Post War Glamour Girls – Live at St Austin’s

Posted: 18 October 2016 in Albums
Tags: , , , , ,

Christopher Nosnibor

It makes sense for a band renowned for their killer live shows to release a live album, but it takes a band with a certain amount of guts to make that album a project that’s part of a festival’s proceedings, and to go for the live album by way of their third full-length. Post War Glamour Girls have got guts, alright, and Live at St Austin’s was recorded as the ‘watch a band record a live album’ Sunday night session at the end of this year’s Long Division festival in Wakefield.

They open with a very curious hybrid of ‘Sestra’ and ‘Brat’, which respectively stood as bookends to their debut, Pink Fur. In parts completely unrecognisable in relation to either of the originals, it’s a more sedate and altogether less fiery reworking. James Smith shows remarkable restraint, his rowdy raving replaced by a crooning style, which sits alongside some soulful harmonies, the likes of which haven’t been heard from the band previously. Structurally, it’s also completely different… and comes to an abrupt and ungainly halt that sounds like the tape being chewed. Well, it is live, after all. Anything can happen and you only get one take.

‘That’s probably it for music,’ James quips. ‘I’ll now be doing my stand-up set’. Granted, there’s a lot more music and no stand-up, but you wouldn’t put anything past this band. So premiering a new track from their upcoming third album by way of a second track is pretty much par for the course. There’s something of an early- to mid-eighties guitar pop feel to ‘Polyanna Cowgirl’ (commercial pop was seemingly a fair few shades darker then), and it boasts a bold and hooky chorus.

If making their first album a greatest hits / best of set seems like the obvious a to go, you know that’s precisely what you’re not going to get, and second album Feeling Strange (released less than six months before this performance) is largely shunted to one side in favour of their debut, new material, and a handful of covers – which, naturally, are off the beaten track and are drawn in from far out on the left-field (and their version of Elvis Costello’s ‘Shipbuilding’ is as moving as it is unexpected… not that it should be expected for a band who’ve previously covered Robert Palmer).

The vinyl, which presents an abridged version of the occasion to present a different aspect of the set-list (in an alternative sequence) omits the spiky, goth-tinged rendition of ‘Stolen Flowers Rust’ and two of the tracks culled from their second album, presumably on account of space. ‘Cannonball Villages’ (not on the vinyl) is one of the standouts of Feeling Strange and builds an immense, dark, brooding twisting epic journey. As Smith growls the refrain ‘I knew the moment I laid my eyes on you / that I would do anything to get my hands on you,’ it sounds as much like a threat as an expression of desire. Closer ‘Count Your Blessings’ – a bleak choice of a set-ender, if the truth be told – is also omitted from the vinyl, and the fact that such a great rendition can be relegated to the download is testament to the depth of their material – and of course, their unswerving perversity in selecting unreleased tracks and covers over others. Single cuts like ‘Jazz Funerals’, ‘Southpaw Stance’ and ‘Felonius Punk’ don’t get a look in

The slowed-down version of ‘Black Dolphin’ and the dreamy version of ‘Gustave’, on which Alice takes lead vocal duties, offer very different perspectives on established songs, and the piano motif which runs through the Curesque take on ‘Red Terror’, with its crazy reverb action, again places the familiar in an unfamiliar context. The addition of organ and keys to a number of tracks also adds a new dimension to the sound.

Live at St Austin’s works precisely because of its imperfections and its – superficially, at least – perverse set-list. As a live album, it captures the immediacy of a band who thrive on live performances, and at the same time, are all about taking risks and showcasing new material. Go to a PWGG gig and you’ll see a band testing themselves and the audience with new material. This makes the inclusion of debut single ‘Spitting Pearls’ all the more surprising and welcome. They’ve probably played it about twice since its release: it’s a personal favourite, and they more than do it justice here, Smith finally unleashing his full-throated Tom Waits holler. It’s fucking brilliant, and met, briefly, with a stunned silence.

Live at St Austin’s is an honest live album: it’s not that the sound is rough, because it isn’t: but in places, the instruments aren’t perfectly balanced and there are some dud notes and off-key harmonies. And that’s precisely why it’s so good: it sounds like you could actually be there, it’s not dressed up and overdubbed and polished to studio quality. It’s very much a document of the band that Post War Glamour Girls are, a snapshot of a band who are continually evolving, forever restless, always trying out new arrangements and new material. And yes, they’re the kind of band who place art over commerce, who really are bursting with creativity and are making music for the right reasons. And they truly are one of a kind.

 

Post War Glamour Girls - Live At St Austin's Cover

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Comments
  1. […] Cowgirl’, which featured on last year’s live album, is a big, reverby song that draws together elements of classic dreampop with vintage mid-80s […]

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