Sensory Overload: The Girls! mourn the death of a bandmate and take a welcome first step back

  • Photo by Meghan Ralston
From the July 24, 2014 edition

The local music community is still reeling from the July 9 death of Joseph Moore, a.k.a. Joey Blackheart, lead guitarist for power-pop collective The Girls!

In the weeks since his unexpected passing, friends and former bandmates have flooded his Facebook wall with tributes, sharing tales of kindness that belied his gruff, outlaw biker appearance. “Joey was our brother, and was loved by many more in our community for his friendly, joking attitude and tendency to draw people in,” wrote The Girls! on its official website. “We will feel his absence acutely, both as friends, and as bandmates.”

It was under these circumstances two of Moore’s Girls! mates — singer/guitarist Jessica Wabbit and drummer Big Nick — gathered for a short, cathartic performance at Little Rock on a recent Wednesday.

The two positioned themselves on pillows in the corner of the bar, surrounded by candles that added a memorial-vibe to the proceedings. Gathering her emotions between songs, Wabbit repeated “it’s just a show,” but it was clear throughout this was anything but. With Big Nick tapping out a beat on a suitcase and a single snare, Wabbit, her voice wavering between a shattered whisper and a swollen-hearted roar, belted out assorted songs about lingering crushes and romantic heartbreak. Tears, hugs and comforting hands helped the pair along, while a few lighthearted moments helped break up the crushing emotional weight of the evening.

A joyously sloppy take on Wreckless Eric’s 1977 tune “Whole Wide World” — apparently a favorite of Moore’s — opened as a raucous group sing-along before devolving into mumbled words and audience-wide laughter by the second verse, since no one in the bar knew the entire song. On a handful of occasions Big Nick and Wabbit commented on how ridiculous the fun-loving guitarist would have found the entire depressive scene (“He’d have been like, ‘Piss on it!’” the two joked), and how he would have wanted the crew to soldier on in his absence.

“We’re all handling it differently, but our goal as a group is not to stop and not to get distracted and not to deviate from the original plan,” said Wabbit in an interview at her home a couple days after the Little Rock performance.

Consider this a difficult-but-welcome first step back.