They’ve got a papier-mâché demon perched lustily in one corner and take the stage to the tempestuous, orphic fanfare that is ‘Popcorn’ by Hot Butter. It’s a very Goat Girl move, a combination of the laconic and the Dionysian. Their brief set tonight is partly a warm-up for their appearance at a certain festival this weekend – the name escapes me. More interestingly, they’re road testing some new material, and since the promoter is billing this as ‘sci-fi fusion’, it would seem that they’re pitching for a bit of a reinvention. The Goat Girl I remember were all chugging, subterranean guitar licks – part leer, part raised eyebrow, and prone to the fantastic but urbane as the town gargoyle.
They begin the set with a menacing version of ‘Viper Fish’, its sparse, goth drum-beat and ritualistic, chanting chorus of “Don’t shed a tear / we all feel shame / we all feel shame” leading into a familiar guitar riff that seems to peal around the room. They’re a six-piece tonight, the usual line-up bolstered by the addition of synth and a trumpet.
The reasons for the additional personnel become clear as they lurch into the first of the half dozen or so new songs. Titles are sketchy, but ‘sci-fi fusion’ can be confirmed to occupy a musical space somewhere between Krautrock and New Romanticism, more Japan than Duran Duran, but with salt-water splashes of Seven and the Ragged Tiger-era sleaze somewhere in the brass. The main departure from the Goat Girl of yore is the way that the guitar lines recede into a supporting role, and Rosie Bones’ drums take on an insistent, hypnotic prominence.
There’s a brisk tour through some of the highlights of last year’s eponymous debut. ‘Cracker Drool’ and ‘Slowly Reclines’ hit us up with kinetic, south London surf rock – think Dick Dale on the night bus dreaming of the sunset at Brockwell Park Lido – and bookended versions of ‘I Don’t Care Part One’ and ‘I Don’t Care Part Two’ build into an intense, prolonged howl that cuts momentarily through lead singer Clottie Cream’s nonchalance.
Clottie’s an interesting presence. Cool, even disengaged, and possessed of a growl that’s hard to square with the figure on stage. In ‘The Man’, everyone else is caught in the hormonal rush of it all, but she surveys the mosh pit almost wearily, leaning back from the song’s momentum, tilted away from the chorus. It would be more obviously caustic if she’d throw her weight into it a bit more, but here and in ‘The Man with No Heart or Brain’, it only works so well because you can never quite tell if she’s for or against.
But it’s the new stuff you want to hear about, right? We’re talking crunchy synths, lots of reverb on the vocals, and they avoid the obvious pitfalls of taking inspiration from the early eighties. It sounds warm, organic, and sits easily with the Goat Girl you know and love. Only a fool would want to get in the way of one of their guitar licks, so dispensing with those motifs is a brave move, but one that allows them to show us all the other things Goat Girl are.
Again, Bones’ elegant work on the drum kit takes us to some good places. There’s a similar physicality to Budgie (Siouxsie and the Banshees, and latterly John Grant’s drummer), to the way he’s almost dancing when he plays, and the newer material gives her the chance to show off a bit, to play around the beat.
And then they’re gone, another shiny, new song ringing in our ears. It might or might not be called ‘Cowboy’ and registers as a humdinger on my trusty critic’s barometer. It’s certainly a dramatic exit, and it’s a shame they don’t come back for an encore. The new songs they unveil this evening suggest a band with plenty of space to grow. Catch them on the Glasto coverage this weekend and see for yourself.