Los Angeles punk band Girlpool made a stop on April 11 at Portland’s Wonder Ballroom. The duo — composed of guitarist Cleo Tucker and bassist Harmony Tividad — first visited the venue back in 2015 on their tour with pop punk band Joyce Manor. Tucker reminisced on the previous experience, explaining the show as, “you know, emo shit.”
The concert showcased the band’s latest album, “What Chaos is Imaginary,” released in February of this year. It’s the first album Girlpool has released since Tucker came out as transgender and began taking testosterone, lowering their voice and ultimately transforming the band’s recognizable sound from its past albums: punky, whiny and delightfully imperfect. Now, its sound has added dimension and ample range, shying away from its incipient bliss.
The setlist didn’t include many of the band’s favorites from its debut, self-titled album or 2015’s “Before the World Was Big.” It focused on the group’s newer projects, aiding its shifted vocal range perfectly. “It feels so good to be playing new songs,” Tividad said with a smile, her appreciation palpable.
Interaction with the audience was minimal, completely foregoing an introduction. To engage the audience, Tucker eased through their first tuning transition with a poll, questioning the last time each audience member cried. They responded in almost perfect unison: “yesterday.”
The crowd, a mix of counter-culture teens with short pink bangs and septum rings, mirrored the band’s lackluster energy. Front row fans slouched with their elbows on the stage, looking contemplative. Perhaps they were wondering why the drummer was dragging the tempo for almost the entire set, but more than likely, they were mulling over the angsty lyrics the duo so masterfully harmonizes.
“In the bleachers someone teaches about what's worth knowing / some bland candy scheme / build yourself some boundaries / just to kill the dream,” Tividad delicately cries in the newest album title track.
Tividad spent a good portion of her time on stage sitting on her knees, looking sleepy and sad as she wailed about reality and drank beer out of a compostable cup. When standing, she meandered around the stage wistfully with her bass guitar in hand. Tucker, the more enthused of the two, bounced on the balls of their feet.
In the halfhearted way Girlpool left the stage for the first time, it was apparent that an encore was inevitable. Seconds after Tucker and Tividad went backstage, the duo returned, performing their 2015 single “Chinatown.” It was the first time the crowd sang along, screaming the emotional lyrics in sync back to the performers, chanting, “If I loved myself would I take it the wrong way?”
Despite its musical progression, Girlpool may not have strayed as far as it thinks from its 2015 Joyce Manor days. After all, it’s the “emo” lyrics that make their music so satisfying.