‘Girlpool’ was underwhelming.
The Brisbane Festival has established itself as a cultural icon, bringing local, national and international artists together for an exciting month of theatre, music, dance and visual spectaculars. Visiting the Courier-Mail Spiegeltent is always delightful however the performance presented to the small audience by Girlpool was disappointing on a number of levels.
The duo hails from Los Angeles, California, and are billed as presenting “concrete, direct, indie-rock songwriting and meditative, impressionistic dream pop”. Upon arriving in the Courier-Mail Spiegeltent, the stage was set for an intimate evening with two microphones and two instrument amplifiers gently lit from behind. The event was general admission with a standing area around the thrust stage, theatre-style seating on the second level and the iconic booths of the tent around the outer perimeter.
Performers Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad wandered up from the audience area to stage, collected their instruments and began without introduction or ceremony. Tucker commenced on electric guitar with Tividad on bass, opening with gentle riffs before Tucker began to sing. Standing nearly a foot away from the microphone, Tucker strained to reach the notes of the opening phrase, pushing through the melody with a tired and stressed vocal tone. When Tividad joined with harmonies, the pitching was not in tune but displayed a light tone in her voice.
By the third song, they switched instruments and Tividad took the lead, utilising a lovely light and focused upper register that was quite pleasant. They quickly returned to their original instruments and remained so for the rest of the 50-minute performance. The Festival program invited audiences to join Girlpool on “a beautiful journey of radical openness and self-love” however it was difficult to join them as the lack of lyrical diction and enunciation made comprehending any of the messages in their music impossible.
Music can transcend language and the general mood of the performance was reasonably serene and relaxed. Having viewed the film clips on the Brisbane Festival website prior to attending, it was disappointing to just hear vocals and guitars instead of featuring the range of electronic soundscapes behind their songs in their released tracks. Much of their music was very similar, with limited changes in tempo or rhythmic structures. Musically adequate but not particularly interesting or engaging.
The program ‘Girlpool’ presented flowed without comment; the only moments of conversation between the performers and the audience was inane filler while re-tuning instruments. There was no introduction of the band, the performers or any of the songs so the audience was left wondering what they were trying to convey and what journey we were supposed to be travelling with them. At times, it felt like the audience was spying on the pair sharing an intimate moment with their music. Towards the end, they played a number of short songs that all seemed to end prematurely with the lighting colour change the only real signal that we had moved on to the next piece.
The Brisbane Festival has supported this performance through the technical aspects well. The balance of sound levels was well managed and appropriate for the space and small audience. The simple lighting was effective in creating an intimate space and mood, with subtle changes of coloured backlights and just enough face light to see the performers clearly.
It seems unclear why this duo was imported from the United States when there are many talented, engaging and creative musicians and performers in Queensland alone that would have greatly benefited from a professional platform like the Brisbane Festival.
For more information regarding events at the Brisbane Festival, visit their website.