

Photos: Ian Bourne

Goat Girl setlist at the Garage:
Salty Sounds [taped intro]
Burn The Stake
Viper Fish
Cracker Drool
Slowly Reclines
The Man with No Heart or Brain
Throw Me a Bone
The Man
A Swamp Dog’s Tale [taped interlude]
Lay Down
I Don’t Care (Part 1)
I Don’t Care (Part 2)
Crow Cries
Mighty Despair
Tomorrow [Paul Williams cover from ‘Bugsy Malone’]
Country Sleaze