Telling one of many anecdotes that punctuated their charming Sydney Festival set, L.A. band Girlpool's bassist and singer Harmony Tividad mentioned that her first ever impression of Australia was seeing the Sydney Opera House on the computer game Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? She never thought she herself would make it to Australia. The intimacy of that admission was echoed in the way the band played and performed. Their openness not just with each other, but with the audience packed into the Sydney Festival's beautiful Famous Spiegeltent, lent an enormous gravity to the band's songs.
The other half of Girlpool is Cleo Tucker, guitarist and co-lead vocalist. The most immediately notable aspect of the band's music is the way the duo interact as performers, with close harmonies running through most of their songs. Though the pair sing in an inelegant, unrefined way, there is a gorgeously pristine and heartfelt aspect to their performance, from Harmony's reliably blocky bass rhythms, to Cleo's confident guitar leads and their stunning vocal and harmonic interplay.
The stand-out of the set was "Before the World Was Big," the title track from their 2015 album. It was here that the sophistication of the band's deceptively simple style became apparent. Moving between a punk-inflected almost-funk with shouted vocals and a lovely waltz of a chorus, the song transformed gradually, and by the end its refrain of "I just miss how it felt standing next to you, wearing matching dresses, before the world was big" transformed almost into a madrigal, with overlapping, interweaving vocals delivered with so much ease that it almost felt accidental.
Girlpool's music is almost entirely beyond categorisation and compare. Their minimalist sound, at its loudest, is softer than any other "rock" band, but still resonates with the plain-spoken power of punk. Quieter tracks like the beautiful "Dear Nora" or "Emily," with Cleo closing her eyes as she picked out the winding guitar leads were played with the attitude of the most sincere folk music.
Everything about the band, from their setup, to the focus of their songs, is small, excluding their personalities. Smiling at one another across the stage, telling the audience about trying a lamington for the first time, engaging one another in a fierce power stance as their tuned their instruments - Harmony and Cleo's chemistry and charisma shone through even when the show experienced minor technical difficulties. The melancholy of set highlights "Ideal World" or "Plants and Worms" was transformed by their performance and the setting into something wide-eyed and awash with a sense of possibility.
Girlpool are a band unlike any other, and they put on a set unlike any other. It's to the credit of the Sydney Festival organisers who recognised the potential in acts like Girlpool (like they do every year) in bringing something special and worthwhile to Sydney. Thanks to Sydney Festival, Girlpool brought a little piece of their world to us, and we were more than happy to receive it.
Concert photos by Jamie Williams.