Vivian Girls have risen from the buzz of their Brooklyn scene days, playing rooms and pubs to hardcore fans, to becoming the subject of Vice adulation and gossip column derision in as little as four years. From their first 2008 self-titled debut to their third album Share the Joy, they’ve lost two drummers already, most recently Ali Koehler to Best Coast. They’ve generated several blogverse scandals for speaking their minds in interviews and left a trail of unanswered questions in their wake. It seems that’s the price to pay for packing out venues like London’s XOYO with adoring new fans from all the way across the Atlantic; all manner of snappily dressed urban adults line up from an 8pm opening to ensure a good spot front of stage.
It’s nice to see though, that while the most recent album has abandoned some of Vivian Girls’ famed frenetic energy for a more nuanced approach to song writing, their live performances are just as charmingly agitated as ever. Looking like they’d rolled out of bed in other people’s dresses, the two lead singers’ floral patterns obscure only part of their tattoo-covered arms, while they’re sweet-as-pie vocals melt down the raucous edge of their garage past. Core member and bassist Katy ‘Kickball’ Goodman –red bangs and personal charisma intact –raises her beer to the crowd and beckons them to clap along to her tambourine in ‘Dance (If You Wanna)’.
A characteristically reticent guitarist Cassie Ramone leads their songs in and out of the alluring harmonies that have risen to pride of place in their musical repertoire. Fiona Campbell, replacing ex-drummer Koehler as of this year, offers a similarly steadfast rhythmic backbone as her predecessor. She keeps the band’s jangly melodies in tow, while high hat and kick drum are appointed the slightest increase in percussive responsibility.
There is certainly a focus on musicianship now. Having already established themselves on a foundation of a controlled energy that is only ever truly realised live, Vivian Girls speed up and slow down together in perfect time, even as Goodman throws herself into the throng, while frenzied camera flashes follow. There is also a subdued energy that is present in all the Vivian Girls records, be it in the lofi milieu of reverb, distortion and inaudible lyrics of their earlier material or the surprisingly fussy delivery and introspection of Share the Joy.
Live, though, there’s no denying the energised stage presence that has the whole crowd jerking to the short and sweet cavort of lead single ‘I Heard You Say’ or the deviant boogie of ‘The Other Girls’. An elegant simplicity has always pervaded the Vivian Girls’ song writing, while a raw immediacy has been their main strength. Thankfully, that hasn’t changed.