Sensory Overload: The Girls!

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From the December 20, 2012 edition

The first thing you notice about The Girls! is Raeghan Buchanan bouncing and twisting with her tambourine. Feasibly, this band could exist without her, but no one wants that. Buchanan brings the party. She’s something like Pavement’s wild-eyed percussionist hype man Bob Nastanovich, only if Nastanovich was a hot punk girl with tattoos coming out of her dress from all directions. It adds a lot.

Not that Jessica Wabbit requires such a sidekick. The Girls!’ big-bespectacled leading lady powered through Sunday’s Andymanathon benefit at The Bluestone with a fierceness that belies her pint-sized stature. The girl can hit the high notes.

Besides her preternatural vocal powers, she’s responsible for revelatory New Wave-indebted pop-punk songs propelled by sharp melodies and even sharper barbs (“I mistook you for a man/ You mistook me for a lady”). Her songs amble along then explode — sometimes into humongous choruses, sometimes whiplash-inducing tempo changes. Sometimes both.

It seems unfair to compare Wabbit’s songwriting to her better-known sister (and former Carson Drew bandmate) Lydia Loveless, but there is a resemblance. They work with different sonic palettes, but both are adept at communicating bitter longings and spiteful wrath with the sweetest of chasers.

Booze seems like a fine metaphor for Wabbit’s compositions considering there’s nothing metaphorical about The Girls!’ fondness for booze. Their friendship was forged over many nights in punk dives like Bernie’s, where they comingled for years before congealing into one of the city’s best bands.

It’s how an infectious pop combo ended up with a guitarist who looks like he belongs in a metal band. Joey Blackheart’s demonic chest piece and pot belly loom behind his open sleeveless leather jacket and scraggly black locks. He frequently leans back and points his guitar to the heavens. Still, his lead lines were pure pop.

So were Ryan Vile’s keyboard parts, which really shined during The Girls!’ cover of Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me.” Big Nick on drums knew just when to kick the songs into a higher gear. Bent, the bassist, mostly held it down in the shadows.

Sunday, they panned garage-pop gold from a steady stream of controlled chaos. Their crew is motely, yes, but colorful and promising too.