The first thing I notice about Cleo Tucker is that she has the same haircut and general style as my sixth grade best friend, back in Ridgeland, Mississippi in 1993. Cropped short, plastered in front, frizzed in back, that cut reaped ridicule on my friend and her dumpy, too short overalls and harem pants didn’t do much for her awkwardly pubescent proportions. The difference is that my friend was actually trying to attract boys, a little, and mostly trying to evade “mean girls,” and this look represented her idea of trendy coupled with her attempts at blow-drying kinky curls straight and her extremely limited knowledge of styling products.
If we’d been seven years older and living in Olympia, my friend would’ve been a total babe.
Cleo Tucker is a total babe, as is her bandmate Harmony Tividad, and they don’t care if you think so. (In fact, if Instagram can be trusted, it seems Cleo has worn the same grubby thermal shirt and baggy overalls nearly every night of this tour.)
Girlpool is Brooklyn-based by way of Philly, with a heady dash of La-la land childhood, offset by La-la land’s all-ages scene. (They met at DIY space, The Smell.) The duo is punky, folky, minimalist and sex-positive, with songs examining hook-up culture, their own privilege, gender and friendships. And these songs started making traction a couple of years ago, when they were still in high school.
The lyrics are clever, poetic and intense, but the delivery (Cleo on guitar, Harmony on bass) lightens things up. It’s simple, raw and twee, with gorgeous bursts of short-lived distortion.
Seeing them play almost feels like crashing a band practice or maybe even a slumber party. Or actually, not even crashing — seeing them play makes you feel like an invited guest. These girls clearly love and enjoy each other, and their intimacy envelopes the audience. Often their vocals are harmonies, two distinct voices blending into one. On instrumental breaks, they face each other, grinning, Cleo rocking back and forth slightly manically, Harmony swaying side to side. Sometimes they let us in on the joke, like when Cleo spent half a second b-boxing, sending Harmony into a giggle fit. (In interviews, Cleo has mentioned a childhood obsession with hip-hop, marked by sagging her pants, tucking her ponytail under a hat and free-styling.)
Watching Cleo (because from where I stood, I could barely see Harmony) made me think, this is what Angela Chase would’ve been like if she’d played in a band, all scrunch-faced and silly and sensual, crowding the mic, nearly biting it, teasing it with her lips.
They seem self-possessed, older than they are — Harmony especially, who introduces herself with a firm handshake. But they also seem exactly their age, excited and curious, occupied with the now, but in a really productive rather than destructive way. We left the show buzzing and hopeful and excited about life. They make you wish you could be their friend.
And for some reason, they made me want to go home and watch these videos, because when I was their age, these are the girls (and guy) I was rocking out to.