Girls Are For Lovers

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Raw and emotion-packed, Christopher Owens' voice is a lover's croon. Considering that the Girls frontman and his cohorts played on Valentine's Day at the Great American Music Hall, it's best to get that right out of the way now to avoid all the great puns and cheeky remarks one could make.

But really, Girls is the perfect band to hear on Valentine's Day because all their songs are about love (and sometimes drugs and alcohol to appease the loveless). Their music resists being called "edgy" and is hardly masculine or aggressive, so it's easy to feel connected to Owens' romanticism. Take "Headache," perhaps the most wistful of all their songs. Owens sings, "Let's live like we could never part." What a wondrously simple and declarative anthem for the lovers of our times.

All the syrup and sap aside, however delectable it may be, Girls plays a sometimes wild, sometimes sad and often riotous show that has something for every music fan. They reject being bound to any one genre by the very act of embracing-and dabbling in-every genre. Part garage (reminiscent of a cleaned-up, more introspective Black Lips), part doo-wop and part pop, Girls only misstepped briefly because they saved all their slower, stripped down songs for the end of the set. But in retrospect, it might've been the perfect sedative for the previously adrenaline oriented songs. Their music is the ideal drug, producing euphoria with occasional jolts of speed.

One of the smartest moves Girls made Sunday night was saving their hit "Lust for Life" for the middle of the set. Owens knew everybody wanted to hear it and so he made us wait. It's certainly their catchiest, most accessible song. Other electric moments included "Laura," a sort of valediction for being young and stupid, and "Hellhole Ratrace," the mother of all self-deprecating ballads.

Girls also played a few unreleased, hopefully forthcoming songs ("Heartbreaker" and "Drugs"-titles that all too well sum up their project) as well as the b-side "Solitude." With a bigger stage than their last SF show, an expanded lineup with opening acts, and a new keyboardist, Girls not only gave a beautiful survey of their rapidly growing career but were also zealously engaged in their performance without any stage antics. Along with Owens, ecstatic to be in his home city, the others band members were equals rather than props for some leader singer's hubris. Still, Girls doesn't need a concert to prove themselves. It's more about listening rather than being there.

The night came with an ample share of surprises. East Bay based folk-singer Cass McCombs also joined the boys on-stage to play one of his new singles, and Girls covered the Carpenters with impressive competence. Playing "Close To You" exposed Owens as a musician who, unlike many of his contemporaries and opening acts, is the least bit self-serious.

On their debut (and only) record album, Owens impersonates many different vocal styles-sometimes Elvis Costello ("Lauren Marie") and at one point Stephin Merritt ("Headache")-but on-stage his true voice emerges. It's more like the one you hear on "Lust For Life": a dose of whininess yet also a dash of earnestness. In their live performance, Girls loudly boasted their unique style that in a few more albums will emerge as something entirely their own. If you're young, in love (requited or not) or just an appreciator of great music, it's a sound you can't help but adore.

Send Ryan a musical love note at [email protected]

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