Review: September Girls – The Pavilion, Cork, 18.01.14
Words: Conor O’Toole
Photos: Simone della Fornace | flickr.com/softblackstar
Having thoroughly enjoyed their debut album Cursing the sea for the last 6 weeks or so, I was fully expecting those songs to take on a new life through a full rig when September Girls played The Pavilion on Saturday night. Disappointingly, for me they didn’t.
I should say the floor was packed and the reception after each song generous. However, it turns out I wasn’t alone in my view. These are the thoughts of regular WeAreNoise contributor Emmet O’Brien.
“In theory, being a fan of the noise they trade in, a messy blend of straight-ahead fuzz and sweet harmonies, I was ready to be swept along but nothing in the gig particularly engaged me. It might have been down to sound issues but the show seemed flat and tepid, lacking in the dynamics central to its genre. When peddling a throwback and clean retro-tinged pop, a sense of movement is vital and here the performance was static and distant. This necessary energy can be found in tracks I’ve heard on record but last night it was buried in an unforgiving mix that seemed to smash everything together, not letting any individual element stand out. Nothing distinct was able to break the surface of a murky overall sound. To borrow elements from ‘September Gurls’ with a “u”, maybe this December Boy just wasn’t feeling it last night.”
I’d go along with that. The sound in the venue was a major letdown, which is something very rare at The Pavilion in my experience. (I didn’t recognise the engineer, I’m guessing he travelled with the band.) The guitars in particular had almost no place in the mix, while the organ – one of the album’s consistently thrilling elements – came across as an afterthought. Against this, the drumming was the one outstanding feature of the show – pounding beats, perfect to lock in those meticulous harmonies and fuzzy guitars, if only we could have heard them. (To be fair, the vocals did occupy their more or less correct place in a wall of sound mix – embedded deep down).
The couple of exceptions in the set were the brooding, post-punk ‘Ships’, and ‘Talking’ with its enervating “Whoa-uh-oh” backing vocal. Those were moments when the static atmosphere Emmet mentions above was blown away. Otherwise, the lack of dynamics in the mix (maybe volume as well, the whole thing could have been louder) was mirrored by a far from engaging stage presence.
Even the band’s encouraging closing act of feeding all three guitars into their amps amid wails of feedback seemed like a token gesture. It only served to show what the rest of the gig had been missing – some snarl, some menace, perhaps. The person I was with put it well – “they should have done that in the first song, and kept it going all the way through the set.”
So one of those disappointing nights where the songs sounded less live and in the flesh than on the record.
*A quick mention for local support band The Careers. I’d imagine this was their first time gracing a main stage having toured the local pub circuit for a while (where they might be in danger of not being served by the look of them). They came out with credit after a well-delivered set. For a band so young, to possess even a couple of decent tunes at this stage – which they do – is all you can ask.