May 24, 2015
San Francisco CA
By Dan Wall
Girlschool Set List:
Demolition Boys, C’mon Let’s Go, The Hunter, Hit and Run, I Spy, Come, the Revolution, Never Say Never, Take it Like A Band, Screaming Blue Murder, Future Flash, Kick It Down, Watch Your Step, Yeah Right, Race With the Devil, Emergency. Encore: Take It All Away, Tonight
Crucified Barbara Set List: Shadows, To Kill a Man, Everything We Need, Rock You Like The Devil, Lunatic #1, In Distortion We Trust, I’d Sell My Kids For Rock N Roll, The Crucifier, Electric Sky, Into the Fire. 50 minutes.
There have been far more successful girl bands (The Bangles, The Go Gos), more notorious and legendary outfits (The Runaways), and even groups that slapped on the make-up better (Vixen), but when it comes to flat-out, balls-to-the-wall rock and roll, Girlschool is the best all-girl outfit of all-time, if my opinion counts for anything.
Touring the U.S. proper for the first time in 20 years and appearing in the Bay Area for the first time since 2004 (when the band did a short West Coast jaunt), the quartet played a storming Sunday night show in San Francisco the night before Memorial Day.
The band, despite its near legendary status as one of the originators of the British New Wave of Heavy Metal, has never drawn huge numbers in this country (the group’s 1982 tour with Scorpions and Iron Maiden brought the girls its biggest audience in the states). Still, the crowd was decent sized on a night that the spring weather outside could have doubled for winter in Alaska. The 250 or so souls who ventured out were very much into virtual every song played, even the newer stuff from the band’s latest record, “Guilty As Sin, which hasn’t even been released yet (the group is selling an EP while on this tour-more on that latter).
Hitting the stage running with two of the group’s early stompers, “Demolition Boys and “C’mon Let’s Go,” the four-piece band sounded great and looked pretty damn good for four middle-aged women. I doubt that these ladies thought they would still be up there, rocking like hell, over 35 years after the band formed in London back in the late 70’s. But that can be said about a lot of veteran rock bands that still have the talent and fortitude to keep slugging out after all these years, and Girlschool is all the better for it.
I still remember the first time I saw the band back in 1981 at The Old Waldorf, just a few miles from where this gig took place. At the time, the Runaways had just split and Girlschool was holding the torch for all-girl rock bands. On that night, the group shook the crowd with its Motorhead influenced punky rock that was driven by drummer Denise Dufort, and nothing has changed. Dufort is still a rock, and helps make original bassist Enid Williams that much better.
Guitarist Kim McAuliffe and Jackie Chambers fired off riffs and solos and traded vocals with Williams during the 70-minute set. McAuliffe is the playful brunette who has fronted the band since its inception, and was instrumental in bringing the girls back together after a hiatus for most of the 90’s. Chambers, the saucy blonde, has filled in admirably for original guitarist Kelly Johnson for the last 15 years (sadly, Kelly passed away in 2007).
The band’s latest material (from all of its reunion records) is some of its strongest since the group’s heyday. But nothing tops the classics, and the group played plenty, mixing in songs such as “The Hunter,” “Kick it Down, “Yeah Right” and a special second encore of “Tonight” which were not played on the last tour to go along with the stone cold killers like “Screaming Blue Murder, “Hit and Run,” “Future Flash,” “Take It All Away” and “Emergency.”
I don’t really know where Girlschool goes from here in the U.S. The band is still a draw on the other side of the Atlantic and can play the summer festival circuit, but in this country, the quartet is a club act, playing gigs like the ones it just finished to its hard-core following and to younger fans who want to see what a near-legend looks and sounds like. It’s too bad, because Girlschool should have been huge. But unless someone like buddies Motorhead or UFO show some interest and bring the girls along on tour, this is what the future looks like: small gigs in small places to a faithful following that feels much the same way as I do about the group.
As I mentioned earlier, the band does have a new album coming out this summer, “Guilty As Sin.” Two songs from that record, “Come, the Revolution” and “Take It Like A Band,” were played live here and are included on an EP being sold at the shows. This EP also features the band’s take on “Stayin’ Alive” and two live tracks. The remainder of the group’s tour looks like this:
5/27 Portland, Bossanova Ballroom
5/28 Seattle, WA Studio 7
5/29 Vancouver, BC Venue
5/31 Bozeman, MT The Fault Line
6/3 Kansas City, MO The Scene
6/4 Fridley, MN GB Leighton’s Pickle Park
6/5 Chicago, IL Reggies
6/6 Weston, MI Token Lounge
6/7 Toronto, ON The Hard Luck
6/9 Cleveland, OH Beachland Ballroom
6/11 Ottawa, ON Mavericks
6/12 Montreal, QU Katacombs
6/13 Londonderry, NH Tupelo Music Hall
6/14 Brooklyn, NY Saint Vitus
As if we needed any reminder that all-girl groups can kick ass, Girlschool brought along Sweden’s Crucified Barbara, a hard rocking quartet which has released four very good records in the last 10 years. Unfortunately, the band has yet to break here, despite a nice following in Europe and in its homeland. Led by riff machine/gunslinger guitarist Mia Coldheart, and ably supported by guitarist Klara Force, bassist Ida Evileye and drummer Nicki Wicked (not their real names, psychos!), the band’s sound, which borrows from the Motorhead meets Girlschool template but also drifts into modern territory (think Halestorm), played a very spirited 50 minute set that featured five songs from its latest record, “Into the Red,” and some of the band’s hits back home. Everything sounded good, but it was the three singles from the new record, “To Kill A Man,” “Electric Sky” and “Lunatic #1” that showed the greatest promise. Vocalist/guitarist Coldheart is a true star, her voice reminding one of Lzzy Hale, while the rest of the group hammers away happily behind her.
Much like Girlschool, this band will probably find its greatest success in Europe, despite the fact that it could be something special. Just like the women who brought them along on this tour.