Goat Girl end off a night celebrating DIY’s Class of 2018 at the swanky Borderline in London’s glitzy West End, less than a year after being part of the DIY Hello 2017 lineup at the sweaty Old Blue Last in London’s tatty Shoreditch.
The merch stall is selling the new single, ‘Cracker Drool’ — out imminently on Rough Trade, and the band have been working on an album that polishes their darkly swaying sound. Also making the Class of 2018 are Our Girl, the psych-rock project led by Soph Nathan who spends the rest of her time on lead guitar with The Big Moon.
Early on, King Nun warm up the crowd with a loud set full of energy, shouting and jolting guitars. The wind is slightly taken out of their sails by a problem with the drum kit, but they soldier on once it’s fixed. A small knot of devoted teenage fans sings and bounces along to their dynamic din.
Our Girl follow with a seven-song set starting with single ‘Being Around’ and it’s an instant smash, with some of the crowd at the front singing along. Nathan’s dulcet voice turns gravelly at times, and bursts of psych shredding from her guitar punctuate the track. The band’s eponymous signature tune follows, beginning and ending with delicate twangy guitar. A new tune, ‘I Really Like It’, is a typical Our Girl mix of psychedelic and poppy motifs: a sequence repeats several times with slight changes like a post-punk Bach’s ‘Goldberg Variations’, speeding up into the catchy chorus.
‘In My Head’ sees Nathan jamming close to bassist Josh Tyler, just in front of drummer Lauren Wilson, accelerating her sparkling guitar riffs around Tyler’s juicy bass. Nathan introduces ‘Level’ as the one that “starts quietly” and, true to her word, it’s just mellow, rich guitar and voice to begin with, boosted when Tyler and Wilson come in. Just as on ‘Being Around’, Nathan sings about “my best friend” — friendship is a theme shared by the songwriter in The Big Moon, her buddy Juliette Jackson. After Nathan’s guitar heads off into a Nirvana-like grunge break, all three band members sing and her voice again turns to gravel. Of course, ‘Level’ ends as it started, slowing down to bare guitar.
Nathan shows her full range of noodling, picking and shredding in ‘Two Life’ as riffs repeat and grow around a Breeders-like refrain of “normally, normally…”; circle hypnotically’; then slow to a beguiling end. The six-minute closer is ‘Boring’, fortunately not living up to its name. Nathan strums and sings melodiously with her mix of softness and edge, until plenty of sweet “ooh, ooh, ooh” vocals from Nathan and Wilson contrast with paired guitar sequences of six notes that morph into more fuzz and feedback until Nathan unceremoniously drops her instrument to the stage. The six-note couplings continue on a loop until she turns the pedal off, and that’s it from Our Girl.
Finally come the apparently diffident Goat Girl. They delight in keeping things in flux, ever changing. So the recently added clever electronic recordings and fifth member Fiffy on violin are dispensed with tonight. In about the same time as it takes Our Girl to perform seven tracks, Goat Girl get through almost twice as many. Nothing much gets closer to three minutes than two, as their blistering nuggets of punky country/cowpunk are dispensed with a self-deprecating savvy that’s all their own.
Every live appearance by Goat Girl throws up bits that emerge from a rich sonic texture to sound new, so there’s a spacey ‘Star Wars’ guitar riff on ‘Burn the Stake’ to accompany the rolling flamenco drumming by Rosy ‘Bones’ Jones. Old favourite ‘Creep’, bouncing along to the jazzy bass of Naima ‘Jelly’Zeit, lilts and rattles straight through into the funereal drum rolls and all-group harmonising of the darkly sombre ‘Viperfish, with guitar work by LED (aka Ellie Davies) alternating between picking out an ironically jaunty and off-kilter tune and the stark upstrokes of a simple two-chord theme. A less joyful “lahlah, lahlah, lah-lah” has rarely been contrived, and the lyrics repeat dolefully what sounds like “we all feel shame” time and again. It’s virtually an epic by Goat Girl standards at over three minutes.
Country and western-infused ‘geetar’ twanging by Clottie Cream (aka Lottie Pendlebury) carries through into ‘Cracker Drool’ and its feel of a cinematic Mexican border road trip. Naima Jelly’s bouncing bass and the dynamic, falling-over guitar interplay between LED and Lottie give the teens who enjoyed King Nun another excuse to mosh at the front. The song’s texture is rich and varied, throwing in a slow, disintegrating ending.
LED picks her guitar strings with tremolo while Lottie strums during ‘Slowly Reclines’, an electrifying rollercoaster that dies slowly and gently. The merry-go-round genius of ‘No Heart’ is an anguished stop-start journey through a world that echoes ’70s British children’s TV music from ‘Camberwick Green’, but with a deviant twist missing from ‘Trumpton’ and with Rosy Bones pounding the drums in a way that would have shocked Brian Cant and Freddie Phillips in ‘Chigley’.
The knot of moshing intensifies for ‘Crow Cries’ and its spaghetti western guitar riffs from Lottie. Someone attempts a spot of crowd surfing as the climactic “heh heh” refrains hint at an aberrant anthem, but nothing by Goat Girl is that predictable.
Amid a crowd full of liggers, only the night’s youngest punters (a group of less than a dozen) are up for sweaty dancing, but they keep going during ‘I Don’t Care Part 2’, while Lottie quietly stamps her feet in time to the properly psykick dance hall vibe. Vaguely gothic post-punk bass and drumming from Naima Jelly and Rosy Bones underpin a tuneful ‘Throw Me a Bone’, with LED’s lead guitar shining.
“You’re the man, you’re the man, you’re the man for me” is the crowd-pleasing chorus at the heart of ‘The Man’ — a joyful and straightforward burst that recalls early The Fall — followed by the political barbs and twisted guitars of ‘Scum’ from their first single (“how can an entire nation be so fucking thick”). Before ending with the other A-side from that single — ‘Country Sleaze’, which they always finish with — Lottie introduces their idiosyncratic cover of ‘Tomorrow’ from ‘Bugsy Malone’ by Paul Williams. The juxtaposition of a mutated piece of musical theatre and swampy post-rock country twang sums up Goat Girl’s mischievous contradictions of deadpan vibrancy, reluctant charisma and punkabilly alienation.
Goat Girl’s set at The Borderline Burn The Stake Creep Viperfish Cracker Drool Slowly Reclines No Heart Crow Cries I Don’t Care Part Two Throw Me a Bone The Man Scum Tomorrow (by Paul Williams, from ‘Bugsy Malone’) Country Sleaze
Our Girl’s set at The Borderline Being Around Our Girl I Really Like It In My Head Level Two Life Boring