Vivian Girls were everything I had hoped for Thursday, as they headlined a stacked bill at 529 that also included local band Gold Ghost, Sub-Pop stars Happy Birthday, and British post-punk minimalists Wet Dog.
Gold Ghost got to play in front of a fairly large crowd, though the dam did not break so the crowd could fully flow in until The Soft Pack show across the street at The Earl was finished. Gold Ghost features Frankie from Balkans on drums and former Facehugger, Ominous Castle, and Abby Go Go member Dan Wakefield as guitarist and lead singer, and if you like those bands, you'll probably dig this as Dan does a fine job as frontman of this experimental, surfy trio (the third member is their friend Rachel on bass).
Between me finally figuring out that King Tuff himself is in the fold and Adrian Barrera raving about the time or three he got to see them at SXSW, I had decided before the show that Happy Birthday would prove themselves to be the second best band on the bill. They delivered, as their set was chock full of songs that make the group sound like a poppier, easier to digest Dinosaur, Jr. One of my friends observed that King Tuff (AKA Kyle Thomas) resembled J. Mascis on stage because of his long, stringy hair. I disagreed, because I thought the stringy hair/baseball cap combo was reminiscent of Knox from The Vibrators.
Batting third was Wet Dog, a group of ladies from England who play really awesome post-punk songs. The best songs were dance-worthy and reminiscent of lady-fronted standards by groups like Delta 5 or The Raincoats. Now that I'm jogging the old memory, I think Wet Dog may have been the second best band of the night.
Between the Wet Dog and Vivian Girls sets, I skillfully maneuvered my way between the people who weren't at the bar or in the dreaded 529 bathroom line so I could be front and center. Though I fashion myself as an amateur photographer and try to get close enough to get shots of my friends' bands, I probably had not positioned myself up front on purpose since I was a little kid making my way past other kids, their moms, and old record collector dudes to get a good look at NOFX. Based on how the crowd was buzzing by this point, I'd venture to say I was not the only jaded, old 529 regular who was suddenly recapturing that feeling we all got when we were first discovering great music and were excited when we got to see one of our favorites live.
Vivian Girls were everything I had dreamed they would be live. They played most of my favorites, including standards like "Wild Eyes" and "Tell The World" and newer favorites like "When I'm Gone" and "Can't Get Over You". My band Magnums started because Derek Lyn Plastic was impressed when he heard me sing along with the latter while driving him around town last fall, and that led to him convincing me we should write some songs together. I made sure the girls knew this story after the show, and set up the conversation by saying, "I know drunk dudes tell you all kinds of things after shows, but I promise you have never heard this one before..."
In case you are wondering what Vivian Girls song would be called "other" on a set list, they have a brand new tune that based on the chorus is called "Other Girls".
The girls all proved to be awesome performers. Katy moves around on stage a lot, plays the tambourine with her face, and even visited the crowd during "Out For The Sun", but throughout it all she came across as graceful and not like the typical antagonistic punk performer. Ali is a really good drummer who plays hard without being reckless and making wacky drummer faces, which makes her the female Dave Rahn. Cassie has one of the most immediately recognizable voices in our little garage rock world and she, like her bandmates, exudes confidence as if she is a seasoned performer though the band really has not been around that long.
I might as well stop beating around the bush and say what I have wanted to say since about 2 a.m. on Friday: people who are hell-bent on proving how cool they are by hating this band are fucking stupid.