I’ve been listening to Parenthetical Girls since their first album (((GRRRLS))) came out in 2004, or pretty soon after. Jamie Stewart produced half of it (Side A and Side B are the same songs with different producers), so I decided to download it and see what it was like, if only because I was in the first throes of Xiu Xiu excitement and I was riled up to hear anything that had their name associated with it.
It was camper than anything I was used to. There was something about the sincerity in the stripped pop layers that took me by surprise. It was too keyboard-heavy and close-focused to fit in with vaguely baroque pop bands I was into at the time (Arcade Fire, Sufjan Stevens), and not nearly life-affirming enough to line up alongside the sunny indie (Architecture in Helsinki, Polyphonic Spree). Songs like Love Connection (which ended up covered on Etiquette by CFTPA) seemed to have a sort of body poetry that was different to anything I’d heard before. I’ll block-quote some, seeing as I set the precedent with the Why? post:
Chapped lips, tongue kiss, insert expletive
Fluids of a summer night
With slight duress, forced imperative
Find me quoting Donovan
The delicate mix of sweat and menstrual blood
Seeping into trampled grass
Zac Pennington is the kind of self-obsessed, sex-obsessed, hyper-camp pop experimentalist I can get on board with. Strangely enough though, four years and two more albums after I first heard (((GRRRLS))), I had never actually seen what he looked like. So when he appeared, thin as a rake and bejumpered in threadbare blue, I was… no, I wasn’t taken aback at all. He looked exactly like I expected. First time that’s ever happened.
The set the ( ) girls played was short, with no encore, but it was heavy on old material and there wasn’t a lowlight in the bunch. The revolving cast of Guy In Tight T-Shirt, Red Jumper Man and Kind Of Cute Girl took up duties on various synths, glockenspiel, drums, gamelan singing bowls, autoharp or whatever else, while Zac sojourned into the crowd, illustrating his every perfectly-enuniciated word with a graceful extension of his thin arm.
Among the finer expressions of love and lust was his index finger to index finger measurement of you- can-guess-what during the line “I felt his size, close to a dozen times” from Unmentionables off this year’s Entanglements.
The undoubted highlight, however, was the medley of Love Connection Pt. 1 and Love Connection Pt. 2*. This was called in by Guy In Tight T-Shirt and met with an “are you sure?” from Zac, but they carried through with it and it made my night. Further sweetness was added by the fact that they apparently rarely play either of the songs, nevermind back-to-back with no gap.
The homely, fire-placed atmosphere of the upstairs venue in Whelans added a lot to the experience, as did the impressive Former Soviet Republic in support, and all in all, the gig was as good as I could have hoped.
I’ve been incredibly lucky with gigs lately, but before you say “But Karl, EVERYTHING gets a positive review”, whet yisser appetites for the next post. Where did I go to escape the weekend Whelans crowd? Stay tuned to find out.
*Love Connection Pt. 1 and 2 are on different albums, so it’s not just like playing King of Carrot Flowers Pts. 1, 2 and 3 together. I hadn’t even considered how they’d fit together until last night. Perfectly, as it turned out.