Live Review: Girlpool @ The Monarch, Berlin

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I was invited to see Girlpool, a band I only knew in name, on my third week of living Berlin. I was invited by my roommate, and of course I said yes, because being in a new city means that you just say yes to more things. All I knew of Girlpool was that they were from LA, and had no drummer. So with my curiosity suitably peaked, we trotted off to Kreuzberg.

The Monarch is a small bar above the busy Kottbusser Tor round-a-bout, over looking the U-bahn and street below through large floor to ceiling windows. You wouldn’t know it was there unless you were looking for it, and even then you might get lost. It’s tiny and intimate, and in my opinion the ideal gig venue. Just after arriving Stephen Steinbrink took to the stage to open the evening for Girlpool. He reminded me of a hipster Smee, all bearded and wearing a red beanie. His soulful voice washed over the room, and for a while was perfectly enjoyable, but his regular complaints about the sound (which was fine, by the way) put a dampener on the set. I also wasn’t sure if he was the best choice for a Girlpool support act, but like I said, for the most part he was perfectly enjoyable.

It’s probably a good thing Girlpool are without a drum kit, as I’m not sure one would manage to squeeze into the tiny stage. Cleo and Harmony strolled through the crowd (there is no artist or off-stage area — when we arrived they were hanging out at the bar) and kicked things off with Ideal World. It’s both what I expected and something entirely different, and I was transported back to an era of music I have only listened to retrospectively. It reminded me of the riot girl era, but without the anger and the politics, but just as stripped down — if not more so — than the girl groups of the early ’90s. It was playful, adorable and when you have lived experience of being an utterly uncool girl, completely relatable. There is a consistent sense of nostalgia throughout the set, notably in the lyrics to When The World Was Big, which reminisces back to school days and matching dresses and made me wish I was there with my best friend, too.

It’s clear that Cleo and Harmony are having a lot of fun on stage, and seem pretty blown away by touring Europe. ‘Serious’ musicians and critics might turn their noses up at this basic form of music making; most songs only feature two or three chords at most, but for me, it was completely refreshing. It’s really wonderful to see a band who just want to make the music that they want, in such a straight forward and non-pretentious way. The twinned vocals throw a punch into the tiny audience, who are in-turn clinging to every lyric; it feels so personal — almost like you’re witness to a teenage girl reading her diary out loud.

After what feels like minutes, their set is over and they walk into the crowd, only to be forced back on-stage for a three song encore. When the whole thing is over I have a huge grin on my face, and can’t wait to talk about it with the new friends I’d made. I wish Girlpool the absolute best for the future; the emotions, arrangements and simplicity of their music is both charming and thought-provoking, and the fact that I didn’t once feel the need to check my phone or head to the bar during their set speaks volumes of the power two girls and two guitars can have over a room.

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