Thursday, June 15, 2017

Girlpool at The Masquerade

Here it is, mid-June 2017, and so far we've only been to four shows all year.  Granted, one of those shows was the three-day, three-stage Shaky Knees Music Festival, where we saw well over a dozen bands, but other than that, we've only been out to hear live music three other times.

This is a huge, dramatic turnaround from the last several years, when we typically have gone to three or four or more shows per month.  We ascribe some of that lower attendance to our perception of a general decline in the current quality of the music scene and some of it to an uncertain feeling of ennui, a post-electoral depression/Trump-induced stress disorder.

But whatever.  It was time to put our big boy pants back on and do what we've been putting off for months (the obstacle is the way) and get back out there and take in some live music.  So last night, we ventured out to the recently-relocated Masquerade to see the LA band Girlpool.  The Atlanta band Bitter -  not to be confused with the Atlanta band Biters - opened.    

Bitter are a "Latinx queer punk band" (their description) with both an all-female lineup and a sound that vaguely resembles San Antonio's Girl In A Coma.  Vaguely.  Let me try and be as polite as I can about this - they may have their own strengths, but those strengths on their own wouldn't have been enough to pull us out of our funk and gotten us up off the sofa and back into the clubs.  I blame the Black Lips, but Atlanta is teeming with these scrappy, lo-fi, punk bands that substitute volume for proficiency and songwriting, and the Bitter performance did not change our impression of the sorry state of the current music scene.   

Next up were Baltimore's Snail Mail.  This was our first exposure to the female fronted band, but during their set we found ourselves thinking more about the newly relocated Masquerade than we were about the band. At the risk of sounding like some sort of curmudgeon ("we don't like the current state of the music scene, we didn't like the opening act," etc.), we're going to express another unpopular opinion: we didn't like the old Masquerade.  We know, we know - it's a beloved Atlanta institution that's been around for something like 25 years, it's where many people first saw acts by then up-and-coming but now legendary bands (Nirvana, Radiohead, Faith No More, etc.), and that the building's industrial past gave it a distinctive, one-of-a-kind ambience, but we still found the place lacking, especially in the here-and-now (or the there-and-then, as it's now gone).  We remember back in the 80s when the place was still the old Excelsior Mill pizza place, and we can write a post or two about all the crazy things that happened to us at the old Excelsior Mill, but most of those stories involve varying combinations of beer and sex and being in our 20s, so we'll save those posts for some other time. 

But here's the ugly truth about the old Masquerade location - the old millworks building perpetually stank of mildew, stale beer, piss and sweat. It was only minimally air conditioned and there were nights when sweat would just be pouring off our body even while we just stood in place, and winter nights when the indoor temperatures felt only a few degrees warmer that the outdoor temperature. Although all different kinds of bands played there, the Masquerade's niche was mostly metal, hardcore, and punk, which tended to draw a post-adolescent (or younger) male audience as interested in moshing and stage diving as they were in hearing the bands.  This, in turn, resulted in a particularly surly and aggressive security staff that had to assume that you were just as likely to throw a punch or toss a beer bottle or jump on the stage as you were to just watch the band perform, which in turn resulted in almost any encounter with security being at best unfriendly to at worst downright hostile. And ticket price were relatively expensive compared to the quality of the frequently obscure bands that played there most nights.

An evening at the old Masquerade was usually an extended negotiation of just exactly how much shit you were willing to put up with in relation to your enthusiasm for the band playing there.  So admittedly, it was worth it to go (as we did) to see Father John Misty or Local Natives or Alt-J perform there, but anything less and the negatives usually outweighed the positives.  

So  anyway, now that we got all that off our chest, last year the Masquerade announced that the building was being sold for a new mixed-use development and that they would be relocating.  After looking at a few possible replacement venues, they finally announced they were moving into the financially troubled Underground Atlanta entertainment complex, and last night was our first time at the new location.

We have to admit, it's a whole lot better.  Parking, always a challenge at the old location, was convenient and easy.  The place has AC (!).  It doesn't smell bad!   The floors didn't feel like they were going to collapse at any moment.  While no one is going to confuse it with Terminal West anytime soon and it still seemed like the sound technicians weren't even trying to do their job, it felt a whole lot better than the old venue. The dreaded decision as to whether or not a band was worth a trip to the godforsaken Masquerade is no longer as difficult as it once was.

So anyway, all that was going on in our heads while Snail Mail was playing, and by the time we snapped out of our reverie and got back to the present moment, the headliners, Girlpool, were taking the stage.         

Girlpool are a fun band fronted by two goofy but likeable women, Harmony and Cleo.  Their casual and off-hand stage banter and antics are as much fun as their songs - at one point during their set, they invited a girl in the audience to join them on stage and twirl her Fidget Spinner while they played.  Their musical style is hard to classify (folk-punk? lo-fi singer-songwriter?  acoustic girl-band rock?) so here's a sample to let you decide for yourself.

Typical for the club, The Masquerade had the mix all wrong and the guitars were too loud for the vocals and verged on distortion (and not the good kind).  But still, Girlpool had us smiling at the end of their set, and best yet (at least to us), we were back home by 11:00 p.m.

So that was it - only our fourth show of the year (plus one festival) and our first show (other than that festival) since The Decemberists at the Fox Theater back in mid-April.  As noted the other day, there's always some good music to be found if you know where to look, and all music, without exception, is nothing less than potential expressing itself, so hopefully we can shake off those last vestiges of post-electoral depression and Trumpian stress disorder and get back out more frequently and enjoy some more shows in these pre-impeachment times.

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