By Shain Shapiro
The Beautiful Girls :: 08.11.06 :: Melkweg :: Amsterdam, NL
There seem to be two distinct sounds propagating from Australian musical exports as of late - garage rock or dusty folk. The Morning After Girls or John Butler for example. While it would be fallacious to think that this is the only music populating the bars and clubs on the other side of the world, the execs down there seem to be more interested in promoting and exporting the really loud or really quiet as of late. To experience anything in the middle, I am guessing one has to hop on a plane and do it themselves. For me, that option is a definite possibility, but right now my travel expenditures only permit the tram ride to the club here in Amsterdam to hear either the garage rock or dusty folk that made it out here itself. This time around, the folk won, courtesy of The Beautiful Girls.
The Beautiful Girls
From the moment lead girl Mat McHugh launched into the first sun-drenched, dust-injected song, the sold-out crowd at the Melkweg Oude Zaal (Old Hall) realized why this quartet has become such a hit Down Under. In front of a mixed bag of native Dutch hipsters, Australian expats and a smattering of tourists, The Beautiful Girls ran through an hour's worth of reggae-tinged pop, easy-going soul and earthy-folk as good as any of the Aussie exports of late. Firstly, McHugh's voice is as soft as, well, a beautiful girl. Watching him perform, all I could think of was the reputation that has been greased onto koalas, an animal whose external softness hides a menacing, pest-like ardor that spews an internal stubbornness not noticeable from the outside. Every song, whether about the curves of a beach babe or the complicated politics enrapturing the oceanic continent, was disseminated with deep fragility and softness, often hiding the inherent power McHugh has over his voice, and consequently the audience. From the re-worked, reggae-blended cover of Clapton's "Wonderful Tonight" to the intensely personal "The Biggest Lie I Ever Told," McHugh commanded the show, and his band, showcasing a mature, deeply powerful collective that understands how to perform a soft song in a hard way.
Mat McHugh by Katelyn G
Yet, The Beautiful Girls' twang was far from original. From song to song, comparisons of both Australian and North American artists were prevalent, from fellow Australian Xavier Rudd to Jack Johnson, Fishbone, Slightly Stoopid and O.A.R. The Caucasian-fuelled mix of Bob Marley, indigenous folk music and '50s pop has been done before, and done well. But The Beautiful Girls were different. McHugh and company had a knack for expanding the stylistic territory throughout the set, from adding Phish-tuned improvisation and dramatic keyboard solos (think N.I.C.U.) in "Skipping Cracks" to jamming for a few minutes to find themselves in Marley's own "War." Furthermore, the audience - myself included - just lapped it up, as the usual four-minute pop song became an eight-minute exploration that prodded deeper into the Australian outback than most attempt to tread. Every lick, emotion and arrangement was a pure treat, even if its intrinsic originality came into question. It did not matter that much of it sounded the same, because all of it was so damn good.
The Beautiful Girls
The more Australian artists I am privy to, the more I want to pack my bags and hop the next flight down there, no matter the cost, and The Beautiful Girls further cemented that desire. Sunny, upbeat, feverishly melodic and rhythmically rambunctious, this was a marvelous show. If these lads continue experimenting, jamming and playing with the obvious fervor exemplified at the Melkweg, this can only get more beautiful.
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