On Thursday, April 4, Girlpool played the La Santa Modern Cantina in Santa Ana, CA their first show in a nationwide tour in support of their new album What Chaos is Imaginary.
La Santa Modern Cantina sits on the edge of Downtown Santa Ana, next to apartment buildings, hipster bars, restaurants and parking lots that still appear fresh and awkward among the older buildings of the area. It was a Thursday night and the streets felt particularly empty, wide and hollow under the orange street lamps.
After passing the bouncer and the velvet ropes lined up outside the club, you head down a narrow staircase with low ceilings that leads into a basement bar and stage area. The whole room is reminiscent of a concrete bunker, only with soft red and cyan lights hung across the ceiling. At one end of the room there is a long bar and on the other end a cramped stage. There is a narrow long community table in the middle of the room that has pillars running from ground to ceiling through the table. Along the sides of the room are couches and cushions built into the wall. Band equipment was roped off to the left of the stage. The makeshift merchandise area was in a back corner next to the end of the bar.
On a different night one could imagine the center of the room packed and humid with dancing people, some darting in and out to the sides and back of the room for rest. That night, though, it was a small crowd. About twenty minutes before the opener goes onstage and everyone who was coming to the show was already there. People milled around in jean and leather jackets. Band members swirled around the room, their identities concealed until the moments before they went onstage, except for, of course, Girlpool.
Girlpool is composed of Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad, a pair of indie songwriters from Los Angeles who recently released the third full-length album, What Chaos is Imaginary. The show at La Santa was the first in a 30 show tour that starts on the west coast before breaking east across the continental US and Canada. On tour with them are Kitten, a 6-piece new wave revivalist band from Los Angeles tagging along for the next few shows, and Hatchie, a 3-piece dream-pop band from Brisbane, Australia, led by singer-songwriter Harriette Pilbeam. Hatchie will open for Girlpool for the entire 30 show tour.
Harmony Tividad, one half of Girlpool, stands to the side of the middle table. She is wearing a white t-shirt and rolled up jeans showing long socks and black clogs. She has short choppy blonde hair with brown roots and impressive earrings that dangle like wind chimes from her ears. Around her are a group of people all wearing white sweaters. On the sweaters, in big red letters, are the words “What Chaos is Imaginary,” screen printed on like one would expect from a local printing service.
It becomes quickly clear that these people are family and close friends, home support, here to support Girlpool before they embark on their nationwide tour. One older man with slicked medium length black hair, greying on the sides, sits at the middle table waiting with a combined look of concern and pride. He too is wearing the white sweater with red lettering.
Cleo Tucker, the other half of Girlpool, comes out wearing ripped jeans and a t-shirt. He comes up to Harmony and they discuss something for a few moments, before turning their attention back towards the stage. By now the opening acts have started, warming up the room for Girlpool. In less than a week’s time from the show at La Santa Girlpool will go play at the Regent Theatre in Los Angeles.
The night goes on. Eventually, it is Girlpool’s turn to take the stage. They set up their equipment, tune their guitars, test out the sound; they are their own roadies. It feels funny as the band turns on the stage and introduces themselves. Everyone in the crowd has watched them set up for the last few minutes. There are enough people in the crowd that they could look at each one of us individually.
With a slight apprehensiveness, they dive into their set list starting off with “Lucy’s,” the first track off the new record. It is an emotional banger, one that Cleo sings, and you can see Cleo pushing towards that emotional wave the song requires. He leans into the microphone as he sings, with the weight of his body on his front leg, leaning forward as if he is shouting across a raging sea, bouncing slightly on his bent, back ankle. Perspiration beads on his forehead beneath his crop of curly august red hair that stands out even more underneath the red and cyan lights.
Harmony appears more cool, more level on the stage. She stays in the pocket, but when it comes time for her to sing “Minute in your Mind,” a slow synth-driven ballad with crystalline melodic vocals, she seems to take a few breaths to ready herself before going in. It is the only song in the set that Harmony sings without having to play guitar or bass as well.
The sound in La Santa, that concrete bunker of a basement club, is akin to a flood of sound. The speakers for the stage are stacked on top of each other to the left and right of the stage, and listeners can get right up next to them if they want to feel the music pulse all the way into their bloodstream. In such a small, reverb-rich space, the music fills every corner, becomes inescapable, hits every nerve, floods around the listener.
As the show progresses, Girlpool plays the occasional song from their previous record, Powerplant, such as “It Gets More Blue” and “123”. Guitars and basses are swapped with regularity between songs.
The band seems most comfortable launching into songs like “Swamp and Bay,” “Hire,” and “Stale Device,” all off the new record, but firmly entrenched in the “Girlpool” sound – jangly guitars, earnest and angsty vocals, all highlighted by the harmonic combination of Harmony Tividad’s and Cleo Tucker’s singing voices. The crowd listens attentively, some swaying or bobbing their head to the music, a few even break out into a dance.
The band seems less steady launching into the material from the new record that showcases Girlpool’s sonic evolution, such as the aforementioned “Minute in your Mind,” and the haunting, intricately guitar-driven song “Chemical Freeze.” Whereas “Chemical Freeze” on record remains brooding over its hypnotic guitar line, performed live, it unexpectedly explodes into life.
It’s the final song in the set, and as quickly as the show had started, it ends. A simple thank you following the final song, and they are already unplugging, packing up the heavy equipment, unscrewing the mechanical arms of the drums. Cleo Tucker disappears for the rest of the night, but Harmony Tividad hangs around the club, packing up merch, helping to move the collection of amps, mics, and other gear up back up to street level.
Back up the staircase into the orange glow of the street lamps and the soft Santa Ana night, and all the bands are loading up their vans, coordinating plans for the night. Tomorrow they go to San Diego. Family and friends hang around Girlpool’s van waiting for them to finish loading up the van, which is parked in front of a taco truck. There is evident relief among everybody – the first show of a long tour now out of the way. When they finish loading, the bands all jump into their vans, but I catch Harmony Tividad walking the other way down the street. She’s, surrounded by her home support, family and friends, in their white sweaters with red lettering. They walk down 3rd street, into the balmy Santa Ana night, Harmony almost teetering on the edge of a curb. She’s wearing a sweater now too.