Have You Hugged a Casket Girl Today?
If you’ve been to a Casket Girls show on their current tour, you have. Or at least you should have: hugs should be reciprocal, right? Last night at the Mercury, toward the end of their set, sisters Elsa and Phaedra Greene came down off the stage as the bass and drums buzzed and thumped behind them and one by one, gave every single person in the audience a hug. Not a halfhearted, let’s-get-this-over-with hug, but a long, blissed-out, forceful one, making good on Elsa’s gnomic comment as she took the stage that the show would be about “the intentionality of peace and love.” Not what you might expect from a band who work the mystery angle for all it’s worth. .
Hanging in the back and watching it all happen didn’t make any difference. Phaedra saved her last embrace for a black-clad guy who’d just given her band’s new album The Night Machines a glowing review – who knew? She certainly didn’t. Karma isn’t always a bitch. That seems to be the band’s ultimate message.
Before then, the group had run through a hypnotically oscillating, irresistibly catchy, ominously swirling mix of material that draws equally on ghoulish video game themes, film scores and vintage new wave, with more than a hint of hip-hop. Beneath his black fabric mask, polymath keyboardist Ryan Graveface sweated and worked an endlessly shifting series of organ and synth textures. What was most impressive was how much of the album he was able to recreate live: there was stuff in the can, and in Elsa’s guitar pedals, but not a lot. Her guitar chops were unexpectedly impressive, shifting her own textures from a steady clang to a furious roar on the night’s final number. Phaedra swooped and dove up and down the frets of her bass with a kinetic grace – she really likes to slide up to a note, a touch that enhances the songs’ distant menace.
This band is a lot of fun to watch. Decked out in more-or-less matching black dresses and shades, the sisters didn’t waste any time switching out their instruments for big black magic markers and blank canvases. Drawing furiously and singing without missing a note, by the four-minute mark, they each had either a self-portrait, or a sister portrait – they look so much alike, it was hard to tell. When the song was over, a couple of people in the crowd got to take home a signed piece of original Casket Girl art. A little later, the duo put down their instruments again for some playful choreography: a parody of Miley Cyrus and the like, or just some goofy relief from the songs’ underlying darkness?
The band – augmented by the hard-hitting rhythm of guitarist Chloe Pinnock – wound up the set with a resounding take of Tears of a Clown – the most politically relevant original on the new record – and then a more punk-oriented older number. Then the crowd scurried to the merch booth in the front to buy vinyl.