Heart’s “Barracuda” and the Supremes’ “You Keep Me Hangin On” played from speakers as Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad warmed up at the 4Knots Festival this Saturday, July 9th, at the South Street Seaport. Earlier, they were hugging a group of friends as they listened to Mild High Club’s set, who went on before them; Harmony was taking a video on her iPhone of Cleo dancing, and then vice versa. They wore hand-poked tattoos and striped leggings and were uncontrollably giggly. On stage, though, kicking off the set with little introduction, they became subdued, letting their wonderful synchronicity wash over the quiet audience.
Girlpool plays with a relatively empty set, no lighting effects, no props, just the two of them standing at opposite ends of the stage, Harmony with a guitar and Cleo with a bass. They always close their eyes while they sing, they furrow their brows and scrunch their faces up as they sing harmonies that are both restrained but somehow straining to be bigger, louder. During guitar solos they loosen up, dancing around each other, Harmony at one point dramatically bowing down on one knee to Cleo.
Girlpool is a band with an overwhelming amount of support from young people, from social media and in person. There were a lot of audience-band interactions, but they were mellow; the set felt more like a summer afternoon hang-out than anything else. After the first set a young male fan shouted out, “Follow me on Instagram!” Both Cleo and Harmony chuckled, equal parts bemused and flattered. They referred to his Instagram handle, “thefreshprinceofbellhooks,” as “dope.” From where I stood in the front, the audience was overwhelmingly young, female, with patches on their backpacks and neon eyeshadow. They swayed along to “Emily” and lit up, rejoiced, at the final song, the exuberant Cherrypicking, whose lyrics assert “I am working for myself and only me.” These girls, none of whom could have been much older than Cleo and Harmony themselves (though neither am I) are as much part of the music as Harmony and Cleo themselves.
“It’s nice out today,” said Harmony, matter-of-factly, to the audience after Ideal World, during which she’d done a killer guitar solo, “the humidity really… gets you down,” she added, with a small smile. The lyrics of I Like That You Can See It, which Girlpool also performed, include “I’m almost nineteen/ and I still feel angry: though the breezy Seaport weather was a welcome respite from the 90 degree+ humidity of the past few days, the self-conscious anger of Girlpool’s half-hour set, the still-anger of unshakeable youth, was searing.
But we see how the spirit of youth and girlhood also infuses Girlpool’s music with an equally unshakeable spirit of adventure, a dream to create experiences that almost immediately crystallize into nostalgia. You can hear it in the lyrics that Harmony and Cleo sing in urgent unison like “Walked around my neighborhood one million billion trillion times (Before the World was Big) and “Your house on the hill/everything was springtime” (Crowded Stranger).
Cleo asked to the crowd, “Do you know what my favorite thing is to do lately?” Then she promptly answered her own question: “My favorite thing to do is ride the ferry back and forth from Staten Island.” She looked out at the river layered with fog.